Industry & Advocacy News
April 23, 2020
Below is the open letter the Authors Guild sent to Internet Archive and Brewster Kahle in May 2020, asking them to immediately shut down the National Emergency Library.
Dear Mr. Kahle and the Internet Archive Board of Directors: The undersigned authors, agents, and their friends and supporters demand that Internet Archive remove the hundreds of thousands of in-copyright books that you have made freely available online without permission through your illegal National Emergency Library.
be clear: Internet Archive’s so-called “National Emergency Library” is not a
real library. Real libraries license the electronic books they circulate, and
authors receive payments from those licenses. Real libraries do not circulate
unauthorized copies. Real libraries care about authors as much as they do about
promoting knowledge and literacy.
be even more clear: Internet
Archive’s prior practice of providing access through Open Library to one reader
at a time per copy is itself infringing of most in-copyright books—and illegal.
declaring a spurious “copyright emergency” and
making a massive trove of copyrighted books available for free without any
restrictions, Internet Archive has demonstrated a shocking disrespect for the rule
of law— the cornerstone of our civil, democratic society—at a time when we most
need it to prevail. You cloak your illegal scanning and distribution of books
behind the pretense of magnanimously giving people access to them. But giving
away what is not yours is simply stealing, and there is nothing magnanimous
about that. Authors and publishers—the rights owners who legally can give their
books away—are already working to provide electronic access to books to
libraries and the people who need them. We do not need Internet Archive to give
our works away for us.
In response to Sen. Tillis’s letter expressing concern about the
legality of using copyrighted works without permission, you assert that
Internet Archive understands “that authors are being impacted by the global
pandemic” and that it has been “engaged in a dialog with authors around the
National Emergency Library.” This is patently false. You have made no effort to
acknowledge that thousands of authors are protesting the illegality of scanning
and distributing their works without permission. You also disingenuously claim
that Open Library and the National Emergency Library fall under fair use, even
though there is nothing in the history of copyright law that would suggest in
any manner that copying and distributing entire books to the world without
permission, even if not for profit, even during times of crisis, is fair use.
It is a ludicrous claim, as you well know.
Books exist because authors write them, and good books take a good
deal of hard work and time. Authors need to earn a living to be able to write,
and they deserve to be paid for their work like any other worker. The pandemic
is severely impacting authors and booksellers. Bookstores and libraries have
closed, and book sales are down. The freelance writing assignments and speaking
engagements that many authors rely on to supplement their income are
unavailable, and yet authors are not eligible for traditional unemployment. (Indeed,
thus far, they have even been excluded from the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance
meant to assist freelancers, and the Authors Guild is actively
Mr. Kahle, to say that you “understand that authors are being
impacted” while nevertheless making their books freely available is adding
insult to injury.
We, the undersigned, demand that you stop this charade.
In memoriam of Deirdre Bair (1935–2020), our dear friend and
Authors Guild council member who sparked this call for action to all authors
just days before she passed away.