Following complaints from a book association, various publishers and translators, the Bulgarian government has dismantled a popular literary resource in Bulgaria.
Chitanka.info was an online library that indexed both local and translated user-scanned and edited books, poetry and other literature. In addition to official titles, many works were uploaded by their creators. The site was a free resource and carried no advertising.
A few days ago the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVR) announced that an operation had been carried out against Chitanka by the Unit for Combating Organized Crime (GDBOP). The unit had been following up on complaints from the Bulgarian Book Association, Bulgarian Translators Alliance and various publishing houses.
According to the government, the site was run by “a six person criminal group” with a “strict hierarchy” located in various cities around the country and the site’s server had been found hidden in the roof of a public building in Sofia. They also claimed that the “gang” added around 600 books, dictionaries, textbooks and other literary works every month.
The police said that the free spreading of these works was damaging to Bulgarian culture and cost book publishing businesses millions of euros.
TorrentFreak spoke with individuals close to the site who disputed the tone and terminology used in the government statements.
“First, there was no such thing as an ‘six-person criminal group’,” one explained. “The registration of ‘uploaders’ on the site was free, and everyone could upload a book there (and I have also uploaded 2-3 short stories). Yes, it is true that there were some people who didn’t [provide] OCR-ed material, but only edited, OCR-ed books by others, but I can’t say in any way that this is a ‘strict hierarchy’.”
Also the claim that 600 works were uploaded every month appears to be an exaggeration. Although 625 were uploaded in January, subsequent months saw 144, 112, 260 and 280 uploaded.
The claim that the virtual library was damaging to Bulgarian culture was also contested.
“I can’t understand how any library can damage the the culture of any nation. And, as there are virtually no e-readers sold here, the only way to read the downloaded books, was on the monitors of PCs,” a Chitanka user told us.
“Anybody that has ever read a book on a screen knows that it isn’t very comfortable. So, lots of paper books have been bought, because when someone starts reading on the screen, likes the book, but is not comfortable, he goes to the book shop and buys it.”
Aside from complying with any takedown requests (we are informed that the site took down any books associated with complaints), there is a fairly detailed post to be found here which suggests that under current Bulgarian law, as an “altruistic library” Chitanka is perfectly legal.
A little later the main Chitanka.info domain was reinstated and now carries information about the ongoing situation which indicates that the owner of the site is bemused at the route taken by the authorities. Rather than pursue the civil route against the site, the authorities have immediately chosen to treat the case as criminal which gives them greater powers to easily shut down the site even before any legal process has deemed it illegal.
“In that way, the lawsuit will not matter,” said the site’s owner in a statement. “The devastation is done.”
In an interesting twist, in April this year Yavor Kolev, the chief of Bulgaria’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property unit, was given the “Knight of the Book” award by none other than the Bulgarian Book Association, the group which made the complaints about Chitanka to the authorities.
But, as usual, the Internet community has reacted to the perceived injustices in the best way they know how – by copying. A torrent has appeared on The Pirate Bay titled “Static version of chitanka.info as of 2010-05-24” which contains all of the material previously carried by Chitanka.
This archive was put to good use. After first buying the domain GDBOP.com (unfortunately the organized crime unit didn’t think to reserve it first) an unknown individual used the downloaded archive to reinstate the site. The archive has been spreading round quite quickly and is now accessible from several other domains.
“The site will resume its normal operations, except that it will be stronger and bigger than before,” a source close to the site operators told TorrentFreak. “There are plans for cooperations with authors and translators for e-book publishing.”