Internet Archive closes quarantine project early after publishers allege copyright infringement

Internet Archive (IA) is shuttering its temporary online service that offers free ebooks after major publishing houses filed a legal complaint in the Southern District of New York.

The so-called National Emergency Library (NEL) will close on June 16th, 14 days before its planned closure date, according to a statement from IA. 

The lawsuit — from Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Wiley — alleged that IA engaged in intentional copyright infringement by neglecting to license versions of some books uploaded to the service. The filing extends to the entire Open Library program, and not just IA's NEL offering, which was a response to the COVID-19 quarantine. 

IA said it chose to end the NEL offering two weeks early due to the complaint, but will continue to provide controlled digital lending based on another digital library's emergency model, HathiTrust.

"The complaint attacks the concept of any library owning and lending digital books, challenging the very idea of what a library is in the digital world," said IA in its statement. "This lawsuit stands in contrast to some academic publishers who initially expressed concerns about the NEL, but ultimately decided to work with us to provide access to people cut off from their physical schools and libraries."

The four publishers that brought the complaint are members of the Association of American Publishers, which, as the New York Times reported, is assisting in the legal response to IA. IA said it hopes the firms drop their complaint and choose to work with the service. However, IA did not indicate how it plans to further respond to the complaint.

"We hope that similar cooperation is possible here, and the publishers call off their costly assault," the group said.