Photo (cc) 2020 by Nenad Stojkovic

Good story, bad headline. “The Internet Archive has lost its first fight to scan and lend e-books like a library,” proclaims The Verge. In fact, U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl ruled Friday that if the Archive wants to lend e-books, it must do so like a library — by purchasing a license and thus compensating publishers and authors for their work.

The only surprise is that Koeltl acted just a few days after a hearing in his New York courtroom. Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise. When an argument is so wrong-headed as the one advanced by the Archive, there is no reason for justice not to be swift and certain. It was ludicrous for the folks at the Archive to believe they could simply scan books they own and lend them out. I mean, why didn’t the local public library think of that?

Brewster Kahle, the Archive’s founder, has this to say:

Libraries are more than the customer service departments for corporate database products. For democracy to thrive at global scale, libraries must be able to sustain their historic role in society — owning, preserving, and lending books.

This ruling is a blow for libraries, readers, and authors and we plan to appeal it.

Good grief. Certainly there’s a critique to be made of the restrictive manner in which publishers make e-books available to libraries. But simply ignoring the law is not a smart strategy for dealing with that. I just hope the Archive is able to survive this incredibly wrong-headed gamble.

Earlier, with more background: