Internet Archive Files Opening Brief In Its Appeal Of Book Publishers’ Win

peter.suber's bookmarks 2023-12-18

A few weeks ago, publishing giant Penguin Random House (and, yes, I’m still confused why they didn’t call it Random Penguin House after the merger) announced that it was filing a lawsuit (along with many others) against the state of Iowa for its attempt to ban books in school libraries. In its announcement, Penguin Random House talked up the horrors of trying to limits access to books in schools and libraries:

The First Amendment guarantees the right to read and to be read, and for ideas and viewpoints to be exchanged without unreasonable government interference. By limiting students’ access to books, Iowa violates this core principle of the Constitution.

“Our mission of connecting authors and their stories to readers around the world contributes to the free flow of ideas and perspectives that is a hallmark of American Democracy—and we will always stand by it,” says Nihar Malaviya, CEO, Penguin Random House. “We know that not every book we publish will be for every reader, but we must protect the right for all Americans, including students, parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians to have equitable access to books, and to continue to decide what they read.” 

That’s a very nice sentiment, and I’m glad that Penguin Random House is stating it, but it rings a little hollow, given that Penguin Random House is among the big publishers suing to shut down the Internet Archive, a huge and incredibly useful digital library that actually has the mission that Penguin Random House’s Nihar Malaviya claims is theirs: connecting authors and their stories to readers around the world, while contributing to the free flow of ideas and perspectives that are important to the world. And, believing in the importance of equitable access to books.

So, then, why is Penguin Random House trying to kill the Internet Archive?

While we knew this was coming, last week, the Internet Archive filed its opening brief before the 2nd Circuit appeals court to try to overturn the tragically terrible district court ruling by Judge John Koeltl. The filing is worth reading:

Publishers claim this public service is actually copyright infringement. They ask this Court to elevate form over substance by drawing an artificial line between physical lending and controlled digital lending. But the two are substantively the same, and both serve copyright’s purposes. Traditionally, libraries own print books and can lend each copy to one person at a time, enabling many people to read the same book in succession. Through interlibrary loans, libraries also share books with other libraries’ patrons. Everyone agrees these practices are not copyright infringement.

Controlled digital lending applies the same principles, while creating new means to support education, research, and cultural participation. Under this approach, a library that owns a print book can scan it and lend the digital copy instead of the physical one. Crucially, a library can loan at any one time only the number of print copies it owns, using technological safeguards to prevent copying, restrict access, and limit the length of loan periods.

Lending within these limits aligns digital lending with traditional library lending and fundamentally distinguishes it from simply scanning books and uploading them for anyone to read or redistribute at will. Controlled digital lending serves libraries’ mission of supporting research and education by preserving and enabling access to a digital record of books precisely as they exist in print. And it serves the public by enabling better and more efficient access to library books, e.g., for rural residents with distant libraries, for elderly people and others with mobility or transportation limitations, and for people with disabilities that make holding or reading print books difficult. At the same time, because controlled digital lending is limited by the same principles inherent in traditional lending, its impact on authors and publishers is no different from what they have experienced for as long as libraries have existed.

The filing makes the case that the Internet Archives use of controlled digital lending for eBooks is protected by fair use, leaning heavily on the idea that there is no evidence of harm to the copyright holders:

First, the purpose and character of the use favor fair use because IA’s controlled digital lending is noncommercial, transformative, and justified by copyright’s purposes. IA is a nonprofit charity that offers digital library services for free. Controlled digital lending is transformative because it expands the utility of books by allowing libraries to lend copies they own more efficiently and borrowers to use books in new ways. There is no dispute that libraries can lend the print copy of a book by mail to one person at a time. Controlled digital lending enables libraries to do the same thing via the Internet—still one person at a time. And even if this use were not transformative, it would still be favored under the first factor because it furthers copyright’s ultimate purpose of promoting public access to knowledge—a purpose libraries have served for centuries.

Second, the nature of the copyrighted works is neutral because the works are a mix of fiction and non-fiction and all are published.

Third, the amount of work copied is also neutral because copying the entire book is necessary: borrowing a book from a library requires access to all of it.

Fourth, IA’s lending does not harm Publishers’ markets. Controlled digital lending is not a substitute for Publishers’ ebook licenses because it offers a fundamentally different service. It enables libraries to efficiently lend books they own, while ebook licenses allow libraries to provide readers temporary access through commercial aggregators to whatever selection of books Publishers choose to make available, whether the library owns a copy or not. Two experts analyzed the available data and concluded that IA’s lending does not harm Publishers’ sales or ebook licensing. Publishers’ expert offered no contrary empirical evidence.

Weighing the fair use factors in light of copyright’s purposes, the use here is fair. In concluding otherwise, the district court misunderstood controlled digital lending, conflating it with posting an ebook online for anyone to access at any time. The court failed to grasp the key feature of controlled digital lending: the digital copy is available only to the one person entitled to borrow it at a time, just like lending a print book. This error tainted the district court’s analysis of all the factors, particularly the first and fourth. The court compounded that error by failing to weigh the factors in light of the purposes of copyright.

Not surprisingly, I agree with the Internet Archives’ arguments here, but these kinds of cases are always a challenge. Judges have this weird view of copyright law, that they sometimes ignore the actual law, the purpose of the law, and the constitutional underpinnings of the law, and insist that the purpose of copyright law is to award the copyright holders as much money and control as possible.

That’s not how copyright is supposed to work, but judges sometimes seem to forget that. Hopefully, the 2nd Circuit does not. The 2nd Circuit, historically, has been pretty good on fair use issues, so hopefully that holds in this case as well.

The full brief is (not surprisingly) quite well done and detailed and worth reading.

And now we’ll get to see whether or not Penguin Random House really supports “the free flow of ideas” or not…