Why Ebook Portal Library.nu Differed From Other Filesharing Sites
from the paying-the-price dept
A couple of weeks ago the popular ebook portal Library.nu was shut down, apparently voluntarily, after a coalition of book publishers obtained an injunction against it and a similar site. As an excellent post on the kNOw Future Inc. blog points out, Library.nu was significant in a number of ways:
the demand for the works offered there demonstrates that filesharing is not just about pop music, porn and cams of action movies, but also those forms and sources of knowledge whose acquisition are ritually celebrated within 'enlightenment' culture.
The stereotypical downloader -- young, and looking for easy entertainment online -- was in part a function of what was available initially. The Library.nu site showed that fans of "high culture" were just as keen to obtain digital versions of their stuff as those with more "low-brow" tastes.
Many of those whose works were offered derive income not from royalties, but from related activities such as teaching and research. Such people were themselves an important component library.nu’ user base.
The first part means that the authors of those books wrote not for money, principally, but for other reasons -- for example, prestige or influence. It was actually in their interests for their works to be circulated as widely as possible in order to enhance their reputation, and Library.nu made that possible. It's not clear what evidence there is for the second sentence quoted above, but assuming it's true, it would indicate that for some, at least, the Library.nu ethos was "share and share alike".
The post concludes:
Some [of those downloading from Library.nu] have other means to access the same materials, others, especially those in countries with weaker education infrastructures and more emaciated library budgets, do not. Outside of formal education, the millions of online autodidacts may be denied access to material, seriously impinging on their lives and possibilities. When one considers the cost of text books and more especially scholarly articles, that is no hyperbole, and applies not only to the global south but the post-industrial north as well, awash in its dreams of knowledge economies and human capital.
That suggests two things. First, that publishers are missing out on a huge audience that is hungry for knowledge, but simply can't afford text books, say, at current pricing. Once again, piracy is driven partly by a failure to serve the market properly.
The other point is that although publishers may rejoice that Library.nu has been taken down, readers around the world will suffer in terms of losing access to these works that they can't afford. Some may say that's just tough, or that these people should work harder or make greater sacrifices elsewhere in order to be able to afford such books. But in many locations, those books are not available legally at any price.
As a result, when sites like Library.nu disappear, there is a cost to society as a whole because of the knock-on effects of reduced information flow, and of practical knowledge that is unavailable for application as a result. In this respect, sites with large collections of digitized textbooks are quite different from those that are principally offering music or video downloads for entertainment.