Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House filed a lawsuit on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York charging the Internet Archive with copyright infringement. The suit asks the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent the IA’s scanning, public display, and distribution of literary works, which it makes available to the public through such businesses as its Open Library and National Emergency Library.

In its suit, the publishers make clear it is not suing the IA over “the occasional transmission of a title under appropriately limited circumstances, nor about anything permissioned or in the public domain,” but rather over the IA's “purposeful collection of truckloads of in-copyright books to scan, reproduce, and then distribute digital bootleg versions online.”

In late March, the IA announced the creation of the National Emergency Library, which removed access restrictions for some 1.4 million scans of books in its Open Library initiative and made them available for unlimited borrowing during the Covid-19 outbreak. In the suit, the publishers charged that the creation of the emergency library was an expansion of illegal activities, despite assertions by the IA that the library was aimed at making books available to readers who don’t have access to them during the pandemic. The move sparked outrage from both the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild, and both groups issued announcements supporting the filing of the lawsuit.

“Today’s complaint illustrates that Internet Archive is conducting and promoting copyright infringement on a massive scale,” AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante said in a statement. “In scanning and distributing literary works to which it has no legal or contractual rights, IA deliberately misappropriates the intellectual and financial investments of authors and publishers and brazenly ignores the copyright law that Congress enacted.”

In its release, the Authors Guild took aim at IA’s argument that its scanning activities are supported under the controlled digital lending legal theory. “Internet Archive’s wholesale scanning and posting of copyrighted books without the consent of authors, and without paying a dime, is piracy hidden behind a sanctimonious veil of progressivism,” said Douglas Preston, author and president of the Authors Guild. “The Internet Archive hopes to fool the public by calling its piracy website a ‘library,’ but there’s a more accurate term for taking what you don’t own: it’s called ‘stealing.’”

Preston continued by noting that while authors want the public to have access to books, free e-books are available through libraries. “Legitimate libraries pay for those e-books, and a portion of that flows back to authors as royalties, helping ensure they can continue to write,” Preston said.

In an email, Brewster Kahle, founder of IA, said" "As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing and authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case, protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone's interest."

Kahle concluded: "We hope this can be resolved quickly."

In the suit, the publishers are seeking unspecified damages and attorney fees.