U.S. Judge Rules Internet Archive's Digital Book Lending Violates Copyrights

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By Nate Raymond & Blake Brittain

(Reuters) - An American judge ruled Friday that Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization, had violated four major U.S. publishers' copyrights by lending digitally scanned copies to an online library.

U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled in Manhattan in a closely watched lawsuit. The suit tested whether the Internet Archive could lend out works of publishers and writers that were still protected under U.S. copyright law.

Over the past decade, the San Francisco-based non profit has scanned millions of printed books and given out digital copies free of charge. Many of the books are available for free, but 3.6 million of them are covered by copyrights.

This includes 33,000 titles that belong to the four publishers: Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group and News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers. John Wiley & Sons Inc, Bertelsmann SE & Co.'s Penguin Random House.

In 2020, they sued over 127 books. This was after the Internet Archive opened lending to more people with the COVID-19 pandemic. Brick-and-mortar libraries were closed and the limits on the number of books that could be borrowed at once were lifted.

The non-profit, which works with traditional libraries, has since reverted to "controlled digital lending".

It claimed that its practices were protected under the doctrine of fair use, which permits the unlicensed usage of copyrighted works of others in certain circumstances.

Koeltl stated that the Internet Archive's digital books were not transformative and would be subject to "fair use" protection. The ebooks are merely replacing the licensed copies of traditional libraries.

He wrote that although IA is authorized to lend legal books, it cannot scan the books to make digital copies.

In a statement, the Internet Archive stated that it would appeal the decision, stating that the ruling "restricts access to information in digital age, harming everyone, everywhere"

Maria Pallante, head of Association of American Publishers, stated in a statement that the ruling "underscored" the importance of authors and publishers in a global society.