Internet Archive Responds to Recording Industry Lawsuit Targeting Obsolete Media

Late Friday, some of the world’s largest record labels, including Sony and Universal Music Group, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive and others for the Great 78 Project, a community effort for the preservation, research and discovery of 78 rpm records that are 70 to 120 years old. As a non-profit library, we take this matter seriously and are currently reviewing the lawsuit with our legal counsel.

A 78 rpm player in the foyer of the Internet Archive.

Of note, the Great 78 Project has been in operation since 2006 to bring free public access to a largely forgotten but culturally important medium. Through the efforts of dedicated librarians, archivists and sound engineers, we have preserved hundreds of thousands of recordings that are stored on shellac resin, an obsolete and brittle medium. The resulting preserved recordings retain the scratch and pop sounds that are present in the analog artifacts; noise that modern remastering techniques remove.

Statement from Brewster Kahle, digital librarian of the Internet Archive:
“When people want to listen to music they go to Spotify. When people want to study 78rpm sound recordings as they were originally created, they go to libraries like the Internet Archive. Both are needed. There shouldn’t be conflict here.”

These preservation recordings are used in teaching and research, including by university professors like Jason Luther of Rowan University, whose students use the Great 78 collection as the basis for researching and writing podcasts for use in class assignments (University Professor Leverages 78rpm Record Collection From the Internet Archive for Student Podcasts, June 9, 2021). While this mode of access is important, usage is tiny—on average, each recording in the collection is only accessed by one researcher per month.

A technician uses a 4-arm turntable to digitize a 78 rpm record.

While we review the lawsuit, we remain dedicated to our mission of providing “Universal Access to All Knowledge.” We are grateful for the continued support of our library patrons and partners as we continue to fight these attacks.

For more information or media inquiries, please contact


29 thoughts on “Internet Archive Responds to Recording Industry Lawsuit Targeting Obsolete Media

  1. Nik Brink

    The Great 78 Project & the George Blood Archive are of great personal significance to me. Music exists in this place that would otherwise be lost & gone forever. Great pieces, wonderful recordings. There is barely even profit motive here to shut it down. How do you figure UMG or Sony would profit from a forgotten & incomplete tune from 1931 with 47 plays in 7 years? It’s malice, not copy protection that drives these lawsuits. It’s shameful on the labels part. My life would not be the same, & for the worse, if we lost access to such a treasure.

  2. Tom Hunter

    Years ago, I had uploaded a massive library of A Prairie Home Companion recordings–the largest and most complete set of over-the-air recordings–audio files that were re-mastered by the same engineer who did same for a lot of Grateful Dead cordings–and they were all taken down, never to be heard again.

    Those recordings were made over the air from Public Radio on cassette tape–an obsolete media.

    I see that someone else has been able to upload PHCs. Why was I denied?

  3. Alex Farlie

    As I’ve said previously, I do not think certain rights holders are going to stop until they have total control over works still under their nominal copyright. I also sadly do not think they are going to stop with modern e-books and old recordings.

    This is my personal view on what IA should be doing next:-

    1. There should be prominent notice on the front page of the site and on search results explaining that certain resources may be subject to copyright limitations, and that owing to legal actions by rights holders certain resources on the site, or the entire site may become unavailable (either temporarily or permanently) at short notice.

    2. IA should begin a formal audit process (potentially hiring external expertss) to determine what ‘in-copyright’ assets it currently or may currently hold. (This should not just be limited to Books and Audio, but other digital assests such as software or datasets.). Auditing collections is done periodically by other archives and Libraries, and would show a commitment to professionalism in curation of collections at Internet Archive.

    3. For works published after a certain date (currently 1928 but advancing each year), IA should move to a more Google Books/Hathi like approach, where a work that may still be subject to copyright is only offered in “Snippet” view (such as the title/colophon pages for printed works, 10-20s signature clips for audio, and appropriate lo-resolution “fair use” extracts for other assets.), until evidence is presented in a specific request that the work is out of copyright. Google Books provides a specific mechanism where a third party users can request that the copyright status of a resource is reviewed, something I found noticeable by it’s absence when using IA’s interface.

    4. Where possible, the metadata for a work should indicate why a resource is thought to be under a specific license, or free from a copyright restrictions in the United States.

    5. There should be a button in the UI on all listed resources for third party users (including those that may not be rights holders) to flag up potential metadata, or licensing concerns on any given item, with a reasonable expectation that the issue raised will at least be examined carefully, or the meta-data amended appropriately.

    6. Requests for removal from genuine rights holder should be respected (and automatic) where a work can be shown to be under their copyright. Rights holders should also be able to request an opt-out for the entirety of their in copyright works. ( You already allow websites to opt-out from Wayback.)

  4. Hasford Albrecht

    Thank you for letting us know about this. It is almost as though there is a competition underway to establish which multi-billion dollar industry can behave in the greediest, stupidest, and most short-sighted manner: publishing or recording.

    At present, they appear to be running neck and neck.

  5. Noha307

    After a very brief skimming of the lawsuit (available from one point sticks out as particularly egregious. Paragraph 4 states: “These recordings face no danger of being lost, forgotten, or destroyed.”

    This is not true. In 2008, UMG, one of the parties to the lawsuit, lost over 118,000 master tapes in a fire. ( Now, one might argue that masters are different from mass market copies, but it points to the fact that the risk is very much a real one. Furthermore, if record company cannot be counted on to care for their much more valuable masters, then someone must step in to at least preserve their inferior copies.

  6. Amy

    Internet Archive is an invaluable library and one of the only truly good things about the web. As a journalist and researcher, I’m completely against these corporate bullies trying to intimidate a non-profit public good. Please let us know if we can donate to your legal fight.

    1. Matt Boland

      Oh please. Like you’re really losing money on this…meanwhile, music and recording remains a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s nothing wrong with making materials available to public libraries…and that actually helps to promote and sell your products, similar to how radio airplay does. It’s always the same old thing from the “big guys” at the record labels; “if you want to play, you’ve got to pay”.

      This bullying thing is getting really old and tiresome. It needs to stop.

    2. Cruchlyn

      File Sharing is not illegal. No reason to shut it down. You have the wrong view about file sharing.

    3. David McNiff

      There are far more important things to a society than your profits. To the extent that copyright law permits you to jealously hoard and control access to all published art, the law should be amended to protect society from your greed.

  7. Christie Dudley

    What people don’t seem to understand is that the copyright scheme that exists today is not the same as that which was in place when most of these records were recorded. In the United States, the first copyright for recorded music was registered in 1972. The vast majority of these recordings were released with no expectation of copyright protections.

  8. jhon smith

    Apparently there is a concerted industry attempt to damage the image of this academic project by treating it as a piracy site, which is stupid.You should file a counterclaim for damage to your image.

  9. Noha307

    After a very brief skimming of the lawsuit one point sticks out as particularly egregious. Paragraph 4 states: “These recordings face no danger of being lost, forgotten, or destroyed.”

    This is not true. In 2008, UMG, one of the parties to the lawsuit, lost over 118,000 master tapes in a fire. Now, one might argue that masters are different from mass market copies, but it points to the fact that the risk is very much a real one. Furthermore, if record company cannot be counted on to care for their much more valuable masters, then someone must step in to at least preserve their inferior copies.

  10. Johanna Bowen

    Could you perhaps provide those of us who support the Archive with the following:
    1. Names and addresses of the chief actors within the companies bringing the suit?
    2. The Ames and addresses of the chief actors in the law firms.
    Those named above should hear from your supporters
    Johanna E Bowen
    Library Director, Retired
    Cabrillo College, Aptos CA

  11. James Ripley

    The Internet Archive should just give those copyrighted vinyl recordings to Spotify, Itunes, etcetera, so they can sell them alongside the remastered versions. Simple solution.

  12. Luis Garcia

    Do these numbskulls know that those items had long since entered the public domain since they’ve all passed that date?

  13. Daniel

    Always be prepared to say goodbye to the Internet Archive, because desperate industries who can (still) afford unscrupulous and unethical lawyers will aways try to squeeze some bucks out of whatever seems like a somewhat promising target. We’ve had books, now we have music, just wait for cinema, television, software and videogames next. And maybe round 2 and 3 for some of them, until “we can’t have nice things” anymore. It’s just a question of which companies care little enough about how badly they (further) ruin their public image.

    I know quite a few people working in the music industry, including at major labels. Rest assured, they’re all fully aware that there is no economical damage being caused to them in cases like this. Sometimes, it’s a desparate acknowledgement that the music industry is losing attention span to the many other ways people of today have to spend their limited spare time, but in this case, it’s plainly obvious how much of a niche the 78 archive is and that this isn’t an issue here. Before the days of streaming services, these lawsuits were the record industry’s admission that their old business model is failing and they’re too technically inept to adapt. But this isn’t the case anymore, either. This time, it’s really purely about corporate greed. Where could we squeeze out some more money that we didn’t earn, that we didn’t do any work for, to make our shareholders happy?

    But the most important thing to point out is always this: the most blatant lie these record labels are trying to get you to believe is that they do this for the benefit of the artists. These labels are the last entities on Earth who care about the artists. They’re the reason why it’s so hard making a living as a musician, or working in any other capacity in the music industry except “label executive”. They’re the ones who have perfected the scammy practices that, for the past century, have kept musicians constantly struggling and indebted to them. They wouldn’t leave, and have never left, any possibility to further rip off artists for their own financial gain. As they are doing today with the streaming service market. Look at the financial performance of these organisations, then look at how much artists signed to them are being paid. No further proof is needed to discredit everything they claim about their motivations. They’re rip-off artists, they always have been, and they show no signs of being interested in turning to honest, reputable business models, which would actually offer fair terms to the artists whose work they rely on. They’re the corporate equivalent of con artists or loan sharks, plain and simple.

    It’s the same story every time. They try to sue for money instead of offering something to earn it honestly, wantonly disregard and let rot in their archives pieces of our shared cultural heritage, string artists along with great promises while making sure that they stay poor, all the while paying a huge machinery for PR and conscience-free lawfirms to try and make us believe that they’re the good guys.

    Major labels are the worst thing that could ever have happened to music artists, and to the cultural heritage of music. Now that there’s as little need for their existance as ever before (considering the accessibility of recording facilities, record production, and distribution), the sooner they go out of business, the better for everyone involved in music. Between 1999 and 2012, six major record labels turned into a remaining three. Let’s hope it doesn’t take long until the world is free of the last three.

  14. Brian C.

    Back around 1994 (when one could still do such things without a major headache), I was in grad school in D.C. and had a reader’s card for the Library of Congress. I once requested to hear a 1904 recording of a band arrangement of the overture to Verdi’s _Nabucco_; well past printed public domain even at that point.

    I remember going to one of the audio booths, where I was connected with a library tech somewhere else in the building who was operating the audio equipment. The technician said that he could only play the record twice because of concerns about wear, which I understood fully and accepted as reasonable. I asked afterwards if it were possible somehow to obtain a tape or CD of the original so that a musicologist friend and I could work on a transcription for a little Victorian brass band with whom we played. I was astounded to learn from the tech that LC could not make a copy of it, not because of preservation concerns, but because the present-day descendant of the original company – I believe that he said it was Sony – after 90+ years of consolidations claims ‘copyright’ over *any* recordings of its gobbled-up corporate ancestors.

    This record was from 1904. The musicians, director, and arranger are all dead. Their children, grandchildren, and possibly even great-grandchildren are dead. Even anyone who possibly could have heard any live performance of any one of the members of the band – likely just an ad-hoc recording studio band, as was common in the early days – has most assuredly been fertilising daffodils at Pleasant View for many years.

    The absurdity is mind-blowing, yet we are expected to believe that this present-day recording company does this for the ‘benefit of the artists?’

  15. Anon


    Get your stuff off internet archive now and back it up where it can’t be found. It’s TIME to CREATE a new OPEN SOURCE PROTOCOL that is HEAVILY ENCRYPTED from end to end and not based on cryptocurrency like LBRY (LBRY is DEAD NOW TOO!!!) similar to bittorrent and https that can replace internet archive and become a uncensorable, and unremovable Internet archive 2 PROTOCOL because making something based upon a internet protocol that is NOT A PLATFORM is the only way to prevent these GREEDY ILLUMINATI OWNED companies from completely taking over the internet because they will NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVEREVER EVER EVER EVER EVER STOP!!! until the FEDS seize the domains of the internet archive and way back machine!!!!!! Perhaps LBRY is a candidate to be rewritten into a new protocol that does not need cryptocurrency because LBRY is open source.

  16. Luke

    Get ready to do EVERYTHING on the dark net in the future. There are already protocols similar to Tor but which unlike the Tor network are optimized for anonymous filesharing. Such protocols could be combined with hidden servers not accessable outside the network to keep necessary files seeded at all times. The music and book publishers are not the NSA, they will NOT have the resources to fight the dark net.

    I never bought another CD after I first heard of the filesharing lawsuits and I never will. Tens of millions doing the same crushed those harassment suits.

    1. Brian C.

      There are almost always ways to work around issues using technically legal, questionably legal, and outright illegal methods. But that does not fix the problem, which is that the copyright laws need to change to reflect more reasonable ideas of individual profit from intellectual/artistic property rather than the industry-protectionist shams that the laws are now. And our Elected Legislators are too spineless (or too addicted to lobbyists’ largesse) to do it.

      I do not think that anyone should consider it unreasonable for an author or artist to profit from his or her work during his or her lifetime. One could even generously argue that children or perhaps even a family estate or trust should be entitled to royalties and such if that agreement be made. But the sickness inherent in the publishing and recording industries currently is that as an author or artist, you must sign away most rights to your creation to a company in order to be published/recorded, and that company effectively assumes that it has the right to profit from any use of your creation under any circumstances whatsoever thenceforth and forever more, *even if* the company has withdrawn support or interest for it (e.g. letting something go out of print and refusing to reprint it).

      When I was in library school in the early 1990s, there was hushed and behind-the-hand grumbling about ‘The Mouse Lobby’ and how it was always pushing for ridiculous extensions of copyright (while at the same time there was acknowledgement of the contrary argument of ‘can you imagine what *those people* would do if Mickey ever became public domain?’, ‘those people’ being understood to be pornographers or other Creators of Conventionally Unsavoury Content (by 20th-century standards)). Rarely was the reality of corporate greed ever discussed openly.

    2. David McNiff

      Exactly. Well put. It may be possible to kill an individual bee by swatting it, but impossible to do the same to a swarm. Time to swarm.

  17. Anonymous Today

    These arguments probably won’t help much, but just off the top of my head…

    1. The RIAA’s implication that the Great 78 Project should’ve been registered with the Copyright Office to obtain safe harbor is totally disingenuous and brings to mind the “why didn’t they go through official channels” arguments against whistleblowers, when official channels result in even worse outcomes. The Music Modernization Act’s noncommercial use provision, which the RIAA probably co-authored, gives them veto power over any proposed noncommercial uses. In fact, the RIAA is a member of the organization that put out, in which it is admitted that the MMA’s process for allowing noncommercial use of recordings is prohibitively expensive and conceptually flawed—forcing would-be users to not only pay $50 per recording just to ask permission, but also automatically denying permission when the recordings have *ever* been commercially exploited or even merely registered as being part of a record company catalog. The document says that they expect no one will (or even reasonably could) obtain safe harbor. In my estimation, the process only supports noncommercial use of a very limited number of previously unreleased or ultra-obscure orphan works on defunct indie labels. And this is notwithstanding the fact that this lawsuit indicates that the hostile RIAA would likely deny any requests the Internet Archive would ever make for anything whatsoever.

    2. This music has a minuscule audience that gets smaller every day. It’s already long past the time when it was worth the record companies’ time & expense to market it, save for the occasional synch license for a film or TV commercial. Hardly anyone will pay even a discount price for this music. It cost the companies nothing to put it online, and now that they have finally gotten around to doing so, it surely only nets them a trickle of revenue; I mean, this is deep-catalog, long-tail stuff we’re talking about here. They are not losing money, period. And they certainly are being cheated out of anything just because the Internet Archive has a “competing” recording available, especially given the inferiority of most 78s. So there is arguably zero harm done.

    3. It is further disingenuous of the labels to imply that they knew all along that this music had an audience, aside from some cherry-picked vocal standards. They had mostly given up on it and were content to let it languish in obscurity. Quietly putting it on streaming services, just because it cost them nothing to do so, doesn’t count as marketing. And it surely only amounts to a trickle of direct sales revenue, and a handful of synch licenses. In fact, it seems the Great 78 Project’s “popularity” is what may have alerted them to the fact that anybody was interested in this music at all; and also to the fact that virtually nobody actually wants to pay for this outdated material. It could be argued that the Internet Archive is doing the RIAA’s market research for them, showing them which works might be worth putting effort into exploiting commercially going forward.

    4. The record companies consider whatever optimized, contemporary masters they’ve put online to be the only ones people should ever want or need. But there is a niche audience for actual 78s, people who want to hear how the recordings actually sounded when they were originally released. Sometimes there are notable differences in content, e.g. some 78s had reverb effects added and others did not, and all 78s used mono mixes but the contemporary reissues are stereo mixes—these are ostensibly different recordings! And there’s nothing preventing the record companies from digitizing their old 78s and putting them online alongside their contemporary remastered versions, to satisfy the niche audience, but they steadfastly refuse to do so, and attack the Internet Archive for doing their archival work, marketing, and market research for them, and falsely claim that it’s unfair competition.

    5. The RIAA could license the material to the archive with the stroke of a pen, and could benefit financially from that deal. YouTube has deals which give content moderation and generous licensing powers to the music publishers & record companies. The resulting capture of advertising revenue and valuable market data has been a boon to the RIAA. In return, YouTube is spared from hostile lawsuits like this one. So why has the RIAA not pursued a YouTube-like agreement with the Internet Archive? This litigation is unnecessary and ultimately costs taxpayers. So it seems they are not seeking relief for a legitimate grievance, but rather seek just to destroy a legitimate public good because, much like the book publishers, they regard libraries as an enemy, and are under the delusional impression that libraries and their patrons are freeloaders whose fat wallets must be pried open and emptied at every opportunity.

  18. Abolish Copyright

    This lawsuit is nothing more than an obvious troll by overly litigious copyright pimps that represent the needs of no well-adjusted or “normal” person. Disturbing stuff.

  19. Terence Love

    This reminds me somewhat of a conflict that occurred between and the RIAA back around. 2014. Reelradio streamed recorded exhibits of historical Top 40 Radio “airchecks” – largely from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. These included commercials, dj banter, newscasts, radio station ID jingles, and the Top 40 hits of the day. Many existed only as “scoped” airchecks – meaning they had most of the music edited out. But many had survived as “unscoped” and included most of the music in it’s entirety – except for the dj doing the intro or outro talk. Very few of the over a thousand unscoped exhibits running an hour or more long presented music without some portion of it being covered over by dj banter due to the way Top 40 Radio had been formatted. But this along with everything else provided the historical context and experience of the medium Top 40 was. Reelradio was an audio museum dedicated to presenting this experience right down to how the music had been processed through vintage radio station sound compressors, reverb units, turntables and cart machines. It presented most of, but not all of the music, The site was of great value for the purpose of archiving historical Top 40 Radio recordings for experiencing, study, and nostalgia. But it was NOT a music site. The music itself was secondary.

    If I recall correctly, the conflict with the RIAA over Reelradio’s presentation of the music resulted in the site being required to run an audio player that gave the name of each song in text as it was running on the player. This may have included a record label being identified as well as even an “available on iTunes” promo – I can’t recall for sure now. But as a long-time subscriber to Reelradio, I can give testimony to how completely out of context and alien this looked and felt on that site. This was because the RIAA was taking it’s power and demands to places it really didn’t belong just because they believed they had legal avenue to do so. It damaged the historical content and experience the site offered, I think. Though I personally liked and enjoyed much of the music, I had no interest in hearing it from iTunes because I was enjoying it exclusively within the context of experiencing it being presented as it had been on Top 40 Radio.

    On some footnotes, again if I recall correctly, Reelradio had presented the music for eighteen years previously on a Reel Audio player WITHOUT identifying the songs in text, and had payed the RIAA the kind of royalty fees a radio station would everytime an exhibit featuring music ran. But it was only AFTER this eighteen years of collecting those royalties that the RIAA informed them they had been operating in violation of certain rules and would be required to adhere to specific new conditions that first put the site’s future in serious jeopardy. The Reelradio audio “museum” of Top 40 Radio had always been a one–man operation, and it’s lone curator Richard Irwin had been required to do enormous amounts of tedious work cutting up audio files of hundreds and thousands of unscoped exhibits to appease the RIAA’s demands for a new player that did the site itself more harm than good, I’d say. And it was probably a time and experience that drove him to an earlier grave than he might have gone to even despite his deteriorating health condition.

    Powerful organizations like the RIAA and giant record labels just don’t seem to know or care where to stop sometimes to avoid posing a danger to something else that will do the bigger picture outside their immediate place in it more harm than good. Just because an organization may think it has legal avenue to do something does not always mean it must or should.

  20. Anon Archivist 003

    Funny how the same corporations responsible for the devastating cultural loss at the great Universal vault fire now want to rain on the parade of those trying to be responsible long term stewards – stewards who treat media as treasures rather than tinder! Imagine the chutzpah of those who consigned all of the master tapes of Chess Records, Buddy Holly, etc. to ash to dare say anything at all, let alone attempt this sort of outrageous litigation. That disaster destroyed so much of our collective memory. These same bad actors made it so we will never know what may have been on those outakes, have access to the highest quality copies, and more…sometimes rendering these very 78s at issue the highest quality copies in the world…and now they even want to destroy that preservation. What UMG destroyed through neglect in the fire belonged in the Smithsonian (or in’s physical collection…if only, sigh…), not rotting in an old soundstage tinderbox…they should be ashamed yet here we are again with more destructive behavior from them.

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