piratical in Bodo 2015
pies, the book is no longer a scarce
resource, libraries find themselves in an extremely competitive environment. Several different actors are
now in a position to provide low cost access to knowledge. One of these competitors are shadow libraries
- piratical text collections which have now amassed electronic copies of millions of copyrighted works
and provide access to them usually free of charge to anyone around the globe. While such shadow
libraries are far from being universal, they are able to offer
physical spaces where the past seemed to define the present, I was wondering where I should look to find
the library of the future: down to my screen or up around me.
The library on my screen was Aleph, one of the biggest of the countless piratical text collections on the
internet. It has more than a million scientific works and another million literary works to offer, all free to
download, without any charge or fee, for anyone on the net. I’ve spent months among its virtual stacks,
In the project I looked at several things. I reconstructed the pirate library’s genesis in order to
understand the forces that called it to life and shaped its development. I looked at its catalogue to
understand what it has to offer and how that piratical supply of books is related to the legal supply of
books through libraries and online distributors. I also acquired data on its usage, so was able to
reconstruct some aspects of piratical demand. After a short introduction, in the first part of this essay I
will outline some of the main findings, and in the second part will situate the findings in the wider context
of the future of libraries.
Book pirates and shadow librarians
nd recognized cultural intermediaries. Under this constant
existential threat, business models and institutions are forced to adapt, evolve or die.
After the music and audiovisual industries, now the book industry has to address the issue of piracy.
Piratical book distribution services are now in direct competition with the bookstore on the corner, the
used book stall on the sidewalk, they compete with the Amazons of the world and, like it or not, they
compete with libraries. There is, however, a signific
the digital technologies. Despite the increased awareness of rights holders to the issue of digital book
piracy, more and more communities around text collections started defy the legal constraints and to
operate and use more or less public piratical shadow libraries.
Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate
Aleph2 is a meta-library, and currently one of the biggest online piratical text collections on the internet.
The project started on a Russian bulletin board devoted to piracy in around 2008 as an effort to integrate
various free-floating text collections that circulated online, on optical media, on various public and privat
heritage, the pace with
which various copying technologies penetrated the market, the shortcomings of the legal environment and
the informal norms that stood in for the non-existent digital copyrights all contributed to the emergence of
the biggest piratical library in the history of mankind.
Russia cherishes a rich literary tradition, which suffered and endured extreme economic hardships and
political censorship during the Soviet period (Ermolaev, 1997; Friedberg, Watanabe, & Nakamoto, 1984;
) or the open access (Suber, 2013) movements that tried to address the
access to knowledge issues in a more copyright friendly manner. During interviews, the administrators of
Aleph used the very same arguments to justify the raison d'être of their piratical library. While it seems
that Aleph is the practical realization of Swartz’s ideas, it is hard to tell which served as an inspiration for
It was also in around the same time when another piratical library, gigapedia/library.nu started its
operation, focusing mostly on making freely available English language scientific works (Liang, 2012).
Until its legal troubles and subsequent shutdown in 2012, gigapedia/library.nu was the biggest English
language piratical scientific library on the internet amassing several hundred thousand books, including
high-quality proofs ready to print and low resolution scans possibly prepared by a student or a lecturer.
During 2012 the mostly Russian-language and natural scienc
d MySQL to run its code, and it allows its users to
upload books and edit book metadata. As a consequence of its open source nature, anyone can contribute
to the project, and everyone can enjoy its benefits.
It is hard to quantify the impact of this piratical open access library on education, science and research in
various local contexts where Aleph is the prime source of otherwise inaccessible books. But it is
relatively easy to measure the consequences of openness at the level of the Aleph, the library
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