Internet Archive’s digital book lending violates copyright, according to US court rules

March 25 (Reuters) – A U.S. judge has ruled that an online library run by the nonprofit Internet Archive infringed the copyrights of four major U.S. publishers by lending digitally scanned copies of their books.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan on Friday came in a closely watched lawsuit that tested the Internet Archive̵[ads1]7;s ability to lend the works of authors and publishers protected by U.S. copyright laws.

The San Francisco-based non-profit organization has spent the past decade scanning millions of printed books and loaning out the digital copies for free. While many are in the public domain, 3.6 million are protected by valid copyrights.

That includes 33,000 titles belonging to the four publishers, Lagardere SCA’s ( LAGA.PA ) Hachette Book Group, News Corps ( NWSA.O ) HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons Inc ( WLY.N ) and Bertelsmann SE & Co ( BTGGg. F) ) Penguin Random House.

They sued in 2020 over 127 books, after the Internet Archive expanded lending with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when physical libraries were forced to close, by lifting limits on how many people could borrow a book at a time.

The nonprofit, which works with traditional libraries, has since returned to what it calls “controlled digital lending.”

It currently hosts around 70,000 daily e-book “borrowers”.

It argued that its practice was protected by the “fair use” doctrine that allows unlicensed use of another’s copyrighted work under some circumstances.

But Koeltl said there was nothing “transformative” about the Internet Archive’s digital book copies that would warrant “fair use” protection, as the e-books merely replaced the authorized copies that the publishers themselves license to traditional libraries.

“While the IA has the right to lend printed books it legally acquired, it does not have the right to scan those books and lend the digital copies en masse,” he wrote.

The Internet Archive promised an appeal, saying the ruling “holds back access to information in the digital age, harming all readers, everywhere.”

Maria Pallante, the head of the Association of American Publishers, said in a statement that the ruling “underscores the importance of authors, publishers and creative markets in a global society.”

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Blake Brittain in Washington; editing by Michael Perry and Jason Neely

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nate Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at

Blake Brittain

Thomson Reuters

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property rights, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, for Reuters Legal. He has previously written for Bloomberg Law and Thomson Reuters Practical Law and practiced as a lawyer. Contact: 12029385713

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