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Publishers Sue Internet Archive Over Digital Library

June 1, 2020, 3:06 PM

The Internet Archive’s “Open Library” and “National Emergency Library” initiatives amount to “willful mass copyright infringement” by distributing scanned copies of over 1.3 million books without paying authors or publishers, four major publishing companies said in a Manhattan federal court complaint Monday.

Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons Inc., and Penguin Random House LLC told the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the Archive’s actions “grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute willful digital piracy on an industrial scale.” The publishers say the initiative “seeks to destroy the carefully calibrated ecosystem that makes books possible in the first place.”

The nonprofit has said it started the “National Emergency Library” initiative in response to the Covid-19 crisis’s shuttering of public libraries. It removed limits on how many people can borrow its digitized copies of books at once from its “Open Library” until June 30 or the end of the emergency.

Both the “Open Library” and its “emergency” expansion infringe copyrights, the publishers say.

“IA’s activities are nothing like those of public libraries, but rather the kind of quintessential infringement that the Copyright Act directly prohibits,” the complaint says. “Moreover, while Defendant promotes its non-profit status, it is in fact a highly commercial enterprise with millions of dollars of annual revenues, including financial schemes that provide funding for IA’s infringing activities.”

Calling the Archive’s initiative a library “badly misleads the public and boldly misappropriates the goodwill that libraries enjoy and have legitimately earned,” the complaint says.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and the U.S. Copyright Office have previously expressed concern about the emergency initiative.

Cause of Action: Copyright infringement.

Relief: Injunctive relief, damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: The Internet Archive didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys: Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and Oppenheim & Zebrak LLP represent the publishers.

The case is Hachette Book Grp. v. Internet Archive, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:20-cv-04160, complaint filed 6/1/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at