Over the last couple of years, book piracy has gone from a furtive, limited activity to something approaching a political movement.
If you’re not familiar with what’s been going on in the world of online book sharing, or how it relates to the larger free culture movement, there are two recent interviews with Prof. Gabriella Coleman of New York University worth listening to:
The Quest for a Free Culture
(Radio Berkman 135, with interviewer Elizabeth Stark)
Gabriella Coleman on digital book piracy
(on the CBC radio show “Spark”, with interviewer Nora Young)
In the Radio Berkman interview, listen especially for the section starting at 4:40:
“Digital piracy online has produced a commons. I mean let’s talk about book piracy today. It is unbelievable, the amount of books being shared, combined with, in the case of aaaarg, discussion. There’s actually a community. But it’s illegal, full on, right? And so there’s definitely this legal commons and illegal commons, and I do think it’s important to recognize the … similarities and differences. In some ways, the pirate commons is valuable precisely because of its transgression, and its message that sometimes the law is overbearing, and legal solutions, even lauadable ones like Creative Commons, are not simply enough. And so from my … more activist perspective, I think a healthy ecology has both legal and illegal … modes of organizing, as opposed to playing a politics of the ‘authentic’ versus ‘inauthentic’ modes of sharing.”
The interviews are a clear-headed and provocative explanation of what’s happening with books now. She compares it to the earlier revolution in digital music sharing and to the free software movement, and discusses how people’s attitudes about this kind of sharing are changing, and why.
(I normally don’t use the word “piracy” to refer to sharing, but Prof. Coleman makes the point that, unlike “theft”, there is a tradition of “piracy” being used by both proponents and opponents of the activity.)