The Good Old Internet Archive Attracts Some Legal Eagle Action

June 2, 2020

Who really owns the Internet Archive? Does the Internet Archive still bundle up tweets and provide them to the august Library of Congress? Is that the caterpillar tracks of the Bezos bulldozer in the roadway near the Internet Archives headquarters? DarkCyber does not know the answers to these questions.

What is clear is that the Association of American Publishers (yes, there are still American publishers) is not happy with the Internet Archive. “Publishers File Suit Against Internet Archive for Systematic Mass Scanning and Distribution of Literary Works. Ask Court to Enjoin and Deter Willful Infringement” is reasonably well written, probably because there is a Vassar literature major in the PR chain. The write up states:

… member companies of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Internet Archive (“IA”) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The suit asks the Court to enjoin IA’s mass scanning, public display, and distribution of entire literary works, which it offers to the public at large through global-facing businesses coined “Open Library” and “National Emergency Library,” accessible at both and IA has brazenly reproduced some 1.3 million bootleg scans of print books, including recent works, commercial fiction and non-fiction, thrillers, and children’s books.

The AAP, like DarkCyber, finds the self aggrandizing, virtue signaling about pandemics, unemployment, and other contentious social issues tiresome. Amazon and Google are busy waving their hands after recent social turmoil. That helps if one is seeking clicks and some positive corporate CxO stroking.

The AAP’s statement continues:

Despite the self-serving library branding of its operations, IA’s conduct bears little resemblance to the trusted role that thousands of American libraries play within their communities and as participants in the lawful copyright marketplace. IA scans books from cover to cover, posts complete digital files to its website, and solicits users to access them for free by signing up for Internet Archive Accounts. The sheer scale of IA’s infringement described in the complaint—and its stated objective to enlarge its illegal trove with abandon—appear to make it one of the largest known book pirate sites in the world. IA publicly reports millions of dollars in revenue each year, including financial schemes that support its infringement design.

You can read the AAP statement via the link above.

At a time when civility is in short supply, the AAP approaches its legal foe this way:

The lawsuit reflects widespread anger among publishers, authors, and the entire creative community regarding IA’s actions and its response to objections. In an open letter to IA and its Board of Directors, the Authors Guild observed,  “You cloak your illegal scanning and distribution of books behind the pretense of magnanimously giving people access to them. But giving away what is not yours is simply stealing, and there is nothing magnanimous about that. Authors and publishers—the rights owners who legally can give their books away—are already working to provide electronic access to books to libraries and the people who need them. We do not need Internet Archive to give our works away for us.”

Yikes. The news release should have carried a trigger warning. Where is that Vassar-powered red pencil when one needs it? After the Google-centric headline, why not add “This content may be disturbing.”

Will publishers succeed in this effort? The flapping of the legal eagles over the Google Books’ project is less noisy than it was. (When will those angry with Google realize that projects die at Google because staff lose interest?)

Internet Archive may be different. One bright spot: The search and retrieval mechanism for Internet Archive content is darned interesting. Try to find a content object. Great stuff. When a content object cannot be found, does it exist?

The lawsuit is unlikely to consider this question.

Stephen E Arnold, June 2, 2020


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