May 22, 2022

Internet Archive Files Response in Copyright Lawsuit

Note: We will update this post with statements, coverage as it becomes available. Links to background, statements, media reports, and resources about the are available at the bottom of this post.

UPDATE July 29 Internet Archive Answers Publishers’ Copyright Lawsuit (via PW)

UPDATE July 29 Authors Alliance Statement: Internet Archive Defends Library Digitize-and-Lend Model

UPDATE July 29: Blog Post by Brewster Kahle: “Libraries Lend Books, And Must Continue To Lend Books: Internet Archive Responds To Publishers’ Lawsuit”

—End Update–

At about 11pm EDST (July 28) the Internet Archived filed their “answer and affirmative defenses” to the complaint in the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Hachette Book Group, Harpercollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House on June 1, 2020.

The Internet Archive response runs 28 pages. You an download the full text filing via RECAP/CourtListener.

From the Preliminary Statement of Answer:

To make this vision of a comprehensive Internet library a reality, the Internet Archive offers digitized books in a variety of ways. Books published prior to 1924 can be downloaded without restriction, and people with visual impairments can access more recent books using specially-designed encrypted technologies. The corpus of digitized books is used by data scientists to do computational analysis of texts, yielding a broader picture of human thought. To mirror traditional library lending online for everyone else, the Internet Archive allows patrons to borrow modern books via a process called Controlled Digital Lending (“CDL”).

Under CDL, the Internet Archive and other libraries make and lend out digital scans of physical books in their collections. Replicating longstanding brick-and-mortar practice, only one person can borrow one copy at a time. With the support and participation of hundreds of other libraries, the Internet Archive has been digitizing books lawfully acquired through purchase or donation and, since 2011, lending those digitized books on this own-to-loan basis. The Internet Archive loans books to its patrons using the same industry-standard technical protections that publishers themselves use to make books available electronically. Libraries have collectively paid publishers billions of dollars for the books in their print collections and are investing enormous resources in digitization in order to preserve those texts. CDL helps them take the next step by making sure the public can make full use of the books that libraries have bought.

This activity is fundamentally the same as traditional library lending and poses no new harm to authors or the publishing industry. In fact, the Internet Archive fosters research and learning by making sure people all over the world can access books and by keeping books in circulation when their publishers have lost interest in providing access. Nevertheless, where authors or publishers wish to deny the public access to their works through CDL, the Internet Archive honors those requests. (All of the works at issue in this case have been removed from the Internet Archive’s websites.)

The Internet Archive has made careful efforts to ensure its uses are lawful. The Internet Archive’s CDL program is sheltered by the fair use doctrine, buttressed by traditional library protections. Specifically, the project serves the public interest in preservation, access and research—all classic fair use purposes. Every book in the collection has already been published and most are out of print. Patrons can borrow and read entire volumes, to be sure, but that is what it means to check a book out from a library. As for its effect on the market for the works in question, the books have already been bought and paid for by the libraries that own them. The public derives tremendous benefit from the program, and rights holders will gain nothing if the public is deprived of this resource.

During the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, in response to urgent pleas from teachers and librarians whose students and patrons had been ordered to stay at home, the Internet Archive decided to temporarily permit lending that could have exceeded the one-to-one owned-to-loaned ratio. With millions of print books locked away, digital lending was the only practical way to get books to those who needed them. The Internet Archive called this program the “National Emergency Library” and planned to discontinue it once the need had passed. Twelve weeks later, other options had emerged to fill the gap, and the Internet Archive was able to return to the traditional CDL approach.

Contrary to the publishers’ accusations, the Internet Archive and the hundreds of libraries and archives that support it are not pirates or thieves. They are librarians, striving to serve their patrons online just as they have done for centuries in the brick-and-mortar world. Copyright law does not stand in the way of libraries’ right to lend, and patrons’ right to borrow, the books that libraries own.


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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.