10 votes

Why authors are so angry about the Internet Archive’s Emergency Library

10 comments

  1. [5]
    hungariantoast
    Link
    I was not sure about how the "emergency library" worked, so I registered an account on the Internet Archive's website and rented a book. As far as I can tell, the way it worked before the...

    I was not sure about how the "emergency library" worked, so I registered an account on the Internet Archive's website and rented a book.

    As far as I can tell, the way it worked before the emergency library was that you could "borrow" a digital copy of a book for two weeks.

    When "borrowing" a book, you can read the entire book online, or download an encrypted file, that requires Adobe's software to read.

    I do not and will not use Adobe's special reader, but I assume that after two weeks, the encrypted file I downloaded will no longer work, and I will have to "borrow" the book again.

    Here is the catch:

    Prior to the emergency library, only so many users could "borrow" a single, digital copy of a book at a time. So if each book has N-number of digital copies that can be "borrowed", then when X-number of users "borrow" that book, such that X=N, a wait-list is created.

    From there, in order for another user to "borrow" the book, they have to wait until a prior user finishes with their "copy", or the prior user's time runs out (opening up a slot).

    The only difference with the emergency library is that the wait-list has been removed. Users can still only access "borrowed" books for two weeks.

    I would also like to point out that there are a whopping one hundred and ten books in the "emergency library" that were published in or after 2017.

    Just how much money is someone going to make on a three-year-old book from now until June? Is that really going to make or break their financial situation?

    On top of that, is allowing users to "borrow" a book for two weeks really going to cause them to lose sales in the first place?

    Honestly? 🔬🎻

    My hot take

    Digital goods are worthless. Something like a digital copy of a book has no value. It can be infinitely copied, distributed, and consumed. Technological innovations for sharing information, like the Internet, have made the old economy of selling copies of works obsolete, and things like this, limiting digital copies, requiring DRM, and copyright law in general, are just evidence that we need to move past the old economic model of selling copies and instead embrace something better (like donations, for which there absolutely is an economy).

    So to be honest, when I see people screeching on Twitter about how others can now consume their inherently worthless creation without having their wealth be extracted, I find myself feeling particularly apathetic, especially in a time of crisis, especially when this will not actually lead to lost sales, especially when there are better ways of doing things.

    I do not really know what else to say other than that things need to change and while I want the majority of authors to find success, I do not want the old economic model to be the way they do it, and I am not going to feel sorry for those who get lost in the transition.

    10 votes
    1. [3]
      gpl
      Link Parent
      Your hot take might be a bit too hot. Digital goods are worthless? Independent video games, websites, ebooks, etc all have no inherent value? Because they can be easily copied and distributed? I...

      Your hot take might be a bit too hot. Digital goods are worthless? Independent video games, websites, ebooks, etc all have no inherent value? Because they can be easily copied and distributed? I honestly feel like such an idea would be bad for consumers and creators alike. I'm increasingly inclined to believe that digital data, whether it is meta-data about a person, an ebook written and distributed online, or an indie game should be treated a labor and the person responsible for producing that data should be compensated as such. I think we've been conditioned to believe that digital content should be free because for so long the value of distribution has been conflated with the value of creation that, when we finally entered the digital realm and found that things could be copied and shared virtually for free, we forgot the latter value even existed. You may have been paying a premium due to the materials and labor that went into distributing content of yore, but make no mistake - you were always paying for the content.

      9 votes
      1. [2]
        hungariantoast
        Link Parent
        My opinion is that the digital goods themselves are worthless, but the labor has value. So, I don't want to see artists and authors starve, quite the opposite, but I also believe that the current...

        My opinion is that the digital goods themselves are worthless, but the labor has value.

        So, I don't want to see artists and authors starve, quite the opposite, but I also believe that the current model of paying for the digital work itself has a lot of issues.

        As for solving those issues, that's a much broader discussion. I think ideas like a universal basic income and the donation economy are interesting. Even just targeted, subsidized, taxpayer-funded sustainability programs for artists would be an interesting experiment.

        Overall though, I don't believe in paying for digital goods. I still do it of course, because that's what the current model demands, but I really, truly believe we shouldn't have to.

        I know that seems paradoxical, especially with how we currently expect artists to survive, but at the same time I think we can all agree on two things:

        • Art is necessary for our civilization
        • The artists who create that art are just as necessary

        Because of the first point, I don't think we should put up barriers when it comes to accessing and consuming art, I think that's counterproductive.

        However, because of the second point, I am also 100% behind supporting artists, I just disagree with our current model on how to do that, and think we should be pushing for alternative systems.

        It's definitely a nuanced view, and is very idealistic, but I don't think transitioning to a new model for "sustainable arts" would be impossible, and I absolutely think we would be better off for it.

        So yeah, I'm totally not trying to be antagonistic against artists, but rather the system that many seem to believe is the only way to support them.

        Sometimes that has consequences.

        5 votes
        1. gpl
          Link Parent
          I think we're actually closer in position on this than I initially thought. I completely agree that the thing with actual value is the labor that has gone into something, which is why I think we...

          I think we're actually closer in position on this than I initially thought. I completely agree that the thing with actual value is the labor that has gone into something, which is why I think we should move towards recognizing data as being labor than data as being capital. This is relatively apparent when the data in question is a piece of art distributed online for example, but I even think it holds for the more mundane data we all produce, like identifying traffic lights in a captcha. In that case you're essentially doing an iota of work that whatever tech company will capture and repackage into a training set for AI that then eliminates the need for that work in the first place. For any individual user the effort is small, but these training sets easily repackage the collective labor of thousands or millions of users. I think that labor should be compensated as well.

          When it comes to the arts it's even more clear this should be the case in my opinion. I'm a fan of donation models as you mention above, but there's always the risk of small returns for quality data (art), and in general we should be incentivizing some proportional compensation. It reminds me of the 90-9-1 rule of online interactions, except in this case it's more like "90% of users will consume content, 9% will share it (incresing exposure), and 1% will donate in compensation". Of course I have no idea of the actual stats on this point but it seems reasonable to me at least. With free distribution the raw number that makes up that 1% obviously increases, but the question is whether that increase makes up for the 99% consuming for free. I think things like Patreon have actually be a great benefit for content creators and I hope we see more unique solutions like that arising in the next few years.

          Overall, I completely agree the incentive and compensation structure for digital data has to greatly change and be reformed as we rely more and more on these modes of consumption. This has been a bit rambling I acknowledge, but I have a lot of thoughts on this and related points.

          4 votes
    2. wexx
      Link Parent
      As an independent artist/musician... I would be thrilled if people were looking at stuff I made 2 years after I finished it, lol. It would be nice if they paid for it/got royalties for it, but...

      As an independent artist/musician... I would be thrilled if people were looking at stuff I made 2 years after I finished it, lol. It would be nice if they paid for it/got royalties for it, but most of the time (especially for streaming music), if there isn't a large surge at once, it literally does not matter and nets maybe $100 or something like that (from a streaming perspective for smaller, regional(!) artists. Maybe this should be more so I would be more of the other side of this! I don't know!). If someone takes the time to download something, usually it'll get lost/forgotten about it, or they're actually taking the time to meaningfully engage with the work, which I don't think money can buy.

      That said, if there is a LARGE surge, like for example, surrounding a months long/expensive marketing campaign around the launch... I could understand being a smidge upset... but yeah. idk. Maybe artists are also underpaid/undervalued in times like this, and prices should be higher/people should be getting paid more. I know I wouldn't mind being able to make a living off of a skill I have.

      5 votes
  2. [5]
    The_Fad
    (edited )
    Link
    I watched this unfold live over a few days on Twitter as I follow a ton of professional and indie authors (SOLIDARITY). As far as I could see from my social bubble, there were two separate...

    I watched this unfold live over a few days on Twitter as I follow a ton of professional and indie authors (SOLIDARITY). As far as I could see from my social bubble, there were two separate arguments being had simultaneously, and the lack of acknowledgment from either side that two separate issues were at play only further fueled division.

    Argument A: Books are product and creators deserve to be compensated for their work; the way the book repository works is stealing.

    Argument B: Copyright laws (in the US in particular) are draconian, unenforceable for the vast majority of creatives, and often times stifle the greater creativity of a population.

    Not to sound too much like an "enlightened centrist" but, as far as my opinion goes, they're both kind of right.

    Creatives are producers just as much as anyone else in the work force, and they deserve compensation for their contributions to the economy. If we lived in a more socialist society (again, just talking about the US here) with less wealth inequality and class division then maybe I could understand the argument that these things should be provided free of charge as they are part of the greater culture, but that's just not reality. Full stop.

    Philosophically, however, it's important to note a few things. One, as I mentioned earlier, is that current US copyright laws are fucking outrageous. Your US copyright currently lasts your entire lifetime plus 70 years. That is LUDICROUS. That means you or your representatives have the right to sue into oblivion anyone who even remotely uses your work to create something new (barring limited parody) for OVER 100 YEARS (on average). There is no reasonable argument to be made supporting this, in my mind. It's blatant corporate influence (read: primarily Disney's pursuit to protect the Mickey Mouse IP) in public policy. Additionally, there's evidence that suggests book piracy (unlike music, film, and tv show piracy) doesn't actually have a significant effect on legal sales [PDF Warning]. So the argument that you're "taking from the mouths of creatives" kind of starts to fall apart. Again, philosophically.

    At the end of the day, multiple things are true:

    1. This book repository has books that were not legally purchased or contracted and is therefore housing illegal product, and taking that illegal product is by definition stealing. Justify it however you want, but it's a criminal act the same as pirating movies or music.

    2. Practically speaking, the only thing authors are really losing here is pride. They're not going to suddenly go bankrupt, they're not even going to see a dip in their sales most likely (if anything, as the paper I linked mentions iirc, it will create a small, temporary increase in sales), and their copyright is still intact. If they want to sue, they absolutely have the right, but I think that idea is unlikely to gain much traction. So crying fowl and railing against anyone who dares to read something not in the public domain (which, remember, only includes works from 70+ years ago) without coughing up their hard earned cash or literally risking their health to go to a library right now is at best a bad-look morally.

    Addendum: I believe there are some books on there legally from more recent years that are not in the public domain. This is because the author or publisher has willingly put them up, which makes them effectively irrelevant to the discussion.

    E - Also worth mentioning that many libraries allow ebook rentals over proprietary or 3rd party apps if you have a library card. This is an excellent option if 1) Your local library actually offers it, 2) You already have a library card, 3) They have the book(s) you want to read available on ebook at all, and 4) Those books aren't already checked out with a waiting list 3 months long (as is true with most library ebooks right now).

    3 votes
    1. [4]
      Greg
      Link Parent
      My understanding is that every book was obtained legally and (up until now) they only lent as many digital copies as they had physical copies on the shelf. Saying that the books were obtained...

      This book repository has books that were not legally purchased or contracted and is therefore housing illegal product

      My understanding is that every book was obtained legally and (up until now) they only lent as many digital copies as they had physical copies on the shelf.

      Saying that the books were obtained illegally does them a serious disservice, in my opinion.

      taking that illegal product is by definition stealing

      Since, as you say yourself, we're having a discussion of nuances and philosophy here as much as practicality, I want to say emphatically that copyright infringement is not stealing. One might argue that it's as bad as stealing, but the fact remains that theft inherently deprives another person of something whereas copyright infringement does not.

      Because it's copying, we get to play some more interesting philosophical games, in fact. What if, for example, the library lent out extras now but kept track of how many cumulative weeks a book racked up during this period and then kept it out of circulation for a corresponding period later? Would that change the morality of the situation? Could there even be a spirited argument for it changing the legality of the situation, as the total number of book-weeks is conserved?

      That example wasn't even intended to be as absurd as it sounds now I read it back, but I think that alone shows that we're playing in interesting territory.

      7 votes
      1. [3]
        The_Fad
        Link Parent
        At bare minimum Chuck Wendig's "Wanderers" is on there and was not obtained legally per Chuck Wendig himself. You're preaching to the choir, my dude.

        My understanding is that every book was obtained legally

        At bare minimum Chuck Wendig's "Wanderers" is on there and was not obtained legally per Chuck Wendig himself.

        the rest of what you said

        You're preaching to the choir, my dude.

        1. [2]
          Greg
          Link Parent
          First-sale doctrine says that the author doesn't get to make that determination. Libraries (or individuals, for that matter) don't need a special license to lend a book, they just need to legally...

          First-sale doctrine says that the author doesn't get to make that determination. Libraries (or individuals, for that matter) don't need a special license to lend a book, they just need to legally own the copy they're lending.

          8 votes
          1. The_Fad
            Link Parent
            Then I don't know what to tell you, dude. I'm not a lawyer and I'm not particularly interested in litigating the issue further. Just wanted to state my opinion.

            Then I don't know what to tell you, dude. I'm not a lawyer and I'm not particularly interested in litigating the issue further. Just wanted to state my opinion.

            1 vote