Open Letter to Brewster Kahle From Anonymous Librarian

Brewster Kahle

Photo Credit Joi Ito CC

We rarely publish anonymous pieces. But in this case, we felt it necessary to prevent retribution. Many major libraries and academic institutions have embarrassed themselves by endorsing Brewster Kahle’s opportunistic attempt to benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is unlikely to go down well in those circles.


To Brewster Kahle,

You claim that the statements from the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers concerning the National Emergency Library contain falsehoods. But the only falsehoods I can find are the ones in your statements. You are a non-profit organization claiming to be a library, but the Internet Archive has never operated as a real library- never. You chose a disarming title that disguises your real purpose. The Internet Archive collects and digitizes other people’s works and redistributes them digitally without their permission. You have been challenged legally for this and you continue to do it, in defiance of the law, knowing that authors and rightsholders object.
You claim to be a charitable organization. Charitable organizations provide money from their own funds to those in need or they collect donations of money or property, voluntarily offered by the original owners, to distribute to those in need. Taking from others despite their objections and offering the stolen material to those in need does not fall into the description of a charitable organization. It is, as has been pointed out, looting.
Your activity undermines the copyright system for your own benefit and in the financial interests of some of the wealthiest corporations in history. As has been said, the Internet Archive is not a public service but a pirate website. You are not here to help others- you are helping yourself to others’ property. It’s unfortunate that your supporters can’t admit this, or don’t realize it.
It is shameful and cruel that you pulled this stunt at a time when many people are distracted by the health crisis. These books are not yours to give away and yet you pretend to be a savior of humanity- how cheap. The claim that your project is covered by fair use is legally unsupportable. You have simply invented it, with a little help from friends whose institutions lend an aura of credibility.
It is a tragedy within a tragedy that anyone supports you in this effort to steal livelihoods away from authors who struggle to create the works that we love to read, as is evidenced by the glowing praise for the books you have taken and given away.
Brewster, you claim that the Internet Archive is a library- but do you want to know what real libraries do? They pay license fees for e-books and then allow their users to access the books. To be decent and truly human, you will apologize to the world and discontinue your grotesquely unfair challenge to authors. You will transform into something resembling a real library and provide funds to license access to these books for the benefit of the public. You have enough financial assets to pay for licenses to use these works. It has been pointed out that you have more than 100 million dollars in your Kahle-Austin Foundation. You could provide the books to the public by paying license fees to authors and publishers- that is what real libraries do.
You could do this, Brewster, and then you would get real praise, and you would be worthy of it. Both the authors and the public would benefit from your generosity. The authors are the public, too. All are in need. If you enlisted other super-wealthy Silicon Valley colleagues like yourself to pitch in as well, that would be a real gesture toward helping people in a time of crisis. It would be a genuine charity, not false charity. It would be taking responsibility.
Do you dare to make this honest effort at helping during a national emergency or will you continue to steal books while the rest of the world is distracted by a life and death crisis?

-Anonymous Librarian.

2 thoughts on “Open Letter to Brewster Kahle From Anonymous Librarian

  1. Well stated. During a crisis, it seems the slime rises to the top of the pond.

  2. In the late Nineties, I gave a seminar to the state library directors association at their annual meeting about these scary new digital books. Most of the librarians were angry and frightened that ebooks would destroy their precious libraries. At the end of the seminar, everyone was excited about the possibilities of ebooks and gave me a standing ovation. I had great hope for the future for all of us with an equal partnership.

    I started educating authors and readers about copyright in 2009 through my writing blog. I was attacked by various library associations. How dare I say that libraries and readers can’t steal whole books in the name of fair use? How dare I expect authors to be paid for their work? My belief in that equal partnership died then, and I became scared of what librarians could do to copyright and authors. Very little they have done has assured me that they’ve changed their minds.

    It’s a nice change to see a librarian on our side.

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