The Complicated Publishing Issue.

_libraryMost of the people around me are completely unaware of the Internet Archive being successfully sued over sharing electronic books by some publishers:

…In July 2020, immediately after the Covid lockdown, four publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley and Penguin Random House – decided to bring a major lawsuit against the Internet Archive, claiming it had ‘infringed their copyright’, potentially cost their companies millions of dollars and was a threat to their businesses. Last month the New York court found – predictably – in the publishers’ favour, rejecting the IA’s defence of ‘fair use’, and ruling that ‘although IA has the right to lend print books it lawfully acquired, it does not have the right to scan those books and lend the digital copies en masse.’…
The article goes on quite a bit exploring it in what seems to me to be a fairly comprehensive and balanced way. Even so, I looked around through the news about it and found a few other things.

There’s the Author’s Guild’s celebration of the success. That seems a bit more damning because the author’s aren’t the publishers, and they raise some valid points.

The Internet Archive’s own post on the matter brought up the public good:

Today’s lower court decision in Hachette v. Internet Archive is a blow to all libraries and the communities we serve. This decision impacts libraries across the US who rely on controlled digital lending to connect their patrons with books online. It hurts authors by saying that unfair licensing models are the only way their books can be read online. And it holds back access to information in the digital age, harming all readers, everywhere…

Having read all of this, I find that there are good points on either side. As far as the legalities of the specifics of the case, I am not a lawyer and do not pretend to be one on the Internet, so I can’t comment on that. I can say that as someone who reads a lot, even though I have gone back to paper books for the most part, these publishing models seem antiquated and have not allowed much room for the rights of people to access information, be it a romance novel or scientific papers. The big wheels have turned too slow on this.

I think the best article I read on the topic, the lawsuit regarding fair use, was by Marketplace:

…“The publishers believe that digital lending should essentially be a right that they license to libraries and that every time a library wants to loan something to a reader, the publishers should get paid a licensing fee,” Sinnreich told Marketplace.  

But licensing models can be burdensome for institutions that are largely underfunded. 

Public libraries use different licensing models, but the most common is the two-year license, explained Alan Inouye, leader of the American Library Association’s public policy and advocacy office…

…Librarians have chronicled journal price changes over the years, finding that some titles could cost between about $50 and $220 in the 1980s. Now, those same titles range between about $18,900 and $40,300. 

Inouye said he thinks both libraries and individuals have fewer rights in our digital environment…

There was a time that present generations may not remember where we lent friends books that we had. Given it was one physical copy, we could only share it once, and the same was true of libraries. If a book you wanted to read was checked out, you couldn’t get to it until it was physically returned. If a library had paid for more than one book, it could lend more than one book because of the physical limitations.

Now, with electronic books, it’s possible to share things a lot easier, but the intent of publishers is not for the books to be shared. The intent of public libraries is to share information for the public good. The intent of readers varies, but in the broad strokes it’s access to information, sometimes permanently (buying the book) and sometimes temporarily (borrowing the book from a library). The balance of all of this is at issue and has been for some time, and let’s be honest: Publishers have been making their own rules and lobbying their own legislation for some time. You can read about this in Lawrence Lessig’s “Free Culture”, which you can legally download as a PDF from the Library of Congress.

All of this is a centuries long negotiation between people and those that publish. Oddly, it has little to do with the content creators themselves other than the fact that they are beholden to publishers to publish their works… in an era when self-publishing is possible. In return, they get help producing, marketing and protecting those works.

And now, things are actually becoming more complicated with large language models.


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