What are your thoughts on "Publishers Sue Internet Archive Over Free E-Books"

NYT had an article yesterday about this.

“Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette and Wiley accused the nonprofit of piracy for making over 1 million books free online.”

“As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done,” he said in an email. “This supports publishing and authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case, protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone’s interest.”

Here’s the complaint.

Where do you stand on this? Who’s right in a “humane tech” world? Many people here have written books–what are your opinions on this case? What is copyright’s role in an open-source world?

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My opinion personally is that Internet Archive is one of the biggest privacy violators in all of world history. I think laws should be changed to make what they do illegal. Given both privacy and copyright, Internet Archive is an organisation working against the interests of humanity.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Can you expand on that? What are the specific ways they violate privacy, and what specifically should laws address? Do you consider the “preservation” of websites to be violations of privacy as well, or just the distribution of literature?

Imagine that you create a webpage or posted something online. A piracy group the so-called “Internet Archive” creates a copy, sets up their own web server, and starts to distribute that worldwide, without getting anybody’s permission or even informing the people involved. So-called “Internet Archive” continues to distribute illegal materials for decades and does whatever they want because they have fooled people into thinking they are a so-called “charity” and ask for “donations” so they can get salaries.

Maybe that thing you posted online was a secret. Maybe it was embarrassing. Maybe it wasn’t, it doesn’t matter if it’s completely harmless. The point is the concepts of privacy violation and copyright violation. Things have copyrights, be it short text, any photo or graphics, all kinds of code such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript, eBooks, music, video, films. All of these things are equally protected. Even if I write a few sentences I automatically receive a copyright.

The laws should be modified to make the many of the things that Google and the so-called “Internet Archive” do illegal. In the United State there is something called fair use and that has gone too far. The law is too loose, and the law is also violated on a whim too.

Google for example is the world’s #1 scraper. The problem is that they scrape copyrighted materials and use it for illegal reasons. They are allowed by law to keep materials only for the use in web searches, and keep it for a few months maximum before it must be deleted. But what they really do is keep it forever, and use it for all kinds of purposes. You can find webpages in Google search which are years old. Years. And inside of their own systems they keep things forever. My second point is they use this information for all kinds of illegal purposes as well. For example Google once emailed me a screenshot of one of my web pages that they took years ago. Did I give them permission to both create illegal copies for years, and to use my copyrighted material for reasons that clearly fall outside of fair use? No. Do they care at all. No. They do whatever they want.

We need the law to get serious about violations. We need to make it clear that fir use has specific short term limits and specific allowed uses. So-called “Internet Archive” and Google can’t do whatever they want. Neither can you when you post online.

Yes copying a website is a big privacy violation. Distributing it online is an even bigger privacy violation. Doing that for years is a massive privacy violation. Doing that for everything every posted online is a ludicrous and insane massive privacy violation. It’s sinister and sick. These people are ill.

So-called “Internet Archive” is actually criminal piracy organisation. If they haven’t violated laws in their own country (they have) then they’re in gross violation of copyright laws in dozens of countries.


Thank you for sharing your perspective!

I disagree with free whole heartedly and think that sort of patent troll mentality is a danger to freedom and freedom of speech. Internet archive subsists on donations they are an academic collection that millions use and rely on and no one exhibits for profit. I fully support everything they do.

Sure, that’s how they get away with it, they claim the copyright is irrelevant. I disagree because if that were the case, nonprofits could supply us with all the digital content we’d ever wanted, films, music, books, articles, photos, you name it. Just claiming nonprofit status in one country isn’t a reason to pirate any and all forms of media.

I’m not a huge supporter of copyright myself, but it has its very legitimate reasons. Without it creators would never get paid or get a direct audience, as endless piracy organisations such as Internet Archive would get in the middle. We should all make an effort to credit the original author whenever possible, and also include a license whenever we publish commercially as that’s required by law and is also the decent thing to do. That doesn’t limit our free speech. However just scraping without the right to do so and republishing is a serious crime.

Even Ukraine is arresting piracy companies these days. I wonder why Internet Archive is still allowed to run?

Also the bigger issue is privacy. That is why I said these people are ill. It would take a sick person to simply violate millions of people’s privacy by making copies of the entire historical internet and broadcasting that to the world.

I guess this is because for the most part they adhere to the US Copyright Law as you also indicated (for the most parts, as this thread highlights a case where they may have crossed the lines).

There is so much gray area around copyright law, and people on both sides are abusing wherever they can. I am often surprised at all the stuff that can be found at YouTube for instance, like full music albums, obviously copyrighted.

I guess both for YouTube and Internet Archive the user who upload the stuff are responsible, and the content provider is alleviated of this responsibility. You can then probably send takedown notices (this is not real protection after copyright has been breached, and places all of the burden on copyright owner to find breaches). On the other hand patent trolling is a real thing too. For instance if you are streaming gameplay on YouTube and have in-game music playing, you be sure to be either demonetized or deplatformed in no time.

I support the part where Internet Archive collects public domain information. For the other parts it is interesting to see what alternatives to the problems with copyright law are brought to the table. Which fair use restrictions are… fair? Are there solutions that would solve either too much freedom of someone’s copyrighted work, and at the same time too much restrictions being placed on it?

I feel like there’s 2 valid sides to the issue.

I also feel this is orthogonal to humane tech. The only human consequence to this issue is content creators missing out on income from their works (which is debatable and I’ll make my case below).

On the one hand, @Free is right that IA operates with blatant disregard for the law. Laws do not get made obsolete by technology. We do see a time lag between the speed of society in embracing new tech and the speed of the law in adapting itself to society’s changing shape. Why that time lag exists, I don’t know. But orgs like IA should not be able to use that as an excuse to operate illegally. They should be held accountable for their actions.

On the other hand, just based on my layman’s perspective, I don’t find it to be true a priori that all rights of print media copyright should extend by default to digital media in the same form. I would love to see a more nuanced understanding of copyright develop. Building precedent through cases like this one is the best way to get those nuanced understandings. I’m glad they’re bringing their case through the justice system and not through an underhanded lobbying campaign to Congress.

Although digital media is more convenient for consumers to obtain, consuming that media is less convenient. You have to have a charged e-reader device. You may need to have an active account with your e-book cloud provider. You have to be familiar with how to use an e-reader. Then there are ergonomic considerations: it may be more difficult for the user to absorb information from an e-book than from a print book, even if all the above obstacles are removed. I know by experience that this is true, at least with children. Screens seem to wreak havoc on children’s attention spans, especially if the device is a general purpose device, like a smartphone or laptop.

If we studied these things I think we would find vast differences between print and digital media, making them different classes of products completely, even if they contain the same content.

There also needs to be a distinction made between cloud-based digital media access and device-based access. If I have the right to access a work hosted on a remote server, do I also have the right to download it to a storage device? If I download it to a storage device, do I have the right to print it? These are the questions that pop into my mind re: copyright of digital works. It seems like IA is trying to develop their own framework for this with CDL, but in a way that excludes the normal legal process.

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I think I went a little extreme of my criticism of Internet Archive. But I wanted to make the point that:

  • Powerful tech organisations make the law, and then countries all around the world follow their decisions. That’s right countries follow the law interpretations and policies of big tech including Internet Archive, not the other way around.
  • These tech organisations are often started “just because” without too much thought on the consequences, or any public debate about the law interpretations and policies that they are going to effectively establish for the entire world.
  • The motive for tech’s “laws” and policies is usually profit, but it can be self-interest (big management salaries, prestige) for nonprofits such as Internet Archive.
  • Many big tech companies are more powerful than some countries. Many big tech companies have more power with their own policies and law interpretations than some counties do.
  • Countries usually have little power to challenge the “laws” and policies created by big tech organisations. For example some countries wanted to be able to connect people who had coronavirus, in a private manner and in safe government databases, but Google and Apple wouldn’t let them. Even the national legislatures got involved and they couldn’t get Google or Apple to approve their apps. Yet Google and Apple have that data and can do whatever they want with it.