Music labels hit the Internet Archive with $412m lawsuit

14 Aug 2023

Image: © ktsdesign/

Sony, Universal Music Group and others claim the Internet Archive has reproduced thousands of protected songs without copyright permission.

The Internet Archive is facing a massive copyright lawsuit from multiple music labels over the digitisation of vintage records.

The plaintiffs of the lawsuit include Sony, Universal Music Group, Arista and others. This lawsuit claims the Internet Archive “wilfully reproduced” thousands of protected sound recordings without copyright authorisation for the ‘Great 78 Project’.

Based in San Francisco, the Internet Archive is one of the world’s most well-known libraries for digitally archived books, movies, music, software and other forms of content. The non-profit organisation claims its mission is to provide “universal access to all knowledge”.

The non-profit’s Great 78 Project is focused on the discovery and preservation of 78rpm records, which are phonographic records designed to be played at a speed of 78 revolutions per minute.

The archive claims an estimated 3m “sides” – three-minute recordings – were made on these discs between 1898 and the 1950s. The archive also said these disks are made of brittle material and can be easily broken.

“We aim to bring to light the decisions by music collectors over the decades and a digital reference collection of underrepresented artists and genres,” the Internet Archive says on the project page.

“The digitisation will make this less commonly available music accessible to researchers in a format where it can be manipulated and studied without harming the physical artefacts.”

The music labels claim the Internet Archive has “willfully uploaded, distributed, and digitally transmitted” illegally copied sound recordings. They are seeking damages of up to $150,000 for each protected sound recording infringed in the lawsuit.

The labels have listed 2,749 songs in their lawsuit, Reuters reports. The disputed songs come from various artists including Elvis Presley, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Combined, this could lead to payments of more than $412m if the court rules against the Internet Archive.

Digital library lawsuit

Meanwhile, the Internet Archive has submitted an appeal over a separate lawsuit the non-profit is facing against multiple major book publishers.

Earlier this year, four publishers claimed the Internet Archive’s practice with digital books “constitutes wilful digital piracy on an industrial scale” that hurts writers and publishers alike. The judge  sided in favor of the publishers in a decision filed on 24 March 2023.

The Internet Archive said the fight is “far from over” in this case and called an earlier decision in the case “disappointing”. The Internet Archive filed a number of papers on 11 August and is awaiting a “final judgement” from the judge.

“We expect that, at least while the appeal is pending, there will be changes to our lending program, but the full scope of those changes is a question pending with the district court,” the archive said.

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said libraries are “under attack at an unprecedented scale”, with a mix of book bans, defunding and “overzealous lawsuits like the one brought against our library”

“These efforts are cutting off the public’s access to truth at a key time in our democracy.” Kahle said. “We must have strong libraries, which is why we are appealing this decision.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic