The University of North Carolina Press and Duke University Press have announced a formal cooperation agreement in support of the Internet Archive's National Emergency Library initiative.
“We agree that in this extraordinary moment, an unprecedented level of cooperation is required to address this crisis in order to meet the dire needs of readers—especially students and other readers who are at risk for losing access to their traditional sources of books,” reads the text of a cooperation statement released this week.
Specifically, the agreement revolves around a few key points: First, the presses are now providing permission for their titles to be included—although individual authors can still opt out via an email, with the Internet Archive reiterating its commitment to promptly take down titles upon individual author requests." Authors who do not want to have their books included in the National Emergency Library can write directly to the Internet Archive (at email@example.com with the subject line “National Emergency Library Removal Request). Or they can reach out to their publisher and the press staff will handle their request with the Internet Archive.
The agreement also gives the presses the ability to set a firm end date for their works in the “emergency” measure: currently June 30, although the parties agreed to consider an extension within two weeks prior to that end date. In a previous communication, Internet Archive officials said the program would run until June 30 or until the crisis is over, "whichever is later."
And, finally, the Internet Archive has agreed to share usage data with the presses, anonymized to protect the privacy of patrons.
In a blog post, UNC Press director John Sherer explained how the agreement came about, noting that both presses had already decided to open up their digital offerings through their existing platforms—arrangements, Sherer points out—that had been made “through dialog and discussion" with the presses' existing vendors, who had sought "our perspective and permission," as opposed to what Sherer called the "blurred legal arguments" and "extra-legal (read: emergency)" justifications offered by the Internet Archive.
“After the Internet Archive acted unilaterally in creating the National Emergency Library, we criticized the effort and presses began the process of withdrawing titles,” Sherer explains, adding that the Internet Archive “ignored the agency that authors and publishers legally and conventionally exercise.” However, after discussions with Internet Archive leaders and other press directors, Sherer writes, "we realized our two presses shared many of the same goals of the National Emergency Library," even if they "disagreed with the process by which the main goal was being achieved."
The Internet Archive announced the National Emergency Library project on March 24, in response to the widespread closures of libraries and schools during the Covid-19 crisis, making its 1.4 million scans of mostly 20th century print books available for unlimited borrowing until June 30, or until the crisis is over.
After some positive initial headlines, the move drew rebukes from some authors and trade associations, inlcuding the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild, which accused the Internet Archive of "acting as a piracy site.” It has also drawn the attention of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, who expressed concern that the initiative might be operating outside the law.
In his post, Sherer acknowledged that a sense of “mistrust” of the Internet Archive continues among many publishers and authors, which predates the National Emergency Library. But getting through the crisis at hand, and perhaps creating an agreeable framework for the future, he suggested, is paramount.
“There couldn’t be a worse time to be arguing about something like this,” Sherer writes in his blog post, closing by pointing to what he says is possibly “the most important part” of the joint cooperation statement: “The Parties commit to a sustained, good-faith dialog about a long-term model for including the Press’s titles in the Internet Archive.”