Farewell and Best Wishes, End of The National Emergency Library; NEL History pt. 3

Farewell and Best Wishes, End of The National Emergency Library; NEL History pt. 3

Continued from part 2:

Events from this point on are fortunately a lot clearer. The Internet Archive would begin to regularly release statistics and updates on the NEL[1]. Some of the highlights here include the IA reaching out to educational institutions in hopes of seeking a compromise[2] and cooperation between the IA and the National Library of Aruba when the island nation too was hit with the outbreak[3].

Reconciliations and apologies aside, not everything was sunshine and rainbows. Despite the statements from the Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers bringing attention to the flaws of the NEL, the only repercussion taken on the IA’s part so far, was making the opt-out form for authors more visible, and later silently excluding books published within the last 5 years.

Dissatisfied, the AAP would persuade Senator Thom Tillis, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, to issue a warning to IA’s founder, Brewster Kahle[4]. The exchange between the two [5] would later receive attention from a number of outlets, including Publisher’s Weekly[6].

As readers might recall from part 2, a lot of the news surrounding the NEL was transmitted through authors across social media. These remarks from figures the public holds upon a pedestal, led to fans stepping into the defense of their favorite authors, sometimes turning to extremes.

IA would end up hiding individual endorses from their public statement, starting April 23[7]:

Update: April 23, 2020 We have received threats of violence and intimidation targeting endorsers. For the safety and security of information professionals in our community, we are making the list of endorsers private.  To date we have had more than 200 individuals endorse, continuing daily. You can support the suspension of waitlists via the form at https://forms.gle/gTc2dA4b4cWwGWfZ8.

Another victim was author Chuck Wendig, who became the target of brigaded harassment for his harsh critique of the NEL, eventually leading him to protect his Twitter account[8].

The following months were relatively quiet, as interest in the NEL wained, with not too many mentions outside of the IA’s blog and social media accounts. This was the case until June 1, when publishers who were still unsatisfied with the NEL decided to file a complaint[9].

Plaintiffs Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Wiley (collectively, “Plaintiffs” or “Publishers”) bring this copyright infringement action against IA in connection with website operations it markets to the public as “Open Library” and/or “National Emergency Library.” Plaintiffs are four of the world’s preeminent publishing houses. Collectively, they publish some of the most successful and leading authors in the world, investing in a wide range of fiction and nonfiction books for the benefit of readers everywhere. All of the Plaintiffs are member companies of the Association of American Publishers, the mission of which is to be the voice of American publishing on matters of law and public policy.

Defendant IA is engaged in willful mass copyright infringement. Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, IA scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites. With just a few clicks, any Internet-connected user can downloadcomplete digital copies of in-copyright books from Defendant.

Excerpt from the lawsuit filed against the IA[9]

IA, who had taken note of the case against them[10], announced that they would be shutting down the NEL prematurely[11].

Within a few days of the announcement that libraries, schools and colleges across the nation would be closing due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, we launched the temporary National Emergency Library to provide books to support emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation during the closures. 

We have heard hundreds of stories from librarians, authors, parents, teachers, and students about how the NEL has filled an important gap during this crisis. 

Internet Archive Founder Brewster Kahle

Activists who’ve seen a possible existential threat to the IA in this lawsuit are now banding together to ensure the survival of IA’s public domain collections[12]. These containing everything from snapshots of Google in the 90’s[13], to footage from political ad campaigns[14], to episodes of long forgotten TV shows such as Death Valley days[15].

No matter how events play out from here on out, I think there’s more than a few lessons for all of us archivists out there. But the most important of these was getting to see how much damage miscommunication can cause.

Making the books they made available, the way that they made them available, the IA was obliged to at least see if the idea was welcome. It should not have been by solely checking if there was a clear need, by also by consulting the relevant parties. It didn’t help that their statements and clarifications were often buried under discussion and speculation thereof.

Sometimes you only get a few words to say, so instead of complaining you ought to make the most out of them…

Let’s build a digital system that works.

Internet Archive Founder Brewster Kahle, as he bids a farewell to the NEL[11].


[8]https://twitter.com/ChuckWendig, retrieved June, 17.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *