The Internet Archive Is a Library

by Maria Bustillos

Brewster Kahle (with phone), talking with Don Stewart, at Don's legendary bookshop, MacLeod's Books, Vancouver, BC
Image: Maria Bustillos

Five hundred thousand books have been removed from the nonprofit Internet Archive's digital library, in compliance with the demands of four corporate publishers who filed a lawsuit against it in 2020 (Hachette v. Internet Archive). The Internet Archive's appeal against that decision will be heard on June 28th in New York.

To recap what I've written before, I believe that the publishers' true goal in this lawsuit is to redefine ebooks as fundamentally different from paper books—as an unownable, rental-only class of goods, like movies at Netflix. Books As A Service. The trouble with this is that it will basically nuke libraries out of existence, because, in order to perform their traditional role in the work of cultural preservation, libraries must own their own collections. In a time of book bans and other attacks on libraries, it's imperative to protect the legal right of libraries to own, preserve, and lend their own books.

In their original complaint, the publishers contended that the Internet Archive was not a library, but a “pirate site”:

Yeah no. The Internet Archive is a library. Any doubts on this point will be resolved when you watch this video of its founder, Brewster Kahle, whose lifelong ambition it has been to create a library for the whole world. It's just the “digital” part that gave those villains and profiteers an opening.

In reality, it was a young guy still in his twenties who saw that the library of the future would be a digital library. He made sure that his efforts would be directed toward an open, shared solution, refusing to work with Steve Jobs at NeXT in favor of the chance to develop open standards for web publishing at Apple.

People should know that Kahle, a champion of books and authors, has been a digital librarian for more than three decades. And that's why we have—in addition to the Open Library—the Wayback Machine, GDELT and the TV News Archive, Democracy's Library, and much, much more besides.

This is the first in an ongoing series.