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Federal Judge Rules Internet Archive’s Book Scanning and Lending to be Copyright Infringement
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A federal judge in Manhattan, New York City, has ruled that the nonprofit Internet Archive’s book scanning and lending program constitutes copyright infringement. On March 24, U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment to four publishers who sued the Internet Archive for scanning copyrighted books and lending them out in digital form.

The Internet Archive initially abided by a one-to-one loaned ratio, meaning that the number of permitted simultaneous checkouts of any book equaled the number of printed books owned by the archive. Participating libraries also offered one copy of each digital book through the archive. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic closed libraries, the Internet Archive launched a National Emergency Library that lifted the one-to-one loaned ratio. Instead, up to 10,000 readers could borrow any digital book from the archive website.

This expansion spurred a lawsuit in June 2020 by the Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin Random House, and John Wiley & Sons Inc. After the suit was filed, the archive ended its National Emergency Library, according to Law360, Publishers Weekly, and NPR coverage.


In his ruling, Judge Koeltl wrote that the digital lending program “remains squarely beyond fair use” and that even a one-to-one loaned ratio would not excuse the Internet Archive’s reproduction of copyrighted books. “At the bottom, IA’s fair use defense rests on the notion that lawfully acquiring a copyrighted print book entitles the recipient to make an unauthorized copy and distribute it in place of the print book, so long as it does not simultaneously lend the print book,” Koeltl wrote. “But no case or legal principle supports that notion.”

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However, Koeltl stated that the Internet Archive could still scan and distribute books that have entered the public domain, meaning that the copyright protection for those works has expired.

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The Internet Archive is a nonprofit digital library offering free access to millions of books, movies, and other materials no longer protected by copyright. 

The ruling will likely have significant implications for digital libraries and the future of book access. The Internet Archive is not the only organization that has offered digital lending programs for books under copyright protection, and it is still being determined how this ruling will affect other organizations.

Overall, the ruling is a significant blow to the Internet Archive’s book scanning and lending program and raises essential questions about the balance between copyright protections and access to information in the digital age.



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