March 25 (Reuters) – A U.S. judge has ruled that an online library run by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization, infringed copyright by lending digitally scanned copies of books from four major U.S. publishers.
The Rule U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan came up with a closely watched case on Friday that tested the Internet Archive’s ability to serve up the works of authors and publishers protected by U.S. copyright laws.
Over the past decade, the San Francisco-based nonprofit has scanned millions of print books and provided digital copies for free. While many are in the public domain, 3.6 million are protected by valid copyright.
It includes 33,000 titles owned by four publishers: Lagardere SCA’s ( LAGA.PA ) Hachette Book Group, News Corp’s ( NWSA.O ) HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons Inc ( WLY.N ) and Bertelsmann SE & Co’s ( BTGGF ). ) Penguin Random House.
They sued over 127 books in 2020, after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic forced brick-and-mortar libraries to close after the Internet Archive expanded, raising limits on how many people could borrow a book at a time.
The nonprofit, which partners with traditional libraries, has turned to what it calls “controlled digital lending.”
It currently offers about 70,000 daily e-book “loans”.
It argued that its practices were protected by the doctrine of “fair use,” which in certain circumstances allows the use of other people’s copyrighted works without a license.
But Koeltl said there was no “transformation” that warranted “fair use” protection in the Internet Archive’s digital book copies because its e-books replaced the licenses of authorized copy publishers licensed to traditional libraries.
“While the IA has the right to lend legally purchased print books, it does not have the right to scan the books and provide digital copies in bulk,” he wrote.
The Internet Archive has vowed to appeal, saying the ruling “impedes access to information in the digital age, harming all readers everywhere.”
“This ruling underscores the importance of authors, publishers and creative markets in the global community,” Maria Ballante, president of the Association of American Publishers, said in a statement.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Blake Britton in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry and Jason Neely
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