Sorry if I’m late to the party – I feel weird saying this, but in case you’re curious, here’s how I feel: I hate it when Mom and Dad fight. The Internet Library lawsuit currently being argued in federal court is the author equivalent of watching your parents fight. I hate it.
“What? Who? Where? Why?” I’m not exactly sure – been busy writing so I haven’t been paying close attention. According to TechDirt – Book Publishers Won’t Stop Until Libraries Are Dead and based on the article, their concern seems to have merit. The trouble started, it seems, with a lawsuit filed against the Internet Archive (IA) forcing them to defend their practice of digitizing books and lending those e-books for free to users of its Open Library. In 2020, four of the wealthiest book publishers sued IA, alleging this kind of digital lending was actually “willful digital piracy” causing them “massive harm.”
What’s the deal-e-oh? Per Ars Technica, “IA responded to the publishers’ complaint that the e-books it lends to Internet users “have already been bought and paid for by the libraries that own them. The public derives tremendous benefit from the program, and rights holders will gain nothing if the public is deprived of this resource.”
You can drill into more details within both articles – what I took from the discussion leads me to one simple plea: I hate it when Mom and Dad fight. Each side seems to have a point, and if fighting in court’s the only way to resolve their differences, it’s a loss to all of us.
We Can’t Live Without Each Other
Let’s face three distinct truths: Books can’t live without authors – authors can’t live without books. Publishers can’t live without books – books can’t live without publishers. Books can’t live without libraries – libraries can’t live without books. This triple-constraint of stakeholders has been the hallmark of written work since The Library of Ashurbanipal in the Seventh Century, BCE. Don’t believe me? Who do you think hung onto your late fees for the Epic of Gilgamesh?
I digress – the point I’m making is, while the legal fight raises some opportunities to codify gray areas of the law, it also creates a legitimate risk for the future of writing, reading, and the mechanisms to keep those things safe, free, and available. Lawsuits and legal issues regarding this matter have festered for years now, and there are some golden gooses (libraries, writing as a career path, mainstream publishing) on the chopping block if we don’t figure out a way to solve this equitably.
Lord knows it’s easy to point fingers at faceless greedheads. Calling the Internet Archive’s lending a ‘scheme’ would be one example. Painting publishers as ‘library killers’ would be another. Is there a better way to solve this that doesn’t involve scorched-earth identity politics and cultural warfare? What if – and I’m just spitballing here – publishers, libraries, and the Internet Archive sat together in a room to recommend a new policy on lending and publication that’s been rationalized for 21st Century readers, authors, and other book industry-centric stakeholders? Have they tried?
Can We All Just Get Along?
So Mom and Dad, please hear a direct plea from your book loving family: Please work this out without killing each other. We need each of you, and each of you needs each other. As hopefully-enlightened people who understand the values and dreams at stake, we don’t need to burn down another library – literally or figuratively. My best wishes are that we come away from these fights with a plan where everybody gets most of what they want, and we lose none of what we need.