The National Emergency Library initiative was launched by the Internet Archive a few months ago, as a response to US libraries shutting down due to the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak. Since then it’s become the subject of much discussion regarding accessibility to information and the question of rights in book digitization and digital lending.
As a retrospective today, and an anecdote for the future, we’ve thrown together a timeline of events so far:
The spread of the disease reaches such high levels that the World Health Organization officially declares COVID-19 a pandemic.
National Emergency Declared
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a National Emergency is proclaimed in the US.
The “Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research” Statement
Social distancing measures led colleges and universities to turn to remote learning.
Copyright Specialists and Librarians across the US release a public statement on what constitutes fair use and what steps educators can take to avoid infringing on copyright, while still being able to provide access to educational materials for students.
ALA advices libraries to close
The American Library Association advices libraries across the US to close down until the outbreak subsides.
National Emergency Library
In light of recent events, The Internet Archive officially launches the National Emergency Library.
Different from IA’s standard lending, where only one user can borrow a given item at a time, throughout the NEL program waitlists are suspended, allowing for multiple people to borrow the same item.
The New York Times gives voice to authors feeling threatened by the NEL.
NPR apologizes for their over-optimism and acknowledges the IA had not asked for permission for the books they’ve made available, from the respective writers and publishers, who considered this indifferent from piracy.
Internet Archive Response
IA addresses misunderstandings and misconceptions about the NEL.
Furthermore, authors are reminded that they have the chance to issue take-downs of their books, if they feel their rights to have been infringed. 
Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on IP Chairman Thom Tillis sends a warning letter to Brewster Kahle of IA, expressing his concerns over the legal basis of the NEL initiative.
Brewster Kahle’s Response
Brewster Kahle responds with a lot of the same points on the legitimacy of the IA as a library which were stated in the March 30 Response, and how he believes the NEL constitutes fair use.
Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley and Penguin Random House sue IA for their NEL program as well as their OpenLibrary program, which long predates the COVID-19 crisis.
IA makes an announcement stating that they will be shutting down the NEL program early.
NEL is expected to shutdown.
A lot has happened these past few months, and there is very much certainly a whole lot more to be said. Which is why we’ll be doing an in-depth analysis of the situation in the coming days. Stay tuned!
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