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    Shadow Libraries and Pirate Infrastructures

    Eve, Martin Paul (2024) Shadow Libraries and Pirate Infrastructures. In: Liu, Alan and Pawlicka-Deger, Urszula and Smithies, James (eds.) Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities. University of Minnesota Press. (In Press)

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    Susan Leigh Star’s infrastructure principles famously include the characteristics of embeddedness, transparency, breadth of reach, and visibility on breakdown. However, our acclimatization to such architectures routinizes their presence such that, to study infrastructure, Star claims, is to study ‘boring things.’ Yet what happens when we assume that infrastructures must be free and therefore reframe paying for infrastructure as a ‘breakdown,’ as has happened with the open access movement to scholarly research? What new archives are emerging to take the place of the apparently broken, ‘boring things’ of legitimate scholarly publishing? And what might we glean from studying the pirate libraries of research? This chapter argues that we have much to learn from the so-called ‘shadow libraries’ of Sci-Hub, Library Genesis, and Memory of the World, each of which also seems to be an illegal enterprise in the eyes of copyright law. Providing access to the vast majority of the world’s research without permission, the lessons from these libraries are sociotechnical and span their discursive embeddedness to their technical architectures. The chapter examines the rhetoric of legality and legitimacy for these pirate archives, exploring the discursive contexts within which they situate themselves and within which they find themselves situated. This includes such diverse areas as appeals to the UN declaration of human rights to education, with a set of attendant data ethics, to the legacy of the term ‘shadow’ in heraldic imagery, where it refers to illegitimate family members. Even the terminologies of ‘archive’ – so contested already – and ‘library,’ let alone ‘pirate,’ confer various statuses of veridiction upon these infrastructures. The chapter next describes the technicalities of the infrastructures in question, examining their metadata frameworks, archive sizes, and scalability limits. Ranging from discussion of community-created backup torrent archives to future-envisaged de-centralization through IPFS, I also note the brazenly public nature of the spaces where these discussions occur. As such, these archives can serve, I here argue, as ‘archives of dissent,’ with cross-applicability to many more legitimate enterprises. The chapter closes by turning to the intersections of new, legal infrastructures with these pirate architectures, arguing that the shadow libraries’ shaping influence belies their name. For by implying their occlusion, we can miss the fact that their design principles are reflected upon our official research edifices, be that in the emergent concept of scholarly ‘megajournals’ or the open principles that are now more and more embedded in official discourse. The development of shadow libraries has forever altered the shape of our legitimate research systems.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Depositing User: Martin Eve
    Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2022 13:30
    Last Modified: 04 Apr 2024 17:48


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