John Chrastka is the executive director of EveryLibrary. John spoke at the press conference hosted by Internet Archive ahead of oral argument in Hachette v. Internet Archive.
My organization, the EveryLibrary Institute, is a public policy and tax policy research organization focusing on issues affecting the future of libraries in the United States and abroad.
Alongside our colleagues at ReadersFirst, we joined an Amicus brief written by the Library Futures Institute, to ask the court to uphold a library digital loaning practice known as Controlled Digital Lending – or “CDL”. CDL uses technology to enable a library to acquire, preserve, and provide access to digital versions books for library patrons.
Simply put, CDL is a different way of utilizing the centuries-old method by which libraries have loaned the books on their shelves for the public to read.
Controlled Digital Lending – as is commonly used in libraries like the Internet Archive – does not replace ebook licenses, and is a reasonable practice for the current moment. For more than a century, Copyright law has allowed libraries to legally lend books and other materials they own. This practice of library lending is essential in ensuring public access to information, particularly books – and has numerous social benefits. With the growth of digital delivery, libraries have adapted by lending materials using new technologies and formats.
However, this lawsuit seeks to outlaw digital library lending unless they dictate how, where, to whom, and at what price it occurs. This would significantly alter how libraries work and their relationships with their patrons and collections in the digital age.
I’d like to take a moment to remind the court about the context of the “Emergency Lending Library” and to ask it to consider the context under which the Internet Archive, as a library, was responding to need. From the launch of the Emergency Lending Library on March 24, 2020 to June 16, 2020, essentially every school district in the United States was closed to in-person learning. The Philadelphia school district was completely shut down with no substantial instruction happening. The school district of Washington, DC shifted part of their instructions to Television. According to Georgetown University’s analysis of MAP tests, Chicago Public School students lost the equivalent of 21 weeks of learning in the year following these shutdowns.
The “Emergency Lending Library” from the Internet Archive provided a unique, important, and necessary service to Americans in this context. It was an exemplar moment for libraries which mitigated the harm of these shutdowns for students and their families.
The plaintiffs’ narrow interpretation of the Copyright Act ignores the broader common law doctrine, policy objectives, and history of copyright. Both Congress and the Supreme Court have historically balanced the interests of copyright holders and owners.
The court should not rewrite more than a century of copyright law about libraries. Doing so will make it nearly impossible for libraries to fulfill their mission – especially in times of grave need and crisis – in the digital environment.