We at APC are dismayed by the recent ruling in Hachette v. Internet Archive, where the latter has lost its first court fight to scan and lend ebooks like a library. However, we are also heartened that the fight will continue. We have signed a civil society statement in support of the Internet Archive stating that “it is essential that libraries have the ability to purchase and lend electronic items under reasonable licence terms, as well as to provide access to their collections remotely, even if this means digitising their physical items… We reaffirm that controlled digital lending is in no way different from conventional lending, which also allows many people to access the same copy of a work that the library bought only once.”
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle has also said, “Libraries are more than the customer service departments for corporate database products. For democracy to thrive at global scale, libraries must be able to sustain their historic role in society – owning, preserving, and lending books.”
The APC network stands in solidarity in this fight for this vital commons resource. Here are responses from some of our members and associates on this important struggle for universal access to knowledge.
Oona Caldeira Brant Monteiro de Castro
Director for institutional development, Instituto Nupef (APC member)
Based on historic fights between corporate copyright owners and access to knowledge advocates and movements, as well as past lawsuits by publishers, what most concerns me in this case is the potential criminalisation of a not-for-profit initiative working to provide access to knowledge, and to preserve the memory of published works, especially considering it is happening in the USA, a country where fair use is a consolidated doctrine, concept and right.
If publishers win such lawsuits, it creates a cascading negative effect in other countries where access to books is even more difficult for various reasons – social, economic and lack of availability. This kind of lawsuit is usually also exemplary to prevent the spread of the controlled digital lending model. While the models in place produce gaps in inclusion, what are the alternatives given by public policies or by the market to increase access to knowledge?
Andrew Garton (APC associate)
From the earliest days of public access to the internet, going back to the mid-1980s and even earlier, the philosophy underpinning the work of open access advocates from the Philippines to Ghana, from Nicaragua to Australia's east coast forest defenders, has been to share everything; from software, then known as shareware, to the technical skills required to establish an email connection. Sharing knowledge and the means to access it is also the throbbing heart of the library: every library, whether brick and mortar, or zeros and ones.
I teach at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. It is rare now that hard copies of new publications are purchased, with ebooks being the preferred option. This ensures any number of students may borrow a book rather than be limited to a three-day loan cycle for physical books. That we libraries are adapting to new modes of publication can only improve access to a wider readership, particularly as they are primarily one of the remaining bastions of sharing, from any number of publications and the means to access them. I can only hope that our laws adapt as fearlessly and courageously as our libraries have.
Executive co-director and co-founder, TEDIC (APC member)
There have been historic parallels of initial resistance to digital openness before it became the new normal. We must not let the same resistance hinder progress and deny people access to information that can benefit them. The notion of “market harm” being used to justify limiting access to knowledge is of concern. Safeguards for controlled digital lending are already in place and should be respected. We must remember that the goal is to make knowledge accessible to all, not just to maximise profits for a few. The Internet Archive serves as a valuable archive that should be preserved and expanded. It is an essential part of the commons and a testament to the value of free and open access to information.
Decolonizing Wikipedia coordinator, Whose Knowledge? (APC partner)
Librarians have a key role in the digital world, and the Internet Archive is vital for librarians to continue doing their work and serving their communities by providing access to a broader public around the world, and by making digital preservation real. It is essential to be aware that only a fraction of human knowledge exists in the form of printed text, and only a fraction of all books ever published are digitised and available online.
We need to remember that the many small and medium collections are often not part of the large licence packages that big digital lending platforms are selling. But these collections are deeply valuable in terms of knowledge justice. This is the uniqueness of these invisibilised collections, barely digitised, where at least a portion of the collective memory of marginalised communities exists as published materials. For libraries and users, digital publications go missing from the catalogues faster than we can imagine, becoming unavailable online, when they are not profitable anymore for publishers or when the librarians cannot afford to keep a certain title in the library collection. And that is why we need not only digital publishers, but also digital librarians that can preserve digital books (and multimodal materials, as Internet Archive does), in order to grant the human right of access to knowledge. From all of us, to all of us.
General coordinator, Sursiendo (APC partner)
The Internet Archive is a fundamental project in terms of access to knowledge. The struggle that is taking place right now to keep this digital space accessible, as historical heritage and preservation of our cultures, is also a struggle to break the illegitimate impositions of the markets. Cultures and their "products" are made, created and re-created by all people. There are those who create something "different", yes! But we cannot forget that all knowledge and cultural production necessarily come from our ancestors. And free culture recognises the authors of these creations. The fact that we can continue to share ourselves freely only increases our creative possibilities. There are no limits to how we can share, mix and remix to produce new content and knowledge.
That is the spirit in which we at Sursiendo keep our content in open formats and support the existence of the Internet Archive and other digital libraries and open content. We are grateful to all the people and communities from whom we have learned in the past, that is why we consider it essential to keep content open! Because even if we cannot name each person, group or community from whom we have learned, we can give back to the commons what belongs to the commons. In this way we recognise this collective process and reduce the structural inequalities that market repeatedly wants to deepen with its commodity logic, far from people and communities.
Co-founder, Bytesforall Bangladesh (APC member)
Authors write to be read. Publishers need to be fair to them, and not seek the most exploitative business model possible. Being a publisher myself (goa1556.in), I believe the Internet Archive is doing the right thing. Selfish interests should not block the flow of what technology makes possible, especially when it benefits the vast majority. Reader rights are as important as publisher rights.
Vladimir Garay and Juan Carlos Lara
Advocacy director and co-executive director, respectively, Derechos Digitales (APC member)
Libraries are some of the most vital institutions in human history, playing a fundamental role in preservation and access to knowledge since the early days of civilisation. This is still true today, when current technical and technological advancement give us unprecedented capacity for the democratisation of knowledge that could benefit everyone. Still, instead of embracing technology for common good, we have seen how that potential has been constrained in favour of corporate greed, endangering the very foundations of libraries as institutions. We stand in solidarity with the Internet Archive and their outstanding work.