Music labels sue Internet Archive for copyright infringement over digitized Frank Sinatra 78s and other artists.

Music labels sue Internet Archive for copyright infringement over digitized Frank Sinatra 78s and other artists.

Preserving History or Stealing Songs? Record Companies Sue Internet Archive


In a legal battle that has the potential to shape the future of digital preservation, major record companies have filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive, accusing the organization of copyright infringement. The lawsuit claims that the Internet Archive’s vast digital collection includes “hundreds of thousands of works by some of the greatest artists of the Twentieth Century,” without obtaining the necessary permissions from the copyright holders. The record companies, including Sony, UMG Recordings, and Capitol Records, are seeking damages of up to $372 million for the unauthorized use of copyrighted material.

The Internet Archive, a non-profit organization, is known for its mission of preserving, researching, and making accessible a wide range of digital content. One of its projects, the Great 78 Project, focuses on digitizing and sharing recordings from the antiquated 78 LP format. The archive boasts an impressive collection of over 400,000 recordings, including the works of legends like Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Thelonious Monk.

However, the record companies argue that the Internet Archive’s altruistic claims are merely a smokescreen to disguise its theft. According to the lawsuit, the recordings made available by the archive are already accessible through authorized streaming and downloading services. They assert that the archive’s actions pose no threat to the preservation or availability of these recordings. Instead, the record companies believe that the Internet Archive is taking advantage of the lack of enforcement and using the guise of preservation to distribute copyrighted material without proper authorization.

The legal battle brings into focus the complex issues surrounding digital archiving and copyright in the modern era. While the Internet Archive’s mission of preserving historical recordings is undoubtedly commendable, the question arises of whether their actions constitute copyright infringement. Critics argue that preserving and making accessible cultural artifacts should take precedence over strict enforcement of copyright laws, especially when the original works may be at risk of deterioration or loss.

In 2018, Congress passed the Music Modernization Act, which extended the copyright for pre-1972 music until 2067. This legislation reflects the growing recognition of the value of preserving and properly compensating artists for their work. However, it also raises questions about the limitations on historical preservation and the public’s access to culturally significant material.

The outcome of this lawsuit could have far-reaching implications for organizations like the Internet Archive and the broader landscape of digital preservation. It raises important questions about the balance between copyright protection and the preservation of cultural heritage. Is it possible to find a middle ground that allows for the respectful use of copyrighted material in the pursuit of preserving history?

As this legal battle unfolds, it serves as a reminder of the evolving nature of digital media and the ongoing struggle to navigate the complexities of copyright in the digital age. It is vital for stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue to find solutions that ensure the preservation of cultural artifacts while respecting the rights of copyright holders. In the end, the goal should be to create a future where innovative digital preservation efforts can thrive while empowering artists and content creators to receive fair compensation for their work.

Note: Internet Archive did not respond to a request for comment after business hours on Friday.

References:Lawsuit filed by record companies against Internet ArchiveUMG Recordings Inc. v. Internet Archive, 1:23-cv-07133