Happy 25th Anniversary to the Internet Archive!

Posted October 19, 2021
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

This month, the Internet Archive is celebrating its 25th anniversary. At Authors Alliance, we regularly partner with the Internet Archive on projects around preservation of digital works, controlled digital lending, and other issues in copyright policy. In today’s post, we will share some things we love about the Internet Archive and how the resources it provides can support authors and help them reach their writing goals.

Library Lending

The Internet Archive lends out e-books through its digital library. Many of these loans require readers to obtain a library card from the Internet Archive, but these library cards are free and available to all internet users. The Internet Archive’s digital lending program enables authors to reach readers who are not able to access physical libraries containing the books they are interested in reading. Several Authors Alliance members have expressed enthusiasm about seeing their books on the Internet Archive’s virtual shelves because it helps them reach wide audiences. 

But the Internet Archive’s digital lending program is also a boon to authorship itself: as part of the writing process, authors often need to access other works for research purposes, and the Internet Archive’s lending program can make this significantly easier. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many libraries have reduced physical services, digital library services like those the Internet Archive provide can fill the gap. The Internet Archive’s library has facilitated research on genealogy, mythology, and historical texts that has been integral to creating new works of authorship.

Digital Preservation

The Internet Archive’s library also serves the important purpose of preserving books that might otherwise vanish into obscurity, helping authors’ legacies live on past the commercial lives of their books. For example, in July, a New York Times article dove into the search for an obscure dating advice book pseudonymously written by bestselling author, Dan Brown, which the reporter was unable to track down. The piece lamented that readers were unable to find the book since it was out of print, and errors in ISBN assignment complicated efforts to obtain used copies. Though the article did not mention it, it turns out that the Dan Brown book in question is available to borrow on the Internet Archive’s digital library. The short commercial life of most books mean that many books fall into obscurity once they are out of print, languishing unseen on library shelves or in personal collections. But the digitization work the Internet Archive has done ensures that out of print books and other cultural ephemera are preserved for future authors, historians, and cultural scholars.

Public Domain Works

Outside of its collection of modern e-books which patrons can borrow, the Internet Archive maintains a collection of thousands of public domain works that are free for users to read online or download. The public domain—the body of works of authorship which are not subject to copyright protection, often because copyright has expired—is an important resource for authors and readers alike. Once a work is in the public domain, authors are free to use it in whatever way they wish, such as creating adaptations, retellings, or musical or film versions. This being said, it is not always easy to acquire free and accessible copies of public domain works. Free e-book editions of public domain works can sometimes be found on e-book retailer platforms like Amazon, but this is not always the case, and these e-books might still be accompanied by technical protection measures and licensing terms that curtail the uses authors can make of these works. Many of the most well-known contemporary stories are in fact derivative works based on works in the public domain, and the Internet Archive’s trove of public domain works can make it easier for authors to produce this type of new creative work. 

Similarly, public domain texts are rich sources for text data mining (automated analytical techniques aimed at analyzing digital text and data in order to generate information that reveals patterns, trends, and correlations in that text or data). For now, text data mining researchers interested in studying literary works are mostly limited to public domain texts because of the technical protection measures placed on modern e-books (Authors Alliance and others have asked the Copyright Office to grant an exemption to DMCA § 1201 to allow for text and data mining on modern e-books, though the Office has not yet made its decision). This limitation on text data mining makes the free, accessible public domain works available on the Internet Archive all the more important for authors and text data mining researchers alike.