If The Public Library Was Invented Today, Would The Gov’t Call It Organized Crime And Shut It Down?

We’ve seen authors in the past complaining that libraries are engaged in book theft, which is an argument that is pretty laughable — though, has, at times been suggested by various publishing groups. But, in general, most people recognize the public service a library does by helping to educate people. So when some folks in Bulgaria decided to try to set up a user-generated online library of sorts, you wouldn’t think that the site would get raided by the police, be declared “damaging to culture,” and have its organizers described as an organized crime syndicate. But, that’s what happened.

The site, Chitanka.info let anyone upload works for a Bulgarian audience — so there definitely were some infringing works on the site. However, the site was quick to take down any material upon request. The effort was strictly non-commercial, with no ads appearing anywhere on the site. In fact, many authors uploaded their own works, as they realized what a great resource it was.

However, the Bulgarian Book Association flipped out, and once it flipped out, the Bulgarian government had its organized crime law enforcement group raid the site, and describe the organizers as a “gang.” Users of the site also took issue with the claim that the site was in any way damaging. They said it was regularly used like a library, but since you could only read the books on a computer, it likely resulted in more sales (or visits to physical libraries). A user of the site told TorrentFreak:

“I can’t understand how any library can damage the the culture of any nation. And, as there are virtually no e-readers sold here, the only way to read the downloaded books, was on the monitors of PCs,”…

“Anybody that has ever read a book on a screen knows that it isn’t very comfortable. So, lots of paper books have been bought, because when someone starts reading on the screen, likes the book, but is not comfortable, he goes to the book shop and buys it.”

There’s a great detailed legal analysis of Chitanka’s position, noting that the law is a bit ambiguous here, but the site may have a reasonable defense, and qualify as protected under safe harbors by making its works “publicly accessible” as a library.

Either way, all of this makes you wonder: if traditional public libraries were just being founded today, how much effort do you think publishers would go through to shut them down by claiming they were illegal and violations of copyright law?

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