from to move on department
It’s been said over and over that if libraries didn’t exist now, there’s no way publishers would allow them to exist today. Libraries are, in fact, a beautiful and important artifact of a pre-copyright era where we actually value sharing knowledge, rather than locking it behind a paywall. Last week, the Internet Archive announced what it calls a National Emergency Library — a very useful and sensible offering, as we’ll explain below. However, publishers and their various organizations panicked (causing some authors to panic as well). Panic isn’t intellectually honest or coherent, but we’ll get there.
As you may or may not know, for some time now the Internet Archive and many other libraries have been using a system called Controlled Digital Lending, which was put in place to allow digital payment for books for which there is no has maybe no ebooks available. Basically, the archives helped a bunch of libraries digitize a ton of books, and the libraries are lending them out as if they were lending out regular books. They keep the physical copy on the shelf and won’t lend out more copies of the digital book than the physical copies they hold – essentially doing what a library does. There are strong arguments as to why this is clearly legal. Digitizing a book you own is legal. Lending books is legal.
Of course, when CDL was first announced, Publishers (mostly) and The Authors Guild (which, contrary to its name, tends to be a front group for publishers, rather than authors) completely lost their shit and complained about how it was hacking. Remember that the Authors Guild has tried to sue libraries for digitizing books before and failed miserably. Questioning this effort to lend book scans would also likely fail.
One important thing to note: the book scans that are part of the CDL effort aren’t great. These are images of actual book pages, not e-books designed to be read properly on a Kindle or otherwise. No one would choose a CDL book over a regular ebook if given the choice, because the experience isn’t as good.
The big news with the National Emergency Library is essentially the elimination of waiting lists to consult these books. They still have DRM and you still can only access the books for two weeks, but unlike CDL where there was a 1 to 1 ratio of the books the Internet Archive had a physical copy to the ones it would lend, the NEL removed this limitation and made sure that more people could access these books at once. The reasoning here is sound: in the midst of this pandemic, most physical libraries are closed, so most people literally can’t get physical books. They sit there without lending. To help solve this problem, the Internet Archive removed the waitlists from the books it had digitized. As the Archive explained, it focused heavily on the availability of books without the availability of e-books (and educational books):
The Internet Archive has focused its collection on books published between the 1920s and the early 2000s, the vast majority of which do not have a commercially available e-book. Our collection priorities focused on the wide range of library books to support education and scholarship and did not focus on the latest bestsellers that would be featured in a bookstore.
Additionally, there are approximately 650 million books in public libraries that are locked up and inaccessible during COVID-19 related shutdowns. Many of them are printed books that don’t have an ebook equivalent except for the version we scanned. For these books, the only way a customer can access them while their library is closed is through our digitized copy.
But, of course, almost immediately after it was announced, the same groups that previously insisted that CDL was “piracy” jumped on it to scream from the sky about “piracy” by putting these books on the disposal of people stuck at home. The Author Guild Collapsed:
IA has no rights to these books, let alone give them away indiscriminately without the consent of the publisher or author. We are shocked that the Internet Archive is using the Covid-19 outbreak as an excuse to push copyright law further and in the process harm authors, many of whom are already struggling.
It’s wrong. The Internet Archive has full rights to these books, all of which have been purchased or donated. And the Authors Guild has already failed in its case saying the books can’t be digitized, so it’s making up stuff now to get even angrier than before. There’s no more “harm” to authors than there is on days when libraries are open and people can (as usual) borrow those books. Again, the real thing the Author Guild hates here is the libraries.
The Association of American Publishers (led by former Copyright Office boss Maria Pallante) also panicked:
“Is it the height of hypocrisy that the Internet Archive chooses this moment? when lives, livelihoods and the economy are all at risk? make a cynical play to undermine copyright and all the scientific, creative and economic opportunity it supports. ?
No, it is the height of hypocrisy for publishers to attack a fundamental thing that libraries have been doing for centuries: lending books they own for limited periods of time to support the dissemination of knowledge – especially given the extent to which publishers themselves have embraced e-books. and easier access to knowledge.
The National Writers Union also insisted that instead of doing this, we should spend taxpayers’ money to buy back all those books that have already been purchased? This is the best I can understand from this argument.
The argument is that students need e-books while they stay at home. But is this an argument for spending public funds to buy or license these resources for public use? not impose the burden of providing free educational materials to writers, illustrators and photographers. Authors also have to eat and pay rent during this crisis.
Again, this argument makes no sense. Because that same argument applies to any library copy of a book.
For what it’s worth, the Internet Archive allows any author who panics about this digital library to loan out their books to opt out of the system. And while I’m sure some writers will say the opt-out shouldn’t be on them, that’s silly again. The system works like libraries. Do authors also have to give their consent before a library can lend their book?
This is all a bunch of nonsense. As we’ve pointed out a few times over the past few weeks, the pandemic has really highlighted just how insane copyright has become and how detached it is from its original intent to help promote the dissemination of knowledge. Instead, it’s used as a giant paywall, to lock in that spread. I know people have bought into the ever-growing idea of permission culture, but take a step back and think about how completely messed up it is that people could possibly have access to the knowledge of the world, while being stuck at home. them during a pandemic…and people start shouting “but you don’t have permission to do this”. From the perspective of an outsider, not brought up in the myth of permission culture, the whole concept would seem ridiculous.
Filed Under: books, controlled digital lending, copyright, culture, digital lending, ebooks, libraries, national emergency library, pandemic, digitization, knowledge sharing
Companies: Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, Internet Archive