New Report Shines Much-Needed Light On Shadow Libraries Around The World

from the another-reason-to-defend-privacy-and-anonymity-online dept

Techdirt readers with long memories may recall a post back in 2011 about a 440-page report entitled “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies.” As Mike wrote then, this detailed study effectively debunked the entire foundation of US attempts to impose maximalist copyright regimes on other countries. That report was edited by Joe Karaganis, who has put together another collection of articles, called “Shadow Libraries: Access to Knowledge in Global Higher Education“, that are also likely to be of interest to Techdirt readers. As Karaganis writes in his introduction:

To a large extent, our work on Shadow Libraries started where Media Piracy ended, with the confirmation that the main factors underlying high rates of piracy in the developing world were the obvious ones: high prices for legal media, low incomes, and the continued diffusion of cheap copying technologies.

Unsurprisingly, Karaganis takes Sci-Hub as the emblematic “shadow library”:

As everyone from [Sci-Hub’s creator] Elbakyan to Elsevier knew, however, Sci-Hub’s importance was not its permanence as a service but its status as a proof of concept. Its core archive of fifty million articles was freely available and its basic search and archive features easily replicated.

If Elbakyan’s story has struck a chord, it is in part because it brings this contradiction in the academic project into sharp relief — universalist in principle and unequal in practice. Shadow Libraries is a study of that tension in the digital era.

The rest of the 321 pages explores how that tension — between striving for free and frictionless access to all human knowledge and the copyright industry’s attempts to turn learning into a luxury product — is playing out in eight different countries. Techdirt has covered many of the stories — for example, those in Russia, India and Argentina. But the report fleshes out the bare facts previously reported here, and provides far more context and analysis. The detailed history of Library Genesis, a precursor to Sci-Hub in Russia, is particularly fascinating. For other countries such as South Africa, Poland, Brazil and Uruguay, the new studies offer insights into regions rarely discussed in the West, and provide good starting points for deeper understanding of those countries. As Karaganis notes, the new study is a transitional one:

catching the moment of widespread digitization of materials and related infrastructure but not yet the digitization of the wider teaching, learning, and research ecosystem, and not the stabilization of legal models and frameworks that can keep pace with the growth of higher education and the global scale of emerging knowledge communities.

Importantly, though, the underlying dynamics of sharing knowledge are the same as those driving the unauthorized distribution of media materials, discussed in the 2011 study:

this informal copy culture is shaped by high prices, low incomes, and cheap technology — and only in very limited ways by copyright enforcement. As long as the Internet remains “open” in the sense of affording privacy and anonymity, shadow libraries, large and small, will remain powerful facts of educational life. As in the case of music and movies, we think the language of crisis serves this discussion poorly. This is an era of radical abundance of scholarship, instructional materials, and educational opportunity. The rest is politics.

Those are points we’ve made here on Techdirt many times before. We are enjoying an era of unprecedented digital abundance, which the copyright industries are fighting to shut down in order to preserve their outdated business models based on scarcity. One way they try to do that is to attack the Internet’s openness by striving to weaken privacy and anonymity online, regardless of the collateral harm this causes. The importance of shadow libraries in global higher education is another reason to resist that.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “New Report Shines Much-Needed Light On Shadow Libraries Around The World”

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Anonymous Coward says:

scarcity equals money and that is what everything the entertainment industries want to preserve, their income! if they can get governments, then courts and law enforcement, via bribes and corruption to stop everything they want to keep locked up, maintaining their outdated business model and control of the internet, they will do it! the change will come once the industries have achieved their aims and they then start doing themselves everything they have stopped others from doing, like making torrents available, making subtitles available, making downloads available that can be legally ‘format shifted’. the main difference being that they will be charging for the same things that are available for free atm and not just charging but charging as much as possible, including shop prices for media that is downloaded!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“scarcity equals money and that is what everything the entertainment industries want to preserve, their income!”

Scarcity, by its self, does not equal money – there needs to be demand and then there is the possibility of a transaction.

I got the impression there was more to this story than just entertainment.

Ninja (profile) says:

“We are enjoying an era of unprecedented digital abundance”

Along with an insanely huge income inequality.

In any case, speaking as someone who is involved in academics, Sci-hub is the most widely used source of articles and the likes by a very wide margin. And I have yet to see anybody involved with academics that not only uses and endorses it but also actively contributes with the catalog by uploading their own works or stuff they have that isn’t already online. And I have yet to see a researcher deny such upload to Sci-hub of his/her own work.

Considering how the publishing world is set up I see this as pure justice. Publishers can die a fiery death, they are not needed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I have yet to see anybody involved with academics that not only uses and endorses it but also actively contributes with the catalog by uploading their own works or stuff they have that isn’t already online. And I have yet to see a researcher deny such upload to Sci-hub of his/her own work.

Of course. One can pretty much always get a copy of a paper by emailing its author. Putting it on Sci-hub saves you the robotic work of replying to all those paper-request emails.

Anonymous coward 2 says:

Re: Re: Re:

One can also pretty much always get a copy of even a non-scientific book or a movie for free by going to a local library. Using “pirate” sites just saves this robotic work.

The point being: I don’t think there is a fundamental difference between unauthorized copying of academic material and entertainment.

bshock says:

No individual or entity creates anything in isolation — it’s all an incremental step on existing culture. When an individual or entity publishes something it creates, it adds to existing culture. We take, we give, and above all, we share — sharing is the fundamental nature of culture.

The idea of “ownership” of a piece of culture is as illogical and unjust as a real estate developer marching into the middle of a city, walling off a block, and unilaterally insisting that it is now his. In fact, it’s even more illogical and unjust, because culture is owned by everyone, not just individuals in one particular area.

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