Goodbye, mobileread.com

On 2014-01-05, I joined the mobileread forum. At that time, I just started to work on automated EPUB generators for texts in general and therefore appreciated that the people on the mobileread forum wasn’t entirely reader centered, but had also a fair share of technical discussion going on.

On 2015-04-03, somebody called Ranwhp asked in the German section of mobileread forums if there is a way to download all German titles of the Patricia Clark Memorial Library at once, which led me to look into it. The Patricia Clark Memorial Library is a collection of e-books uploaded by mobileread members and hosted by the mobileread operators. Patricia Clark was one of the uploaders which passed away, and in memory of her, the collection was named after her. The collection has no real stewardship nor curation except what’s required by law and forum rules, which is why I would hesitate to call it a library. The individual uploaders take care of their own uploads only as long as they’re still interested in them and the licenses vary from Public Domain over Creative Commons BY-SA-NC (nonfree) to all rights reserved and used on mobileread with special, non-transferable permission, rendering the work of the contributors and the collection as a whole pretty useless for anything other than personal entertainment.

For a downloader tool, such considerations were irrelevant, of course, so I started to develop one in order to help out Ranwhp and save him from hours of manually downloading every single file. I myself did not have an interest in the ebooks themselves as I mostly do not read for entertainment purposes, I was primarily motivated by experimenting with client programming and EPUBs as found in the wild, to automatically read and transform them with code. The high quality of the XHTML page source code generated by mobileread’s forum software made it quite easy to follow the links and retrieve the actual ebooks, which is a good thing.

On 2015-05-01, I released the first version of my mobileread_wiki_ebook_list_downloader1 (md5sum eff1b8a28a0a9af8f6d5982cf7150ca8). In my post from that day, I pointed out that automatic downloads could be considered to be a denial-of-service attack and conflicting with the mobileread terms of use, which I tried to avoid right from the beginning by an enormous delay of 5 seconds between each download, making the client a very friendly, cooperating client in contrast to some rogue crawlers out there on the web. As far as I can tell, this was perfectly well for mobileread staff.

On 2015-05-11, Ranwhp provided his report on running my client: after 10 hours and 52 minutes, a total of 2728 files were downloaded with a zipped size of 1.8 Gigabyte. One day later, Ranwhp posted a link to Google drive where it was possible to download the Zip archive, which on one hand did not consider the legal obligations of the restrictive licensing of many titles from that collection, while on the other hand such an archive would save a lot of bandwith and server resources for mobileread. I immediately notified Ranwhp about the legal problems which might come with some of the ebooks, and he disabled the download link shortly thereafter. Until this point, no other member of the forum joined our conversation, and as they did, they raised concerns about the legal status in a friendly manner at first. Because of undiplomatic answers, lack of knowledge about copyright law and the assumption that the Patricia Clark Memorial Library would be 100% in the Public Domain, things escalated quickly, as uploaders saw their rights violated. What followed was a long conversation about why a local, full copy of the library would make sense and about the legal status of the collection, which are strange questions to discuss on a website about electronic reading. Some posts were quite constructive, other authors made clear that their approach towards media is set up in a way that prevents everything else from happening.

This incident with the uploaders however didn’t affect the downloader software at all, so I continued development and started other controversial threads about the technical quality of the collection. Then, for a long time, silence. On 2016-09-29, Ranwhp revived the original thread and published a link to MR-eBook-Downloader, another downloader for German titles of the mobileread collection. Again, I immediately mentioned that the developer of this tool should better have a delay in place between each download, so mobileread server resources won’t get used excessively. One day later, the entire thread was deleted without any explaination.

I asked mobileread staff to provide an explaination or to restore the thread, but until now I did not receive an answer. Therefore I decided today to leave mobileread and not look at their stuff again. I’m not angry or something, it’s more that I’m utterly confused about what happened to that thread after all this time, and I don’t like that my time invested into posting goes to waste within the blink of an eye. For me, this is another glaring example for the broken web we inhabit, and that technology can never be better than what the mentality of people is prepared to allow it to be.

skreutzer

Autor: skreutzer

http://www.skreutzer.de/about.html

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