On day of oral arguments in big publisher’s suit to force Internet Archive to delete 4 million digital books and block libraries nationwide from owning and preserving digital books, activists make their voices heard.
As the San Francisco-based Internet Archive braced for the latest round of attacks from four of the world’s largest publishers in a suit aimed to end all libraries’ last option to own and preserve digital books, the internet itself also had something to say. As of noon PT, 11,000 activists had taken action and voiced their support for the nonprofit that curates the history of the web and a collection of over 37 million texts—as well as for the rights of all libraries to own and preserve digital books.
Joining household names like Peter Gabriel, Neil Gaiman, and Professor Lawrence Lessig in their recent defense of the digital rights of libraries, today authors groups, library associations, app developers, researchers, and organizers for causes including digital rights, Medicare for All, and Universal Basic Income all voiced support of the Internet Archive. The Wikimedia Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation also chimed in.
The pledge signed by over 11,000 people reads in part: “Big Publishing shareholders should never decide what books we can read, or how we read them. Their profit-motivated attack on the Internet Archive library is an attack on all libraries’ rights to own and preserve digital books. It is also an attack on our ability to privately access uncensored books no matter where we live or what our incomes are.”
The following statement can be attributed to Lia Holland (they/she), Campaigns and Communications DIrector at digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, which organized the digital rally:
“Today marked an historic moment for libraries’ digital rights. We were disappointed to see Judge Koeltl focus so much on the economic impact to publishers in the oral arguments—as the court could have substituted “print book” for “digital book” and had essentially the same exchange about library impact. No one is questioning whether libraries should be allowed to own and preserve print books, and digital books should be treated no different. With NPR’s coverage just today of libraries starting to transition to digital-only collections, it seems more essential than ever that libraries’ digital rights be robustly defended.
In fact, today digital books are often the mediums of marginalized voices, local historians, authors who don’t sell well, etc., that traditional publishers generally exclude—it is essential to preserve these works against censorship and deletion. There is no institution better equipped to do so than libraries. Further, libraries must be able to offer digital books without their patrons having to fear surveillance from Big Tech intermediaries like Amazon and Overdrive, which are motivated by profit to invade the privacy of people seeking knowledge. Libraries have historically been an institution where everyone—whether they want information on religion or gender-affirming care—can learn without fear of punishment. This should not change just because a book is on a screen rather than paper.
No matter what the outcome of this suit, we know that it is only one step in the long struggle toward ensuring that Big Media and Tech companies don’t usurp the traditional role of libraries in the digital age. As this suit and other efforts move into mainstream consciousness, it’s becoming extraordinarily evident that the rights of libraries to own, preserve, and curate their collections have broad public support. We’re heartened today to see the internet showing up to demand that libraries’ traditional roles of owning and preserving books continue into the digital age.”