Mitochondrial Vertigo

April 24, 2010

Macmillan and Mark Taylor to take down AAAARG.org?

Putting the Documents Back in the Castle?

Sub Specie Aeterni reported that the academic freedom, file sharing website AAAARG.org was taken down under the threat of legal action by a Mark Taylor. AAAARG.org is basically the Napster of published intellectual essays and books. Because there is no internet resource for this story we wondered for a time if professor of religion Mark C. Taylor had become the Lars Ulrich of academic thought. It turns out NOT to be the case. Instead, it seems safe to conclude that it was anti-piracy officer Mark Taylor, come to Macmillan publishing from the music industry. He is looking to apply the lessons learned in music publishing and piracy to books and essays an in the interest of this model it was apparently he who threatened the action. You can hear him speak on the general issue at the May 5th 2010 UCL Publisher’s Seminar (for a nominal non-member fee of £92.00):

Mark Taylor, newly arrived at Macmillan from the music business, will explore how the music industry’s experience of piracy could inform publishing’s anti-piracy strategies.

• What parallels are there between the music and publishing

worlds? What could publishing avoid and what should it adopt from the music industry’s example?

• What pointers are there within publishing to future

AAAARG.org has been the lone positive whole-text source for texts that allows intellectual work outside of the highly commercialized restrictions of JSTOR and other academic monopolies of intellectual creations. Unlike the music industry, many if not most of these intellectual products are produced through State – that is the public’s – non-profit funding. UC Davis is not Capitol Records. I am not prepared to argue against the absolute unethical nature of copyrighting and gatekeeping academic intellectual products and resources, but the manner in which academic institutions have become primarily recursively organized text producing (and text consumer) factories is decidedly problematic on a number of ethical levels, many of which call into the question the substance of those products themselves, and thus ultimately the service that colleges and universities offers to our society.

This threatened legal attack on AAAARG.org is vastly under-reported among the electronic para-academic types who likely relied on its freedoms, and deserves at the very least our notice. Though I did not personally use the service, its existence was applauded by many whose work was no doubt of value. Macmillan seems to be quite busy organizing its electronic publishing assets, perhaps much of this having sometime to do with its recent partnership with Apple’s iPad. Just think about it. One day you can be paying for my essays in order to have the luxury of reading them on the subway on a device and services you have purchased from Apple. Who said academia isn’t looking up?

Update: Adrian over at Immanence in comments reports that the site is functioning as of now, without hint of a dust up. Curious.

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33 Comments »

  1. [...] Full article at blog: Macmillan and Mark Taylor take down AAAARG.org [...]

    Pingback by Mark Taylor Takes Down AAAARG.org « Frames /sing — April 24, 2010 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

  2. k – The site seems to be operating now. I just tried to test whether texts are available for download, and they are. The Arg Dot Org Facebook group also doesn’t seem to be reporting anything amiss. Could this be an announced intention (without effect, so far) by Macmillan and M. Taylor? Or could it be the beginning of a cat-and-mouse game, where the site will be going down and coming back up again?

    Comment by Adrian Ivakhiv — April 25, 2010 @ 1:21 am | Reply

  3. Interesting. I was following Sub Species’ report as it is not a site I have used. Worth following.

    Comment by kvond — April 25, 2010 @ 1:36 am | Reply

  4. Hey guys, the site is “up,” although not functioning in the same way as before. In the past, their entire library was available for direct download. All one had to do was click on a title that interested him/her and then click on a yellow link that downloaded the text directly to one’s computer. Now, however, since this issue has come to the fore they have had to switch to alternative measures. Basically, the community has come together and decided to find alternative source-sites where they can upload, store, and share the majority of the material. It’s not quite the same, but at least the material is (mostly) available.

    That said, the previous format of aaaarg was the best model I’ve seen for open access academic literature. There were no download limits. The titles were in great condition (for the most part). It was simply convenient. Well, I guess I won’t complain too much… even though I long for the days of complete open access material :)

    Comment by Austin — April 25, 2010 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

  5. So Austin,

    The site was “down” and now has been modified and is back up? Or I misunderstood your complaint in the first place, and it was only a case of convenience? A few questions too. Why was there no social media discussion of what has been going on (Adrian said the FB site was mum)? Where should one go to get information on what exactly has happened and is happening?

    Comment by kvond — April 25, 2010 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  6. I probably wasn’t as specific as I should have been. The site was never “taken down.” The ability to download material was merely frozen for a couple days; that is, until the aaaarg community got together to figure out how to keep access to the material open – which they did by simply using external hosting sites. I guess after Mark Taylor contacted the site administrators, they suspended the ability for anyone to download any material. This may have only lasted for a couple days though. Since then, the site administrators, as well as the myriad of people who use the site (both uploaders and downloaders), have been discussing alternative means of providing access to the material on the site’s discussion board: http://a.aaaarg.org/discussion/12427/going-underground

    My initial complaint was not merely a matter of convenience, although now the latter is my primary beef. My initial reaction was due to the site’s material being completely inaccessible (although that only lasted for a couple days, during which time I wrote my blog post). That the aaaarg library of resources is no longer inaccessible is a newish development. So, in short, the site is functioning currently, but only after some people got together to figure out alternative measures.

    Comment by Austin — April 25, 2010 @ 7:10 pm | Reply

  7. [...] The End of Aaaarg.org? Posted on May 29, 2010 by stuartelden Aaaarg does’t exist – so says their webpage. The academic fileshare site was starting to get ‘cease and desist’ letters from publishers, and then apparently Mark Taylor of Macmillan went for them. His experience in the music industry apparently helped in the task. Fuller report here. [...]

    Pingback by The End of Aaaarg.org? | Progressive Geographies — May 29, 2010 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  8. [...] from other blogs that one Mark Taylor of Macmillan Publishing has threatened with legal action before, and now again, somewhat more successfully it would appear. Here an interview with aaaarg architect [...]

    Pingback by Urgh! AAAARG dead? « transversalinflections — May 29, 2010 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  9. Terrible!!!! Is anyone aware of any efforts to counter this and bring the site back. I am ready to sign one petition after another. Just let me know where!!!!!

    Comment by asen3000 — May 29, 2010 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

  10. Honestly, when I first started posting on this I really expected a social media response. Facebook, Twitter and the whatnot. But it seems that academic and para-academic interests, even those that file share, are not that social media conscious.

    Comment by kvond — May 29, 2010 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

  11. I thought there will be a public or, at least, academic outcry! Alas this was the only blog post I found about it on the internet. Terrible! At least a petition or something.

    Comment by asen3000 — May 29, 2010 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

    • I know, there are a few others which I linked and commented on, but almost nothing. But you know it is what they say, You politically get what you ask for. Perhaps MacMillan has it right. These are just a bunch guys that want content and want very little to invest in nurturing it. It is just this sort of thing that cries out to be monetized.

      Comment by kvond — May 29, 2010 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

  12. Of course there will be a response to this, there will be a reaction and there will be a come back. I think people haven’t yet realised what happened. Do you know how many times I go on line since I stopped getting AAAARG updates,hoping to find someone like you confirming the problem? There are so many of us who advanced and got around to actually producing something in some God forsaken land where the concept of a library hasn’t even come to exist? I feel that there are so many thankful people around that thanks to AAAARG feel back in the game of active knowledge it is bound to to turn things around. Don’t lose heart kvond. It’s pretty basic stuff, this is way too good for people not to care it goes away. Have some faith.

    Comment by maria spanudakis — May 31, 2010 @ 12:34 am | Reply

  13. aaarg. themselves showed almost no awareness or intent on how to respond. When I first got wind of the story I hunted and hunted to even find the barest of details of the Macmillian threat. I finally got directed to the super secret (hard to find) forum thread that was even discussing it. The point of the matter is that there is NO conscious conversation on the matter, in a medium where conversation on even the most trivia drives connections.

    Its not that there is no “faith” or “heart” but rather the realization that there is something less than what is “ideal” in what is driving both aaaar.org itself or its content use.

    It could very well be that institutional academia has separated enough of the obedient wheat from the creative and liberated chaff.

    Comment by kvond — May 31, 2010 @ 12:43 am | Reply

  14. It could very well be kvod. I don’t know what AAAARG.ORG motives could have been. Last night “immanence”
    was saying this:
    “Digital death, however, is rarely total or eternal, and arg-ists at the Facebook group (find it yourself) appear to be awaiting instructions about the next incarnation. Red-robed monks are scouring the electronic Himalayas searching for the child manifesting the correct signs. An unusual alignment of stars can be expected to announce the next location.”

    It could be that they want to figure out a solution without exposing themselves. Never underestimate what creative and liberated chaff can do.If there is some involved, that is. I realise I might be coming out as a naive idealist soon to join you in your disenchanted state. If they are out for the money we’ll see that soon enough. But I have fished out some shared files last night following threads that I found thanks to you, read some posts and wait patiently to see what will happen. I could go by for years before figuring out a way to download Haneke’s White Ribbon or a certain piano sonata by Haydn but those articles and essay collections, man I will come out of my stupor any time in order to nurture my own content and I don’t feel a minority.Thank’s for keeping us posted.

    Comment by maria spanudakis — May 31, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Reply

    • p.s. thanks for directing me to Immanence, I haven’t had a look over there for a bit.

      Comment by kvond — May 31, 2010 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

  15. Yes. Its nice that the digital monks are scouring for signs, but unfortunately that is not really how the world changes unless you are expecting a messiah. Yes, the Facebook group is a find it yourself group. Its the French underground, meeting in the alley-ways and warehouses of the internet.

    BUT.

    If indeed there are profound and social issues at stake under questions of liberty and the property of thought. IF academic text-weavings are not merely for-institution and for-self commercial products. IF the entire ideology of humanities progress means anything in this event. Why in the hell are people not talking about it, reading about it, arguing about it, theorizing about it, inspired to books about it? I mean the users of these texts are ACADEMICS? And they are bloggists! They are at least internet savvy enough to have FOUND aaaarg.org, and to have downloaded files. Hello? My point is not merely that people who are attached to all sorts of media tubes and frames haven’t protested this in some sort of Macmillan BAD, Aaaaarg.org GOOD! chant. Its that the events have spawned NO discussion. NO thinking (aside from the little cadre of resistors who were thinking tactics and strategies against Macmillan). This leads me to feel that these theoretical sorts that go on line in one way or other in order to theorize, have no SUBSTANTIVE relationship to aaaarg.org and what it stands for. A better way to say this, a more common way to say this, they don’t care. And when people don’t care about the issues or ideas or principles around something this is the perfect place for monetizing action. Macmillan is right. These people really would prefer to have rights to intellectual, largely institution-generated thoughts, corporately owned and read on Ipads. Hell, they might even get a little piece of the action one day. That’s what all the training in the monastic houses is for, is it not?

    So yes, maybe it is a worthy symbolizing act to quietly wait for Aaaarg.org to reappear in some new incarnation. To see the shining lights of Becoming crest out on the horizon, at the specific risks and invention of the irrepressible human spirit. And too, maybe once the BP geyser has exhausted itself, “life” will reappear, salting the oily waters with life. Let’s just let it run its course.

    Comment by kvond — May 31, 2010 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

  16. I was among the silent majority who enjoyed AAAARG. This is sad news, there is a real need for such a fountain of knowledge available to all.

    Comment by louis — May 31, 2010 @ 6:09 pm | Reply

    • But Louis, is it not less a “real need” for a thing (like a fountain you can sip from), but more a “real need” for a CONCEPT of such a fountain? That is to say, is there need for a rigorous theory of such a relationship to knowledge as fountain, and the political will and action to create and protect it?

      I mean, if 1 out of every 100 people that used Aaaarg.org exercised their theoretical powers, the powers that lead them to the site in the first place, AS IF what happens to theoretical knowledge once it is produced mattered, there would have been an on-line wave of intellectual property rights discussion across the blogo-sphere, a conceptual framework (and human capital investment) upon which any action could have grafted itself as meaningful.

      Instead, the commercial products called “intellectual texts” have the social value of Britney Spears songs. In Law they are being equated (the Macmillan attack is on the music industry model), and in real life they are being equated. Users (that is what they are “users”) are just bummed that they have to pay for this pleasurable stuff now. As long as texts are merely “pleasurable stuff” in fact people like Macmillan (to be oxymoronic about it) have every right to try to monetize this relationship.

      I want my MTV! Has become “I want my Zizek!”

      Comment by kvond — May 31, 2010 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

  17. You have a strong and disquieting point kvond, yes there should have been a strong intellectual upheaval, and there is always a tangible danger of banalisation, trivialisation, consumption of anything put forward in abundance, a sort of levelling allowing for superficial accumulation. Interchangeable dispensable things, songs, movies, texts. Maybe there is such a species that likes piling up sexy fashionable text,because it’s there and it’s free maybe there are those who use AAAARG as an outlet to advertise themselves hoping as you say to be let in on the long coveted academic/financial/publishing action. Some energy ought to have been spent by now in defence of access to a fountain of knowledge and liberty of thought. You are right to be outraged if they don’t care, you are right trying to figure out why it’s so quiet around. I will give the monk metaphor a rest even though I really like it and it’s not Messiah, it is the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, thank you very much. Britney and Slavoj could successfully fuse in more than one aspects and even make up for a hell of a title for an essay on desire, but there was some timeless awe inspiring pages going around in that platform some serious intellectual challenges some genuine vanguard thought. If your safe and comfortable elite allows for text to be equated with pop music then it must be in the badly lit alleyways and warehouses of the internet that knowledge is cherished and will be vindicated. In a minute I will be downloading(…) La Marseillaise for you. And I am not saying let it run it’s course. Keep yelling and I will yell with you.

    Comment by maria spanudakis — May 31, 2010 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

    • I guess I should add that I fail to see the distinction for those awaiting a Messiah, and those awaiting a new Dalai Lama. In either case one is just plain waiting and searching for signs.

      Unless one is enacting one’s beliefs through the fullness of one’s comprehension as best you might..what are you doing?

      Comment by kvond — May 31, 2010 @ 11:04 pm | Reply

  18. I don’t really want yelling, I want discussion, thumos-enriched, mind-honed discussion. But to say that one wants others to “care” with all their powers of discernment is a bit of a humorless joke. You don’t make others care, or even invite them to care. They have already invested what they have in the process, it already means what it means to them. Unfortunately the way that they feel about THOSE texts is likely quite close to how they feel about their own texts so produced. Commodities to be trafficked, traced and found.

    http://www.dancohen.org/2010/05/27/open-access-publishing-and-scholarly-values/

    All I say is that once all the Harvard freshmen are doled out their personal free-with-tuition Ipads, and are reading the Macmillan texts with seamless fluidity of reach and convenience, this issue will have sufficiently disappeared.

    I do appreciate your thoughts Maria.

    Comment by kvond — May 31, 2010 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

  19. Well, I do have faith and I really hope for a comeback.

    The site was one of the most valuable resources for advanced scholarly research out there. I am speaking from the perspective of a graduate student, but I doubt that anyone can argue that.

    Libraries are slow and outdated; http://www.jstor.org/ is way above my budged.

    Great day for liberal democracy, hopes and dreams of emancipation and a better world. And all that under the pretext of intellectual ‘property’ protection. Great!

    Comment by asen3000 — June 1, 2010 @ 7:26 pm | Reply

  20. Well, the question of “value” is an interesting one.

    If the site was valuable, Macmillan is trying to put a “value” on it.

    If the site was valuable, how come people invested in “advanced scholarly research” value it only to the degree that they are bummed that it is gone?

    The issue of value seems to fall within the parameter: $$$ > bummed

    Comment by kvond — June 1, 2010 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  21. Kvond, I didn’t get back to you because I was busy forwarding my pdfs and those who received them this morning, sent me the news AAAARG is back!
    I don’t have enough time to develop what I was going to tell you about how we often blame philosophy of coming up with concepts way too late its contemplative essence being so slow, Foucault called it the all too easy clarity of hindsight.
    And the site you referred me to open access publicity and scholarly values led me to a response that argues successfully why scholars don’t read but very little. “http://lenz.unl.edu/wordpress/?p=190″
    You have my esteem for your thymos enriched mind honed reaction.

    Comment by maria spanudakis — June 2, 2010 @ 6:49 am | Reply

    • It is good that aaaarg is back in some form or another, but I suppose I am more interested in the investments that surround it, and less it’s existence per se. That is just the Spinozist in me.

      I would like to have more clarity on your point about the clarity of hindsight and how we blame “philosophy” but I would rather not talk in huge generalities like “philosophy” but of specifics, like: If what I do for a living or preoccupation is theorize in response to the world, when an event in the world happens that I supposedly care about deeply, why is my response not a serious theoretical one?

      If Foucault can answer that in the context of corporate intellectual property rights, I would like to hear it.

      I do look forward to reading your thoughts on scholars and reading.

      Comment by kvond — June 2, 2010 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

    • Your article on non-reading convinces me more than ever that scholarly labor is doing its work to a near perfection level, institutions emptily, and AUTOPOIETICALLY, producing texts that reproduce texts, and producing text writers (semi-automated weavers) who themselves produce more text writers (students funneled into institutions, who also funnel in huge sums of federal grant and loan moneys). That reading has to be a part of this functionality is almost an unfortunate side-effect. Everything seems to be working a prime frictionless fashion. Whoever said there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine?

      Comment by kvond — June 5, 2010 @ 12:45 am | Reply

  22. It’s back? Where?

    Comment by darien — June 2, 2010 @ 7:09 am | Reply

  23. Does anyone have info on how to access this site.Thanks a mil.

    Comment by ind — June 8, 2010 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  24. [...] the Mitochondrial Vertigo blog on the shameful campaign against one of the Web’s greatest ever resources, aaaarg.org (along [...]

    Pingback by aaaarg.org Taken Down : John Connell: The Blog — June 21, 2010 @ 11:11 am | Reply

  25. still looking…. :(

    Comment by artemis — July 12, 2010 @ 1:41 am | Reply

  26. AArg was an amazing resource to those of us struggling to get access to publications. JSTOR and others are vastly overpriced resources, often of out of copyright articles from magazines that are no longer held by public libraries. Many libraries have dumped their collections of books and journals on the assumption that the interweb thingy would allow access to this work, but in this we have been sadly disappointed. As a publisher I have no problem with the concept of copyright. What I do struggle with is the high profit margins on what should be open access – ie out of copyright – material

    Comment by barb drummond — October 17, 2011 @ 10:40 am | Reply


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