Battle for Libraries
The nonprofit Internet Archive is appealing a judgment that threatens the future of all libraries. Big publishers are suing to cut off libraries’ ownership and control of digital books, opening new paths for censorship.
Join 25,000+ signers on the petition below to show your support for the Internet Archive, libraries’ digital rights, and an open internet with uncensored access to knowledge.
Big Media’s lobbyists have been running a smear campaign trying to paint the Internet Archive as a greedy big tech operation bent on stealing books—which is totally absurd. If you’ve ever used the WayBack Machine, listened to their wonderful archives of live music, or checked out one of their 37 million texts, it’s time to speak up. In the wake of this judgment, everyone is showing their support for the Internet Archive’s determination to keep fighting.
Here are ways to support:
- Help spread the word! Click on any of the images below to download and set as a temporary profile picture.
- Post about why you love the Internet Archive and give them a tag. Whether you run a website or blog, tweet or toot, share with your community why this institution is important to you. Use the hashtag #DigitalRightsForLibraries!
- Invite your friends here, to BattleForLibraries.com, and ask them to sign the petition, too!
The Internet Archive has been scanning millions of print books that they own, and loaning them out to anyone around the world, for free. Other libraries like the Boston Public Library are using the same process to make digital books too.
This is happening because major publishers offer no option for libraries to permanently purchase digital books and carry out their traditional role of preservation.
Instead, libraries are forced to pay high licensing fees to “rent” books from big tech vendors that regard patron privacy as a premium feature and are vulnerable to censorship from book banners. Under this regime, publishers act as malicious gatekeepers, preventing the free flow of information and undermining libraries’ ability to serve their patrons.
But it looks bad if publishers sue the Boston Public Library. So instead, they’ve launched an attack on a groundbreaking nonprofit, including a lawsuit with clear repercussions for every library in the US. On March 24, 2023, a lower court judge issued a ruling that stated the profits of big media companies are more important than the right of libraries to preserve our history and ensure it’s available to the world.
And the Internet Archive announced that they will appeal and keep fighting for the digital rights of libraries.
It is just as important to preserve digital books as paper books, especially given the rising popularity of digital books and the fact that many local and diverse voices are not published in print at all.
Today, most digital books can only be licensed, meaning there is effectively only one copy of a digital book and it can be edited or deleted at any time with zero transparency. In this scenario, profit-motivated big publishing shareholders for companies like Newscorp, Amazon, and Disney are in control of whether a book is censored or not.
But big publishers wouldn’t walk into a library and steal books off the shelves, and they also wouldn’t hack into a library’s computers and delete books. This is why it’s important that libraries actually own digital books, so that thousands of librarians all over are independently preserving the files of important books. This kind of decentralized curation makes books more resilient to censorship, keeping them available to the public and unaltered.
Publishers are arguing that it is not okay to scan a copyrighted book, keep the paper copy in storage, and loan out the digital file in a one-to-one ratio just like any library loans any other kind of book. This practice is called Controlled Digital Lending. A New York judge sided with them, putting profits before fair use and the rights of libraries.
The Internet Archive has stated that they will appeal. But we’re still waiting to learn what sort of punishment the judge wants to impose on Internet Archive. He could decide many different ways, including that the Internet Archive needs to destroy 4 million digital books that are under copyright, or even shut down the whole 37 million archive of texts where the copyrighted books live.
But either way, the battle isn’t over. Both sides seem ready to take this fight over the right to own digital books all the way to the Supreme Court, and Congress is investigating, too.
For a while, authors were confused about what’s happening and what it means. Big publishing lobbies have told them many…interesting…things. But as the implications for libraries’ rights become clear, more and more authors are now condemning this lawsuit and other anti-library actions from publishers.
It’s understandable for authors to be confused, after all, publishing lobbyists spend millions every year to try and pull the wool over all our eyes. But there are still some good people in publishing, including Neil Gaiman, Hanif Abdurraqib, Chuck Wendig, Naomi Klein, and 1000+ more authors who are deeply done with drinking publishing lobbyists’ kool-aid.
You can read a letter to big publishers from 1000+ authors at https://www.fightforthefuture.org/Authors-For-Libraries
Most people know the Internet Archive because of the Wayback Machine, which is essential infrastructure of the internet. It’s an archive of the history of the internet with 700 billion pages.
In a similar way, the Internet Archive’s library provides an archive of out-of-print, midlist, local, and diverse texts in addition to popular books. 37 million of them. And anyone with an internet connection can check out whatever they’d like to read.
In many ways, this initiative is similar to the Brooklyn Public Library’s youth censorship circumvention efforts—but the Internet Archive’s library is accessible to everyone around the world, not just youth in the US.
The Internet Archive’s digital books also are used for citations on Wikipedia, underpinning yet another core digital public good.
Fight for the Future is a feisty, queer women led digital rights organization. Our work resisting censorship, advocating for free speech and expression, demanding big tech accountability, and promoting antitrust legislation speaks for itself, so feel free to check it out.
We’re here because this has gotten scary. The folks over at the Internet Archive are nerdy librarians and archivists working at a small nonprofit. They’re so far from the Big Tech “mouthpieces” that high-paid publishing lobbyists want you to think they are. And it’s time someone stood up for the totally essential and badass work they’re doing, as well as the future of all libraries. So, here we are.