3 min read

Some charts about the Internet Archive & authors

Hey folks. While Anna is out, I’m filling in this week with some deep nerdom around the Internet Archive, beloved curators of the WayBack Machine, an infinitude of music recordings, and millions of rare books and zines that make me happy to exist in this timeline. Enjoy! - Lia

Last week, the Internet Archive filed their reply brief as they appeal the suit brought against them by major publishers and I learned you can make graphs in G Suite. This was a dangerous combination.

The suit from Hachette, HarperCollins, etcetera seeks to end the right of the Archive and all libraries to own, preserve, and loan spyware-free digital books. As I was looking at the arguments the Archive had to respond to, a chart on the amicus brief from the RIAA caught my eye.

Their argument focused on the middle of the chart, where, according to major record labels and their lobbyists, Napster and pirates were stealing from them enough to cut their revenues in half over the course of the ‘00s. (As someone who lived through the joys of music distro and marketing in 2009-2012, I beg to differ on where to place responsibility for the advent of the internet tanking the industry, but that’s a whole other piece.)

The RIAA basically says that the Internet Archive and any library that does what the Archive does (ie scanning print books it owns and loaning them out in a 1-to-1 ratio) is today’s Napster and library patrons who borrow these scans are the pirates. 

But the thing is, this is the only chart in their whole amicus brief. They never chart publishing’s revenues over the 10 years the Archive has been doing its book thing. So, using data from the Association of American Publishers, I did.

And, for those in the back, I’d like to state for the record that I don’t see an industry devastated by so-called pirates. Actually, over the past couple years, publishing revenues have been at historic highs. 

But being an author myself, I couldn’t help making just one more little chart using data from the Authors Guild. (To anyone here waiting for a reply from my inbox, I apologize.)

Most who’re rallying to the publisher’s side in this case care because authors and publishing staffs are overworked and wildly underpaid. Publishing is an exceedingly challenging way to make a dignified living, despite being an industry that measures its revenues in the tens of billions. The most popular talking point from the lawsuit is that what the Archive and other libraries are doing is why authors can’t afford groceries or rent. But that makes no sense.

Author’s pathetic median incomes have fallen by over half since 2007—just like big labels’ revenue did when someone was “stealing” from them. Yet, ironically, where we see “line go up” today is in revenue for the publishing (and music) industries. It’s almost as if the authors (and equally struggling musicians) are the ones being stolen from—but not by libraries or fans. And many, many authors (and musicians) agree.

If the publishers win here, though they shouldn’t, the money they extract from the nonprofit Internet Archive will go straight into the pockets of lawyers and lobbyists, not to authors. And it could result in shutting down or severely restricting the digital libraries we need the most in this era of book bans and censorship with absolutely shameless licensing fees.

We should all be worried about books, authors, publishing workers, libraries and the future of knowledge. But believing the major publishers who dug the hole we’re in when they promise to sue us out of it is just plain naive. The more the real story here gets talked about, the better for all of us.

And the real story is: historic publishing profits are fueling attacks on libraries as authors’ incomes fall and publishing staffs have to strike for poverty wages. 

The numbers don’t lie.

You can help raise awareness and show love for the Archive as they duke it out on behalf of libraries everywhere at http://BattleForLibraries.com if you’re so inclined.

Thanks for tuning in!

Lia Holland, Campaigns & Comms Director at ❤️Fight