Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!

The easy life of an internet pirate.

Brewster Kahle, the owner of the Internet Archive (IA) and its ‘Open Library’ will tell you he is not a pirate. The New Zealand government (in the form of the Department of Internal Affairs, the National Library, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the Attorney-General and the Solicitor- General) will refuse (have refused) to reply to questions about whether Kahle and the IA are engaged in piracy i.e. taking property which does not belong to them and refusing to pay for it. Even when such questions are posed by reputable New Zealand organisations representing New Zealand authors, publishers and copyright licensers, and by organisations from the UK, Australia and internationally representing those whose work has already been stolen, or could be stolen, by Kahle. (It’s pronounced ‘kale’, as in the tough, dark form of cabbage.)

The New Zealand government has been provided with ample evidence by all those organisations, by Book Guardians Aotearoa, and by two New Zealand Q.C.s, that Kahle’s digital library contains works which are still in copyright. Also with the evidence that (unlike reputable public, national and university libraries) he did not purchase those books on the digital books market, and nor does he pay the required fees for fair use. It has also been informed that what the IA is doing is in breach of the international copyright agreements which New Zealand has signed up to, and that proper process (getting an opinion from the Crown Law Office) was not followed before the deal was signed.

The government was also told that because of these proven egregious breaches of authors’ and publishers’ rights, four of the world’s largest publishers filed suit against the IA in a US federal court in June last year. The case was due to be heard in November this year, but Kahle and the IA have continued to make completely unreasonable demands for ‘more information’ from the publishers, which the publishers’ lawyers have had to rebut each time.

While New Zealand government agencies and agents refuse to listen and respond to these concerns of law-abiding citizens (including those expert in the law) regarding the deal with the IA, the National Library is continuing with its ‘gone by Christmas’ plan to stuff  over 400,000 books into containers and put them on the high seas, en route to Manila and possible digitisation. (I think one has to go back to the 16th century to find examples of governments facilitating the work of pirates, and engaging in it themselves. The same governments which facilitated the slave trade. But I digress…)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic boy’s adventure story Treasure Island is very likely among the 400,000 plus. Probably not the 1883 first edition, but a good quality later edition, for sure. Unless it has been protected by the National Library’s policy of keeping its collection of children’s literature, even when the books are written by non-New Zealanders. (What sort of sense does it make to keep the kids’ books and throw out the rest? You be the judge.)

It could be time to re-read Treasure Island for tips on how the old-time pirates did things, and see how Brewster Kahle and his crew compare. Is rum their drug of choice? And are those containers of National Library books the ‘dead man’s chest’ referred to in Stevenson’s sea song: 

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

As for  the devilish details on what Kahle and Co actually do to the books, see How digital pirates do it.

by Christine Dann

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