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Free scanned books are just piracy by another name



This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

There long has been a strand of Silicon Valley thought that declared that “information wants to be free.” It reached its zenith with the failed music-stealing site Napster. Google built an empire by freely, but legally, scraping intellectual content it didn’t create. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter did it one better by capitalizing on “user-generated” information for which they don’t pay a dime.

Book publishers are pushing back on the latest effort by presumptuous netizens. Four big publishers have sued the Internet Archive, an online group that scanned more than one million books and made them available for free. The Internet Archive rationalized that it’s okay to do so because folks can’t get to the library right now. Never mind that many libraries lend electronic copies of books—copies they pay for.

My allegiance is clear here. Two of the four leading publishers that brought the suit, Penguin Random House and Hachette, have published my books. And I’m a member of the Author’s Guild, which is supporting the litigation. Its president called the Internet Archive’s scheme of posting “copyrighted books without the consent of authors, without paying a dime … piracy hidden behind a sanctimonious veil of progressivism.”

Quite so.


Speaking of books and works of art worth paying for, I’ll briefly share, and in one case re-share, some recommendations, each of which might be helpful for those inclined to think quietly about race relations without scanning Twitter or turning on the news.

In December I shared that I had read Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, which I called “ a crushing, elegant, highly readable novel about racism in America.” It has since won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Just recently I finished watching the four-part HBO documentary The Defiant Ones about the producers Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. It’s really good, and if you don’t know the history of ’90s gangster rap, the story will be eye-opening and sadly relevant today. Finally, because I often like to read alongside a certain middle schooler, I’m currently reading, for the first time in about 40 years, To Kill A Mockingbird. The story was fresh in my mind because I saw the Broadway version last year. But it’s a trip to read Harper Lee’s witty dialogue and shockingly raw portrayal of racism.

Reading and watching aren’t the same as speaking out. But they can help with understanding.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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