The Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library in San Francisco, has become one of the most important cultural institutions of our time. What began in 1996 as a bold attempt to archive the World Wide Web turned into a great library of books, music recordings and television shows, digitized and available online, with a mission to provide “universal access to all knowledge”.

Now the final stage of a lawsuit against the Internet Archive for of copyright infringement filed by four of the world’s largest commercial publishers, who have been trying to shut down the archive’s core programs since the start of the pandemic, is in progress.

The Internet Archive also includes Wayback Machine – a service that archives billions of web pages from around the world. His other, lesser-known collections include 41 million digitized books and texts. The Internet Archive uses a practice known as “controlled digital lending,” where a library owns a book, digitizes it, and lends the physical book or its digital copy to one user at a time.

Despite the huge library collections that meet the needs of millions of people, 4 leading publishers – Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons Inc. and Penguin Random House – claim that the Internet Archive is not a real library.

In their lawsuit the publishers say, the Internet Archive “badly misleads the public and boldly misappropriates the goodwill that libraries enjoy and have legitimately earned.” In their view, the archive’s “efforts to brand itself as a library” are part of a scheme to “fraudulently mislead” people, circumvent copyright law and limit how much profit publishers can extract from the ebook market. They describe the Internet Archive as a “pirate site” and its business model as “parasitic and illegal” and characterize controlled digital lending as “an invented paradigm that is well outside copyright law.”

The Internet Archive, in turn, claims, that the practice of controlled digital lending constitutes fair use under copyright law, and asserts that “libraries have been practicing CDL in one form or another for more than a decade, and hundreds of libraries use it to lend books digitally today.”

In this lawsuit, the publishers are trying to redefine the Internet Archive on their terms and thereby deny it the ability to use the same legal tools that thousands of other libraries use to make materials available for temporary use and distribution to users.

For their part, a group of current and former university librarians respond, that “it is a one-of-a-kind independent research library, which shares the keystone values of all libraries: preservation, access, privacy, intellectual freedom, diversity, lifelong learning and the public good.” And the main argument:

”The Internet Archive fulfills the mission of a library in ways we could only dream of a few decades ago.”