A group of publishers is suing the Internet Archive over its trove of free ebooks.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House, claims the Internet Archive is practically committing theft by putting over 1.3 million titles up for free for anyone to download, The New York Times reports.

The books were previously available to one borrower at a time, but in March the Internet Archive lifted the restriction due to the coronavirus, essentially creating a National Emergency Library to serve “displaced learners.” That didn’t sit right with the publishers, which interpret the move as a large-scale theft.

“There is nothing innovative or transformative about making complete copies of books to which you have no rights and giving them away for free,” said Maria Pallante, president of the Association of American Publishers. “They’ve stepped in downstream and taken the intellectual investment of authors and the financial investment of publishers, they’re interfering and giving this away.”

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle has defended the organization’s actions, saying it was practically acting as a digital library while public libraries are still under lockdown.

As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done,” he told the Times. “This supports publishing and authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case, protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone’s interest.”

The only difference is that unlike public libraries which pay licensing fees to publishers, the Internet Archive acquires donated copies of books, which are then scanned and uploaded.

Kahle adds that any author who wants their work taken down can get in touch with the organization. Some authors, he says, have actually reached out to request their works be featured on the free library.

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