ATG Article(s) of the Week: “The National Emergency Library Is a Gift to Readers Everywhere” & “Internet Archive offers 1.4 million copyrighted books for free online”

by | Mar 31, 2020 | 0 comments

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As ATG reported last week the “Internet Archive suspended waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in their lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners.”

This action by the Internet Archive is not without controversy as many applaud their efforts while others express concern about copyright infringement, noting that the “massive online library project is venturing into uncharted legal waters.”


Below are two articles expressing those varying opinions.

The first is an article by Harvard historian Jill Lapore that appears in the New Yorker entitled The National Emergency Library Is a Gift to Readers Everywhere. In it, Ms Lapore lauds the efforts of the Internet Archive and digital librarian Brewster Kahle as she notes “the sheer pleasure of browsing through the titles,” not to mention actually reading the individual books. In fact, Ms. Lapore thinks that other online collections should follow Kahle’s lead and “unlock the gates.”

Ms Lapore goes on to say that she doesn’t think such an effort has occurred before but then the historian in her reminds us of “the Council on Books in Wartime, a collection of libraries, booksellers, and publishers, founded in 1942″ which she goes on to discuss.

The second article is by Timothy B. Lee, Senior Tech Policy Reporter for Ars Technica and is entitled Internet Archive offers 1.4 million copyrighted books for free online. In his article, Mr. Lee raises some troubling caveats.

Evidently, he has spoken to James Grimmelmann, a legal scholar at Cornell University, who told Lee that “the legal status of this kind of lending is far from clear … He (Grimmelmann) wasn’t able to name any legal cases involving people “lending” digital copies of books the way the Internet Archive was doing…” Addressing the fair use arguments made by the Internet Archive, Grimmelmann went on to say “I never want to weigh in definitively on fair use questions, but I would say that it seems like a stretch to say that you can scan a book and have it circulate digitally.”

As a self described copyright nerd, Mr. Lee goes on to discuss other concerns about the legality of what the Internet Archive is doing but he also admits that no one on either side of the issue “seems interested in a legal fight.”


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