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The Internet Archive Shuts Down ‘National Emergency Library’ Following Lawsuit

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BY June 15, 2020
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When the pandemic initiated lockdown in the United States, many people were desperate for entertainment options. To that end, many companies started offering free material online to keep people busy. Also, students now stuck at home needed access to educational resources. Enter the Internet Archive, with their National Emergency Library that has caused a lot of drama over the past few months.

The Internet Archive And The Publishing Industry At Odds

National Emergency Library Image via The Internet Archive

The Archive has been a staple of the Internet for years. It is host to the popular ‘Wayback Machine’ that allows people to find previous versions of websites. The Internet Archive has also practiced ‘digital lending’ of popular titles for years through their website Open Library. However, when quarantine began, the Internet Archive opened their ‘National Emergency Library.’ This digital library offered thousands of titles from popular authors for free, with no lending restrictions. The backlash was immediate as authors took to social media to decry the move as theft.

The National Emergency Library from the Internet Archive promised to deliver the following: “A temporary collection of books that supports emergency remote teaching; research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation while universities, schools, training centers, and libraries are closed.”

The Starless Sea Erin Morgenstern book stacks Man I miss libraries

This idea is a good one in theory, and there are certainly invaluable educational resources available on the Internet Archive. However, thousands of books have been illegally uploaded to the website over the years. Open Library’s ebooks are scanned from physical copies, instead of being purchased in digital format. This circumvents the typical licensing restrictions used by conventional libraries. This way the Archive avoids licensing agreements with the publishers. That means the publishers – and the authors – never receive compensation. This is very different from the way a traditional library operates. Conventional libraries have agreements with publishers where they purchase books in order to freely lend them. This applies to both print and digital formats.

The questionable methods of the Internet Archive in relation to popular fiction books (both genre and non-genre alike) drew major criticism. After NPR published an article promoting the National Emergency Library, they also came under fire from authors and publishers.

Several Major Publishers Are Suing The Internet Archive

National Emergency Library Lawsuit Image via The National Writers’ Union

Now several major publishers are suing the Internet Archive for copyright infringement. Hachette Books; Penguin Random House, Wiley, and HarperCollins are among the publishers who took action on June 1. Due to the lawsuit, the National Emergency Library is suspending their unlimited lending two weeks early. Now the last date for free unlimited lending will be June 16.

Typically the Open Library offers a two-week lending period for their digital downloads. This is similar to most conventional library lending periods. However, the Internet Archive still has to answer for their practice of scanning books without paying publishers and authors. So despite the end of unlimited lending, the Archive still has a lot to answer for and may be liable for thousands of dollars in fees to publishers and authors.

A statement from the lawsuit alleges the following: “Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites. With just a few clicks, any Internet-connected user can download complete digital copies of in-copyright books from defendant.”

Authors Take To Social Media To Air Their Grievances

Chuck Wendig Author Chuck Wendig | Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Genre author Chuck Wendig is one of many vocal opponents to the The National Emergency Library. In a statement made to NPR, Wendig said the following.

“The problem with bypassing copyright and disrupting the chain of royalties that lead from books to authors is that it endangers our ability to continue to produce art — and though we are all in the midst of a crisis, most artists are on the razor’s edge in terms of being able to support themselves. Artists get no safety net… I’m lucky enough (currently, at least), that I can weather a… storm more easily, but most can’t. Particularly young authors, debut authors, and marginalized authors who are already fighting for a seat at the table. I’m also not alone in calling this site out — others like Alexander Chee, NK Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Seanan McGuire, have noted their concerns over this.”

The publishing industry is currently facing major losses due to the economic fallout of the pandemic. Many authors are fearful of the future. Authors already struggle to make ends meet, even established and well-respected writers. The debate over the Internet Archive’s policies has sparked major discussion on social media from authors concerned with the devaluing of their work.

In light of the ongoing protests and discussion around representation in publishing, many authors have also started revealing the amount of their book advances. These discussions clearly show that authors of color are paid significantly less for their work than their white contemporaries. The publishing industry still has a long way to go to treat their authors equally and fairly. But it is also clear that copyright laws are a convoluted mess, that allow for open piracy. And that hurts authors of color disproportionately as well.

Pay Writers For Their Work Please

TV Writers' Strike An image from the last Television Writer’s Strike

One of the strangest aspects of this debate is the number of people who have emerged from the woodwork to say that writers don’t deserve to be paid for their work. This is honestly baffling. There is simply no reason to devalue the work of writers or artists. Especially during an ongoing pandemic and quarantine where everyone is dependent on media to keep them sane. Without writers we would have no (good) television, movies, or novels to keep us occupied while at home. We should be paying artists and writers more right now, not less.

It is true that not everyone can afford to buy books regularly. But there are thousands of other valuable resources available. Conventional libraries offer digital downloads through apps like Libby and OneDrive. These are the free resources that people should utilize if they want to make sure that authors are still getting paid, while you read their work for free. Another good way to support authors is to purchase from independent bookstores, it is important to support them now more than ever.

And if you are looking for some good books to read, check out some of our recent recommendations of black sci-fi and fantasy authors. Or our list of LGBTQ genre books to read during Pride. And as always, follow Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter and help support us too.

BooksAuthorsBlack AuthorsChuck WendigCopyright InfringementLawsuitOpen LibraryPublishersThe Internet ArchiveThe National Emergency LibraryWriters

Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

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