Statement on Internet Archive Ruling

The Internet Archive suffered a setback in its ongoing work to provide free access to knowledge to people around the world. The nonprofit library lost a lawsuit brought against it by several major publishing companies over the practice of "controlled digital lending" (CDL) and the National Emergency Library it ran during the depths of the COVID shutdowns in mid-2020.

EveryLibrary and the EveryLibrary Institute believe that the court has made an error by not recognizing the important role the Internet Archive plays in preserving and disseminating knowledge.

"We disagree with the court's ruling in this case," said John Chrastka, Executive Director of EveryLibrary and the EveryLibrary Institute. "Controlled digital lending is a legitimate practice that allows libraries to lend digital copies of books they own to people who might not otherwise have access to them. It's a vital tool for promoting access to knowledge and fostering a more equitable society."

We remain committed to the principles of controlled digitiral lending and continue to stand with IA as they look to appeal this ruling. Controlled digital lending is a practice in which libraries lend out digital copies of books they own, using technology to ensure that only one digital copy is loaned out at a time, just like physical books. The Internet Archive has been a strong advocate for controlled digital lending, arguing that it allows for greater access to knowledge, particularly for those who may not have access to physical copies of books.

It will be important for stakeholders in the Controlled Digital Lending conversation to consider the implications of last week’s ruling. It will be helpful to explore how to further strengthen the integrity of controlled digital lending by using established and emerging technologies like Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), Smart Contracts, or decentralized applications to encrypt and control access to digital content. These technologies could help mitigate against unauthorized copying and sharing of digital content while protecting copyright holders' rights. Decentralized apps like blockchain can provide a secure and transparent record of ownership and lending, which can guarantee the ability of libraries to exercise their lending prerogatives under a CDL framework. 

The publishers who sued the Internet Archive claimed that the organization had "blatantly disregarded the rights of copyright holders" and that controlled digital lending was "just another form of piracy." However, the Internet Archive rejected this characterization, arguing that the organization is dedicated to providing access to knowledge in a legal and ethical way. The EveryLibrary Institute is on record supporting the concept that CDL is legal and does not infringe on the plaintiffs' copyright. We were proud to join an Amicus Brief with Library Futures and Readers First last year, maintaining that CDL program is a fair use of copyrighted works and that it benefits libraries and the public by allowing for greater access to books.

"The Internet Archive National Emergency Library was a vital resource for students, scholars, and the general public during the dark days of the COVID pandemic," adds Chrastka. "It's a shame to see it being attacked in this way. We need to continue supporting organizations like the Internet Archive that are committed to providing free and open access to knowledge."

The Internet Archive does not appear to be backing down in the face of this setback. In a statement released after the ruling, the organization reaffirmed its commitment to providing universal access to all knowledge. "We will continue to fight for a world where every person has access to the books, web pages, videos, music, and software that they need to flourish and grow," the statement read. We urge all those who believe in the importance of preserving and disseminating cultural artifacts and educational materials to join us in supporting this vital institution. Together, we can ensure that knowledge remains accessible to all, regardless of their means or location.