Tag Archives: intellectual property rights

Pirates in our public library – Why Indian scholars are closely watching a court case in Quebec: Rochelle Pinto

Rochelle Pinto in Scroll.in

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, Dockray has 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.

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Breaking Rules: Reflections on Knowledge

This story of the birth of a new language raises some significant questions for our understanding of how bodies of knowledge are transformed. After the Sandinista revolution in 1979, for the first time in the history of Nicaragua, a huge nation-wide effort was made to educate deaf children. Hundreds of deaf students were enrolled in two schools. They had never been introduced to any of the world’s existing sign language systems, and came to the schools with only the simplest kind of gestural signs they had developed within their families.   Their teachers were new and inexperienced, and found it difficult to communicate with their students, but the students themselves had no problem at all in “talking” to one another. With great rapidity they began to build on the common pool of signs, and a complex new language began to emerge, which has come now to be called Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL).  Some years down the line, an even more interesting development is noticed. As younger children enter the school system, they not only pick up the language their seniors had developed, but they confidently break the existing language rules. They invent new signs and deform old ones, and these new signs that do not obey the old rules filter back into the language, making it more complex, richer and more varied.

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