The Internet Archive’s ‘National Emergency Library’ closes its shelves

The Internet Archive’s ‘National Emergency Library’ closes its shelves

The National Emergency Library, which provided open access to more than 1.3 million books, will shutter following backlash from publishing community

The Internet Archive will end its National Emergency Library after four major publishing houses filed copyright infringement against the initiative.

Originally set to run through June 30, Internet Archive’s project will close June 16, according to an announcement posted on the organization’s site. The move comes after Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and John Wiley filed a suit June 1 stating that the program is “engaged in willful mass copyright infringement” for its practices of scanning books without licensing digital copies or paying authors.

Launched in March, the program opened up free access to over 1.3 million books with the aim of providing materials for those unable to access physical libraries or classrooms during the COVID-19 crisis. In announcing the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive suspended the waitlists required of its traditional controlled digital lending rules, designed to place limits on how many people can access the digitized copy at a time. The nonprofit organization claimed that doing so allowed for wide distribution of the materials to those in need.

The creation of the National Emergency Library drew swift backlash from members of the book community. On March 27, the Authors Guild released a statement criticizing the effort for using the coronavirus pandemic as “an excuse to push copyright law further out to the edges, and in doing so, harm authors, many of whom are already struggling.”

“You cloak your illegal scanning and distribution of books behind the pretense of magnanimously giving people access to them,” the Authors Guild said in an open letter to the Internet Archive signed by 6,381 supporters. “But giving away what is not yours is simply stealing, and there is nothing magnanimous about that.”

In its announcement detailing plans to end the National Emergency Library early, the Internet Archive states that it will continue its Open Library program, which restricts access to e-books to one patron at a time.

“We have learned that the vast majority of people use digitized books on the Internet Archive for a very short time,” the announcement explained. “Even with the closure of the NEL, we will be able to serve most patrons through controlled digital lending.”

The lawsuit filed by the publishing houses reaches beyond the National Emergency Library initiative to condemn the Internet Archive’s Open Library, claiming that the organization “seeks to destroy the carefully calibrated ecosystem that makes books possible in the first place — and to undermine the copyright law that stands in its way.”

“Regrettably, it seems clear that Internet Archive intends to bludgeon the legal framework that governs copyright investments and transactions in the modern world,” said Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, which represents the publishers. “As the complaint outlines, by illegally copying and distributing online a stunning number of literary works each day, [Internet Archive] displays an abandon shared only by the world’s most egregious pirate sites.”

The Internet Archive, which adopted its controlled digital lending framework in 2011, states that it hopes the publishers will “call off their costly assault.”

“We are now all Internet-bound and flooded with misinformation and disinformation — to fight these we all need access to books more than ever,” the organization said in its statement announcing the National Emergency Library’s early closure. “To get there we need collaboration between libraries, authors, booksellers and publishers.”