Snapshots of the secret world

They play an unacknowledged part in our universe, yet when they vanish few remember them, and there are no records of what they looked like or contain.

For the last few years, there have been a number of websites which contain large numbers of books in PDF or other format, making them available for free download.  The books are often (but not always) in copyright.

Here’s a screen shot of one of them, which I was sent.


I’m giving this, because these sites vanish quickly, and in a few years time, we may be curious to see what was available in the “Wild West” days of the internet!

Few of us could afford to purchase all the material held here, or even much of it. As library facilities collapse, as inter-library loans become prohibitively dear, such sites are invaluable to researchers who live in rural areas or do not have access to the very extensive (and expensive) collections of major research libraries.

The prices demanded for academic eBooks are very high, when you consider that they require no manufacturing process, and cost nothing to distribute.  It is not unusual to see a frivolous demand for an eBook which is the same as that for a paper copy.  Such greed naturally creates incentives for piracy.

In some countries the ruling elite behaves as if it is almost entirely uninterested in the welfare of the general public.  In Germany the elite have made that clear by importing 1 million able-bodied foreigners in one year and quartering them on the hapless German population.  That’s not going to be good for the Germans; but clearly there is profit to the elite in votes and cheap labour.

But that German elite has the same contempt when it comes to learning, for it has allowed the publishing companies to dictate some of the most oppressive “copyright” laws in the world.  One consequence of this is that there is really very little of use on the German internet.  Another consequence is that Google Books is basically useless outside the USA.

In fact there is not even much Wifi in Germany, because those same greedy publishers made “laws” such that Wifi hotspots were legally responsible for ensuring that only “legal” content could be viewed, despite the free-for-all nature of the internet.  (Although the elite have realised that this is inconvenient to themselves, so are going to rescind that particular despotic law).  To the German elite, seemingly, the German people are just cattle and sheep, to be fleeced.

But it is not just Germany, although that country is singularly unfortunate.  The same attitude may be found among the ruling elite in many countries, including the USA.

One symptom of this disconnect is the banning of pirate PDF websites, at the behest of publishers, without considering what the public welfare really is, or should be.  Education is essential.  Books are essential for education.  Yet access to books is obstructed by the greed of companies that charge impossible prices for textbooks.

I don’t know what the answer is.  But I really wish that our ruling elites would address it.


15 thoughts on “Snapshots of the secret world

  1. I may look Swedish (IP-wise), but I do live in Germany, and you are so so right. I’ve written a couple of articles for foreign journals, and until now they never minded me publishing them on my website, on academia(.)edu etc., and it has resulted in a couple of citations over the years, and the access statistics are still great, even for the old articles. But now with my book, written for a German publisher, that has changed. Personally I would love to put it out there as a PDF immediately, if I could, include it in the Genesis Library, to give back at least a little, if I could, but of course I can’t (I mustn’t), and so I won’t. However, they were unwilling to add at least some excerpts to GoogleBooks. I asked them twice, and the answer was always no. German publishers and Google: there’s almost a sacred fear there. All the Germans have is something like Libreka, and they only present the first 10 pages or so, i.e. not real excerpts. (Of course it depends on the publisher; some actually cooperate with Google.) It’s frustrating (to say the least) seeing your book basically vanish, because they don’t allow it to have any presence online.

    As for the rest: they’re trying to change the WiFi problem, but the content & copyright troll industry is so massive in Germany, I would be astonished, if they didn’t leave any backdoors in the new iteration of the law, so the trolls can continue to sue people. And it might not have any bearing on private open WiFi anyway.

    As for the German political managing elite, they are clearly not interested in modern education, because few school children have access to school computers. I had, already in the 1980s, but I lived in a more or less wealthy neighborhood, going to one of the best public schools in the state. But much of the educational problems are due to different jurisdictions: federal vs. state, and education has been firmly in the states’ grip. Other things, like OpenAccess, are not a thing here either. And yes, in the end the German internet is barren, almost nothing of value. I have more valuable information in my living room bookshelf than I can find on the regular German internet. (You need to go LibGen, if you want to avoid the desert.) There aren’t even any good places for online discussion anymore. (But that might be a problem everywhere; at least you are still around… thank you by the way!)

    Where’s the next Hengel, the next von Harnack, the next Schweitzer etc.? Maybe they exist, but you sure as hell don’t hear about them! Okay, we’ve got Luxenberg, but that’s Radical Coranic Criticism, and nowadays that will almost always get you to the front page somewhere. 😉

    As for the migrants: well, I’m skeptical, but we’ll have to wait and see. So far it doesn’t look very promising, even though the (few) refugees I know and also work with are nice & committed. But those are just individual observations.

  2. Roger, are you acquainted with this website: ? You can download the PDFs located at, for example, through SCI-HUB very easily. So I think one answer to your question (“I don’t know what the answer is”) may be the creation of websites like SCI-HUB.

  3. A large part of fixing the issue in the US would be some sanity in the copyright laws– I recognize that books take a lot of work, and that a worker is worth his pay…but there’s the competing problem that books, a subgroup of information, are building blocks.

    I can’t see why inventing a book should be treated more protectively than inventing a machine, or a life-saving drug.

  4. I think that the copyright laws have been extended and extended to the point of madness, mainly to benefit publishers or even to prevent the mere possibility of commercial loss. Copyright is not an obvious moral right, considering that it was only invented in the 18th century. I’ve never forgotten being denied access to a thesis written in Latin in 1892 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by the British Library, on the grounds that it “might be in copyright”. When I finally did get hold of a copy, in Paris, I uploaded it to without delay.

  5. @Foxfier: when you’re an author, you don’t earn anything, at least nothing substantial. (Same with the small publishers; they barely make it through to be able to pay their employees.) You have to write fiction, and you need to be among the 1% in the Harry Potter sphere. Otherwise writing is not about earning money. It’s about making people happy, making them more intelligent, about achieving something that has some kind of value, even if only the author can see it. As for non-fiction: I’ve spoken with colleagues, asked them what they thought about their $75–150 academic books being available on LibGen, and they didn’t mind at all, two even loved it! Everybody uses these websites, everybody, even scholars who have access to a lot of content through their institutes/universities.

    But things may be changing, e.g. JSTOR (for some time now) has been offering a bookshelf, where you can put a couple of articles to read for free. I’ve been using that a lot, actually.

  6. @Ani-
    I hang out at a couple of author blogs, and was delighted to be one of the first to buy “Slavery among the Indians of the Northwest: As documented by early explorers”– which was one of the ladies on the blog nagging her mom to finally finish up the academic book she’d been working on for ages and put it up on Amazon. I can’t remember exactly how much she gets, but it’s closer to 50% of the cover prince than…what, 1-5% of the cover price? If it’s not still paying on the advance? On the fiction side, one of my favorite fanfiction authors finally went and wrote some books as C. Chancy, same deal.

    As a reader, I love it because they’re selling the ebook for half the price– or less!– than the ones from “real” publishers, and they’re usually better proof-read and edited. (I’ve read some novels, from major authors, where there are two versions of the same chapter. Don’t get me started on the homophones.)

  7. But things may be changing, e.g. JSTOR (for some time now) has been offering a bookshelf, where you can put a couple of articles to read for free. I’ve been using that a lot, actually.

    Two articles per two weeks. That includes articles 100 years old. That may be nice for a general reader but not for research.Even after one guy suicided after being threatened with law suits for downloading really really really old stuff, JSTOR and company are back to their wicked ways. The best way to beat them is to bypass them. Start new journals or new open source platforms. Maybe even ignore German scholarship until the Germans themselves stand up and change things. Oh, and all hail the Russians.

    My cheeky two cents.

  8. I was just going to give a plug to the Americans, who in general are more sensible about these things. Until I find an 1989 article I need on Hathitrust (to which I don’t have access). UNDER COPYRIGHT. Seriously. No one but no one can justify that.

  9. Sci-hub is for me the reason that I can continue/pursue my “personal interest and investigation”. I’m active in chemistry and usually have access from work to every publication I’d need. But for everything related to the Classics, or Biblical Studies, they’d expect me to fork out a day’s salary for merely one article.

    This is an interesting article, I believe, especially the map (@^@ at Teh’ran 😉 ):

  10. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But the current situation must be transitory as it makes no sense.

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