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The lawsuits against and global reach of aaaaarg.org


#1

As founder of aaaarg.org Sean Dockray is being sued in Quebec court by an unnamed publisher, many of the sites’ users have attested to the pivotal role aaaaarg.org has played in their education. Rochello Pinto of scroll.in writes about the deep impact of aaaaarg.org on India’s scholars, who otherwise would not have access to much of the research posted on Dockray’s site. Her article is excerpted below and available in full here.

In 2005, Sean Dockray did what any sensible government should have done for its students. The American artist set up a sharing-enabled platform for a website then called aaaaarg.org, and uploaded digital copies of largely theoretical and philosophical texts that could be freely downloaded by readers. Before long, many of the researchers, students, teachers, and scholars who used the site began to upload scans of texts in their possession – exactly as Dockray hoped they would.

To readers based in places like India, a collection with this breadth is simply unavailable and, on first sight, unimaginable, as these books often sell at more than three or four times the price of a bestselling novel. Outside of the highly professionalised, and increasingly corporatised atmosphere of the better-funded US, European and East Asian university libraries, scholars have to settle for producing critical research without access to (or sometimes knowledge of) essential material. With aaaaarg.org, anyone with an internet connection could access mutually contributed material, reminding us that research relies on a common pool of ideas.

Since no good deed goes unpunished, Dockrayhas been regularly pursued with the odd legal notice. Those who punched in the address aaaaarg.org (now aaaaarg.fail) to search for this boon of a resource know that it kept adding or subtracting an “a” to its cry of frustration every six months or so in response to the threats. Aaaaarg.org sometimes took down a few texts, negotiated with publishers, and persuaded a few to back off, aided by reader support. The site is now hosted by free software advocate Marcell Mars as aaaaarg.fail. As a case filed by an unknown publisher is underway in the Superior Court of Quebec, long time users are, aside from contributing towards their legal expenses, hoping that the project does not go the way of other online sites such as library.nu and gigapedia that were forced to shut down.

Contrary to the impression that big publishers like to create, a repository like aaaaarg does not curtail book buying. It merely alters the mental categories through which book buyers in any case make decisions: the size of their room, how frequently they move house, their budgets, should they buy new books, or older ones that might go out of print? To this, we may add a few aaaaarg-based categories: “since that book is on aaaaarg.fail, let me buy this one instead”, or, “I saw that book on aaaaarg.fail, and it is available here.”

*Library image via scroll.in