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On June 1, 2020, member companies of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) officially filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Internet Archive (“IA”) in a New York District Court.

As the accompanying press release reveals, IA is accused of reproducing 1,3 million scans of print books without permission on the websites “Open Library”and “National Emergency Library”, making the digital files accessible to the public at large through what the APP considers one of the most prominent book pirate sites in the world. 

The well-known plaintiffs fighting this large-scale infringement scheme include publishing houses Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons and Penguin Random House. AAP’s press release states that “in willfully ignoring the Copyright Act, IA conflates the separate markets and business models made possible by the statute’s incentives and protections, robbing authors and publishers of their ability to control the manner and timing of communicating their works to the public. IA not only conflates print books and eBooks, it ignores the well-established channels in which publishers do business with bookstores, e-commerce platforms, and libraries, including for print and eBook lending”. 

This lawsuit is aimed at upholding the crucial pillar that copyright embodies in the publishing architecture. It condemns the collection of in-copyright books and their reproduction without permission, which denigrates their commercial value. The complaint alleges that “there are no provisions under the current copyright law, “not library or educational exceptions, not fair use, not the first sale doctrine, nor anything in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act” which support “IA’s theft or the manner in which it steals”.  

In the same vein, a statement by the president and CEO of APP, Maria A. Pallante, was issued: “Today’s complaint illustrates that Internet Archive is conducting and promoting copyright infringement on a massive scale. In scanning and distributing literary works to which it has no legal or contractual rights, IA deliberately misappropriates the intellectual and financial investments of authors and publishers and brazenly ignores the copyright law that Congress enacted.  IA operates with profound disrespect for the value chain of copyright, in which authors, publishers, bookstores, platforms, educational institutions and libraries work together for the benefit of society, whether during prosperity or a pandemic. One need only look to the generous responses of these partners to the ongoing COVID-19 health and economic crises to appreciate their creative collaborations and shared commitment to connecting readers of all ages to a wonderful diversity of literature, scholarship, and learning solutions.” Maria Pallante also discussed the matter of the lawsuit in IPA’s interview series, which can be found here

In times where the publishing industry has faced a significant loss of revenues and continues to suffer from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to uphold the legal framework which protects copyright investments and their legal distribution. 

AAP is joined by the angered voices of the Authors Guild, which wrote the following in an open letter to the IA:  “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.”

Plaintiffs are jointly represented by Elizabeth McNamara and Linda Steinman of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, and Matt Oppenheim and Scott Zebrak of Oppenheim + Zebrak, LLP. 

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