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The Internet Archive could disappear

Jason Norwood-Young
Jason Norwood-Young
2020-06-17

Arguably the most important data archive on the internet, and unarguably the biggest, the Internet Archive is facing closure after a bit of an own-goal. A National Emergency Library, launched 24 March, allowed users to check out 1.4 million books with no wait-lists. The idea was to allow students, emergency workers and researchers access to the massive digital library while physical libraries remained closed due to the Coronavirus. No good dead goes unpunished, however, and publishing houses Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Wiley were not amused, filing a lawsuit claiming: “IA’s actions grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute willful digital piracy on an industrial scale.”

The problem is that the Internet Archive could be on the hook for a penalty between $200 and $150,000, per book. So a minimum of $280 million, if they get off lightly. This would obviously put the non-profit out of business, risking over 45 petabytes consisting of of webpage snapshots going back to 1996, 20 million scanned books, over 8 million video and audio recordings, and a whole lot more. The sheer size makes it impossible to transfer to another organisation or meaningfully back it up.

The Internet Archive has ended its emergency library access early, and we can only hope that this appeases the publishers, because the IA is a part of the internet that is absolutely irreplaceable.

Jason Norwood-Young
  • Journalist, developer, community builder, newsletter creator and international man of mystery, Jason was one of the first South Africans to really grasp the importance of data in the newsroom and has remained one step ahead of the trends in the field all the way. Even Naked Data was conceived before email newsletters were cool again. But what does that tell you about the measure of the man? Nothing, that's what. He hides the superman CV behind a truly mild-mannered and overly modest persona and is best described as "one of the nicest guys in the business". When he's angry, it is righteously so, and his anger always wears velvet mittens. The true signs of his genius include the ability to create multilingual puns on demand (witness the alternative Naked Data strap "Putting the heita in to data") and the fact that he offered me a job. (AO)

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