Posted by: bluesyemre | September 9, 2022

Greedy publishers are putting the future of libraries at risk

As the ‘worlds largest digital library’ faces greed driven lawsuits from the worlds largest publishers, the future of libraries hang in the balance.

Since 1996, Internet Archive has been dedicated to “providing universal access to all knowledge” by digitally preserving the world’s books, music, movies, and websites.

The non-profit is home to more than 625 billion web pages, over 30 million books, and millions of images, videos, and recordings. Internet Archive is home to the “Wayback Machine”, a tool that captures and archives web pages. Since 2000, they have also worked to preserve television programs. The digital archive provides researchers an opportunity to easily access and explore subjects that would otherwise be unresearchable.

Anyone with internet access in a free country can access these materials just as they would through a traditional library. One of the 30+ million books can be borrowed for up to two weeks before they need to be returned or renewed.

The archive strives to provide library services to underserved communities across the world who have limited library access–and with an unparalleled catalog, every traditional library seems limited compared to Internet Archive.

At a time when greed and corporate exploitation are the norm, libraries have become a beacon of freedom–in both, the political and monetary sense. Americans are increasingly borrowing from libraries, with more than 54% of the population having a library registration. Attendance at library events has more than doubled since 2004, and the size of collections has increased by more than 113% in the past 13 years alone–growth propelled through digital collections.

To digitally lend e-books, libraries are required to pay recurring and inflated licensing fees that bleed their budgets, often costing over five times more than a paper copy. Traditional paper books are purchased by or donated to a library and then loaned out, ending publisher involvement at the point of sale.

There is nothing different between the lending of a paper book compared to an e-book that would justify continuous licensing fees from the book’s original distributor. Publishers are financially exploiting libraries’ desire to provide e-books for one simple reason: they can.

Internet Archive is unique in that it loans digital content through a traditional process. The site hosts materials that are donated by users and doesn’t fall into the corporate trap that unjustifiably requires expensive licensing.

Because Internet Archive refuses to play along in the greed-driven e-book licensing process, the big publishers are taking aim in a landmark lawsuit that could determine the fate of future libraries.

The biggest names in publishing like Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin Random House all filed suit against Internet Archive in 2020 over their “National Emergency Library” pandemic program that sought to provide teachers and librarians emergency access to materials made inaccessible because of shutdowns and school closures.

The Emergency Library increased access to the archive’s collection–an increase publishers allege violated copyright law.

Despite Internet Archive discontinuing the program as pandemic restrictions eased, the corporations have pushed ahead, attempting to halt Internet Archive’s normal lending.

The non-profit argues their lending practice is no different than loaning physical books–and they’re right.

Why should digital media be any different than physical? If you purchased a book, why should publishers have a say in what you do with it? If you want to lend it, or any other item you own, you should have that power.

The Internet Archive works exactly like a traditional library and that’s why publishers don’t like it. If the courts rule that what Internet Archive does is wrong, what does that mean for traditional libraries? There are no fundamental differences between e-books and paper books–any standard applied to loaning digital books can be used as precedent to chip away at traditional libraries and even used bookstores.

This case raises many questions about the way we consume our media in the 21st century. We have increasingly less control of what we listen to, watch, and read as subscription services like Spotify, Disney +, and Kindle Unlimited crowd the industry. Without physically owning or digitally archiving items, all our movies, music, and books can be wiped or altered with the press of a button–a titillating prospect for censors.

Authors and publishers have a right to make money from their work–the process of writing, editing, and distributing is not easy–but capital incentives need to be balanced with the need for inexpensive access to information. The publishing industry brought in more than $25 billion in revenue in 2020, with profits in the low billions.

Librarians, authors, and publishers should all be on the same page in wanting to provide access to books and expand knowledge, though, like many industries in our capital-autocratic system, publishers are blinded by greed.

Libraries support the growth of the publishing industry by providing communities with meaningful access to information and authors. Internet Archive is working to preserve a modern world while providing everyone an opportunity to learn and research.

The case against Internet Archive carries great importance. If greed wins, the future of our libraries and therefore our free society will be in danger.

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