digitization in Bodo 2015

to type whole books into the machine. No wonder that electronic libraries and digital text repositories
were among the first “mainstream” application of computers. Combing through large stacks of matrix-


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

printer printouts of sci-fi classics downloaded from gopher servers is a shared experience of anyone who
had access to computers and the internet before it was known as the World Wide Web.
Computers thus added fresh momentum to the efforts of realizing the age-old dream of the universal
library (Battles, 2004). Digital technologies offered a breakthrough in many of the issues that previously
posed serious obstacles to text collection: storage, search, preservation, access have all become cheaper
and easier than ever before. On the other hand, a number of key issues remained unresolved: digitization
was a slow and cumbersome process, while the screen proved to be too inconvenient, and the printer too
costly an interface between the text file and the reader. In any case, ultimately it wasn’t these issues that
put a break to the proliferation of digital libraries. Rather, it was the realization, that there are legal limits
to the digitization, storage, distribution of copyrighted works on the digital networks. That realization
soon rendered many text collections in the emerging digital library scene inaccessible.
Legal considerations did not destroy this chaotic, emergent digital librarianship and the collections the adhoc, accidental and professional librarians put together. The text collections were far too valuable to
simply delete them from the servers. Instead, what happened to most of these collections was that they
retreated from the public view, back into the access-controlled shadows of darknets. Yesterday’s gophers
and anonymous ftp servers turned into closed, membership only ftp servers, local shared libraries residing
on the intranets of various academic, business institutions and private archives stored on local hard drives.
The early digital libraries turned into book piracy sites and into the kernels of today’s shadow libraries.
Libraries and other major actors, who decided to start large scale digitization programs soon needed to
find out that if they wanted to avoid costly lawsuits, then they had to limit their activities to work in the
public domain. While the public domain is riddled with mind-bogglingly complex and unresolved legal
issues, but at least it is still significantly less complicated to deal with than copyrighted and orphan works.
Legally more innovative, (or as some would say, adventurous) companies, such as Google and Microsoft,
who thought they had sufficient resources to sort out the legal issues soon had to abandon their programs
or put them on hold until the legal issues were sorted out.
There were, however, a large group of disenfranchised readers, library patrons, authors and users who
decided to ignore the legal problems and set out to build the best library that could possibly be built using
the digital technologies. Despite the increased awareness of rights holders to the issue of digital book
piracy, more and more communities around text collections started def

Eastern European

What Aleph is and what it is not
Aleph is an example of the library in the post scarcity age. It is founded on the idea that books should no
longer be a scarce resource. Aleph set out to remove both sources of scarcity: the natural source of

Market availability data is only available for that 40% of books in the Aleph catalogue that had an ISBN number
on file. The titles without a valid ISBN number tend to be older, Russian language titles, in general with low
expected print and e-book availability.
Download data is based on the logs provided by one of the shadow library services which offers the books in
Aleph’s catalogue as well as other works also free and without any restraints or limitations.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

scarcity in physical copies is overcome through distributed digitization; the artificial source of scarcity
created by copyright protection is overcome through infringement. The liberation from both constraints is
necessary to create a truly scarcity free environment and to release the potential of the library in the postscarcity age.
Aleph is also an ongoing demonstration of the fact that under the condition of non-scarcity, the library can
be a decentralized, distributed, commons-based institution created and maintained through peer
production (Benkler, 2006). The message of Aleph is clear: users left to their own devices, can produce a
library by themselves for themselves. In fact, users are the library. And when everyone has the means to
digitize, collect, catalogue and share his/her own library, then the library suddenly is everywhere. Small
individual and institutional collections are aggregated into Aleph, which, in turn is constantly fragmented
into smaller, local, individual collections as users download works from the collection. The library is

exception, and whether licensing an e-book would exhaust the distribution right are under consideration
by the Court of Justice of the European Union in a Dutch case (Rosati, 2014b). And while in another case
(Case C-117/13 Technische Universität Darmstadt v Eugen Ulmer KG) the CJEU reaffirmed the rights of
European libraries to digitize books in their collection if that is necessary to give access to them in digital
formats on their premises, it also created new uncertainties by stating that libraries may not digitize their
entire collections (Rosati, 2014a).
US libraries face a similar situation, both in terms of the narrowly defined exceptions in which libraries
can operate, and the huge uncertainty regarding the limits of fair use in the digital library context. US
rights holders challenged both Google’s (Authors Guild v Google) and the libraries (Authors Guild v
HathiTrust) rights to digitize copyrighted works. While there seems to be a consensus of courts that the
mass digitization conducted by these institutions was fair use (Diaz, 2013; Rosati, 2014c; Samuelson,
2014), the accessibility of the scanned works is still heavily limited, subject to licenses from publishers,
the existence of print copies at the library and the institutional membership held by prospective readers.
While in the highly competitive US e-book market many commercial intermediaries offer e-lending

The notable exception being orphan works which are presumed to be still copyrighted, but without an identifiable
rights owner. In the EU, the Directive 2012/28/EU on certain permitted uses of orphan works in theory eases access
to such works, but in practice its practical impact is limited by the many constraints among its provisions. Lacking
any orphan works legislation and the Google Book Settlement still in limbo, the US is even farther from making
orphan works generally accessible to the public.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creati

y the danger of a commercial
lock-in of the access to digital works, and render libraries dependent upon the services of commercial
providers who may or may not be the best defenders of public interest (OECD, 2012).
Shadow libraries like Aleph are called into existence by the vacuum that was left behind by the collapse
of libraries in the digital sphere and by the inability of the commercial arrangements to provide adequate
substitute services. Shadow libraries are pooling distributed resources and expertise over the internet, and
use the lack of legal or technological barriers to innovation in the informal sphere to fill in the void left
behind by libraries.

What can Aleph teach us about the future of libraries?
The story of Aleph offers two, closely interrelated considerations for the debate on the future of libraries:
a legal and an organizational one. Aleph operates beyond the limits of legality, as almost all of its
activities are copyright infringing, including the unauthorized digitization of books, the unauthorized
mass downloads from e-text repositories, the unauthorized acts of uploading books to the archive, the
unauthorized distribution of books, and, in most countries, the unauthorized act of users’ downloading
books from the archive. In the debates around copyright infringement, illegality is usually interpreted as a
necessary condition to access works for free. While this is undoubtedly true, the fact that Aleph provides
no-cost access to books seems to be less important than the fact that it provides an access to them in the
first place.
Aleph is a clear indicator of the volume of the demand for current books in digital formats in developed
and in developing countries. The legal digital availability, or rather, unavailability of its catalogue also
demonstrates the limits of the current commercial and library based arrangements that aim to provide low
cost access to books over the internet. As mentioned earlier, Aleph’s catalogue is mostly of recent books,

a substantial
subsequent investment in storage, collection management and access provision (Poole, 2010). Compared
to these figures the costs associated with running Aleph is infinitesimal, as it survives on the volunteer
labor of a few individuals, and annual donations in the total value of a few thousand dollars. The hundreds
of thousands who use Aleph on a more or less regular basis have an immense amount of resources, and by
disregarding the copyright laws Aleph is able to tap into those resources and use them for the
development of the library. The value of these resources and of the peer produced library is the difference
between the actual costs associated with Aleph, and the investment that would be required to create
something remotely similar.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

The decentralized, collaborative mass digitization and making available of current, thus most relevant
scientific works is only possible at the moment through massive copyright infringement. It is debatable
whether the copyrighted corpus of scientific works should be completely open, and whether the blatant
disregard of copyrights through which Aleph achieved this openness is the right path towards a more
openly accessible body of scientific knowledge. It is also yet to be measured what effects shadow libraries
may have on the commercial intermediaries and on the health of scientific publishing and science in
general. But Aleph, in any case, is a case study in the potential benefits of open sourcing the library.

If we can take Aleph as an expression of what users around the globe want from a library, then the answer
is that there is a strong need for a universally accessible collection of current, relevant (scientific) books
in restrictions-free electronic formats. Can we expect any single library to provide anything even r

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