In June, 2020 four book publishers filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Internet Archive. The publishers asserted that the practice of scanning books and lending digital copies of them to online users infringed their copyrights in the books. On Friday, March 24, 2023, a federal district court judge agreed, granting the publishers’ motion for summary judgment.
The Internet Archive operation
Internet Archive is a nonprofit organization that has undertaken several archiving projects. For example, it created the “Wayback Machine,” an online archive of public webpages. This lawsuit involves another of its projects, namely, the creation of a digital archive of books. Some of these are in the public domain. Also included in this archive, however, are over 3 million books that are protected by copyright. The judge determined that 33,000 of them belong to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
According to the Order granting summary judgment, after scanning the books, Internet Archive made them publicly available online for free, without the permission of the copyright owners.
According to the Order, Internet Archive did not dispute that it violated copyright owners’ exclusive rights to reproduce the works, to make derivative works based on them, to distribute their works, to publicly perform them (Internet Archive offered a “read aloud” function on it website), and to display them (in this case, on a user’s browser.) In short, the Order determined that the operation violated all five of the exclusive rights of copyright owners protected by the United States Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. sec. 106).
Internet Archive asserted a “fair use” defense.
In previous cases involving massive operations to scan and digitize millions of books, Authors Guild v. Google., Inc. and Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, judicial analyses resulted in “fair use” determinations unfavorable to copyright owners. Internet Archive, of course, invited the judge to do the same thing here. The judge declined the invitation.
The judge distinguished this case from its predecessors by ruling that unlike the uses made of copyrighted works in those cases, the use in this case was not transformative. For example, Google had digitized the entire text of books in order to create a searchable index of books. “There is nothing transformative,” however, about copying and distributing the entire texts of books to the public, the judge declared.
The judge observed that Google reproduces and displays to the public only enough context surrounding the searched term to help a reader evaluate whether the book falls within the range of the reader’s interest. The Court of Appeals in Google had warned that “[i]f Plaintiff’s claim were based on Google’s converting their books into a digitized form and making that digitized version accessible to the public,” then the “claim [of copyright infringement] would be strong.”
The judge also determined that the alleged benefit to the public of having access to the entire text of books without having to pay for them “cannot outweigh the market harm to the publishers.”
Ultimately, the judge concluded that all four “fair use” factors (character and purpose of the use, nature of the work, amount and substantiality of the portion copied, and the effect on the market for the work) weighed against a finding of fair use.
Internet Archive apparently intends to appeal the decision. In the meantime, it appears that it will continue other kinds of digitized book services, such as interlibrary loans, citation linking, access for the print-disabled , text and data mining, purchasing e-books, and receiving and preserving books.