“Is this legal? All this falls under fair use, at least for the duration, is the thinking here. As the copyright lawyer Kyle Courtney has pointed out, libraries have copyright superpowers that they can use in an emergency like this one. Other collections should follow Kahle’s lead. Factiva, jstor: unlock the gates.
Has this ever happened before? Not that I know of, but maybe there’s a book in the National Emergency Library that will contradict me. It reminds me a little, though, of the Council on Books in Wartime, a collection of libraries, booksellers, and publishers, founded in 1942. William Warder Norton, of W. W. Norton & Company, was chair of the council, which issued a statement declaring that “books are useful, necessary, and indispensable.” F.D.R. agreed, writing to Norton, “a war of ideas can no more be won without books than a naval war can be won without ships.” The council picked over a thousand volumes, from Virginia Woolf’s “The Years” to Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” and sold the books, around six cents a copy, to the U.S. military, as Armed Services Editions, books for soldiers and sailors and Army nurses and anyone else in uniform. As Yoni Appelbaum wrote in The Atlantic a few years ago, the council effectively gave away more than a hundred and twenty million books—their very best titles—and created a nation of readers. Emily Graff, who was, a long time ago, a student of mine but who is now an editor at Simon & Schuster, once went to the council’s archives at Princeton to read the letters written to the council by servicemen and women. One ship captain wrote, “We live on books.” (My emphasis)