Internet Archive

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The Internet Archive is an online library resource that contains books, movies, audio files, and software items. The Internet Archive also hosts the Wayback Machine, a tool that allows a user to view web pages in the state in which the pages appeared previous dates. It functions as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and offers permanent access for researchers, historians, and the general public to view the historical collections online[1]. The Internet Archive serves as an activist operation for a free and open Internet. Ethical concerns involving the Internet Archive include unauthorized content, free use, and website history.

History and Overview

The Internet Archive was founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle and exists in San Francisco[1]. In late 1999, the organization started to grow to include more well-rounded collections, and now hosts texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages[1]. The site includes over 150 billion web pages, about 240,000 movies, over 500,000 audio items including over 70,000 live concerts, over 1,800,000 texts, 1600 education items, and over 30,000 software items[2]. The collection is mirrored at the Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, in order to ensure that the collection is maintained and stable[3].


Wayback Machine

The Wayback Machine lets users browse archived web pages beginning from 1996 up to a few months ago[4]. It works by having a user type a web address into the engine, and it searches for the dates it has archived. The resulting pages point to other pages archived around the same date[4]. The service has over 150 billion web pages archived.

Moving Image Archive

The moving image archive includes a library of free movies, films, and videos. It contains thousands of digital movies uploaded by Archive users which range from classic full-length films, to daily alternative news broadcasts, to cartoons and concerts[5]. Many of the videos are up for free download to all users of the library[5].

Text Archive

The Internet Archive Text Archive contains a wide range of fiction, popular books, children's books, historical texts and academic books[6]. They are available for free download.

Audio Archive

This library contains over two hundred thousand free digital recordings ranging from alternative news programming, to Grateful Dead concerts, to Old Time Radio shows, to book and poetry readings, to original music uploaded by users[7]. Many of the audios and MP3s are available for free download[7].

Software Archive

The Software Archive is designed to preserve and provide access to all kinds of rare or difficult to find, legally downloadable software titles and background information on those titles[8]. The downloadable software includes computer games, open source software, and shareware.

Ethical Implications

Unauthorized Content

While the Internet Archive is free to use, the content that exists in the archive all cost the creators time or money. While it the content was all at one time publicly accessible, ethical issues could arise if users upload copyrighted or unauthorized material. There are generally two sides to ethical use of copyrighted content. On the one hand, the Internet Archive could monitor user submissions to the archive before allowing those submissions to be view publicly to ensure that all of the material was obtained and is being used legally. The other side of the argument insists that it is up to the copyright holders and content owners to keep track of their content and monitor its usage.

Free Use

Another ethical issue with the Internet Archive is that it is free and therefore could become underfunded, but it can be of enormous value to the user. In a recent blog post regarding donating to the Internet Archive, the founder of the Archive asks for donations to keep the site running. It costs an enormous amount of money to archive all the material and keep the staff of 160 employees paid. The question of whether it is ethically right to use the site without contributing money to it arises. It costs the company a great deal to run it, and users gain from it. But, users can opt to pay nothing[9].

Website History

The ability to let users see the previous states of websites creates ethical issues for website owners. Website owners and designers update their websites for specific purposes and have lobbied against the Internet Archive in an attempt to prevent users from seeing previous states of their website. The owners of a website feel they lose control of what they want users to see, if users are able to see previous versions of the website.


The Internet Archive solicits donations through a banner at the top of its home page. The banner informs readers that the free content it maintains isn't free to store.[10] Although the site explicitly says it is a non-profit organization, it currently employs 160 employees and has over 10 petabytes of data to store. According to, each employee is paid an average salary of nearly 85,000 USD per year.[11] Perhaps the money could be more judiciously used as much of the content is uploaded by users, not employees.

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2
  3. Donation to the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt; Alexandria, Egypt; April 20, 2002. Bibliotheca Alexandrina
  4. 4.0 4.1
  5. 5.0 5.1
  7. 7.0 7.1
  9. Internet Archive Blogs - Please donate to the Internet Archive
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