Sounding the alarm on the digital future of libraries

July 14, 2022

In support of the Internet Archive’s motion for summary judgment in the suit they face from major publishing corporations, Fight for the Future issued the following statement which can be attributed to Lia Holland (she/they), Campaigns and Communications Director at Fight for the Future:

“Mega-publishing corporations are using the works of prominent authors as cannon fodder to erode the definition of ‘fair use.’ By suing the Internet Archive and demanding a digital book burning of 1.4 million books that the Internet Archive purchased and owns, Hachette, Penguin Random House, and others are seeking to end libraries’ ability to own and preserve digital books—threatening the future of beloved public institutions. 

Authors listed in the suit include James S. A. Corey, best known for The Expanse, George R.R. Martin, best known for A Game of Thrones, Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love. Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly as well as multiple titles by Lemony Snicket are also listed. Sarah Crossan’s YA novel Resist and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven are also among titles the Internet Archive is being sued for owning and loaning. Ironically, Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath is also among publishing giants’ arsenal.

The authors listed in the suit appear to be about 90% white, 60% male, and 17% deceased—and while we can’t blame deceased authors for not speaking out in defense of libraries, the others have been stunningly silent. Every single one of these authors has a moral responsibility to condemn this legal case and say they do not want their publishers suing libraries on their behalf.

Big publishing companies claim this suit seeks to defend the intellectual property of low-income authors when it will only advantage shareholders at major publishing corporations. Authors and creators must reveal the Internet Archive suit for what it really is: a devious scheme to sabotage libraries by making sure that as the world goes digital, they are left completely behind. 

The future of libraries is at stake. This suit will determine if libraries can maintain their role as a robust resource for young, rural, low income, and many disabled readers, and if libraries can continue to champion and preserve the diverse and emerging authors who persevere despite big publishing’s radically undiverse world.

Imagine a world where a library loaning you a paper book they rightfully purchased is a crime. This suit seeks to cement such a future for our digital lives, forcing institutions like libraries and public schools to pay more, for less, forever. We can see this reality now as public school libraries are forced to pay $27 per digital copy of Anne Frank’s A Diary of a Young Girl per year. And if publishers are able to demand the same or more money for a smaller list of books, authors will be left in even more dire straits with fewer opportunities to be published at all.

In addition to fewer books and less diversity, readers will be harmed by the surveillance capitalist business models of Netflix for books-type services rushing in to replace the library card with a credit card. While libraries vigorously safeguard the privacy of their patrons, companies like Amazon collect troves of data on readers—data that might be sold, shared, and exploited to harm people for, for example, reading a book about abortion or gender-affirming healthcare.

The wealthy and prominent authors used as cannon fodder to sue Internet Archive should step up to defend libraries and their own readers. Nothing has changed as libraries go digital, except publisher’s greed. Publishers are simply exploiting the digitization inflection point in an attempt to end egalitarian access to knowledge, information, and culture.”

Digital rights activists at Fight for the Future are available for comment, as well as the librarians at the Internet Archive.