Techdirt Reading List: Free Books From Verso (Mostly)

from the and-some-good-ones dept

Most Thursday's, we post book recommendations with links to purchase the books through Amazon (where a little cut of the purchase price goes to us). We've received a ton of feedback that people like those recommendations (and seeing how many books you guys have bought via that, suggests it's true!). We had another such book lined up for today, but we're going to put that aside as we saw the news this morning that publisher Verso Books, which has published a number of excellent books (including ones we've recommended in the past), is doing a special one day (today!) offer for a bunch of free ebooks, many of which may interest folks here -- though there are a few caveats which we'll get to.

The books include two that we've recommended before: Gabriella Coleman's excellent book about Anonymous, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy and the collected writings of Aaron Swartz entitled The Boy Who Could Change The World. Now there's a big caveat on the Swartz book: as Verso notes, it does not hold the rights to that book in North America, so it's only available to those outside of the US (or someone using a geographically promiscuous VPN, I imagine). Now, quite obviously, Aaron Swartz would probably be first in line to argue that this kind of geoblocking is ridiculous and worthy of scorn. In fact, from its tweets, it appears that Verso also recognizes this. But, it's not exactly in Verso's control. Though perhaps the company could have reached out to The New Press, who published the book in the US to work out some sort of co-promotion.

The second caveat is that... Verso appears to be overwhelmed. There have been lots of complaints that after "purchasing" the ebooks people are not receiving their download links -- and I can confirm that. I tried direct download links and the "email me a link" option, and neither seemed to work. However, the company says it's working on it, and as long as the books are listed in your "library" in their system, then you'll be able to access them in the future.

And, of course, even if you're in North America, all of the other books are available for free, including Coleman's. The other books look pretty good as well. There's The Wikileaks Files with an intro by Julian Assange, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet by Linda Herrera and In The Flow by Boris Groys.

The one other issue that some people may take at least some offense to is Verso's decision to entitle the blog post about this whole thing Psst! Downloading Isn't Stealing [for today], with at least one person on Twitter pointing out that this title at least suggests that Verso hasn't read (or hasn't understood) Swartz's writings. Verso responded noting that it had, and given my own dealings with Verso, I believe that's the case. Though, it does seem a little wrong no matter what that the collection of Swartz's writings doesn't appear to be available anywhere as a Creative Commons download -- given that Swartz himself was instrumental in the founding of Creative Commons and many of the writings in the book were things that Swartz himself posted for free online on his blog.

As for the title, which perhaps a little annoying, it's Verso doing a play on words of an Aaron Swartz blog post entitled "Counterpoint: Downloading Isn't Stealing," which Verso also reprinted on their page. For folks who are extra sensitive to the claims some make that "copying is stealing," you can see why Verso's title may rub some the wrong way, but it does appear to be them just having some fun with the phrase. And, either way, go check out these books for free today...

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