Moving on


February 8, 2013 by marmadukerobida

Update : 02-12-2013, has been put down because “there is a court order against infringement of trademarks of the domain”. Even Dow Chemicals or the WTO did not go that far when the Yesmen launched or

It has been a bit more than a month that we have launched our spoof website The success has been more important than we could have expected (more than 1’000 unique visitors) and we are extremely pleased about it. Now it is time to look back, explain the reasons why we did that, and think about the next steps.

Why Public Domain is worth fighting for ?
We will not discuss this question a lot. Everything is in here. We are a bunch of scholars, librarians and citizens just mad at the current situation where a lot of heritage content belonging to mankind is trapped behind high paywalls. We are mad that some publishers think that this heritage content is theirs. We are mad that, unfortunately, some libraries have betrayed their primary goal, broad diffusion of knowledge, and help publishers build the paywalls (just look at what is currently happening in France).

Why Gale-Cengage ?
Because it was easy. We did not hack anything. We did not steal any password, we did not even use our own passwords. Gale’s principle about security seems to be “security through obscurity”. Well, it is probably a wrong principle. We first noticed urls like this one while looking at the source code of a Gale Cengage platform’s page (That was roughly 4 months ago, and we already had something in mind). We were amazed when we realized that we could access to this webpage without being authenticated. We were flabbergasted when we discovered spreadsheets showing record ids linked to bibliographical data (title, author, publication dates,…) on Gale’s official websites. We were blown away when we noticed that a small Python script could get a whole set of pictures without being stopped by Gale’s system.

Why a spoof website ?
We just love these guys, and we wanted to give “a fleeting glimpse of a parallel world in which one of the biggest gatekeepers turned into one of the biggest liberators overnight.”. We also wanted two things :

  • to get attention from a broad audience
  • to get attention from Gale

We thought that the best thing to do was to issue a “press release” and send it to people directly interested in Public Domain advocacy, the Open Knowledge Foundation Public Domain discussion list. We were sure that those clever folks had the connections to easily double-check what was written in it (and we sincerely apologize to people who thought we were making fun of them. It is exactly the opposite). And so our two goals were achieved. We got an article in the OKFN blog, then articles in several French blogs (like here or there – Merci !).

We were expecting Gale to strike back and were very interested in their reaction. First, they tried to intimidate our host by telling him that our spoof website was a phishing site. Our site was closed for a day but put online as soon as our host realized that there was not any phishing at all. Then, they got our twitter account @GCPublicDomain suspended (point is, we do not care). Finaly, they came with the only thing they could come with : trademark infringement and cybersquatting (of course, they did not come with copyright infringement because they just could not – hey, this is public domain content). Point is, we do not give a damn about the domain name we have bought for our spoof website and do not intend to sell it back to Gale. If they want it, we will give it to them. We have more important things to do.

What is next ?
After Aaron Swartz’s suicide, we decided to tell the truth everybody already knew and give a tribute to him. Now we have to convince people to join us and liberate public domain content.
There is this wonderful website called Our goal is to help people upload public domain content by providing lists, small scripts and recipes, but if you can improve these scripts, if you can give a better output (OCRed pdfs, for instance) then be our guest and let us know.
Of course, since this website is called “Public Domain Liberator” (based on JSTOR Liberator), you can expect that our scope goes beyond the content imprisoned by Gale… It is just a question of time. Meanwhile, you will find on this website the lists and scripts that were hosted on which is currently down (probably because another intimidation attempt towards our registrar).

“It’s time to […] declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.” Aaron Swartz. Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, 2008

RIP Aaron


2 thoughts on “Moving on

  1. dbourrion says:

    Hi – would be really interesting to get also the code for the bookmarklet of the Jstor Liberator (just to see how it works, i mean)

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