The crisis caused by the coronavirus has given rise to a wave of goodwill gestures form companies looking to help people throughout tough times. Whether it's out of genuine communal spirit or a desire for good will, brands have made an effort to both donate money and make available products for free in order to try and help the country get through what we've been told repeatedly are "unprecedented times." And while the gestures are not without consequence for some.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit site that, as its name suggests, collects and compiles digital content and sites with the aim of creating a compendium of knowledge and digital art. When the pandemic hit, the Internet Archive made free an Open Library and a National Emergency Library, removing the waiting period for currently copyrighted materials until June 30th and making them free to borrow for patrons, with unlimited copies available. While the logic was sound from a logical and logistical perspective — libraries nationwide closed down amid lockdown orders — the legality of such a move is questionable, and drew the ire of both the Copyright Office and authors for what they say is something akin to piracy or at least poor form.
Now book publishers are getting in on the act, with Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House suing the Internet Archive for violating copyright on about 1.3 million works. And the publishers have a strong case: while the arrangement might seem similar to what most of us are used to with our local libraries, the notable difference is that libraries pay for the books they subsequently lend to its patrons, thus ensuring that both publisher and author are getting compensated for their work. The Internet Archive made no such effort; instead, they decided that the events of the moment justified the temporary abrogation of copyright laws and pursued what may have been a noble goal that still ultimately runs afoul of copyright law.
Of course, the nobility of the measure depends upon your perspective; the suit charges that the Internet Archive is not the humble non-profit that it claims to be, and in fact pulls in millions in revenue annually in service of its infringing activities (at least in the plaintiffs' telling.) Regardless of larger truths about the organization, it seems as though the Internet Archive may have overstepped in this case, and regardless of the suit's outcome, now finds itself under the watchful eye of publishers and authors moving forward.