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14 Sep 2020
The Internet Archive scans paper books and lets people borrow the scans. In what they call Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), scans of books still in copyright are limited to one person at a time per physical copy, analogous to the one person at a time who can borrow a physical book from a library. For books not in copyright, there's no limit on how many people can use the scans at once. Earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they turned CDL into a National Emergency Library that let multiple people borrow the in-copyright scans as well, saying this was a temporary replacement while local libraries were closed, and indeed they want back to the one-borrower CDL policy in mid-June.
The publishing industry has never liked CDL, and the expanded access was for them the last straw, leading four large publishers to sue the Archive in early June to make them stop. The suit is moving very slowly, with the current schedule running through at least September 2021 before a trial could start, but in the meantime, lots of people have opinions about the suit, such as a recent article in The Nation.
The public face of the Archive's CDL is Brewster Kahle, who started the Archive and still leads it. Since those publishers are pretty faceless, the most visible public face of opposition to the CDL has been Ed Hasbrouck, one of the leaders of the National Writers Union (to which I belong so he's sort of my shop steward.) Ed's written a lot about CDL, such as this FAQ on the NWU web site.I happen to know and like both Brewster and Ed, each of whom has been kind enough to invite me to dinner at their respective houses when I was in town. So which one is right?
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