back to article Internet Archive opens National Emergency Library with unlimited lending of 1.4m books for stuck-at-home netizens amid virus pandemic

The Internet Archive on Tuesday announced the creation of the National Emergency Library to make it easier to borrow from its collection of ebooks during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. In theory, digital books are infinitely reproducible, however, American copyright law prevents unrestricted duplication. To comply with the …

  1. cornetman Silver badge

    > In theory, digital books are infinitely reproducible, but US copyright law prevents unrestricted duplication. To comply with the law, libraries that lend ebooks allow people to check out as many copies as they have licensed, and then place would-be readers on a waitlist that provides access when checked-out titles get checked-in.

    Artificial scarcity. That's f*cked up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why is it any different than having to buy individual serial numbers for digital games?

      No, I'm not arguing in favour of this system. In fact, the opposite. It just shows that our existing copyright system doesn't have any relevance in the modern world of digital duplication.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Out of print

      What pisses me off is that books still go out of print, and you can't even buy them any more. WTF is that shit?

      1. Notas Badoff

        Re: Out of print (wag the long tail?)

        I wonder if there's a parallel with those portfolios of patents, where there are bunches of patents that have no known (current) usage. But if your portfolio has 1000s and 1000s of patents, altogether they might make a marketable aggregation?

        Hey, yeah, we have a zillion books that haven't seen ink in ages, but an investor could maybe want to publish some after buying the group, right? Or maybe reissued on the 50th anniversary of the author's death, or the 100th anniversary, or the 150th... (It'll still be copyrighted 'cuz Congress.)

        1. H in The Hague

          Re: Out of print (wag the long tail?)

          "I wonder if there's a parallel with those portfolios of patents, where there are bunches of patents that have no known (current) usage."

          To discourage that some patent systems charge renewal fees, sometimes increasing every year. So you're only going to keep a patent alive if you think it can be used.

          Example: EPO renewal 3rd yr: EUR 470, then increasing to the 10th year and after EUR 1,575/yr. There may also be renewal fees for national patents.


        2. LucreLout

          Re: Out of print (wag the long tail?)

          Or maybe reissued on the 50th anniversary of the author's death, or the 100th anniversary, or the 150th... (It'll still be copyrighted 'cuz Congress.)

          I was just struck by a realization I have no clue how the UK treats American works of copyright after they pass our cut off date. I could probably google this and probably misinterpret whatever I find into whatever I already think. Anyone know the answer?

          Are we too bound to respect the Mickey Mouse Laws? Even though our law, I believe, provides for up to 70 years after the creatives death, then its public domain?

      2. harmjschoonhoven

        Re: Out of print

        At least in Europe it is easy to get hold of out of print books, like a dictionary printed in Franckfurt am Main in 1714 or a natural history of Northern Africa printed in Paris in 1789. BTW the last one is also available online.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Out of print

          When the internet started, I was promised instant access to anything ever written. Perhaps it's in the same cupboard as the flying car and holidays on the moon.

          Many of my books are old - generally first half of the last century - and not on the best of paper. If I want them in a more portable format, I often have to scan them myself, or pay again for a book I already own.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Out of print

            "Many of my books are old - generally first half of the last century - and not on the best of paper. If I want them in a more portable format, I often have to scan them myself, or pay again for a book I already own."

            What did you expect? Digitization takes effort. There are many places that are happy to distribute books--if some of your books are old enough to be in the public domain, project Gutenberg would quite like your scans and will distribute them for free. Who did you expect would do that for you? The original publisher might not be in business anymore (and is a company, so isn't very generous). Commercial digitization groups exist but they'll want payment for their efforts. There are public-spirited people who digitize for free including the aforementioned Gutenberg as well as the Internet Archive, but that's a public effort limited by money and time and access to the originals from which to make copies. When you're promised something for no effort on your part, you'll often not get it. But if you join us and volunteer some scans or some time, we can get closer to that goal.

            1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

              Re: Out of print

              Unfortunately for Gutenberg, most of my collection post-dates the 1923 cut-off date. It's been a while since I was involved but I believe Gutenberg may have one or two of mine. Perhaps now I'm shortly to be retired I can become involved again.

              I wasn't complaining about my effort. The person I expect to do the work is me; why would I possibly expect a company that no longer exists to do it? Though it is irritating that the current copyright laws make it illegal in many jurisdictions to copy books a hundred years old; as you point out companies and authors are often no longer with us.

              Nor do I have any complaint about the concept of copyright; I have a couple of books myself which have sold quite nicely, given their target market. I do have serious doubts about the habit of companies like Disney pushing for longer and longer copyright periods; I would have thought 25 years or the life of the original author, whichever is shorter, to be sufficient.

              Amazon offer electronic versions of music CDs when you purchase the physical CD; somehow, they've never got around to doing the same for books, even recent ones where one might expect the content already to be in a digital form.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: WTF is that shit?

        Books have "always" gone out of print, at least for the last 40 years, since I've taken interest in reading. I never found it anything more than just an annoyance, same as getting drenched when you have no shelter or coat, or missing that last roll of loo paper when you've battled the mob of other hopefuls for the last x hours. Sometimes you searched for that out of print book and got it in the end, sometimes you borrowed, etc., sometimes you didn't, and life went on. The search was a part of the annoyance/fun of everyday life. Currently:



        HAVE IT!




        1. rcxb Silver badge

          Re: WTF is that shit?

          I never found it anything more than just an annoyance

          Those looking for service manuals for old, small single-engine aircraft have quite a different opinion on the subject of copyright restrictions on abandoned works.

          And there's a whole spectrum of people in-between those two extremes.

      4. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Out of print

        And you may buy a digital copy on Amazon, only for whoever owns the copyright to have a falling out with Amazon so the next time your Kindle connects to the Internet, despite having paid for the book, it will get deleted.

      5. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Out of print

        But LOTS of these are IN Print.

        I agree, with POD for paper and ebooks, it's irresponsible and cheating authors that any publisher should now let any work in copyright go out of print.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: Out of print

          Though the US led increase from Berne 50 to 75 & 95 is Corporate greed and DRM is evil, it doesn't give the Internet Archive any right to do this. They are cynically exploiting the covid 19 pandemic to advance their own aims, they have started scanning more than 10 years ago and the "Open Library" ages ago, which pays no licence fees or royalty.

    3. LucreLout

      Artificial scarcity. That's f*cked up.

      Quite. Now, I'm not one for Utopian ideals, but I remember well a man named Aaron Schwartz and his view that all academic research should be available to everyone. A view you could reasonably conclude he died for.

      Look at the funding we, the world, have rightly made available to handle Covid19. Could not a tiny fraction of that be found in normal times such that research, even a year old, could be made freely available to all?

      The thing I miss most about my education isn't the partying (I'm too old for that anyway), it's the unlimited academic journals and papers I could read.

    4. Mage Silver badge

      Not Artificial scarcity

      Real libraries pay royalties and purchase the initial copy. The Internet Archive isn't doing either!

  2. Andy 73 Silver badge

    Current copyright terms ignored... the world keeps turning

    It won't happen, but just imagine we take a dispassionate look at the amount of 'damage' done by making these books available, compared to the number of authors actually significantly affected by the decision.

    It's timely that Tom Scott has done an excellent piece on copyright on YouTube, arguing for shorter terms for copyright so that society as a whole might benefit without materially affecting more than a handful of creators (the very, very rare exceptions who still benefit materially from their work over fifty years after they publish).

    Unfortunately, a balanced call for moderation in these matters is drowned out by corporates who benefit from endless extension, and freeloaders who want to pretend that any copyright at all is unfair on consumers. Still, it's a nice experiment...

    1. dvd

      Re: Current copyright terms ignored... the world keeps turning

      In my opinion there should be a use it or lose it clause. If I can't buy a copy then the copyright is lost.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Current copyright terms ignored... the world keeps turning

        That's probably not enough, as if you made that clause part of the law, it could be modified into an "As long as you can buy a copy, copyright continues" clause, and if a company wanted to deny you a copy, they could simply charge millions for a single copy so nobody takes them up on the offer that technically exists. It would be useful to restrict to what copyright can apply, how many different people can own it, and how long it lasts, all of which are easier to state without ambiguity.

    2. Wade Burchette

      Re: Current copyright terms ignored... the world keeps turning

      The golden rule is simple: He who has the gold makes the rules. We have the best government money can buy. In the United States, 5 of the 10 richest communities are in the Washington DC area. (source) Elections are not cheap, and the rich and big corporations are not giving to these campaigns because they like the politicians. They want political favors in return.

      1. LucreLout

        Re: Current copyright terms ignored... the world keeps turning

        They want political favors in return.

        The EXPECT political favors in return. FTFY.

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Current copyright terms ignored... the world keeps turning

      Yes, it should be life +25, the children of the Author. I'm an author with about 30 books. The repeated extension of copyright is wrong.

      However all of the ills of current copyright, stupidity of publishers etc don't affect the fact that Archive org is depriving LIVING authors still in print!

  3. Robert Helpmann??

    The Spirit is Willing...

    Trying to do a basic search gets me a "503 Service Unavailable" error just now. Looks like folks are making use of this in as much as it is available.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: "503 Service Unavailable"

      Ah, that title will be filed under an RFC somewhere...

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: The Spirit is Willing...

      That's been "large parts of the internet" for me for some days now.

      It's almost as if it were under unusual amounts of load.

  4. Dr_Bingley

    So the Internet Archive believes it can decide to provide access to content it has digitised on behalf of those who actually wrote and published the texts concerned.

    This completely undermines copyright. If what they are doing remains unchallenged, claiming that releasing content to which another party owns the rights is in 'the public interest' will be sufficient grounds for avoiding being fined.

    Whether or not you think that is a good thing I will leave up to you.

    1. rcxb Silver badge

      This completely undermines copyright.

      Did you know there are buildings you can walk into, in practically every major city, where you can look through copyrighted works at no cost? You can even take them home for days or weeks at a time at no charge. Publishers absolutely hate those places. I've heard them called "libraries".

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: Publishers absolutely hate those places. I've heard them called "libraries".

        However, if a book is lent from that library, then it is no longer available for anyone else to read until it comes back. If a book is compelling enough, the borrower may want to acquire their own copy, therefore it could be argued that libraries can stimulate book sales.

        As Mage has already mentioned, in acquiring a book into its collection, the library is, by some mechanism, paying the requisite royalty fee to the author.

        The real target for hatred should be reserved for the photocopier and/or its derivatives.

  5. ricardian

    About 15 years ago there was a small company called "Oecumuse" which produced out-of-copyright music. The owner started the company because he was a choir-master who got fed up of music companies claiming that work was "out of print". He bought a couple of state-of-the-art photocopiers and set to work producing and selling bound copies of music to order; he had an extensive catalogue of pipe organ & choral music. One of his innovations was "de-turdification" - the removal of tiny specks of fly crap which seem to accumulate on old copies of music.

    Sadly, he was last seen circa 2004 leaving his office in Ely, Cambs and getting on a train.

  6. Dr.Flay

    Such a shame this collection is off-limits due to the Great Firewall of UK.

    Active blocks by EE, O2, Three and Vodaphone (affects pay as you go customers)

  7. Mage Silver badge

    Immoral, blatant Copyright violation.

    They started this Open Library a while ago. Real Libraries buy a copy and pay royalties.

    I appreciate the service that provides in "saving" copies of vanished websites. AKA "Wayback Machine".

    They have Google's attitude to scanning copyright works and not just archiving dead websites, but providing copies of copyright works, beyond webpages, with no remuneration to those selling them.

    Also from time to time a book, comic, song, video or program might be distributed "free of charge" by the copyright holder or publisher. That doesn't put it in the Public Domain, nor does it give ANYONE the right to redistribute it.

    No author or publisher should have to search to opt out of anything. See also Clearview.

    it is just blatant copyright violation, far beyond what Google is allowed (snippets on web pages). Why does Google need to scan an entire copyright work to produce a web snippet? I think we can all work out why. Also the "snippet" is disingenuous as tests show that Google has OCRed entire copyright text and will respond to ANY unique text in the book. The results often come higher than sellers of the book.

  8. DrXym

    Open Library is great

    I like reading history books about World War 2 and they have a ton of out of print books from the 50s and 60s which they've scanned in and are available online. The way they make it work is by owning physical copies and only loaning out as many digital copies as they own in physical.

    One issue with the site is that because the books are scanned, your download is basically just an enormous PDF of scanned from some tatty yellowing book or you opt for an OCRd copy which is smaller but filled with mistakes. So it can be hit and miss at times but it's still and awesome service.

    I'd point out that every UK & Irish libraries have a digital lending service built on Overdrive. It's very handy to use through apps or an ereader.

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