If The Public Library Was Invented Today, Would The Gov't Call It Organized Crime And Shut It Down?

from the ah,-the-digital-era dept

We’ve seen authors in the past complaining that libraries are engaged in book theft, which is an argument that is pretty laughable — though, has, at times been suggested by various publishing groups. But, in general, most people recognize the public service a library does by helping to educate people. So when some folks in Bulgaria decided to try to set up a user-generated online library of sorts, you wouldn’t think that the site would get raided by the police, be declared “damaging to culture,” and have its organizers described as an organized crime syndicate. But, that’s what happened.

The site, Chitanka.info let anyone upload works for a Bulgarian audience — so there definitely were some infringing works on the site. However, the site was quick to take down any material upon request. The effort was strictly non-commercial, with no ads appearing anywhere on the site. In fact, many authors uploaded their own works, as they realized what a great resource it was.

However, the Bulgarian Book Association flipped out, and once it flipped out, the Bulgarian government had its organized crime law enforcement group raid the site, and describe the organizers as a “gang.” Users of the site also took issue with the claim that the site was in any way damaging. They said it was regularly used like a library, but since you could only read the books on a computer, it likely resulted in more sales (or visits to physical libraries). A user of the site told TorrentFreak:

“I can’t understand how any library can damage the the culture of any nation. And, as there are virtually no e-readers sold here, the only way to read the downloaded books, was on the monitors of PCs,”…

“Anybody that has ever read a book on a screen knows that it isn’t very comfortable. So, lots of paper books have been bought, because when someone starts reading on the screen, likes the book, but is not comfortable, he goes to the book shop and buys it.”

There’s a great detailed legal analysis of Chitanka’s position, noting that the law is a bit ambiguous here, but the site may have a reasonable defense, and qualify as protected under safe harbors by making its works “publicly accessible” as a library.

Either way, all of this makes you wonder: if traditional public libraries were just being founded today, how much effort do you think publishers would go through to shut them down by claiming they were illegal and violations of copyright law?

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Comments on “If The Public Library Was Invented Today, Would The Gov't Call It Organized Crime And Shut It Down?”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“and this has what to do with anything going on right now?”

Lets see ..

history repeating itself, where the labels went after kazaa, pirate bay, etc and it did no good. Chitanka.info was up again in short order.

The publicity generated by this raid caused the torrent (Pirate bay – “Static version of chitanka.info as of 2010-05-24″) of the full library of Chitanka.info to be downloaded more.

You had the head of the Bulgarian Intellectual Property unit taken out to dinner by Bulgarian Book Association who later made the complaint that got chitanka.info raided. Alot like lord Mandelson and the digital economy act. These people come cheap if a good dinner, a BJ, and an award gets them to violate their countries constitutions.

You see there are some similarities to what is going on right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

gee, i dont know. a library either buys or receives their books from people who have paid for them, and only lend out the copy they have at a time. i cant help but think that trying to compare an infinite access archive with a library is a bit of a reach. seems more than anything to be another way to try to slam copyright. congrats mike, you managed to over reach again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

gee, I don’t know, I have these things in my computer that I use to program called libraries, and they have infinite access and are free (as in beer/speech). I can’t help but think that trying to claim that a library must somehow have some sort of limiting factor is a bit of a reach. It seems, more than anything, some retarded way of criticizing something just because.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Sorry but going to have to agree with the first AC, comparing a download site to a brick and mortar library is quite a stretch”

What is the purpose of a library? To make available works of written art or science to those who want to consult them.

What difference does it make if it digital or physical? The only difference is that physical libraries have a limited number of copies of the books.

Digital libraries remove that inefficiency. They always have an unlimited number of copies of the books.

“By that thinking could literally call a collection of anything a library and be “protected””

And you can. But if you do something illegal, the law will smack you, no matter what you call it.

public service? says:

wouldn't they label it socialist?

If invented today, it would be called “socialist” and “anti-American”, as would our public schools. There would be a huge outcry “we’re stealing the money of people who can afford their own books and using it to subsidize the poor”.

that, of course, is different than this case, but who knows if there’s some ultra-capitalists at work there, too

public service? says:

wouldn't they label it socialist?

If invented today, it would be called “socialist” and “anti-American”, as would our public schools. There would be a huge outcry “we’re stealing the money of people who can afford their own books and subsidizing the poor” – to pay for it.

that, of course, is different than bulgaria, but who knows if there’s some ultra-capitalists at work there, too

The Baker says:

It would be Illegal and anti American

Yes, if The Public Library Was Invented Today, the “idea” would be patented by US Copyright group, defended by Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver and proclaimed as illegal by the Authors Guild and many publishers; the MPAA and RIAA would file amicus briefs for the plaintiffs.
There are many many things that were done to enlighten our society, encourage innovation, enable individualism and improve the quality of life for Americans in our country’s history that now impede corporate “America”. We will lose this great inheritance as surely as any past empires citizenry has found as more power shifts to the nobility, in our case the corporations who pay for the government. It seems to be the historical way of the evolution of a nation. Many things in this modern world are happening at a accelerated pace, the eventual fall of any current day empire will also happen at a accelerated pace. It took 320 years for the Roman empire to decline and fall to the barbarian hordes, perhaps our 234 years is a amazing run compared to other past empires.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Given what happened with Disney and Homeland Security...

They’d be raided, declared organized criminals and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Simple, really.

Then 20 years from now we’ll be treated to a serial about some famous Homeland Security agent with an obnoxious, dangerous and often murderous attitude (not that Eliot Ness was like that at all or that J Edgar Hoover was ever gay!) that will try to convince our great grandchildren that he was a hero who saved such cultural icons as Minne Mouse and the 1950s Mousketters!

Somewhere old Walk is laughing, crying or both at the same time!

vastrightwing (profile) says:

Gutenberg would be arrested.

Image if Gutenberg invented a device which made copying text and books 100 times faster than before. Imagine the outrage the monks would feel when all of a sudden their services are no longer required. The copy industry would have no recourse but to stop Gutenberg dead in his tracks. Then how about the typesetters union when the Lin-o-type was created. My gosh, this really upset their industry. Almost overnight, a single lin-o-type machine replaced dozens of lead typesetters. yea, libraries are much worse. They’d never get off the ground today.

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