Publishers Invoke Napster, AI Threats in Battle with Internet Archive


  • Publishers and the Internet Archive are locked in a legal battle over copyright infringement, with the future of digital libraries at stake.
  • Publishers fear a ‘Napster moment’ for books, highlighting concerns over unauthorized digitization and distribution.
  • The outcome of this legal dispute could have significant implications for the balance between copyright protection and digital preservation.

A heated legal battle ensues between major publishers and the Internet Archive (IA), with the future of IA’s scan-and-lend library hanging in the balance. The publishers, including Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley, and Penguin Random House, have filed a copyright lawsuit against IA, branding its ‘Open Library’ as a pirate site.

Publisher lawsuit against Internet Archive

In 2020, publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley, and Penguin Random House initiated legal action against the Internet Archive, accusing its ‘Open Library’ of copyright infringement. They equated IA’s ‘controlled digital lending’ (CDL) program to a piracy operation, arguing that IA’s self-scanning approach violated their exclusive rights to publish ebooks.

The Internet Archive, a non-profit organization, argues that its scanning-and-lending activities fall under fair use and are crucial for preserving digital books. It maintains that its service is substantially different from traditional ebook licensing arrangements entered into by other libraries. Despite a New York Federal court ruling against IA for copyright infringement, the organization has appealed the decision, seeking to overturn the judgment.

Publishers respond

In response to IA’s appeal, the publishers filed a redacted copy of their reply brief at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. They assert that IA’s actions constitute “mass-scale infringement,” as it makes digital copies of physical books without permission from the rightful owners. The publishers view IA’s lending operation as a direct threat to their rights and business, arguing that it undermines the principle of rightsholders exclusively controlling the terms of sale for different formats of their works.

The publishers express concern over a potential ‘Napster moment’ for books, drawing parallels to the music industry’s upheaval caused by file-sharing platforms like Napster. They fear that allowing outsiders to run their own digitization programs and distribution platforms, without rightsholders’ involvement, could lead to significant disruptions. Moreover, they highlight the relevance of recent legal discussions surrounding the use of copyrighted works for AI training, emphasizing the importance of maintaining legal protection for derivative uses.

Implications and call to action

The publishers urge the court to uphold the lower court’s decision, which prevents IA from lending out digitized copies of books without proper authorization. They assert that IA’s practices are radical and unlawful, posing a serious threat to book publishing and creative industries at large. By skirting existing library ebook markets, IA’s actions could destabilize book markets and interfere with publishers’ digital strategies, they argue.

As the legal battle between publishers and the Internet Archive unfolds, the outcome remains uncertain. While IA contends that its scanning-and-lending activities are protected by fair use and essential for preserving digital books, publishers view them as infringing on their exclusive rights and posing a significant threat to their business. The case raises broader questions about the balance between copyright protection and the preservation of cultural heritage in the digital age. As both sides present their arguments before the court, the decision could have far-reaching implications for the future of digital libraries and the publishing industry as a whole.

The legal battle between publishers and the Internet Archive underscores the complex challenges surrounding copyright law and digital preservation in the digital age. While both sides present compelling arguments, the ultimate decision rests with the court, which must carefully weigh the competing interests at stake.

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John Palmer

John Palmer is an enthusiastic crypto writer with an interest in Bitcoin, Blockchain, and technical analysis. With a focus on daily market analysis, his research helps traders and investors alike. His particular interest in digital wallets and blockchain aids his audience.

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