Until this week, the Open Library only allowed people to “check out” as many copies as the library owned. If you wanted to read a book but all copies were already checked out by other patrons, you had to join a waiting list for that book—just like you would at a physical library.
Of course, such restrictions are artificial when you’re distributing digital files. Earlier this week, with libraries closing around the world, the Internet Archive announced a major change: it is temporarily getting rid of these waiting lists.
“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home,” said Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. The Internet Archive says the program will ensure students are able to get access to books they need to continue their studies from home during the coronavirus lockdown.
It’s an amazing resource—one that will provide a lot of value to people stuck at home due to the coronavirus. But as a copyright nerd, I also couldn’t help wondering: is this legal?
When I first saw the story, I thought they must have missed the “un” in “copyrighted.” But the Archive has lots of books that are still in print and copyrighted. So it’s probably not legal but no one wants to get into the fight.