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Arguments are set to be made in a lawsuit that threatens the future of digital libraries

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The Internet Archive, a US digital library that says it’s here to provide free universal access to knowledge while advocating a free and open internet, has been in legal trouble for years now for alleged copyright infringement.

The project – which contains millions of digital copies of books, films, videos, programs, and is also behind the web page-archiving tool the Wayback Machine – was sued four years ago by major publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin Random House – who oppose the Internet Archive’s project to digitize library books by scanning and lending them.

The case, in a federal court in the US, is seen by supporters of the Internet Archive as a threat to the future of digital libraries and is about to enter the phase of oral arguments, after the filing of reply briefs.

Judge John G. Koelt has set the date – March 20 – for that to happen. Before this, in the summer of 2022, both sides asked for a summary judgment in their favor, hoping to avoid a full trial.

The Internet Archive claims that its intent to scan and lend books is covered under the legal rule of controlled digital lending – but the four publishing heavy-hitters see it as a mass-scale copyright infringement and piracy operation, and accuse the Archive of “masquerading” as a non-profit library.

The plaintiffs – in the briefs filed last fall – also label the Archive as a “commercial” group. The Archive, for its part, said that the scanning and lending falls under the fair use rule of copyright law, which will not in fact damage publishers or authors (which is the key argument made by the big publishers suing here).

“Libraries deciding how to meet their patrons’ needs for digital access to books are not making a choice between paying ebook licensing fees or getting books for free. Libraries pay publishers under either approach,” the Internet Archive’s brief said.

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