guerrilla open access in Kelty, Bodo & Allen 2018
Kelty, Bodo & Allen
Guerrilla Open Access
Published by Post Office Press,
Rope Press and Memory of the
World. Coventry, 2018.
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This pamphlet is published in a series
of 7 as part of the Radical Open
Access II – The Ethics of Care
conference, which took place June
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and about the contributors to this
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Table of Contents
Guerrilla Open Access:
Terms Of Struggle
Memory of the World
Recursive Publics and Open Access
What if We Aren't the Only
Guerrillas Out There?
In the 1990s, the Internet offered a horizon from which to imagine what society
could become, promising autonomy and self-organization next to redistribution of
wealth and collectivized means of production. While the former was in line with the
dominant ideology of freedom, the latter ran contrary to the expanding enclosures
in capitalist globalization. This antagonism has led to epochal copyfights, where free
software and piracy kept the promise of radical commoning alive.
Free software, as Christopher Kelty writes in this pamphlet, provided a model ‘of a
shared, collective, process of making software, hardware and infrastructures that
cannot be appropriated by others’. Well into the 2000s, it served as an inspiration
for global free culture and open access movements who were speculating that
distributed infrastructures of knowledge production could be built, as the Internet
was, on top of free software.
For a moment, the hybrid world of ad-financed Internet giants—sharing code,
advocating open standards and interoperability—and users empowered by these
services, convinced almost everyone that a new reading/writing culture was
possible. Not long after the crash of 2008, these disruptors, now wary monopolists,
began to ingest smaller disruptors and close off their platforms. There was still
free software somewhere underneath, but without the ‘original sense of shared,
collective, process’. So, as Kelty suggests, it was hard to imagine that for-profit
academic publishers wouldn't try the same with open access.
Heeding Aaron Swartz’s call to civil disobedience, Guerrilla Open Access has
emerged out of the outrage over digitally-enabled enclosure of knowledge that
has allowed these for-profit academic publishers to appropriate extreme profits
that stand in stark contrast to the cuts, precarity, student debt and asymmetries
of access in education. Shadow libraries stood in for the access denied to public
libraries, drastically reducing global asymmetries in the process.
This radicalization of access has changed how publications
travel across time and space. Digital archiving, cataloging and
sharing is transforming what we once considered as private
libraries. Amateur librarianship is becoming public shadow
librarianship. Hybrid use, as poetically unpacked in Balazs
Bodo's reflection on his own personal library, is now entangling
print and digital in novel ways. And, as he warns, the terrain
of antagonism is shifting. While for-profit publishers are
seemingly conceding to Guerrilla Open Access, they are
opening new territories: platforms centralizing data, metrics
and workflows, subsuming academic autonomy into new
processes of value extraction.
The 2010s brought us hope and then realization how little
digital networks could help revolutionary movements. The
redistribution toward the wealthy, assisted by digitization, has
eroded institutions of solidarity. The embrace of privilege—
marked by misogyny, racism and xenophobia—this has catalyzed
is nowhere more evident than in the climate denialism of the
Trump administration. Guerrilla archiving of US government
climate change datasets, as recounted by Laurie Allen,
indicates that more technological innovation simply won't do
away with the 'post-truth' and that our institutions might be in
need of revision, replacement and repair.
As the contributions to this pamphlet indicate, the terms
of struggle have shifted: not only do we have to continue
defending our shadow libraries, but we need to take back the
autonomy of knowledge production and rebuild institutional
grounds of solidarity.
Memory of the World
Ten years ago, I published a book calledTwo Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free
Software (Kelty 2008).1 Duke University Press and my editor Ken Wissoker were
enthusiastically accommodating of my demands to make the book freely and openly
available. They also played along with my desire to release the 'source code' of the
book (i.e. HTML files of the chapters), and to compare the data on readers of the
open version to print customers. It was a moment of exploration for both scholarly
presses and for me. At the time, few authors were doing this other than Yochai Benkler
(2007) and Cory Doctorow2, both activists and advocates for free software and open
access (OA), much as I have been. We all shared, I think, a certain fanaticism of the
convert that came from recognizing free software as an historically new, and radically
different mode of organizing economic and political activity. Two Bits gave me a way
to talk not only about free software, but about OA and the politics of the university
(Kelty et al. 2008; Kelty 2014). Ten years later, I admit to a certain pessimism at the
way things have turned out. The promise of free software has foundered, though not
disappeared, and the question of what it means to achieve the goals of OA has been
swamped by concerns about costs, arcane details of repositories and versioning, and
ritual offerings to the metrics God.
When I wrote Two Bits, it was obvious to me that the collectives who built free
software were essential to the very structure and operation of a standardized
Internet. Today, free software and 'open source' refer to dramatically different
constellations of practice and people. Free software gathers around itself those
committed to the original sense of a shared, collective, process of making software,
hardware and infrastructures that cannot be appropriated by others. In political
terms, I have always identified free software with a very specific, updated, version
of classical Millian liberalism. It sustains a belief in the capacity for collective action
and rational thought as aids to establishing a flourishing human livelihood. Yet it
also preserves an outdated blind faith in the automatic functioning of meritorious
speech, that the best ideas will inevitably rise to the top. It is an updated classical
liberalism that saw in software and networks a new place to resist the tyranny of the
conventional and the taken for granted.
By contrast, open source has come to mean something quite different: an ecosystem
controlled by an oligopoly of firms which maintains a shared pool of components and
frameworks that lower the costs of education, training, and software creation in the
service of establishing winner-take-all platforms. These are built on open source, but
they do not carry the principles of freedom or openness all the way through to the
platforms themselves.3 What open source has become is now almost the opposite of
free software—it is authoritarian, plutocratic, and nepotistic, everything liberalism
wanted to resist. For example, precarious labor and platforms such as Uber or Task
Rabbit are built upon and rely on the fruits of the labor of 'open source', but the
platforms that result do not follow the same principles—they are not open or free
in any meaningful sense—to say nothing of the Uber drivers or task rabbits who live
by the platforms.
Does OA face the same problem? In part, my desire to 'free the source' of my book
grew out of the unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record. It is an irony
that much of the work that went into designing the Internet at its outset in the
1980s, such as gopher, WAIS, and the HTML of CERN, was conducted in the name
of the digital transformation of the library. But by 2007, these aims were swamped
by attempts to transform the Internet into a giant factory of data extraction. Even
in 2006-7 it was clear that this unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record
was going to become a problem—both because it was being overshadowed by other
concerns, and because of the danger it would eventually be subjected to the very
platformization underway in other realms.
Because if the platform capitalism of today has ended up being parasitic on the
free software that enabled it, then why would this not also be true of scholarship
more generally? Are we not witnessing a transition to a world where scholarship
is directed—in its very content and organization—towards the profitability of the
platforms that ostensibly serve it?4 Is it not possible that the platforms created to
'serve science'—Elsevier's increasing acquisition of tools to control the entire lifecycle of research, or ResearchGate's ambition to become the single source for all
academics to network and share research—that these platforms might actually end up
warping the very content of scholarly production in the service of their profitability?
To put this even more clearly: OA has come to exist and scholarship is more available
and more widely distributed than ever before. But, scholars now have less control,
and have taken less responsibility for the means of production of scientific research,
its circulation, and perhaps even the content of that science.
Recursive Publics and Open Access
The Method of Modulation
When I wrote Two Bits I organized the argument around the idea of modulation:
free software is simply one assemblage of technologies, practices, and people
aimed at resolving certain problems regarding the relationship between knowledge
(or software tools related to knowledge) and power (Hacking 2004; Rabinow
2003). Free software as such was and still is changing as each of its elements
evolve or are recombined. Because OA derives some of its practices directly from
free software, it is possible to observe how these different elements have been
worked over in the recent past, as well as how new and surprising elements are
combined with OA to transform it. Looking back on the elements I identified as
central to free software, one can ask: how is OA different, and what new elements
are modulating it into something possibly unrecognizable?
Sharing source code
Shareable source code was a concrete and necessary achievement for free
software to be possible. Similarly, the necessary ability to circulate digital texts
is a significant achievement—but such texts are shareable in a much different way.
For source code, computable streams of text are everything—anything else is a
'blob' like an image, a video or any binary file. But scholarly texts are blobs: Word or
Portable Document Format (PDF) files. What's more, while software programmers
may love 'source code', academics generally hate it—anything less than the final,
typeset version is considered unfinished (see e.g. the endless disputes over
'author's final versions' plaguing OA).5 Finality is important. Modifiability of a text,
especially in the humanities and social sciences, is acceptable only when it is an
experiment of some kind.
In a sense, the source code of science is not a code at all, but a more abstract set
of relations between concepts, theories, tools, methods, and the disciplines and
networks of people who operate with them, critique them, extend them and try to
maintain control over them even as they are shared within these communities.
avoid the waste of 'reinventing the wheel' and of pathological
competition, allowing instead modular, reusable parts that
could be modified and recombined to build better things in an
upward spiral of innovation. The 1980s ideas of modularity,
modifiability, abstraction barriers, interchangeable units
have been essential to the creation of digital infrastructures.
To propose an 'open science' thus modulates this definition—
and the idea works in some sciences better than others.
Aside from the obviously different commercial contexts,
philosophers and literary theorists just don't think about
openness this way—theories and arguments may be used
as building blocks, but they are not modular in quite the
same way. Only the free circulation of the work, whether
for recombination or for reference and critique, remains a
sine qua non of the theory of openness proposed there. It
is opposed to a system where it is explicit that only certain
people have access to the texts (whether that be through
limitations of secrecy, or limitations on intellectual property,
or an implicit elitism).
Writing and using copyright licenses
Of all the components of free software that I analyzed, this
is the one practice that remains the least transformed—OA
texts use the same CC licenses pioneered in 2001, which
were a direct descendant of free software licenses.
For free software to make sense as a solution, those involved first had to
characterize the problem it solved—and they did so by identifying a pathology in
the worlds of corporate capitalism and engineering in the 1980s: that computer
corporations were closed organizations who re-invented basic tools and
infrastructures in a race to dominate a market. An 'open system,' by contrast, would
A novel modulation of these licenses is the OA policies (the
embrace of OA in Brazil for instance, or the spread of OA
Policies starting with Harvard and the University of California,
and extending to the EU Mandate from 2008 forward). Today
the ability to control the circulation of a text with IP rights is
far less economically central to the strategies of publishers
than it was in 2007, even if they persist in attempting to do
so. At the same time, funders, states, and universities have all
adopted patchwork policies intended to both sustain green
OA, and push publishers to innovate their own business
models in gold and hybrid OA. While green OA is a significant
success on paper, the actual use of it to circulate work pales
Recursive Publics and Open Access
in comparison to the commercial control of circulation on the
one hand, and the increasing success of shadow libraries on
the other. Repositories have sprung up in every shape and
form, but they remain largely ad hoc, poorly coordinated, and
underfunded solutions to the problem of OA.
The collective activity of free software is ultimately the
most significant of its achievements—marrying a form of
intensive small-scale interaction amongst programmers,
with sophisticated software for managing complex objects
(version control and GitHub-like sites). There has been
constant innovation in these tools for controlling, measuring,
testing, and maintaining software.
By contrast, the collective activity of scholarship is still
largely a pre-modern affair. It is coordinated largely by the
idea of 'writing an article together' and not by working
to maintain some larger map of what a research topic,
community, or discipline has explored—what has worked and
what has not.
This focus on the coordination of collaboration seemed to
me to be one of the key advantages of free software, but it
has turned out to be almost totally absent from the practice
or discussion of OA. Collaboration and the recombination of
elements of scholarly practice obviously happens, but it does
not depend on OA in any systematic way: there is only the
counterfactual that without it, many different kinds of people
are excluded from collaboration or even simple participation
in, scholarship, something that most active scholars are
willfully ignorant of.
Fomenting a movement
I demoted the idea of a social movement to merely one
component of the success of free software, rather than let
it be—as most social scientists would have it—the principal
container for free software. They are not the whole story.
Is there an OA movement? Yes and no. Librarians remain
the most activist and organized. The handful of academics
who care about it have shifted to caring about it in primarily
a bureaucratic sense, forsaking the cross-organizational
aspects of a movement in favor of activism within universities
(to which I plead guilty). But this transformation forsakes
the need for addressing the collective, collaborative
responsibility for scholarship in favor of letting individual
academics, departments, and disciplines be the focus for
By contrast, the publishing industry works with a
phantasmatic idea of both an OA 'movement' and of the actual
practices of scholarship—they too defer, in speech if not in
practice, to the academics themselves, but at the same time
must create tools, innovate processes, establish procedures,
acquire tools and companies and so on in an effort to capture
these phantasms and to prevent academics from collectively
doing so on their own.
And what new components? The five above were central to
free software, but OA has other components that are arguably
more important to its organization and transformation.
Money, i.e. library budgets
Central to almost all of the politics and debates about OA
is the political economy of publication. From the 'bundles'
debates of the 1990s to the gold/green debates of the 2010s,
the sole source of money for publication long ago shifted into
the library budget. The relationship that library budgets
have to other parts of the political economy of research
(funding for research itself, debates about tenured/nontenured, adjunct and other temporary salary structures) has
shifted as a result of the demand for OA, leading libraries
to re-conceptualize themselves as potential publishers, and
publishers to re-conceptualize themselves as serving 'life
cycles' or 'pipeline' of research, not just its dissemination.
Recursive Publics and Open Access
More than anything, OA is promoted as a way to continue
to feed the metrics God. OA means more citations, more
easily computable data, and more visible uses and re-uses of
publications (as well as 'open data' itself, when conceived of
as product and not measure). The innovations in the world
of metrics—from the quiet expansion of the platforms of the
publishers, to the invention of 'alt metrics', to the enthusiasm
of 'open science' for metrics-driven scientific methods—forms
a core feature of what 'OA' is today, in a way that was not true
of free software before it, where metrics concerning users,
downloads, commits, or lines of code were always after-thefact measures of quality, and not constitutive ones.
Other components of this sort might be proposed, but the
main point is to resist to clutch OA as if it were the beating
heart of a social transformation in science, as if it were a
thing that must exist, rather than a configuration of elements
at a moment in time. OA was a solution—but it is too easy to
lose sight of the problem.
Open Access without Recursive Publics
When we no longer have any commons, but only platforms,
will we still have knowledge as we know it? This is a question
at the heart of research in the philosophy and sociology
of knowledge—not just a concern for activism or social
movements. If knowledge is socially produced and maintained,
then the nature of the social bond surely matters to the
nature of that knowledge. This is not so different than asking
whether we will still have labor or work, as we have long known
it, in an age of precarity? What is the knowledge equivalent of
precarity (i.e. not just the existence of precarious knowledge
workers, but a kind of precarious knowledge as such)?
knowledge and power is shifting dramatically, because the costs—and the stakes—
of producing high quality, authoritative knowledge have also shifted. It is not so
powerful any longer; science does not speak truth to power because truth is no
longer so obviously important to power.
Although this is a pessimistic portrait, it may also be a sign of something yet to
come. Free software as a community, has been and still sometimes is critiqued as
being an exclusionary space of white male sociality (Nafus 2012; Massanari 2016;
Ford and Wajcman 2017; Reagle 2013). I think this critique is true, but it is less a
problem of identity than it is a pathology of a certain form of liberalism: a form that
demands that merit consists only in the content of the things we say (whether in
a political argument, a scientific paper, or a piece of code), and not in the ways we
say them, or who is encouraged to say them and who is encouraged to remain silent
One might, as a result, choose to throw out liberalism altogether as a broken
philosophy of governance and liberation. But it might also be an opportunity to
focus much more specifically on a particular problem of liberalism, one that the
discourse of OA also relies on to a large extent. Perhaps it is not the case that
merit derives solely from the content of utterances freely and openly circulated,
but also from the ways in which they are uttered, and the dignity of the people
who utter them. An OA (or a free software) that embraced that principle would
demand that we pay attention to different problems: how are our platforms,
infrastructures, tools organized and built to support not just the circulation of
putatively true statements, but the ability to say them in situated and particular
ways, with respect for the dignity of who is saying them, and with the freedom to
explore the limits of that kind of liberalism, should we be so lucky to achieve it.
Do we not already see the evidence of this in the 'posttruth' of fake news, or the deliberate refusal by those in
power to countenance evidence, truth, or established
systems of argument and debate? The relationship between
Recursive Publics and Open Access
Benkler, Yochai. 2007. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets
and Freedom. Yale University Press.
Dunbar-Hester, Christina. 2014. Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in
FM Radio Activism. MIT Press.
Ford, Heather, and Judy Wajcman. 2017. “‘Anyone Can Edit’, Not Everyone Does:
Wikipedia’s Infrastructure and the Gender Gap”. Social Studies of Science 47 (4):
Hacking, I. 2004. Historical Ontology. Harvard University Press.
Kelty, Christopher M. 2014. “Beyond Copyright and Technology: What Open Access Can
Tell Us About Precarity, Authority, Innovation, and Automation in the University
Today”. Cultural Anthropology 29 (2): 203–215. doi:10.14506/ca29.2.02.
——— . 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, N.C.: Duke
Kelty, Christopher M., et al. 2008. “Anthropology In/of Circulation: a Discussion”. Cultural
Anthropology 23 (3).
Massanari, Adrienne. 2016. “#gamergate and the Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm,
Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures”. New Media & Society 19 (3):
Nafus, Dawn. 2012. “‘Patches don’t have gender’: What is not open in open source
software”. New Media & Society 14, no. 4: 669–683. Visited on 04/01/2014. http://
Rabinow, Paul. 2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment. Princeton
Reagle, Joseph. 2013. “"Free As in Sexist?" Free Culture and the Gender Gap”. First
Monday 18 (1). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i1.4291.
³ For example, Platform Cooperativism
See for example the figure from ’Rent
Seeking by Elsevier,’ by Alejandro Posada
and George Chen (http://knowledgegap.
Recursive Publics and Open Access
the contexts we were fleeing from. We made a choice to leave
behind the history, the discourses, the problems and the pain
that accumulated in the books of our library. I knew exactly
what it was I didn’t want to teach to my children once we moved.
So we did not move the books. We pretended that we would
never have to think about what this decision really meant. Up
until today. This year we needed to empty the study with the
shelves. So I’m standing in our library now, the dust covering
my face, my hands, my clothes. In the middle of the floor there
are three big crates and one small box. The small box swallows
what we’ll ultimately take with us, the books I want to show to
my son when he gets older, in case he still wants to read. One of
the big crates will be taken away by the antiquarian. The other
will be given to the school library next door. The third is the
wastebasket, where everything else will ultimately go.
Flow My Tears
My tears cut deep grooves into the dust on my face. Drip, drip,
drop, they hit the floor and disappear among the torn pages
scattered on the floor.
This year it dawned on us that we cannot postpone it any longer:
our personal library has to go. Our family moved countries
more than half a decade ago, we switched cultures, languages,
and chose another future. But the past, in the form of a few
thousand books in our personal library, was still neatly stacked
in our old apartment, patiently waiting, books that we bought
and enjoyed — and forgot; books that we bought and never
opened; books that we inherited from long-dead parents and
half-forgotten friends. Some of them were important. Others
were relevant at one point but no longer, yet they still reminded
us who we once were.
When we moved, we took no more than two suitcases of personal
belongings. The books were left behind. The library was like
a sick child or an ailing parent, it hung over our heads like an
unspoken threat, a curse. It was clear that sooner or later
something had to be done about it, but none of the options
available offered any consolation. It made no sense to move
three thousand books to the other side of this continent. We
decided to emigrate, and not to take our past with us, abandon
Drip, drip, drip, my tears flow as I throw the books into this
last crate, drip, drip, drop. Sometimes I look at my partner,
working next to me, and I can see on her face that she is going
through the same emotions. I sometimes catch the sight of
her trembling hand, hesitating for a split second where a book
should ultimately go, whether we could, whether we should
save that particular one, because… But we either save them all
or we are as ruthless as all those millions of people throughout
history, who had an hour to pack their two suitcases before they
needed to leave. Do we truly need this book? Is this a book we’ll
want to read? Is this book an inseparable part of our identity?
Did we miss this book at all in the last five years? Is this a text
I want to preserve for the future, for potential grandchildren
who may not speak my mother tongue at all? What is the function
of the book? What is the function of this particular book in my
life? Why am I hesitating throwing it out? Why should I hesitate
at all? Drop, drop, drop, a decision has been made. Drop, drop,
drop, books are falling to the bottom of the crates.
We are killers, gutting our library. We are like the half-drown
sailor, who got entangled in the ropes, and went down with the
ship, and who now frantically tries to cut himself free from the
detritus that prevents him to reach the freedom of the surface,
the sunlight and the air.
advantages of a fully digital book future. What I see now is the emergence of a strange
and shapeshifting-hybrid of diverse physical and electronic objects and practices,
where the relative strengths and weaknesses of these different formats nicely
complement each other.
This dawned on me after we had moved into an apartment without a bookshelf. I grew
up in a flat that housed my parents’ extensive book collection. I knew the books by their
cover and from time to time something made me want to take it from the shelf, open
it and read it. This is how I discovered many of my favorite books and writers. With
the e-reader, and some of the best shadow libraries at hand, I felt the same at first. I
felt liberated. I could experiment without cost or risk, I could start—or stop—a book,
I didn’t have to consider the cost of buying and storing a book that was ultimately
not meant for me. I could enjoy the books without having to carry the burden and
responsibility of ownership.
Own Nothing, Have Everything
Do you remember Napster’s slogan after it went legit, trying to transform itself into
a legal music service around 2005? ‘Own nothing, have everything’ – that was the
headline that was supposed to sell legal streaming music. How stupid, I thought. How
could you possibly think that lack of ownership would be a good selling point? What
does it even mean to ‘have everything’ without ownership? And why on earth would
not everyone want to own the most important constituents of their own self, their
own identity? The things I read, the things I sing, make me who I am. Why wouldn’t I
want to own these things?
How revolutionary this idea had been I reflected as I watched the local homeless folks
filling up their sacks with the remains of my library. How happy I would be if I could
have all this stuff I had just thrown away without actually having to own any of it. The
proliferation of digital texts led me to believe that we won’t be needing dead wood
libraries at all, at least no more than we need vinyl to listen to, or collect music. There
might be geeks, collectors, specialists, who for one reason or another still prefer the
physical form to the digital, but for the rest of us convenience, price, searchability, and
all the other digital goodies give enough reason not to collect stuff that collects dust.
Did you notice how deleting an epub file gives you a different feeling than throwing
out a book? You don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel anything at all.
So I was reading, reading, reading like never before. But at that time my son was too
young to read, so I didn’t have to think about him, or anyone else besides myself. But
as he was growing, it slowly dawned on me: without these physical books how will I be
able to give him the same chance of serendipity, and of discovery, enchantment, and
immersion that I got in my father’s library? And even later, what will I give him as his
heritage? Son, look into this folder of PDFs: this is my legacy, your heritage, explore,
enjoy, take pride in it?
Collections of anything, whether they are art, books, objects, people, are inseparable
from the person who assembled that collection, and when that person is gone, the
collection dies, as does the most important inroad to it: the will that created this
particular order of things has passed away. But the heavy and unavoidable physicality
of a book collection forces all those left behind to make an effort to approach, to
force their way into, and try to navigate that garden of forking paths that is someone
else’s library. Even if you ultimately get rid of everything, you have to introduce
yourself to every book, and let every book introduce itself to you, so you know what
you’re throwing out. Even if you’ll ultimately kill, you will need to look into the eyes of
all your victims.
With a digital collection that’s, of course, not the case.
I was wrong to think that. I now realize that the future is not fully digital, it is more
a physical-digital hybrid, in which the printed book is not simply an endangered
species protected by a few devoted eccentrics who refuse to embrace the obvious
The e-book is ephemeral. It has little past and even less chance to preserve the
fingerprints of its owners over time. It is impersonal, efficient, fast, abundant, like
fast food or plastic, it flows through the hand like sand. It lacks the embodiment, the
materiality which would give it a life in a temporal dimension. If you want to network the
dead and the unborn, as is the ambition of every book, then you need to print and bind,
and create heavy objects that are expensive, inefficient and a burden. This burden
subsiding in the object is the bridge that creates the intergenerational dimension,
that forces you to think of the value of a book.
Own nothing, have nothing. Own everything, and your children will hate you when
I have to say, I’m struggling to find a new balance here. I started to buy books again,
usually books that I’d already read from a stolen copy on-screen. I know what I want
to buy, I know what is worth preserving. I know what I want to show to my son, what
I want to pass on, what I would like to take care of over time. Before, book buying for
me was an investment into a stranger. Now that thrill is gone forever. I measure up
the merchandise well beforehand, I build an intimate relationship, we make love again
and again, before moving in together.
It is certainly a new kind of relationship with the books I bought since I got my e-reader.
I still have to come to terms with the fact that the books I bought this way are rarely
opened, as I already know them, and their role is not to be read, but to be together.
What do I buy, and what do I get? Temporal, existential security? The chance of
serendipity, if not for me, then for the people around me? The reassuring materiality
of the intimacy I built with these texts through another medium?
All of these and maybe more. But in any case, I sense that this library, the physical
embodiment of a physical-electronic hybrid collection with its unopened books and
overflowing e-reader memory cards, is very different from the library I had, and the
library I’m getting rid of at this very moment. The library that I inherited, the library
that grew organically from the detritus of the everyday, the library that accumulated
books similar to how the books accumulated dust, as is the natural way of things, this
library was full of unknowns, it was a library of potentiality, of opportunities, of trips
waiting to happen. This new, hybrid library is a collection of things that I’m familiar with.
I intimately know every piece, they hold little surprise, they offer few discoveries — at
least for me. The exploration, the discovery, the serendipity, the pre-screening takes
place on the e-reader, among the ephemeral, disposable PDFs and epubs.
This new hybrid model is based on the cheap availability of digital books. In my case, the
free availability of pirated copies available through shadow libraries. These libraries
don’t have everything on offer, but they have books in an order of magnitude larger
than I’ll ever have the time and chance to read, so they offer enough, enough for me
to fill up hard drives with books I want to read, or at least skim, to try, to taste. As if I
moved into an infinite bookstore or library, where I can be as promiscuous, explorative,
nomadic as I always wanted to be. I can flirt with books, I can have a quickie, or I can
leave them behind without shedding a single tear.
I don’t know how this hybrid library, and this analogue-digital hybrid practice of reading
and collecting would work without the shadow libraries which make everything freely
accessible. I rely on their supply to test texts, and feed and grow my print library.
E-books are cheaper than their print versions, but they still cost money, carry a
risk, a cost of experimentation. Book-streaming, the flat-rate, the all-you-can-eat
format of accessing books is at the moment only available to audiobooks, but rarely
for e-books. I wonder why.
Did you notice that there are no major book piracy lawsuits?
Have everything, and own a few.
Of course there is the lawsuit against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis in New York, and
there is another one in Canada against aaaaarg, causing major nuisance to those who
have been named in these cases. But this is almost negligible compared to the high
profile wars the music and audiovisual industries waged against Napster, Grokster,
Kazaa, megaupload and their likes. It is as if book publishers have completely given up on
trying to fight piracy in the courts, and have launched a few lawsuits only to maintain
the appearance that they still care about their digital copyrights. I wonder why.
I know the academic publishing industry slightly better than the mainstream popular
fiction market, and I have the feeling that in the former copyright-based business
models are slowly being replaced by something else. We see no major anti-piracy
efforts from publishers, not because piracy is non-existent — on the contrary, it is
global, and it is big — but because the publishers most probably realized that in the
long run the copyright-based exclusivity model is unsustainable. The copyright wars
of the last two decades taught them that law cannot put an end to piracy. As the
Sci-Hub case demonstrates, you can win all you want in a New York court, but this
has little real-world effect as long as the conditions that attract the users to the
shadow libraries remain.
Exclusivity-based publishing business models are under assault from other sides as
well. Mandated open access in the US and in the EU means that there is a quickly
growing body of new research for the access of which publishers cannot charge
money anymore. LibGen and Sci-Hub make it harder to charge for the back catalogue.
Their sheer existence teaches millions on what uncurtailed open access really is, and
makes it easier for university libraries to negotiate with publishers, as they don’t have
to worry about their patrons being left without any access at all.
The good news is that radical open access may well be happening. It is a less and less
radical idea to have things freely accessible. One has to be less and less radical to
achieve the openness that has been long overdue. Maybe it is not yet obvious today
and the victory is not yet universal, maybe it’ll take some extra years, maybe it won’t
ever be evenly distributed, but it is obvious that this genie, these millions of books on
everything from malaria treatments to critical theory, cannot be erased, and open
access will not be undone, and the future will be free of access barriers.
We Are Not Winning at All
But did we really win? If publishers are happy to let go of access control and copyright,
it means that they’ve found something that is even more profitable than selling
back to us academics the content that we have produced. And this more profitable
something is of course data. Did you notice where all the investment in academic
publishing went in the last decade? Did you notice SSRN, Mendeley, Academia.edu,
ScienceDirect, research platforms, citation software, manuscript repositories, library
systems being bought up by the academic publishing industry? All these platforms
and technologies operate on and support open access content, while they generate
data on the creation, distribution, and use of knowledge; on individuals, researchers,
students, and faculty; on institutions, departments, and programs. They produce data
on the performance, on the success and the failure of the whole domain of research
and education. This is the data that is being privatized, enclosed, packaged, and sold
back to us.
Drip, drip, drop, its only nostalgia. My heart is light, as I don’t have to worry about
gutting the library. Soon it won’t matter at all.
Taylorism reached academia. In the name of efficiency, austerity, and transparency,
our daily activities are measured, profiled, packaged, and sold to the highest bidder.
But in this process of quantification, knowledge on ourselves is lost for us, unless we
pay. We still have some patchy datasets on what we do, on who we are, we still have
this blurred reflection in the data-mirrors that we still do control. But this path of
self-enlightenment is quickly waning as less and less data sources about us are freely
available to us.
Who is downloading books and articles? Everyone. Radical open access? We won,
if you like.
I strongly believe that information on the self is the foundation
of self-determination. We need to have data on how we operate,
on what we do in order to know who we are. This is what is being
privatized away from the academic community, this is being
taken away from us.
Radical open access. Not of content, but of the data about
ourselves. This is the next challenge. We will digitize every page,
by hand if we must, that process cannot be stopped anymore.
No outside power can stop it and take that from us. Drip, drip,
drop, this is what I console myself with, as another handful of
books land among the waste.
But the data we lose now will not be so easy to reclaim.
My goal in this paper is to tell the story
of a grass-roots project called Data
that I helped to co-found shortly after,
and in response to, the Trump election
in the USA. Trump’s reputation as
anti-science, and the promise that his
administration would elevate people into
positions of power with a track record
of distorting, hiding, or obscuring the
scientific evidence of climate change
caused widespread concern that
valuable federal data was now in danger.
The Data Refuge project grew from the
work of Professor Bethany Wiggin and
the graduate students within the Penn
Program in Environmental Humanities
(PPEH), notably Patricia Kim, and was
formed in collaboration with the Penn
Libraries, where I work. In this paper, I
will discuss the Data Refuge project, and
call attention to a few of the challenges
inherent in the effort, especially as
they overlap with the goals of this
collective. I am not a scholar. Instead,
I am a librarian, and my perspective as
a practicing informational professional
informs the way I approach this paper,
which weaves together the practical
and technical work of ‘saving data’ with
the theoretical, systemic, and ethical
issues that frame and inform what we
I work as the head of a relatively small and new department within the libraries
of the University of Pennsylvania, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the
US. I was hired to lead the Digital Scholarship department in the spring of 2016,
and most of the seven (soon to be eight) people within Digital Scholarship joined
the library since then in newly created positions. Our group includes a mapping
and spatial data librarian and three people focused explicitly on supporting the
creation of new Digital Humanities scholarship. There are also two people in the
department who provide services connected with digital scholarly open access
publishing, including the maintenance of the Penn Libraries’ repository of open
access scholarship, and one Data Curation and Management Librarian. This
Data Librarian, Margaret Janz, started working with us in September 2016, and
features heavily into the story I’m about to tell about our work helping to build Data
Refuge. While Margaret and I were the main people in our department involved in
the project, it is useful to understand the work we did as connected more broadly
to the intersection of activities—from multimodal, digital, humanities creation to
open access publishing across disciplines—represented in our department in Penn.
At the start of Data Refuge, Professor Wiggin and her students had already been
exploring the ways that data about the environment can empower communities
through their art, activism, and research, especially along the lower Schuylkill
River in Philadelphia. They were especially attuned to the ways that missing data,
or data that is not collected or communicated, can be a source of disempowerment.
After the Trump election, PPEH graduate students raised the concern that the
political commitments of the new administration would result in the disappearance
of environmental and climate data that is vital to work in cities and communities
around the world. When they raised this concern with the library, together we cofounded Data Refuge. It is notable to point out that, while the Penn Libraries is a
large and relatively well-resourced research library in the United States, it did not
have any automatic way to ingest and steward the data that Professor Wiggin and
her students were concerned about. Our system of acquiring, storing, describing
and sharing publications did not account for, and could not easily handle, the
evident need to take in large quantities of public data from the open web and make
them available and citable by future scholars. Indeed, no large research library
was positioned to respond to this problem in a systematic way, though there was
general agreement that the community would like to help.
The collaborative, grass-roots movement that formed Data Refuge included many
librarians, archivists, and information professionals, but it was clear from the
beginning that my own profession did not have in place a system for stewarding
these vital information resources, or for treating them as ‘publications’ of the
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
federal government. This fact was widely understood by various members of our
profession, notably by government document librarians, who had been calling
attention to this lack of infrastructure for years. As Government Information
Librarian Shari Laster described in a blog post in November of 2016, government
documents librarians have often felt like they are ‘under siege’ not from political
forces, but from the inattention to government documents afforded by our systems
and infrastructure. Describing the challenges facing the profession in light of the
2016 election, she commented: “Government documents collections in print are
being discarded, while few institutions are putting strategies in place for collecting
government information in digital formats. These strategies are not expanding in
tandem with the explosive proliferation of these sources, and certainly not in pace
with the changing demands for access from public users, researchers, students,
and more.” (Laster 2016) Beyond government documents librarians, our project
joined efforts that were ongoing in a huge range of communities, including: open
data and open science activists; archival experts working on methods of preserving
born-digital content; cultural historians; federal data producers and the archivists
and data scientists they work with; and, of course, scientists.
the scientific record to fight back, in a concrete way, against
an anti-fact establishment. By downloading data and moving
it into the Internet Archive and the Data Refuge repository,
volunteers were actively claiming the importance of accurate
records in maintaining or creating a just society.
This distributed approach to the work of downloading and saving the data
encouraged people to see how they were invested in environmental and scientific
data, and to consider how our government records should be considered the
property of all of us. Attending Data Rescue events was a way for people who value
Of course, access to data need not rely on its inclusion in
a particular repository. As is demonstrated so well in other
contexts, technological methods of sharing files can make
the digital repositories of libraries and archives seem like a
redundant holdover from the past. However, as I will argue
further in this paper, the data that was at risk in Data Refuge
differed in important ways from the contents of what Bodó
refers to as ‘shadow libraries’ (Bodó 2015). For opening
access to copies of journals articles, shadow libraries work
perfectly. However, the value of these shadow libraries relies
on the existence of the widely agreed upon trusted versions.
If in doubt about whether a copy is trustworthy, scholars
can turn to more mainstream copies, if necessary. This was
not the situation we faced building Data Refuge. Instead, we
were often dealing with the sole public, authoritative copy
of a federal dataset and had to assume that, if it were taken
down, there would be no way to check the authenticity of
other copies. The data was not easily pulled out of systems
as the data and the software that contained them were often
inextricably linked. We were dealing with unique, tremendously
valuable, but often difficult-to-untangle datasets rather than
neatly packaged publications. The workflow we established
was designed to privilege authenticity and trustworthiness
over either the speed of the copying or the easy usability of
the resulting data. 2 This extra care around authenticity was
necessary because of the politicized nature of environmental
data that made many people so worried about its removal
after the election. It was important that our project
supported the strongest possible scientific arguments that
could be made with the data we were ‘saving’. That meant
that our copies of the data needed to be citable in scientific
scholarly papers, and that those citations needed to be
able to withstand hostile political forces who claim that the
science of human-caused climate change is ‘uncertain’. It
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
Born from the collaboration between Environmental Humanists and Librarians,
Data Refuge was always an effort both at storytelling and at storing data. During
the first six months of 2017, volunteers across the US (and elsewhere) organized
more than 50 Data Rescue events, with participants numbering in the thousands.
At each event, a group of volunteers used tools created by our collaborators at
the Environmental and Data Governance Initiative (EDGI) (https://envirodatagov.
org/) to support the End of Term Harvest (http://eotarchive.cdlib.org/) project
by identifying seeds from federal websites for web archiving in the Internet
Archive. Simultaneously, more technically advanced volunteers wrote scripts to
pull data out of complex data systems, and packaged that data for longer term
storage in a repository we maintained at datarefuge.org. Still other volunteers
held teach-ins, built profiles of data storytellers, and otherwise engaged in
safeguarding environmental and climate data through community action (see
http://www.ppehlab.org/datarefugepaths). The repository at datarefuge.org that
houses the more difficult data sources has been stewarded by myself and Margaret
Janz through our work at Penn Libraries, but it exists outside the library’s main
was easy to imagine in the Autumn of 2016, and even easier
to imagine now, that hostile actors might wish to muddy the
science of climate change by releasing fake data designed
to cast doubt on the science of climate change. For that
reasons, I believe that the unique facts we were seeking
to safeguard in the Data Refuge bear less similarity to the
contents of shadow libraries than they do to news reports
in our current distributed and destabilized mass media
environment. Referring to the ease of publishing ideas on the
open web, Zeynep Tufecki wrote in a recent column, “And
sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your
lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really
filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by altright trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even
generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there
are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake
videos.)” (Tufekci 2018). This was the state we were trying to
avoid when it comes to scientific data, fearing that we might
have the only copy of a given dataset without solid proof that
our copy matched the original.
If US federal websites cease functioning as reliable stewards
of trustworthy scientific data, reproducing their data
without a new model of quality control risks producing the
very censorship that our efforts are supposed to avoid,
and further undermining faith in science. Said another way,
if volunteers duplicated federal data all over the Internet
without a trusted system for ensuring the authenticity of
that data, then as soon as the originals were removed, a sea of
fake copies could easily render the original invisible, and they
would be just as effectively censored. “The most effective
forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and
attention, not muzzling speech itself.” (Tufekci 2018).
These concerns about the risks of open access to data should
not be understood as capitulation to the current marketdriven approach to scholarly publishing, nor as a call for
continuation of the status quo. Instead, I hope to encourage
continuation of the creative approaches to scholarship
represented in this collective. I also hope the issues raised in
Data Refuge will serve as a call to take greater responsibility for the systems into
which scholarship flows and the structures of power and assumptions of trust (by
whom, of whom) that scholarship relies on.
While plenty of participants in the Data Refuge community posited scalable
technological approaches to help people trust data, none emerged that were
strong enough to risk further undermining faith in science that a malicious attack
might cause. Instead of focusing on technical solutions that rely on the existing
systems staying roughly as they are, I would like to focus on developing networks
that explore different models of trust in institutions, and that honor the values
of marginalized and indigenous people. For example, in a recent paper, Stacie
Williams and Jarrett Drake describe the detailed decisions they made to establish
and become deserving of trust in supporting the creation of an Archive of Police
Violence in Cleveland (Williams and Drake 2017). The work of Michelle Caswell and
her collaborators on exploring post-custodial archives, and on engaging in radical
empathy in the archives provide great models of the kind of work that I believe is
necessary to establish new models of trust that might help inform new modes of
sharing and relying on community information (Caswell and Cifor 2016).
Beyond seeking new ways to build trust, it has become clear that new methods
are needed to help filter and contextualize publications. Our current reliance
on a few for-profit companies to filter and rank what we see of the information
landscape has proved to be tremendously harmful for the dissemination of facts,
and has been especially dangerous to marginalized communities (Noble 2018).
While the world of scholarly humanities publishing is doing somewhat better than
open data or mass media, there is still a risk that without new forms of filtering and
establishing quality and trustworthiness, good ideas and important scholarship will
be lost in the rankings of search engines and the algorithms of social media. We
need new, large scale systems to help people filter and rank the information on the
open web. In our current situation, according to media theorist dana boyd, “[t]he
onus is on the public to interpret what they see. To self-investigate. Since we live
in a neoliberal society that prioritizes individual agency, we double down on media
literacy as the ‘solution’ to misinformation. It’s up to each of us as individuals to
decide for ourselves whether or not what we’re getting is true.” (boyd 2018)
In closing, I’ll return to the notion of Guerrilla warfare that brought this panel
together. While some of our collaborators and some in the press did use the term
‘Guerrilla archiving’ to describe the data rescue efforts (Currie and Paris 2017),
I generally did not. The work we did was indeed designed to take advantage of
tactics that allow a small number of actors to resist giant state power. However,
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
if anything, the most direct target of these guerrilla actions in my mind was not
the Trump administration. Instead, the action was designed to prompt responses
by the institutions where many of us work and by communities of scholars and
activists who make up these institutions. It was designed to get as many people as
possible working to address the complex issues raised by the two interconnected
challenges that the Data Refuge project threw into relief. The first challenge,
of course, is the need for new scientific, artistic, scholarly and narrative ways of
contending with the reality of global, human-made climate change. And the second
challenge, as I’ve argued in this paper, is that our systems of establishing and
signaling trustworthiness, quality, reliability and stability of information are in dire
need of creative intervention as well. It is not just publishing but all of our systems
for discovering, sharing, acquiring, describing and storing that scholarship that
need support, maintenance, repair, and perhaps in some cases, replacement. And
this work will rely on scholars, as well as expert information practitioners from a
range of fields (Caswell 2016).
¹ At the time of this writing, we are working
on un-packing and repackaging the data
within Data Refuge for eventual inclusion
in various Research Library Repositories.
Ideally, of course, all federally produced
datasets would be published in neatly
packaged and more easily preservable
containers, along with enough technical
checks to ensure their validity (hashes,
checksums, etc.) and each agency would
create a periodical published inventory of
datasets. But the situation we encountered
with Data Refuge did not start us in
anything like that situation, despite the
hugely successful and important work of
the employees who created and maintained
data.gov. For a fuller view of this workflow,
see my talk at CSVConf 2017 (Allen 2017).
Closing note: The workflow established and used at Data Rescue events was
designed to tackle this set of difficult issues, but needed refinement, and was retired
in mid-2017. The Data Refuge project continues, led by Professor Wiggin and her
colleagues and students at PPEH, who are “building a storybank to document
how data lives in the world – and how it connects people, places, and non-human
species.” (“DataRefuge” n.d.) In addition, the set of issues raised by Data Refuge
continue to inform my work and the work of many of our collaborators.
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
Allen, Laurie. 2017. “Contexts and Institutions.” Paper presented at csv,conf,v3, Portland,
Oregon, May 3rd 2017. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://youtu.be/V2gwi0CRYto.
Bodo, Balazs. 2015. “Libraries in the Post - Scarcity Era.” In Copyrighting Creativity:
Creative Values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property,
edited by Porsdam. Routledge.
boyd, danah. 2018. “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?” Data & Society: Points.
March 9, 2018. https://points.datasociety.net/you-think-you-want-media-literacy-doyou-7cad6af18ec2.
Caswell, Michelle. 2016. “‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archives: On Acknowledging the
Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies.” Reconstruction: Studies in
Contemporary Culture 16:1 (2016) (special issue “Archives on Fire”),
Caswell, Michelle, and Marika Cifor. 2016. “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical
Empathy in the Archives.” Archivaria 82 (0): 23–43.
Currie, Morgan, and Britt Paris. 2017. “How the ‘Guerrilla Archivists’ Saved History – and
Are Doing It Again under Trump.” The Conversation (blog). February 21, 2017.
“DataRefuge.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 21, 2018.
“DataRescue Paths.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“End of Term Web Archive: U.S. Government Websites.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.” n.d. EDGI. Accessed May 19, 2018.
Laster, Shari. 2016. “After the Election: Libraries, Librarians, and the Government - Free
Government Information (FGI).” Free Government Information (FGI). November 23,
Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce
Racism. New York: NYU Press.
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2018. “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech.”
WIRED. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“Welcome - Data Refuge.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://www.datarefuge.org/.
Williams, Stacie M, and Jarrett Drake. 2017. “Power to the People: Documenting Police
Violence in Cleveland.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1 (2).
guerrilla open access in Mars & Medak 2019
Mars & Medak
System of a Takedown
System of a Takedown: Control and De-commodification in the Circuits of Academic Publishing
Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak
Since 2012 the Public Library/Memory of the World1 project has
been developing and publicly supporting scenarios for massive
disobedience against the current regulation of production and
circulation of knowledge and culture in the digital realm. While
the significance of that year may not be immediately apparent to
everyone, across the peripheries of an unevenly developed world
of higher education and research it produced a resonating void.
The takedown of the book-sharing site Library.nu in early 2012
gave rise to an anxiety that the equalizing effect that its piracy
had created—the fact that access to the most recent and relevant
scholarship was no longer a privilege of rich academic institutions
in a few countries of the world (or, for that matter, the exclusive
preserve of academia to begin with)—would simply disappear into
thin air. While alternatives within these peripheries quickly filled
the gap, it was only through an unlikely set of circumstances that
they were able to do so, let alone continue to exist in light of the
legal persecution they now also face.
The starting point for the Public Library/Memory of the World
project was a simple consideration: the public library is the institutional form that societies have devised in order to make knowledge
and culture accessible to all their members regardless of social or
economic status. There’s a political consensus that this principle of
access is fundamental to the purpose of a modern society. Yet, as
digital networks have radically expanded the access to literature
and scientific research, public libraries were largely denied the
ability to extend to digital “objects” the kind of de-commodified
access they provide in the world of print. For instance, libraries
frequently don’t have the right to purchase e-books for lending and
preservation. If they do, they are limited by how many times—
twenty-six in the case of one publisher—and under what conditions
they can lend them before not only the license but the “object”
itself is revoked. In the case of academic journals, it is even worse:
as they move to predominantly digital models of distribution,
libraries can provide access to and “preserve” them only for as
long as they pay extortionate prices for ongoing subscriptions. By
building tools for organizing and sharing electronic libraries, creating digitization workflows, and making books available online, the
Public Library/Memory of the World project is aimed at helping to
fill the space that remains denied to real-world public libraries. It is
obviously not alone in this effort. There are many other platforms,
some more public, some more secretive, working to help people
share books. And the practice of sharing is massive.
Capitalism and Schizophrenia
New media remediate old media. Media pay homage to their
(mediatic) predecessors, which themselves pay homage to their
own (mediatic) predecessors. Computer graphics remediate film,
which remediates photography, which remediates painting, and so
on (McLuhan 1965, 8; Bolter and Grusin 1999). Attempts to understand new media technologies always settle on a set of metaphors
(of the old and familiar), in order to approximate what is similar,
and yet at the same time name the new. Every such metaphor has
its semiotic distance, decay, or inverse-square law that draws the
limit how far the metaphor can go in its explanation of the phenomenon to which it is applied. The intellectual work in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction thus received an unfortunate metaphor:
intellectual property. A metaphor modeled on the scarce and
exclusive character of property over land. As the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction became more and more the Age of Discrete and
Digital Reproduction, another metaphor emerged, one that reveals
the quandary left after decades of decay resulting from the increasing distanciation of intellectual property from the intellectual work
it seeks to regulate, and that metaphor is: schizophrenia.
Technologies compete with each other—the discrete and the
digital thus competes with the mechanical—and the aftermath of
these clashes can be dramatic. People lose their jobs, companies
go bankrupt, disciplines lose their departments, and computer
users lose their old files. More often than not, clashes between
competing technologies create antagonisms between different
social groups. Their voices are (sometimes) heard, and society tries
to balance their interests.
If the institutional remedies cannot resolve the social antagonism,
the law is called on to mediate. Yet in the present, the legal system
only reproduces the schizoid impasse where the metaphor of property over land is applied to works of intellect that have in practical
terms become universally accessible in the digital world. Court
cases do not result in a restoration of balance but rather in the
confirmation of entrenched interests. It is, however, not necessary
that courts act in such a one-sided manner. As Cornelia Vismann
(2011) reminds us in her analysis of the ancient roots of legal mediation, the juridical process has two facets: first, a theatrical aspect
that has common roots with the Greek dramatic theatre and its
social function as a translator of a matter of conflict into a case for
weighted juridical debate; second, an agonistic aspect not unlike a
sporting competition where a winner has to be decided, one that
leads to judgment and sanction. In the matter of copyright versus
access, however, the fact that courts cannot look past the metaphor of intellectual property, which reduces any understanding of
our contemporary technosocial condition to an analogy with the
scarcity-based language of property over land, has meant that they
have failed to adjudicate a matter of conflict between the equalizing effects of universal access to knowledge and the guarantees of
rightful remuneration for intellectual labor into a meaningful social
resolution. Rather they have primarily reasserted the agonistic
aspect by supporting exclusively the commercial interests of large
copyright industries that structure and deepen that conflict at the
This is not surprising. As many other elements of contemporary
law, the legal norms of copyright were articulated and codified
through the centuries-long development of the capitalist state
and world-system. The legal system is, as Nicos Poulantzas (2008,
25–26) suggests, genetically structured by capitalist development.
And yet at the same time it is semi-autonomous; the development
of its norms and institutional aspects is largely endogenous and
partly responsive to the specific needs of other social subsystems.
Still, if the law and the courts are the codified and lived rationality
of a social formation, then the choice of intellectual property as a
metaphor in capitalist society comes as no surprise, as its principal
objective is to institute a formal political-economic framework for
the commodification of intellectual labor that produces knowledge
and culture. There can be no balance, only subsumption and
accumulation. Capitalism and schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia abounds wherever the discrete and the digital
breaking barriers to access meets capitalism. One can only wonder
how the conflicting interests of different divisions get disputed
and negotiated in successful corporate giants like Sony Group
where Sony Pictures Entertainment,2 Sony Music Entertainment3
and Sony Computer Entertainment coexist under the same roof
with the Sony Electronics division, which invented the Walkman
back in 1979 and went on to manufacture devices and gadgets like
home (and professional) audio and video players/recorders (VHS,
Betamax, TV, HiFi, cassette, CD/DVD, mp3, mobile phones, etc.),
storage devices, personal computers, and game consoles. In the
famous 1984 Betamax case (“Sony Corp. of America v. Universal
City Studios, Inc.,” Wikipedia 2015), Universal Studios and the Walt
Disney Company sued Sony for aiding copyright infringement with
their Betamax video recorders. Sony won. The court decision in
favor of fair use rather than copyright infringement laid the legal
ground for home recording technology as the foundation of future
analog, and subsequently digital, content sharing.
Five years later, Sony bought its first major Hollywood studio:
Columbia Pictures. In 2004 Sony Music Entertainment merged with
Bertelsmann Music Group to create Sony BMG. However, things
changed as Sony became the content producer and we entered the
age of the discrete and the digital. Another five years later, in 2009,
Sony BMG sued Joel Tenenbaum for downloading and then sharing
thirty-one songs. The jury awarded US$675,000 to the music
companies (US$22,000 per song). This is known as “the second
file-sharing case.” “The first file-sharing case” was 2007’s Capitol Records, Inc. v. Thomas-Rasset, which concerned the downloading of
twenty-four songs. In the second file-sharing case, the jury awarded
music companies US$1,920,000 in statutory damages (US$80,000
per song). The defendant, Jammie Thomas, was a Native American
mother of four from Brainerd, Minnesota, who worked at the time
as a natural resources coordinator for the Mille Lacs Band of the
Native American Ojibwe people. The conflict between access and
copyright took a clear social relief.
Encouraged by the court decisions in the years that followed, the
movie and music industries have started to publicly claim staggering numbers in annual losses: US$58 billion and 370,000 lost jobs
in the United States alone. The purported losses in sales were,
however, at least seven times bigger than the actual losses and,
if the jobs figures had been true, after only one year there would
have been no one left working in the content industry (Reid 2012).
Capitalism and schizophrenia.
If there is a reason to make an exception from the landed logic of
property being imposed onto the world of the intellect, a reason
to which few would object, it would be for access for educational
purposes. Universities in particular give an institutional form to
the premise that equal access to knowledge is a prerequisite for
building a society where all people are equal.
In this noble endeavor to make universal access to knowledge
central to social development, some universities stand out more
than the others. Consider, for example, the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT). The Free Culture and Open Access movements
have never hidden their origins, inspiration, and model in the
success of the Free Software Movement, which was founded in
1984 by Richard Stallman while he was working at the MIT Artificial
Intelligence lab. It was at the MIT Museum that the “Hall of Hacks”
was set up to proudly display the roots of hacking culture. Hacking
culture at MIT takes many shapes and forms. MIT hackers famously
put a fire truck (2006) and a campus police car (1994) onto the
roof of the Great Dome of the campus’s Building 10; they landed
(and then exploded) a weather balloon onto the pitch of Harvard
Stadium during a Harvard–Yale football game; turned the quote
that “getting an education from MIT is like taking a drink from a Fire
Hose” into a literal fire hydrant serving as a drinking fountain in
front of the largest lecture hall on campus; and many, many other
“hacks” (Peterson 2011).
The World Wide Web Consortium was founded at MIT in 1993.
Presently its mission states as its goal “to enable human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge,”
on the principles of “Web for All” and the corresponding, more
technologically focused “Web on Everything.” Similarly, MIT began
its OpenCourseWare project in 2002 in order “to publish all of
[MIT’s] course materials online and make them widely available to
everyone” (n.d.). The One Laptop Per Child project was created in
2005 in order to help children “learn, share, create, and collaborate” (2010). Recently the MIT Media Lab (2017) has even started its
own Disobedience Award, which “will go to a living person or group
engaged in what we believe is extraordinary disobedience for
the benefit of society . . . seeking both expected and unexpected
nominees.” When it comes to the governance of access to MIT’s
own resources, it is well known that anyone who is registered and
connected to the “open campus” wireless network, either by being
physically present or via VPN, can search JSTOR, Google Scholar,
and other databases in order to access otherwise paywalled journals from major publishers such as Reed Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell,
Springer, Taylor and Francis, or Sage.
The MIT Press has also published numerous books that we love
and without which we would have never developed the Public
Library/Memory of the World project to the stage where it is now.
For instance, only after reading Markus Krajewski’s Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548–1929 (2011) and learning how
conceptually close librarians came to the universal Turing machine
with the invention of the index card catalog did we center the
Public Library/Memory of the World around the idea of the catalog.
Eric von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation (2005) taught us how end
users could become empowered to innovate and accordingly we
have built our public library as a distributed network of amateur
librarians acting as peers sharing their catalogs and books. Sven
Spieker’s The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (2008) showed us the
exciting hybrid meta-space between psychoanalysis, media theory,
and conceptual art one could encounter by visiting the world of
catalogs and archives. Understanding capitalism and schizophrenia would have been hard without Semiotext(e)’s translations of
Deleuze and Guattari, and remaining on the utopian path would
have been impossible if not for our reading of Cybernetic Revolutionaries (Medina 2011), Imagine No Possessions (Kiaer 2005), or Art
Power (Groys 2008).
Our Road into Schizophrenia, Commodity
Paradox, Political Strategy
Our vision for the Public Library/Memory of the World resonated
with many people. After the project initially gained a large number
of users, and was presented in numerous prominent artistic
venues such as Museum Reina Sofía, Transmediale, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Calvert22, 98weeks, and many more, it was no
small honor when Eric Kluitenberg and David Garcia invited us to
write about the project for an anthology on tactical media that was
to be published by the MIT Press. Tactical media is exactly where
we would situate ourselves on the map. Building on Michel de
Certeau’s concept of tactics as agency of the weak operating in the
terrain of strategic power, the tactical media (Tactical Media Files
2017) emerged in the political and technological conjuncture of the
1990s. Falling into the “art-into-life” lineage of historic avant-gardes,
Situationism, DIY culture, techno-hippiedom, and media piracy, it
constituted a heterogeneous field of practices and a manifestly
international movement that combined experimental media and
political activism into interventions that contested the post–Cold
War world of global capitalism and preemptive warfare on a hybrid
terrain of media, institutions, and mass movements. Practices of
tactical media ranged from ephemeral media pranks, hoaxes, and
hacktivism to reappropriations of media apparatuses, institutional
settings, and political venues. We see our work as following in
that lineage of recuperation of the means of communication from
their capture by personal and impersonal structures of political or
Yet the contract for our contribution that the MIT Press sent us in
early 2015 was an instant reminder of the current state of affairs
in academic publishing: in return for our contribution and transfer
of our copyrights, we would receive no compensation: no right to
wage and no right to further distribute our work.
Only weeks later our work would land us fully into schizophrenia:
the Public Library/Memory of the World received two takedown
notices from the MIT Press for books that could be found in its
back then relatively small yet easily discoverable online collection
located at https://library.memoryoftheworld.org, including a notice
for one of the books that had served as an inspiration to us: Art
Power. First, no wage and, now, no access. A true paradox of the
present-day system of knowledge production: products of our
labor are commodities, yet the labor-power producing them is
denied the same status. While the project’s vision resonates with
many, including the MIT Press, it has to be shut down. Capitalism
Or, maybe, not. Maybe we don’t have to go down that impasse.
Starting from the two structural circumstances imposed on us by
the MIT Press—the denial of wage and the denial of access—we
can begin to analyze why copyright infringement is not merely, as
the industry and the courts would have it, a matter of illegality. But
rather a matter of legitimate action.
Over the past three decades a deep transformation, induced by
the factors of technological change and economic restructuring,
has been unfolding at different scales, changing the way works
of culture and knowledge are produced and distributed across
an unevenly developed world. As new technologies are adopted,
generalized, and adapted to the realities of the accumulation
process—a process we could see unfolding with the commodification of the internet over the past fifteen years—the core and
the periphery adopt different strategies of opposition to the
inequalities and exclusions these technologies start to reproduce.
The core, with its emancipatory and countercultural narratives,
pursues strategies that develop legal, economic, or technological
alternatives. However, these strategies frequently fail to secure
broader transformative effects as the competitive forces of the
market appropriate, marginalize, or make obsolete the alternatives
they advocate. Such seems to have been the destiny of much of the
free software, open access, and free culture alternatives that have
developed over this period.
In contrast, the periphery, in order to advance, relies on strategies
of “stealing” that bypass socioeconomic barriers by refusing to
submit to the harmonized regulation that sets the frame for global
economic exchange. The piracy of intellectual property or industrial
secrets thus creates a shadow system of exchange resisting the
asymmetries of development in the world economy. However, its
illegality serves as a pretext for the governments and companies of
the core to devise and impose further controls over the technosocial systems that facilitate these exchanges.
Both strategies develop specific politics—a politics of reform, on
the one hand, and a politics of obfuscation and resistance, on the
other—yet both are defensive politics that affirm the limitations
of what remains inside and what remains outside of the politically
The copyright industry giants of the past and the IT industry giants
of the present are thus currently sorting it out to whose greater
benefit will this new round of commodification work out. For those
who find themselves outside of the the camps of these two factions
of capital, there’s a window of opportunity, however, to reconceive
the mode of production of literature and science that has been
with us since the beginning of the print trade and the dawn of capitalism. It’s a matter of change, at the tail end of which ultimately
lies a dilemma: whether we’re going to live in a more equal or a
more unjust, a more commonised or a more commodified world.
Authorship, Law, and Legitimacy
Before we can talk of such structural transformation, the normative
question we expect to be asked is whether something that is considered a matter of law and juridical decision can be made a matter
of politics and political process. Let’s see.
Copyright has a fundamentally economic function—to unambiguously establish individualized property in the products of creative
labor. A clear indication of this economic function is the substantive requirement of originality that the work is expected to have
in order to be copyrightable. Legal interpretations set a very low
standard on what counts as original, as their function is no more
than to demarcate one creative contribution from another. Once
a legal title is unambiguously assigned, there is a person holding
property with whose consent the contracting, commodification,
and marketing of the work can proceed.5 In that respect copyright
is not that different from the requirement of formal freedom that
is granted to a laborer to contract out their own labor-power as a
commodity to capital, giving capital authorization to extract maximum productivity and appropriate the products of the laborer’s
labor.6 Copyright might be just a more efficient mechanism of
exploitation as it unfolds through selling of produced commodities
and not labor power. Art market obscures and mediates the
When we talk today of illegal copying, we primarily mean an
infringement of the legal rights of authors and publishers. There’s an
immediate assumption that the infringing practice of illegal copying
and distribution falls under the domain of juridical sanction, that it is
a matter of law. Yet if we look to the history of copyright, the illegality
of copying was a political matter long before it became a legal one.
Publisher’s rights, author’s rights, and mechanisms of reputation—
the three elements that are fundamental to the present-day
copyright system—all have their historic roots in the context of
absolutism and early capitalism in seventeenth-and eighteenth-
century Europe. Before publishers and authors were given a
temporary monopoly over the exploitation of their publications
instituted in the form of copyright, they were operating in a system
where they were forced to obtain a privilege to print books from
royal censors. The first printing privileges granted to publishers, in
early seventeenth-century Great Britain,7 came with the responsibility of publishers to control what was being published and
disseminated in a growing body of printed matter that started to
reach the public in the aftermath of the invention of print and the
rise of the reading culture. The illegality in these early days of print
referred either to printing books without the permission of the
censor or printing books that were already published by another
printer in the territory where the censor held authority. The transition from the privilege tied to the publisher to the privilege tied to
the natural person of the author would unfold only later.
In the United Kingdom this transition occurred as the guild of
printers, Stationers’ Company, failed to secure the extension of its
printing monopoly and thus, in order to continue with its business,
decided to advocate the introduction of copyright for the authors
instead. This resulted in the passing of the Copyright Act of 1709,
also known as the Statute of Anne (Rose 2010). The censoring
authority and enterprising publishers now proceeded in lockstep to
isolate the author as the central figure in the regulation of literary
and scientific production. Not only did the author receive exclusive
rights to the work, the author was also made—as Foucault has
famously analyzed (Foucault 1980, 124)—the identifiable subject of
scrutiny, censorship, and political sanction by the absolutist state.
Although the Romantic author slowly took the center stage in
copyright regulations, economic compensation for the work would
long remain no more than honorary. Until well into the eighteenth
century, literary writing and creativity in general were regarded as
resulting from divine inspiration and not the individual genius of
the author. Writing was a work of honor and distinction, not something requiring an honest day’s pay.8 Money earned in the growing
printing industry mostly stayed in the pockets of publishers, while
the author received literally an honorarium, a flat sum that served
as a “token of esteem” (Woodmansee 1996, 42). It is only once
authors began to voice demands for securing their material and
political independence from patronage and authority that they also
started to make claims for rightful remuneration.
Thus, before it was made a matter of law, copyright was a matter of
politics and economy.
Copyright, Labor, and Economic Domination
The full-blown affirmation of the Romantic author-function marks
the historic moment where a compromise is established between
the right of publishers to the economic exploitation of works and
the right of authors to rightful compensation for those works. Economically, this redistribution from publishers to authors was made
possible by the expanding market for printed books in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while politically this was catalyzed
by the growing desire for the autonomy of scientific and literary
production from the system of feudal patronage and censorship
in gradually liberalizing and modernizing capitalist societies. The
newfound autonomy of production was substantially coupled to
production specifically for the market. However, this irenic balance
could not last for very long. Once the production of culture and
science was subsumed under the exigencies of the generalized
market, it had to follow the laws of commodification and competition from which no form of commodity production can escape.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, copyright expanded to
a number of other forms of creativity, transcending its primarily
literary and scientific ambit and becoming part of the broader
set of intellectual property rights that are fundamental to the
functioning and positioning of capitalist enterprise. The corporatization of the production of culture and knowledge thus brought
about a decisive break from the Romantic model that singularized
authorship in the person of the author. The production of cultural
commodities nowadays involves a number of creative inputs from
both credited (but mostly unwaged) and uncredited (but mostly
waged) contributors. The “moral rights of the author,” a substantive
link between the work and the person of the author, are markedly
out of step with these realities, yet they still perform an important
function in the moral economy of reputation, which then serves as
the legitimation of copyright enforcement and monopoly. Moral
rights allow easy attribution; incentivize authors to subsidize
publishers by self-financing their own work in the hope of topping
the sales charts, rankings, or indexes; and help markets develop
along winner-takes-all principles.
The level of concentration in industries primarily concerned with
various forms of intellectual property rights is staggering. The film
industry is a US$88 billion industry dominated by six major studios
(PwC 2015c). The recorded music industry is an almost US$20
billion industry dominated by only three major labels (PwC 2015b).
The publishing industry is a US$120 billion industry where the
leading ten companies earn in revenues more than the next forty
largest publishing groups (PwC 2015a; Wischenbart 2014).
The Oligopoly and Academic Publishing
Academic publishing in particular draws the state of play into stark
relief. It’s a US$10 billion industry dominated by five publishers and
financed up to 75 percent from library subscriptions. It’s notorious
for achieving extreme year-on-year profit margins—in the case of
Reed Elsevier regularly over 30 percent, with Taylor and Francis,
Springer, Wiley-Blackwell and Sage barely lagging behind (Larivière,
Haustein, and Mongeon 2015). Given that the work of contributing
authors is not paid but rather financed by their institutions (provided, that is, that they are employed at an institution) and that
these publications nowadays come mostly in the form of electronic
articles licensed under subscription for temporary use to libraries
and no longer sold as printed copies, the public interest could be
served at a much lower cost by leaving commercial closed-access
publishers out of the equation entirely.
But that cannot be done, of course. The chief reason for this is that
the system of academic reputation and ranking based on publish-
or-perish principles is historically entangled with the business of
academic publishers. Anyone who doesn’t want to put their academic career at risk is advised to steer away from being perceived
as reneging on that not-so-tacit deal. While this is patently clear
to many in academia, opting for the alternative of open access
means not playing by the rules, and not playing by the rules can
have real-life consequences, particularly for younger academics.
Early career scholars have to publish in prestigious journals if they
want to advance in the highly competitive and exclusive system of
academia (Kendzior 2012).
Copyright in academic publishing has thus become simply a mechanism of the direct transfer of economic power from producers to
publishers, giving publishers an instrument for maintaining their
stranglehold on the output of academia. But publishers also have
control over metrics and citation indexes, pandering to the authors
with better tools for maximizing their impact and self-promotion.
Reputation and copyright are extortive instruments that publishers
can wield against authors and the public to prevent an alternative
The state of the academic publishing business signals how the
“copyright industries” in general might continue to control the
field as their distribution model now transitions to streaming or
licensed-access models. In the age of cloud computing, autonomous infrastructures run by communities of enthusiasts are
becoming increasingly a thing of the past. “Copyright industries,”
supported by the complicit legal system, now can pressure proxies
for these infrastructures, such as providers of server colocation,
virtual hosting, and domain-name network services, to enforce
injunctions for them without ever getting involved in direct, costly
infringement litigation. Efficient shutdowns of precarious shadow
systems allow for a corporate market consolidation wherein the
majority of streaming infrastructures end up under the control of a
Illegal Yet Justified, Collective Civil
Disobedience, Politicizing the Legal
However, when companies do resort to litigation or get involved in
criminal proceedings, they can rest assured that the prosecution
and judicial system will uphold their interests over the right of
public to access culture and knowledge, even when the irrationality
of the copyright system lies in plain sight, as it does in the case of
academic publishing. Let’s look at two examples:
On January 6, 2011, Aaron Swartz, a prominent programmer
and hacktivist, was arrested by the MIT campus police and U.S.
Secret Service on charges of having downloaded a large number
of academic articles from the JSTOR repository. While JSTOR, with
whom Swartz reached a settlement and to whom he returned the
files, and, later, MIT, would eventually drop the charges, the federal
prosecution decided nonetheless to indict Swartz on thirteen
criminal counts, potentially leading to fifty years in prison and a
US$1 million fine. Under growing pressure by the prosecution
Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013.
Given his draconian treatment at the hands of the prosecution
and the absence of institutions of science and culture that would
stand up and justify his act on political grounds, much of Swartz’s
defense focused on trying to exculpate his acts, to make them less
infringing or less illegal than the charges brought against him had
claimed, a rational course of action in irrational circumstances.
However, this was unfortunately becoming an uphill battle as the
prosecution’s attention was accidentally drawn to a statement
written by Swartz in 2008 wherein he laid bare the dysfunctionality
of the academic publishing system. In his Guerrilla Open Access
Manifesto, he wrote: “The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly
being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. . . . Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their
colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at
Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite
universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global
South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.” After a no-nonsense
diagnosis followed an even more clear call to action: “We need
to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing
networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access” (Swartz 2008).
Where a system has failed to change unjust laws, Swartz felt, the
responsibility was on those who had access to make injustice a
thing of the past.
Whether Swartz’s intent actually was to release the JSTOR repository remains subject to speculation. The prosecution has never
proven that it was. In the context of the legal process, his call to
action was simply taken as a matter of law and not for what it
was—a matter of politics. Yet, while his political action was pre-
empted, others have continued pursuing his vision by committing
small acts of illegality on a massive scale. In June 2015 Elsevier won
an injunction against Library Genesis, the largest illegal repository
of electronic books, journals, and articles on the Web, and its
subsidiary platform for accessing academic journals, Sci-hub. A
voluntary and noncommercial project of anonymous scientists
mostly from Eastern Europe, Sci-hub provides as of end of 2015
access to more than 41 million academic articles either stored
in its database or retrieved through bypassing the paywalls of
academic publishers. The only person explicitly named in Elsevier’s
lawsuit was Sci-hub’s founder Alexandra Elbakyan, who minced no
words: “When I was working on my research project, I found out
that all research papers I needed for work were paywalled. I was
a student in Kazakhstan at the time and our university was not
subscribed to anything” (Ernesto 2015). Being a computer scientist,
she found the tools and services on the internet that allowed her to
bypass the paywalls. At first, she would make articles available on
internet forums where people would file requests for the articles
they needed, but eventually she automated the process, making
access available to everyone on the open web. “Thanks to Elsevier’s
lawsuit, I got past the point of no return. At this time I either have
to prove we have the full right to do this or risk being executed like
other ‘pirates’ . . . If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or
force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important
idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge. . . .
Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their
income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal. Also the idea
that knowledge can be a private property of some commercial
company sounds absolutely weird to me” (Ernesto 2015).
If the issue of infringement is to become political, a critical mass
of infringing activity has to be achieved, access technologically
organized, and civil disobedience collectively manifested. Only in
this way do the illegal acts stand a chance of being transformed
into the legitimate acts.
Where Law Was, there Politics Shall Be
And thus we have made a full round back to where we started. The
parallel development of liberalism, copyright, and capitalism has
resulted in a system demanding that the contemporary subject
act in accordance with two opposing tendencies: “more capitalist
than capitalist and more proletarian than proletariat” (Deleuze
and Guattari 1983, 34). Schizophrenia is, as Deleuze and Guattari
argue, a condition that simultaneously embodies two disjunctive
positions. Desire and blockage, flow and territory. Capitalism is
the constant decoding of social blockages and territorializations
aimed at liberating the production of desires and flows further
and further, only to oppose them at its extreme limit. It decodes
the old socius by means of private property and commodity
production, privatization and abstraction, the flow of wealth and
flows of workers (140). It allows contemporary subjects—including
corporate entities such as the MIT Press or Sony—to embrace their
contradictions and push them to their limits. But capturing them in
the orbit of the self-expanding production of value, it stops them
at going beyond its own limit. It is this orbit that the law sanctions
in the present, recoding schizoid subjects into the inevitability of
capitalism. The result is the persistence of a capitalist reality antithetical to common interest—commercial closed-access academic
publishing—and the persistence of a hyperproletariat—an intellectual labor force that is too subsumed to organize and resist the
reality that thrives parasitically on its social function. It’s a schizoid
impasse sustained by a failed metaphor.
The revolutionary events of the Paris Commune of 1871, its mere
“existence” as Marx has called it,10 a brief moment of “communal
luxury” set in practice as Kristin Ross (2015) describes it, demanded
that, in spite of any circumstances and reservations, one takes a
side. And such is our present moment of truth.
Digital networks have expanded the potential for access and
created an opening for us to transform the production of knowledge and culture in the contemporary world. And yet they have
likewise facilitated the capacity of intellectual property industries
to optimize, to cut out the cost of printing and physical distribution.
Digitization is increasingly helping them to control access, expand
copyright, impose technological protection measures, consolidate
the means of distribution, and capture the academic valorization
As the potential opening for universalizing access to culture and
knowledge created by digital networks is now closing, attempts at
private legal reform such as Creative Commons licenses have had
only a very limited effect. Attempts at institutional reform such as
Open Access publishing are struggling to go beyond a niche. Piracy
has mounted a truly disruptive opposition, but given the legal
repression it has met with, it can become an agent of change only if
it is embraced as a kind of mass civil disobedience. Where law was,
there politics shall be.
Many will object to our demand to replace the law with politicization. Transitioning from politics to law was a social achievement
as the despotism of political will was suppressed by legal norms
guaranteeing rights and liberties for authors; this much is true. But
in the face of the draconian, failed juridical rationality sustaining
the schizoid impasse imposed by economic despotism, these developments hold little justification. Thus we return once more to the
words of Aaron Swartz to whom we remain indebted for political
inspiration and resolve: “There is no justice in following unjust laws.
It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil
disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public
culture. . . . With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send
a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge—we’ll
make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?” (Swartz 2008).
We initially named our project Public Library because we have developed it
as a technosocial project from a minimal definition that defines public library
as constituted by three elements: free access to books for every member of
a society, a library catalog, and a librarian (Mars, Zarroug and Medak, 2015).
However, this definition covers all public libraries and shadow libraries
complementing the work of public libraries in providing digital access. We have
thus decided to rename our project as Memory of the World, after our project’s
initial domain name. This is a phrase coined by Henri La Fontaine, whose men-
tion we found in Markus Krajewski’s Paper Machines (2011). It turned out that
UNESCO runs a project under the same name with the objective to preserve
valuable archives for the whole of humanity. We have appropriated that objective. Given that this change has happened since we drafted the initial version
of this text in 2015, we’ll call our project in this text with a double name Public
Library/Memory of the World.
Sony Pictures Entertainment became the owner of two (MGM, Columbia Pictures) out of eight Golden Age major movie studios (“Major Film Studio,” Wikipedia 2015).
In 2012 Sony Music Entertainment is one of the Big Three majors (“Record
Label,” Wikipedia 2015).
Since this anecdote was recounted by Marcell in his opening keynote in the
Terms of Media II conference at Brown University, we have received another
batch of takedown notices from the MIT Press. It seemed as no small irony,
because at the time the Terms of Media conference reader was rumored to be
distributed by the MIT Press.
“In law, authorship is a point of origination of a property right which, thereafter, like other property rights, will circulate in the market, ending up in the
control of the person who can exploit it most profitably. Since copyright serves
paradoxically to vest authors with property only to enable them to divest that
property, the author is a notion which needs only to be sustainable for an
instant” (Bently 1994).
For more on the formal freedom of the laborer to sell his labor-power, see
chapter 6 of Marx’s Capital (1867).
For a more detailed account of the history of printing privilege in Great Britain,
but also the emergence of peer review out of the self-censoring performed by
the Royal Academy and Académie de sciences in return for the printing privilege, see Biagioli 2002.
The transition of authorship from honorific to professional is traced in Woodmansee 1996.
Not all publishers are necessarily predatory. For instance, scholar-led open-
access publishers, such as those working under the banner of Radical Open
Access (http://radicaloa.disruptivemedia.org) have been experimenting with
alternatives to the dominant publishing models, workflows, and metrics, radicalizing the work of conventional open access, which has by now increasingly
become recuperated by big for-profit publishers, who see in open access an
opportunity to assume the control over the economy of data in academia.
Some established academic publishers, too, have been open to experiments
that go beyond mere open access and are trying to redesign how academic
writing is produced, made accessible, and valorized. This essay has the good
fortune of appearing as a joint publication of two such publishers: Meson Press
and University of Minnesota Press.
“The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence”
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