Internet Archive sued for making old music available

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Major US record labels, such as Capitol, Sony, and Universal, have taken legal action against the Internet Archive. The basis for the lawsuit revolves around the Archive’s actions of uploading music sourced from old vinyl records to its online platform known as the Great 78 Project. The labels argue that the Great 78 Project effectively operates as an “illegal record store.” In response, they have lodged a substantial total of 2,749 claims pertaining to copyright infringement. If these claims are upheld, the potential damages could exceed an amount of $412 million (£325 million).

Should the legal proceedings favor the record labels, the consequences for the Internet Archive could be significant. It might be required to remove numerous downloads from its platform and provide compensation to the music labels as restitution for copyright violations.

The central objective of the Great 78 Project is to safeguard musical recordings found on roughly three million sides of 78rpm discs. These discs were a primary format for music distribution spanning from the 1900s to the 1950s. Through its efforts, the project has curated 20 music collections that encompass an impressive compilation of 400,000 songs by renowned artists, including the likes of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and Noel Coward.

This instance is not the first encounter the Internet Archive has had with legal challenges in its pursuit to preserve historical content. In 2020, it was taken to court by prominent book publishers, such as Hachette, HarperCollins, and Penguin. These publishers contended that the Archive’s digitization of books and subsequent availability for download constituted a breach of their copyright. In the legal dispute that followed, federal judge John G. Koeltl sided with the publishers in March of this year. Despite this ruling, the Internet Archive announced its intention to appeal the decision in August. The Archive believes that the judge committed errors in both legal interpretation and factual understanding in reaching the verdict.

Should the appeal not yield a favorable outcome, the Archive will be obligated to compensate the publishers and discontinue lending copies of copyrighted books that remain commercially available. This scenario is grounded in an out-of-court settlement achieved by all involved parties in August. The settlement is contingent on approval from a judge.

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