You Can’t Defend Public Libraries and Oppose File-Sharing

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You Can’t Defend Public Libraries and Oppose File-Sharing

Mini-history of publishing industry lobby being against private libraries:

Public libraries started appearing in the mid-1800s. At the time, publishers went absolutely berserk: they had been lobbying for the lending of books to become illegal, as reading a book without paying anything first was “stealing”, they argued. As a consequence, they considered private libraries at the time to be hotbeds of crime and robbery. (Those libraries were so-called “subscription libraries”, so they were argued to be for-profit, too.)

British Parliament at the time, unlike today’s politicians, wisely disagreed with the publishing industry lobby – the copyright industry of the time. Instead, they saw the economic value in an educated and cultural populace, and passed a law allowing free public libraries in 1850, so that local libraries were built throughout Britain, where the public could take part of knowledge and culture for free.

Rick Falkvinge goes on to explain the connection between public libraries and file-sharing as a matter of efficiency.

Agree libraries and filesharing have strong similarities. In the (currently first and only) entry on libraries in comments on related movements and groups:

Though society holds them in very different esteem (good, unlawful) and dedicates resources accordingly (salaries, prosecution), the librarians and pirates have similar impacts: increasing unquestioned gratis access to, cataloging, and preserving materials, and fostering community (indeed, “pirate libraries” are a thing, drastically increasing access to academic literature around the world). They each also provide gratis marketing, customer retention, and price discrimination services to freedom infringing industries (publishers, studios, labels, etc). Further (though not universally) they are desperate to show that they are not decreasing publisher profits, and beg to partner with or be customers of those industries. Librarians face a collective action problem, but one which could be overcome: relative to pirates, librarians are highly concentrated publisher customers, and librarians have organizations that are used for policy coordination.

Falkvinge ends with:

We have built the most amazing public library ever created. All of humanity is able to access the collective culture and knowledge of all of humanity, twenty-four by seven, as well as contribute to that collective pool. All the tools are already in place, all the infrastructure already rolled out, all the training already completed. Not a single tax penny needs to be spent to accomplish this. The only thing we need to do is to remove the ban on using it.

Why are we letting a cartoon industry stand in the way of this?

My answer: because we haven’t destroyed the cartoon (assume he means as pejorative for publishing/entertainment) industry. Presently, libraries and filesharers aren’t helping do so, despite industry protests (of course it wants even more control). Rather, they are providing massive funding to (in the form of library purchases) and gratis marketing for (both pirates and libraries do) that industry. How can we change that dynamic? Largely that question is why I created a piracy category here.

Slight edit of something I wrote for Make the Day Against DRM a day for freedom: Encarta & Britannica CDs were copyrestricted. Good thing early Wikipedians built Wikipedia instead of calling for un-banning sharing of Encarta & Brittanica material or we’d be stuck with a copyrestricted sum of human knowledge to this day instead of the most amazing public encyclopedia ever created.

Calling for legalization (which I totally support) is cheap talk. Competing is hard but the only useful path forward; indeed it is at the core of the WIFO theory of change. In that vein, the cartoon^wmovie industry.

I really dislike statements such as “you can’t defend public libraries and oppose file-sharing.” They assume the reader is incredibly credulous, stupid, and un-creative. Two obvious “yes you can” responses: (1) public libraries differ on features other than efficiency and legality in ways that make public libraries desirable and filesharing undesirable, say community and accountability vs alienation and anonymity. (2) public libraries were the most efficient mechanism but filesharing is not; only the most efficient mechanism is defensible, and that is the web. (1) doesn’t comport with my values, but I bet it does with many humans. On (2) I do wonder why Falkvinge focuses on filesharing, or whether that word is meant to include any form of digital dissemination, including the web?

When calling for legalizing filesharing because it constitutes an amazing public library, beyond just calling for legalization, one might contrast how public libraries gained legitimacy and filesharing has not. How might this contrast inform pro-legalization strategy going forward?

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Clarification on two questions I had above at in thread

As I am familiar with Swedish Pirate discourse, I can help you decipher the message: “a cartoon industry” = Big Mouse, which is the symbol of the copyright industry and the opposition to Free Culture, as it is seen as responsible for indefinite copyright extension just far enough back to cover any Mickey Mouse designs, while at the same time profiting from appropriating the older public domain. File sharing is any non-commercial unauthorized transfer of copyright-covered material, regardless of medium. It is not specific to any specific mode like p2p or specifically BitTorrent.

The Disney reference should’ve been apparent to me. Re file sharing, I see…so is file sharing. If file sharing were un-banned in the way called for, would host all the books, movies, etc. that belong in a library, gratis.

Sounds good, but how to get there?

I think the sustainable path is to demonstrate how amazing a legalized library could be by making the actually legalized library of free/libre/open things better, and by the way, competing with and shrinking freedom infringing industries and constituencies and political power.

In the past 15 years filesharing has not helped move toward the glorious future with un-banned filesharing. Sad.

I wonder if that is as dire as it seems. If we look at file-sharing protocols and platforms as a technology segment, 15 years isn’t a lot of time for the general public to catch on. In that time we’ve dramatically changed how content (and hence culture) is processed and distributed. I mean, 15 years ago the best you’d expect is to get TV listings or book publish dates online. Now we have TVs that run Firefox.

The needle is moving a little bit. I read somewhere recently that it takes 30 years for tech to become mainstream (using the Apple watch as an example, since we’ve had wearables since forever). Maybe this is the dark interim where a promising technology (file-sharing) is eclipsed by regulation and corporate interests, before it comes out the other side and becomes mainstream.

I don’t actually believe that. =P

You might be right about file-sharing protocols and platforms as a technology segment, they could become mainstream (ignoring definition of segment for now). But they aren’t the same thing as file-sharing practice, which is apparently just sharing not authorized by copyright holders. Backlash against the latter has held up development of the former.

Tangentially, I did a bad job of exploiting file-sharing toward sustainable (i.e., free/libre/open) ends in a small way when I had a small chance to do so. Early at Creative Commons, roughly the time period I was CTO, 2003-7, we talked to several file-sharing platforms, with some reputational trepidation, and encouraged them (as with web platforms) to recognize CC metadata. This was silly (fragile metacrap) and didn’t exploit their cultural relevance at the time: should’ve pushed exclusively for promoting CC and high quality CC licensed works. That evaluation informs projects I want to do now…