Rickard Falkvinge: Four More Reasons Open File Sharing is a Virtual Public Library

Access, Culture, Innovation, Knowledge, P2P / Panarchy, Software
Rickard Falkvinge
Rickard Falkvinge

Four More Reasons The Pirate Bay Is Effectively A Public Library – And A Great One

Posted: 13 Dec 2012 06:57 AM PST

Infopolicy:  File sharing fulfills the exact same need and purpose as public libraries did when they first appeared, and is met with the exact same resistance – even in the same words. This article follows the previous observation that The Pirate Bay is the world’s most efficient public library.

Zacqary Adam Green’s piece comparing The Pirate Bay to the New York Public Library the other day was spot on, and we’ve seen it travel a lot around the world – in excess of 3,000 shares and counting. File sharing (and The Pirate Bay) is the most efficient public library ever invented, and its invention is a quantum leap for civilization as such. Imagine every human being having 24/7 access to humanity’s collective knowledge and culture!

Moreover, it’s not even a pipe dream that needs to be funded with forty gazillion eurodollars. All the technology has already been developed, all the infrastructure has already been rolled out, and the tools already distributed. All we have to do to realize this is, frankly, to remove the ban on using it.

In the book The case for copyright reform (download here), we can read the following:

We now know that the arguments against public libraries were wrong. It quite obviously did not lead to a situation where no new books were written, and it did not make it impossible for authors to earn money from writing. On the contrary, free access to culture proved to be not only a boon to society at large, but also turned out to be beneficial to authors.

The Internet is the most fantastic public library that has ever been created. It means that everybody, including people with limited economic means, has access to all the world’s culture just a mouse click away. This is a positive development that we should embrace and applaud.

However, in highlighting that file sharing is essentially a modern public library (and a radically efficient one at that), four specific objections always appear – four objections that aren’t factually true, so let’s take a look at them one by one and why they aren’t correct.

Incorrect objection 1: “Libraries pay money to authors for each lending.”

This objection would invalidate file-sharing-as-a-library by pointing at the fact that libraries give money to authors on each lending, something that doesn’t happen with file sharing. The problem is that the objection is factually incorrect. Authors do not get money each time their book is borrowed.

In many places in Europe, there is a unilateral cultural grant given to authors and translators in the national language when a book is borrowed – not given by libraries, but measured on library loans. It’s not compensation for loss of imaginary income but a cultural grant to promote national culture, and most importantly, it doesn’t go to the original author but to the last link making the book available in the national language – be it the author (if the book was written originally in that language) or, in the vast majority of cases, the translator.

In other words, when somebody borrows Harry Potter in a Swedish library, J.K. Rowling doesn’t get a single cent from the Swedish författarpenning. This is the model in all European countries I’m aware of.

Furthermore, this cultural grant was introduced in the 1940s to 1960s across Europe – almost a century after the public libraries.

Incorrect objection 2: “No author would ever agree to not getting a cent when books are borrowed from libraries.”

This is a mind-boggling objection. The copyright monopoly is a limited monopoly on duplication and performing – and it certainly doesn’t give somebody the right to dictate how a book may be used or not used once it’s sold to somebody. A buyer of a book has every normal property right associated with a book they buy, including tearing it apart, using it as a doorstop, or lending it to a friend or stranger – just not those normal property rights taken away by the copyright monopoly, namely certain cases of duplication and performance.

That an author or publisher would somehow have a say in how the objects are used once they are sold is completely foreign to how trade works. (Nevertheless, publishers once demanded lending of books between people to be banned by law, arguing that lending books between people was stealing from the author, and that everybody must buy their own copy. Parliaments across Europe asked them to take a hike and opened public libraries instead.)

Incorrect objection 3: “Libraries pay for the culture they share with the public.”

Indeed they do. So does every file-sharer who buys a copy of a particular cultural work, re-encodes it digitally and optimizes it for distribution/file-sharing, and shares it online with the world. No difference in principle whatsoever there, only in efficiency – but that was the whole point, wasn’t it?

Incorrect objection 4: “Libraries buy a finite set of copies and lend only them.”

This is a somewhat tricky one. While technically true, it is based on the misconception that the function of libraries is to lend things to people. That’s not their function. Their function is to make culture and knowledge available to as many people as possible.

This can be observed in the political discourse when libraries were once created, and compliance with the copyright monopoly was a non-objective: laws were changed to make sure that libraries were completely unhindered by the copyright monopoly. (These laws remain today for the most part – you can find exceptions for library use in most countries’ copyright monopoly laws.)

Rather, the reason there is a check-in/check-out system of books is that it was the most efficient mechanism available at the time to make sure that as many people as possible had access to culture and knowledge without having to pay for it. It has nothing to do with the copyright monopoly at all – it was (and is) simply a guarantee that the library would be able to keep sharing culture to the masses without forcing them to buy their own copies of the culture and knowledge in question.

In conclusion, file sharing is the most efficient public library ever created. That’s an amazing feat of humanity, and something to be celebrated. Those parasitic middlemen who stand in its way need to take a step aside, either voluntarily, or be forced to by law – as was the case when public libraries were first created.