The open library logo, behind prison bars.

Internet Archive Copyright Case

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Updated Mar 30, 2023 at 06:10PM EDT by Zach.

Added Mar 30, 2023 at 12:37PM EDT by Aidan Walker.

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The Internet Archive Copyright Case refers to a March 2023 lawsuit brought against the Internet Archive (, also associated with Wayback Machine) over its Open Library project, in which scanned versions of books from public libraries are posted online for free access. Publishers sued, arguing that these books (which users could "check out for one hour") were unfair competition with their business selling copyrighted ebooks under the DMCA. The judge ultimately ruled in favor of the publishers, causing subsequent controversy online. Many disagreed with the ruling, arguing that it privileged big publishing companies over the non-profit and its loyal users, as well as potentially having repercussions on physical libraries.


The Internet Archive was founded in 1996 to archive and screen-capture parts of the internet that were deleted at a rapid rate.[1] The Open Library, which expanded the Internet Archive's mission to scanned versions of books, started up in 2007. Hacktivist Aaron Swartz, one of the minds behind Reddit, was among Open Library's principal developers.[2]

The Open Library takes books scanned by brick-and-mortar libraries and makes them available as unique digital copies online to be borrowed by only one person at a time for a limited amount of time. Its collection reportedly numbers in the millions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Open Library lifted the one-person-at-a-time rule in order to increase access to books for people who couldn't go to libraries in person.[7]

In response to this move, publishing companies Hachette, Wiley, HarperCollins and Penguin brought the case to the Southern District of New York against the Open Library on June 2nd, 2020.[3] In March 2023, the Clinton-appointed 77-year-old judge John G. Keoltl ruled in favor of the four publishers.[4]

The Internet Archive had argued that Open Library was legal because 1) the scanned books came from the collections of physical libraries that had already paid for them and 2) the nonprofit helped to promote the sale and spread of books rather than replacing the ebooks sold by for-profit publishers. The publishing companies argued that the Open Library should delete all of its copies and pay damages to them.[6] The court ruling found that the Internet Archive's request to be exempt from paying damages was "premature."


Preliminary Ruling

On March 25th, 2023, the preliminary ruling on the case was made, and the publishers won. That same day, the Internet Archive published a blog post called "The Fight Continues," which argued the decision was "a blow to all libraries and the communities we serve," and encouraged users to help the Internet Archive advocate for itself. The Internet Archive plans to appeal the case[5] and also started an online petition to support it.[8]

Online Reactions

Following the initial ruling, many disagreed with the decision and voiced their support for the Internet Archive on social media. For example, on March 25th, 2023, Twitter user @JunnKamille tweeted their support of the Internet Archive, earning over 143,000 likes in one week (seen below).[9]

June Kamille @JunnKamille Β· Mar 27 These people are keeping history in a space where it can potentially exist for 1000s of years but due to a few publishing companies and greedy wackos we might lose it. These people are saving art, keeping it recorded, it's literally called the Internet Archive Internet Archive @internetarchive Feb 6, 2021 At the Internet Archive, this is how we digitize a book. We never destroy a book by cutting off its binding. Instead, we digitize it the hard way--one page at a time. #digitalbooks Show this thread 0:27 6.7M views 102 29.4K 143.3K Δ±lΔ± 4.2M

Also on March 25th, Twitter user @Q_Review offered their support, earning almost 73,000 likes in one week (seen below).[10] Sometimes, these posts seemed to catastrophisme, arguing that the entire Internet Archive was under attack instead of just Open Library.

Quinton Reviews @Q_Review If the Internet Archive is taken down it will be akin to the burning of the library of Alexandria. There is content on that website that will never be accessible to humanity ever again if the site is taken down. 5:29 AM - Mar 25, 2023 2.6M Views 12.2K Retweets 309 Quotes 72.6K Likes 2,039 Bookmarks :

A thread of debate notably opened up around author Chuck Wendig on March 25th, 2023. One of Wendig's books was listed among those that the publishers argued had been unjustly scanned and added to Open Library. Tweets targeting and mocking Wendig circulated widely, such as the one by Twitter user @fart (seen below), which earned over 17,000 likes in a week.[11] Wendig, however, clarified that he had nothing to do with the lawsuit and it was all the publishers, a position that Open Library confirmed.[12]

jon hendren @fart Mar 25 this is the guy whose writing is so valuable he destroyed the internet archive. thank you chunk wedding β€’ 142 Chuck Wendig @ChuckWendig WEDNESDAY. The day you flumpty-foo! And you think boopty- bop and zippity-zoom but the truth is, razza frazza wuzza wooza. What I'm trying to say is, maybe your brain isn't working either, but that's OK, because you're great. PS you need a firmware upgrade in the form of "coffee." 6:56 AM 10 Jul 19 Twitter Web Client t 2,330 17.2K ₁906.6K

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Top Comments


One of these publishers in the lawsuit, Penguin, is the same that censored Roald Dahl's books:
Despite the publishers' claims, they have no respect for the authors or their writings. The publishers just want money and power.

Shadow of the Void
Shadow of the Void

Copyright laws need to be gutted and the deck stacked against the big publishers & studios.

Shorter terms, no longer than what we had with the Copyright Act of 1909. "Use or it lose provisions" where anything taken completely out of print goes into the public domain within one month. Expanded fair use rules. Hell, rather than having big publishers run by some executive board only concerned with "maximizing shareholder value," maybe they ought to be reorganized into co-ops owned and controlled by their employees.

Anybody who says unfettered capitalism is the best possible system and the only path to freedom is absolutely full of shit. History shows that anyone with enough economic power will use that power to abuse and exploit others. Big publishers, for example, don't give two shits about the value of the literature, art, and music they publish, or who actually makes all those creative works. The executives just see it as a commodity to be exploited in order to make a buck. Nothing more, nothing less.


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