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The Future of Digital Libraries: Internet Archive Loses in Landmark Copyright Case

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In a groundbreaking decision that could impact the future of digital libraries, Judge John G. Koeltl ruled against the Internet Archive in the lawsuit Hachette v. Internet Archive, siding with four major book publishers. The judge determined that the Internet Archive's practice of scanning books and lending them out like a library did not have legal standing.

This ruling could have major implications for libraries and the publishing industry. In response, the Internet Archive has vowed to appeal the decision. Chris Freeland, the director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive, claims that the ruling hampers access to information and hurts authors by reinforcing restrictive licensing models.

The plaintiffs in the case – HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House, alongside Hachette – brought the Internet Archive to court to determine whether its National Emergency Library program operated under the principle of Fair Use. In a previous case involving Google Books and HathiTrust, Fair Use allowed for digital book preservation projects, but Judge Koeltl found that the benefits of the Internet Archive's library did not outweigh the market harm to the publishers.

The judge argued that there was nothing transformative about the Internet Archive's copying and unauthorized lending and that it did not provide criticism, commentary, or information about the books. He also dismissed the argument that the Internet Archive may have helped publishers sell more copies of their books, calling it irrelevant that the organization had purchased its own copies of the books before making digital copies for its online audience.

The lawsuit originated from the Internet Archive's decision to launch the "National Emergency Library" early in the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing users to read from 1.4 million digitized books without a waitlist. This move sparked outrage among publishers, leading to the group filing a lawsuit against the Internet Archive in June 2020. In response to the lawsuit, the Archive shut down the program later that month.

Despite the decision, the Internet Archive remains committed to providing library services in other ways. Chris Freeland emphasizes that the case does not challenge many of the services they provide with digitized books, including interlibrary loan, citation linking, access for the print-disabled, text and data mining, purchasing ebooks, and ongoing donation and preservation of books.

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