EDITORIAL/Unfair Use: Court rules against Internet Archive in copyright suit

There are still plenty of folks out there who belive everything on the Internet should be free.

Including copyrighted works.

But on Friday copyright holders scored a victory in federal court when a judge ruled against the Internet Archive for scanning and lending copyrighted books as part of its pandemic "national Emergency Library."

The website has been lending copyrighted works for years, but only a few users could access a particular work at any one time. During the pandemic, though, the archive listed those restrictions.

In June 2020 four major publishing houses filed suit, arguing "mass copyright infringement."

The archive went back to controlled lending, argued what it had been doing fell under the "fair use" doctrine, which typically allows limited non-commercial reproduction of copyrighted works without the copyright holder's permission under certain circumstances.

The judge ruled Friday fair use doesn't apply in this case and that while the Internet Archive can lend out physical books it purchased, like any library, it could not scan them digitally and hand them out to all comers.

Which, in our view, is the right call.

Allowing anyone -- even a nonprofit with good intentions -- to buy single copies of books and then distribute unlimited digital reproduction of the copyrighted works would have a significant financial impact on authors and publishers. It would pretty much reduce the value of their work and product to near-zero.

And that's just not right.

The powers that be at the Internet Archive have said they will appeal. We can only hope that appeal fails.