The internet archive is fighting publishers over the right to lend digital books

In context: A two-year lawsuit between a group of book publishers and the Internet Archive heated up this month after both sides asked a New York court for summary judgment. The legal battle could determine the fate of the Internet archive and affect the way US libraries lend books.

The lawsuit over the Internet Archive’s digital lending program enters a new phase as both parties seek summary judgment in a Manhattan court. The internet archive states that buying and scanning books gives the right to lend them within limits, as many libraries do. Prosecutors allege that the tactic is just a cover for piracy.

The Internet Archive and its collaborating libraries use Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) to allow users to view digital versions of books the Archive has purchased and scanned, invoking the First-Sale doctrine.

A group representing publishers Hachette Book Group, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins Publishers and John Wiley & Sons says libraries must pay licensing fees to lend ebooks. The publishers also point out the many documents and other materials available for free on the Internet Archive.

Through DRM, the Internet Archive ensures that it only lends one copy of each book at a time, but in 2020 it temporarily relaxed that rule to help students who were out of school during Covid lockdowns. This led to the first lawsuit.

Since the applications for summary judgment, some have made statements in support of the Internet archive. This week, the EFF and Authors Alliance filed Amicus notes asking the court to consider CDL legal, claiming that the Internet archive contains a lot of valuable information that is not easily accessible elsewhere.

In addition to ebooks and other documents, the Internet Archive contains the Wayback Machine – a historical backup of websites that are no longer online and previous versions of websites. A significant portion of Wikipedia’s resources also come from the Internet archive.