Internet Archive to close its National Emergency Library two weeks early following legal action

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Three months ago, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown, the Internet Archive created a National Emergency Library with over 1.4 million books that you could borrow immediately.

By suspending waitlists for books in its lending library, the Internet Archive hoped to best serve the nation’s displaced learners. The plan at the time was to offer this Emergency Library "through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later".

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However, shortly after announcing the new library, the Internet Archive faced a backlash from authors and publishers who claimed the act was tantamount to piracy, and last Monday four major publishers -- Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and Penguin Random House LLC -- started legal action against the site, claiming "willful mass copyright infringement."

Today, the Internet Archive announces that it will close its National Emergency Library on June 16, two weeks earlier than planned, and return to traditional controlled digital lending.

Explaining the decision, the Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle said:

We moved up our schedule because, last Monday, four commercial publishers chose to sue Internet Archive during a global pandemic.  However, this lawsuit is not just about the temporary National Emergency Library. The complaint attacks the concept of any library owning and lending digital books, challenging the very idea of what a library is in the digital world. This lawsuit stands in contrast to some academic publishers who initially expressed concerns about the NEL, but ultimately decided to work with us to provide access to people cut off from their physical schools and libraries. We hope that similar cooperation is possible here, and the publishers call off their costly assault.

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