Internet Archive the Racket

I think we’ve figured out by now that you can fundraise by lying to people about a threat, right? You can tell them an election was stolen. Or that the internet is under attack. Or that movie stars are harvesting babies to make adrenochrome. Or you can tell them stuff like this . . .

Damn. That’s some chutzpah. If Internet Archive were honest about this litigation and sending out fundraising emails, I’d leave this part of the story alone. But read that message and tell me it doesn’t sound eerily familiar. Because IA’s claim that it’s “defending access to knowledge” is like Donald Trump saying he’s “defending our Constitution.” The email even uses the word radical to describe the publishers’ suit in order to obfuscate the fact that it was IA’s random and illegal (one might say radical) conduct that triggered this litigation in the first place.

Of course, Brewster Kahle’s crusade does not have the grave implications of an attempted coup d’etat, but the comparison I’m making is fair because the tactics are the same: lie about some principle or operation being under threat and ask suckers for money to support the defense. Because the irrefutable fact is that if IA loses this suit (and I believe it will), the outcome will have zero effect on the “right of libraries to lend books.” This is just common sense.

Even if you do not have time to dig into the details of this case, you can ask yourself why the publishers filed suit in 2020 against IA and not against any actual library system? Or you could ask the most obvious question: Has ordinary library lending always violated copyright law, and the publishers just suddenly decided to start litigating? Obviously not.

The modicum of truth underlying that slick email is this: Internet Archive decided to violate copyright law and provoke a litigation that, if successful, could allow all libraries to engage in unlicensed ebook production and distribution. And while there are indeed library associations that would endorse this agenda, that is not the same thing as a fight to preserve the status quo in library lending as the email so stridently declares.

Your local library system is not engaged in the conduct at issue in this lawsuit. Here’s just a sample list of allegations that distinguish Internet Archive:

  • Internet Archive operates an industrial-scale scanning service which has generated over $25 million since 2011. It provides this “service” to libraries but retains digital copies for itself and makes many of the digital copies available at its own discretion. Your library does not do this.
  • Internet Archive allegedly keeps thousands of physical books in a warehouse in shipping containers as part of the “collection” it then loans in digital form under a theory of its own invention called “Controlled Digital Lending” (CDL). Your library does not do this.
  • Citing the COVD-19 shutdowns as an excuse, IA made available approximately 1.4 million titles without controls of any kind in March 2020. Your library did not do this.
  • Internet Archive makes unrestricted access to digital books available that it deems to be in the public domain but which are, in fact, still in-copyright titles. Your library does not do this.
  • Internet Archive seeks to displace licensed ebook lending models like OverDrive. Your library does not do this.
  • Internet Archive is not a library despite its claim to “accreditation” based on federal funding it has received in the past. Said funding does not make IA a library as defined in the Copyright Act. Your library is a library.
  • Internet Archive does not appear to follow its own made-up rules. So, even if those made-up rules were legal exceptions (and they are so not), it would be violating those exceptions anyway. Your library does not behave like this.
  • Internet Archive’s founder Brewster Kahle, using a shell corporation, purchased Better World Books, which “sells used books” and then feeds IA’s Open Library with in-copyright books it then claims it is allowed to loan under the theory of CDL. Your librarian does not do anything of the sort.

Naturally, these allegations and others are all matters worthy of more in-depth discussion. But my point in summarizing a few examples is that there is no merit whatsoever to a fundraising email suggesting that the publishers suddenly or randomly decided to go after ordinary library lending.

Tell you what, though. Rather than send millionaire Brewster Kahle your money, send me $5.00 today. I can use it more than he can, and unlike that guy, I make every effort to support what I write with facts. Plus, as a bonus, if you send five bucks right now, I can almost totally guarantee you will not be abducted by aliens!

Don’t be abducted by aliens! Send $5.00 today!

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