On July 22, 2020, Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive, spoke at a press conference about the copyright lawsuit brought by the publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin Random House against our non-profit digital library. These are his remarks:
I’m Chris Freeland, I’m a librarian at the Internet Archive and I’m the Director of the Open Libraries Program at the Internet Archive. I’ve been at the Internet Archive for more than two and a half years. Before joining the Archive, I was an associate university librarian at Washington University in St. Louis, and then before that I was the Technical Director of a project called the Biodiversity Heritage Library. And so for more than 15 years, I’ve worked in partnership with the Internet Archive to digitize books and make them as widely available as possible through technology and through copyright.
In that same amount of time, that’s when the Internet Archive was partnering with those one thousand libraries that Brewster just mentioned to digitize nearly four million books. So most of those books, when we were partnering with libraries, most of those books were in the public domain, and that means that those were easily published online. They didn’t need restrictions for use. They didn’t need any kind of controls. But at the Internet Archive, we think that everyone deserves to learn. So our goal is to build a research library with more than four million modern books that we can make available to users all over the world.
Now you may be asking why four million? Four million books is the size of a large metropolitan public library. It’s about the same size as a Chicago Public Library or a San Francisco Public Library. And we think that everyone, regardless of where they live, should have equal and equitable access to a comprehensive library. And so to date, we’ve digitized nearly 1.5 million books on the way towards that four million book goal.
So the way that we lend books to our patrons is through Controlled Digital Lending. So Controlled Digital Lending is a legal practice that makes works accessible that are still in copyright. We started working with Controlled Digital Lending with the Boston Public Library, on a pilot that we called at that time “digitize and lend” those books that were in copyright. Now, nine years later, hundreds of other libraries of all sizes in the US and Canada are also participating in Controlled Digital Lending and they’ve embraced the model.
So here’s the way the Controlled Digital Lending works. We only loan as many copies as we and our library partners own, and those checkouts have time limits and the files are protected by the same digital rights management software that publishers use. It’s not a free-for-all. It’s controlled, that’s the “control” in Controlled Digital Lending. So Controlled Digital Lending helps us make information available, which is incredibly important from my perspective as a librarian. It’s a necessary way to increase equity in our education system, and it’s part of the mission of libraries.
In addition to digitizing, we’re also helping libraries and institutions preserve their collections and to keep them safe and accessible. So let me give you a little example, a story from last year. Marygrove College closed last year, and a central concern for the school’s president, Dr. Elizabeth Burns, and for the Board of Trustees is what do we do with the library? Those 70,000 volumes that are in that library that were in the school that was closing. So after hearing about the Internet Archive’s Controlled Digital Lending program, the college decided to donate the entire library to us for digitization and for preservation, so that the legacy of the college would live on. And so that those books would be available for future scholars.
So in closing my little portion here, I want to leave you with an impact story of why Controlled Digital Lending matters. So we’ve received hundreds of testimonials and published two blog posts that are full of statements from users who have used our lending library while their own libraries and their schools were closed. And one such statement really helped underscore that impact of CDL. And it comes to us from Benjamin Saracco, who is a librarian at a medical center in New Jersey. And Benjamin wrote to us, and to let us know that he was able to find basic life support manuals that were needed by the frontline workers at the medical center where he worked. He needed those and he had to use our library because his physical collection was closed due to COVID-19. It may sound impossible to think, but it’s true. Lives were saved because of Controlled Digital Lending. That is impactful.