An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Last week, when the Internet Archive announced its “National Emergency Library,” expanding access to more than a million digitized works, the group explained the move as a goodwill gesture in the time of coronavirus. With so many brick-and-mortar libraries forced to close their doors, in other words, the group was opening up its lending program: Now, instead of its usual policy of just one digital copy per reader for a 14-day period, many frustrated readers could borrow copies of the same book during the same time — and could do so through the end of June or the end of the global pandemic, whichever came sooner.
But there’s one major issue that several media outlets, including NPR, failed to mention in covering the decision: Many writers and publishers say the website, even before the creation of this National Emergency Library, has been sharing full digital copies of their books without their permission. And over the weekend, dozens of prominent authors, from Colson Whitehead and Neil Gaiman to Alexander Chee, made clear that they were upset with the Internet Archive’s model — and doubly so now, with the expansion of lending services and its timing. “With mean writing incomes of only $20,300 a year prior to the crisis, authors, like others, are now struggling all the more â” from cancelled book tours and loss of freelance work, income supplementing jobs, and speaking engagements,” the Authors Guild, a professional group that provides legal assistance to writers, said in a statement released Friday. “And now they are supposed to swallow this new pill, which robs them of their rights to introduce their books to digital formats as many hundreds of midlist authors do when their books go out of print, and which all but guarantees that author incomes and publisher revenues will decline even further.”
“Acting as a piracy site — of which there already are too many — the Internet Archive tramples on authors’ rights by giving away their books to the world,” the guild added.
The Internet Archive pushed back against this characterization with a lengthy rebuttal. Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive said the group “uses the same controls limiting access to these works as the publishers themselves, with encrypted files that are meant to disappear from the user’s computer after a brief period,” reports NPR. “The copies the group lends, Kahle said, are owned by the Internet Archive — either through donations, straight-up purchases or collaborations with brick-and-mortar libraries.”
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