The Internet Archive (“IA”) began operation in 1996, at first making archival copies of websites, but soon offering those to the public and then expanding to other copyrighted works including books, sound recordings, audiovisual works, graphic arts (still images), and software, without regard to their copyright status and generally without licenses. It positions itself as an online version of a library and has offered free access to the materials it copies, albeit limiting users to one-for-one use of its copies: one copy may only be used by one account at a time….
On March 24, 2020, in response to the closures associated with the coronavirus, IA announced its intention to remove all limits on the number of users who could simultaneously access the copies it possess.4It dubbed this decision, its “National Emergency Library” and announced it would operate in this fashion until at least June 30, 2020, even if the U.S. national emergency declaration concludes prior to that date.
Astute readers will quickly wonder about the copyright rights of the authors and publishers of those books and other works.
[Cox is having a tough year, needs to take a serious look at their copyright advice.)
In copyright law, the fair use doctrine limits the control authors have over their copyrighted works by providing that others may use the copyrighted work in a reasonable manner without the author’s consent under some circumstances. Specifically, Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides that certain uses of a copyrighted work, such as news reporting, do not necessarily infringe a party’s copyright rights. However, in Cruz v. Cox Media, the Eastern District of New York held that fair use did not protect a media giant from copyright infringement liability resulting from its unauthorized use of a photograph in its news reporting.
If you’ve ever seen the classic musical The Music Man, you will remember the stereotypical character of “Marian the Librarian” who was romanced by the grifter Harold Hill. When it comes to the Internet Archive, we’re way past Marian but we have a whole new character in the role of grifter.
Brewster Kahle is not likely a name you recognize. But he is definitely well-known to the digital elites–which we know because his picture shows up in the 2000 version of the Billionaire’s Dinner rubbing elbows with the cognoscenti including fellow diners Nicholas Negroponte of MIT and MIT patron Jeffrey Epstein. Somewhere along the line Mr. Kahle seems to have gotten very rich or perhaps richer still. And he also founded Alexa and the Internet Archive which is our focus in this post because of the Archive’s announced “National Emergency Library.” We’ll come to that effort presently, but first let’s consider Mr. Kahle’s history in the copyright context.
A Man With A Mission Meets A Dandy on the White Horse
Mr. Kahle was and is a man with a mission in the mold of his fellow pirate utopian and EFF founder, John Perry Barlow. Less flamboyant to be sure, but cut from the same anti-copyright cloth Mr. Kahle has attracted literally the same crew of Lost Cause dead enders. These dots will be very familiar. It’s all very Googlely and Mr. Kahle has shown himself to be as close to Google’s mission as one is to two. Whether revolutionary leader or useful idiot, Mr. Kahle has proven his value to Google again and again over some two decades.
Copyright students may remember Mr. Kahle from 2006 as the plaintiff in Kahle v. Gonzales, one of the cases where Lessig did a brilliant job of making the predictably losing argument as an extension of yet another losing argument from Lessig’s cherished Eldred case. (Has Lessig ever won anything that Google didn’t pay for?)
Mr. Kahle challenged the Copyright Renewal Act of 1992 that eliminated once and for all the renewal requirement from the U.S. 1909 Copyright Act that was held over in the 1976 Copyright Act for certain registrations. (Lessig was joined as co-counsel in the Kahle case by his protege Professor Christopher Sprigman; Sprigman is a leading anti-artist zealot. He currently represents Spotify in the Nashville cases and is leading the American Law Institute’s embarrassing and scandalous “Restatement of Copyright” trojan horse campaign that has been thoroughly discredited.)
Kahle, Lessig and Sprigman essentially argued then and now for a renewal requirement to make copyright renewals an opt-in system rather than an opt-out system. That meant that authors would have to take an affirmative act to renew their copyrights after an initial term. As Lessig writes back in 2003, “The revival of a registration requirement would move content into a public domain quickly….There are many who have written brilliantly about what is right in this context….But the hard problem is how to make the right real. That is what this movement needs now.”
You get the idea. The Lost Cause is born. And Kahle was apparently only too happy to finance “the movement” with a younger Lessig imagining himself on a white horse leading the mob. Younger but just as much the tiresomely self-righteous Google fan boy and thin-skinned ideological dandy. Because the Lost Cause was “right”. Beware men on white horses waiving the privilege of “what is right” backed by the superpower billionaire boys club.
It must be said that a creator’s failure to comply with Mr. Kahle’s new formalities of registration and renewal (unique to America, by the way) would allow the Big Tech superpower benefactors of Lessig, Sprigman and Kahle. Like superpower privilege that induced a mass taking by the National Emergency Library, Big Tech superpowers could exploit those unrenewed copyrights without a license or payment to the authors, also known as the public domain, public knowledge, or any of the other shibboleths that mask the very traps for the unwary that Congress wanted to prevent in the 1992 legislation. (In another proof of the Lost Cause, Kahle’s lawyer Professor Sprigman was later a member of Pamela Samuelson’s “Copyright Principles” project and co-authored its paper that also advocated for the very registration requirement that they resoundingly lost in the Kahle case (see Sec. IIIA of paper, “Reinvigorating Copyright Registration”.)
For those reading along at home, procedurally the odd and rather desperate signpost of the Kahle case was that Lessig largely based Kahle on Eldred which he lost in the Supreme Court. When Kahle got to the 9th Circuit, this oddity was not lost on the judges who held–in possibly the least suspenseful ruling of the decade–that “[Lessig, Sprigman and Kahle] make essentially the same argument [in Kahle], in different form, that the Supreme Court rejected in Eldred. It fails here as well.”
So Kahle got into trouble at 9th Circuit. As Harold Hill might warble, that’s trouble with a T that rhymes with P and that stands for “phool.”
Kahle’s Lost Cause and the National Emergency Library’s Fair Use Superpower Privilege
Yet despite continued losses, re-imposing a copyright registration requirement has become the Lost Cause of the anti-artist crowd. Not only has Lessig pushed this hustle, but its proponents include Pamela Samuelson and Christopher Sprigman, so we can only assume that the controversial “Restatement of Copyright” promoted by Samuelson and written by Sprigman will no doubt devote some ink to this topic. Indeed, we saw Samuelson raise registration in her most recent testimony in a bizarre hearing before the Senate IP Subcommittee.
And we also see a version of it in the Internet Archive’s absurdly transparent lawlessness masquerading as fair use with its “National Emergency Library” which takes post-disaster profiteering to a whole new level.
In a nutshell, the Internet Archive is seizing upon the COVID19 global crisis to make digital copies of books of dubious provenance available for free. They managed to get a bunch of libraries to sign a letter saying how groovy the Internet Archive is for graciously aiding the world–if this sounds familiar, it is very reminiscent of the Google Books messaging as the “digital library of Alexandria” and other drivel. (See the timeless Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A view from Europe by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, then president of France’s Bibliothèque Nationale.)
As someone who grew up with both hurricanes and earthquakes, I have a viscerally embedded disgust for those grifters who exploit human misery for their own private agenda, be it profiting in cash or distorting the fair use defense beyond recognition to confer a cash equivalent benefit. Both are equally loathsome forms of looting and under the circumstances may well be a form of price gouging. If proven, that’s a crime in most states. Indeed, if imposed by state authority, such as a state library, it may well be found to be an impermissible form of eminent domain, or a taking. There’s that word again.
The National Emergency Library: Leap of Faith or Superpower Privilege?
What makes a casual interest into a full-blown negationist Lost Cause ideology is the leap of faith that the dead ender’s ill conceived campaign was actually “right” all along. (A healthy rasher of narcissism is also a nice-to-have.) You know, defending consumer rights against the aggression of copyright maximalists. You see, it was only the privileged Bad People conspiring against them that gypped the Good People of the victory to which they were entitled. In fact, Mr. Kahle says as much in the Internet Archive blog announcing the “National Emergency Library”:
“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, ” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”
And there it is, the Lost Cause defined. The indefinite “our”. Who exactly is “our” or “us”? The Good People. The Right People. The movement people. Whose superpowers you oppose at your peril you others. You authors. Because “our” national emergency justifies “our” fulfillment of “our dream.”
The Good People share that “dream” of “ours” as we are told in the Archive’s blog post cum press release:
“Ubiquitous access to open digital content has long been an important goal for MIT and MIT Libraries. Learning and research depend on it,” said Chris Bourg, Director of MIT Libraries.
Ah yes, MIT’s goal must be extra groovy, right? I’m sure Joi Ito (of Creative Commons fame among other rewards) thought so when he was taking Jeffrey Epstein’s money with MIT’s blessings.
The Googley Expansion of the Fair Use Superpower as Eminent Domain Taking
And of course the central rationale for why the Archive could rip off over a million books is…wait for it…fair use. But a very super duper version of fair use that you may not have encountered before. This is a super duper opinion shared by 300 or so librarians, many of whom appear to be employed by state-owned libraries. They signed a letter promoted by the Internet Archive that puts their taxpayer subsidized employment right on the line.
You have to take a step back and look at the National Emergency Library in the larger context of the continued distortion of fair use by Google and its cronies as we recently argued in an amicus brief supporting Oracle in Google v. Oracle, the long-running copyright case now pending before the Supreme Court that is straight out of Bleak House.
Unfortunately, like the DMCA, Section 230 and so many other grotesquely unfair benefits that Big Tech superpowers grasp for themselves, the only way to fight back in the chaos of the current pandemic is to literally fight back. Big Tech’s superpower billionaires are doing just fine as authors struggle even more than before the time of the virus. But these people are more than willing to capitalize on the current crisis to distort copyright exceptions like fair use, just like Google is forcing users of its Verily coronavirus test to open a Google account and give up their health data.
I for one find it very odd that 300 or so librarians could all agree in a matter of hours on a complex legal opinion regarding expanding the contours of fair use–unless that opinion were written for them by someone they already knew. Such as their lobbyist, for example. Maybe not, but it does seem it’s something that state Attorneys General should look into as it applies to their librarians. Assuming that signing up for the scheme is not simply aspirational and they are all actually participating in the cabal, these librarians are incurring liabilities for their employers and quite possibly the taxpayer. If state libraries are indemnifying the Internet Archive, that indemnity may well be impermissible under their respective state laws–and that’s something that ought to interest attorneys general, as would the converse failure to obtain indemnity.
On the other hand, one of the legal arguments used as encouragement to librarians to sign onto the legal opinion was offered by one Kyle Cortney (securely employed by Harvard University) based on the privilege of “superpowers.” Yes, that’s right:
[L]ibraries and archives have “superpowers” under the copyright law that allows us to supply our communities with access to materials for research, scholarship, and study….Before I get to the TEACH Act, Section 108, or any other superpower – first and foremost, we must talk about fair use. While this isn’t a library superpower – fair use is for everyone! – it certainly falls to the libraries and archives, in many circumstances, to be the champions of fair use on campus (and bust any fair use myths!)
See? “Our dream”, “our national emergency”, “our superpowers.” And “our” powers are so “super” that “we” will shove those superpowers where the sun doesn’t shine in the middle of the Harvard Yard. All based on a superpower of blatant distortions of fair use subsidized by the endowment of the richest university in the history of the world. But understand this, you will win this argument about the same time that Harvard refunds tuition in the time of the virus. Unless you are willing to go to the mattresses. And if you’re thinking these superpowers are on their knees begging to be sued, you very well may be correct.
That “superpower” privilege may be how they roll at Harvard, but what I’d like to know is how many state AGs have signed up for the superpower theory? Such as the Attorneys General of Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, New York, Indiana, Massachusetts, Florida, Minnesota, Texas, and Idaho.
Maybe the next sound they hear will be sad trombones, all 76 of them.
Google has been on a quest to limit copyright holders’ rights when it comes to the written word, even winning a landmark Supreme Court case declaring that its Google Books program, which digitizes hundreds of [tens of millions] books, was creating “transformative works,” and not infringing on authors’ copyright.
Google appears to have already placed friendly officials high places, while using its sway with academics to make its case with the FCC that your cable — and cable’s copyrights — should be free.
Starting in 2016, Google-related appointees began appearing across the Obama Administration. Carla Hayden, who recently took over at the Library of Congress, was President of the American Library Association, a huge recipient of Google funding (largely because of Google’s digital library programs). The Library of Congress, of course, is home to the US Copyright Office, and the Register of Copyrights — America’s highest ranking copryight official.
When the set-top box proposal came to Congress, they of course turned to the US Copyright Office for insight as to whether Google, among other set-top box companies, might be infringing on cable’s copyright.
Google appeared to immediately exert its power. Five copyright academics sent a letter to the US Copyright Office defending set-top boxes, and all five had at least some ties to Google.
Signer Peter Jazsi was a member of Google’s policy fellowship program, an advocate on IP issues, and a founder of the Digital Future Coalition, which includes several organizations funded by Google. Signer Pam Samuelson, a Berkeley School of Information professor, is on the board of several non-profits that receive significant grants from Google. Signer Annemarie Bridy was a scholar at Stanford University’s Center for Internet & Society, whose largest corporate benefactor is Google.
Many of those same groups pushed back when Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante said it was likely set-top devices could infringe on cable companies’ copyrights. One group, Public Knowledge, even claimed Pallante was in the pocket of cable and entertainment interests.
Weirdly, as soon as the new Library of Congress head (Hayden) was sworn in, Pallante lost her job as Register of Copyrights. She was first demoted and then resigned, opening up a space — conveniently — for a friendlier Registrar.
Why are a handful of musicians — a substrata of society generally predisposed to fall on the left side of the political spectrum — ticked off at Zephyr Teachout, the progressive Democratic candidate in the 19th Congressional District?
Blame it on the internet. To be more precise, blame it on Teachout’s former work for Fight For The Future, a nonprofit “dedicated to protecting and expanding the Internet’s transformative power,” according to its own website.
In online postings and outreach to the media, several artists have denounced FFF as having an “anti-artist, anti-copyright agenda” — an allegation the group denies vociferously. Teachout served on the board of the group’s education fund, but stepped down earlier this year after announcing her candidacy.
Those calling for Teachout to respond include the jazz great Jack DeJohnette, a resident of the Catskills who, in a recent letter, told the candidate, “It disturbs me that someone who seems to be running in support of the people is not further tuned in to the needs of us artists, who ultimately might be your constituents.”
DeJohnette said in his letter that since the advent of the digital age, his royalties from recorded music have declined 90 percent. “I am all over YouTube,” he wrote, and “everyone but me gets an income from this.”
The most immediate bone of contention for those hammering Teachout on this issue — a list that also includes guitarist Marc Ribot and Red Hook author and filmmaker David Newhoff — appears to be proposed changes to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in particular a toughening of provisions that aim to prevent websites from hosting copyrighted material without the consent of the copyright holder. Currently, online service providers are generally protected from liability under the so-called “Safe Harbor” provision of the DMCA, which aims to balance the interests of internet users and copyright holders.
Read the story on the Albany Times Union