“A very special thanks to the wonderful people who created Gigapedia.com (whoever they are) – a website that saved me a few hundred trips to the library, and not to mention a small fortune. More power to such technology! “
These were words I excitedly typed in the acknowledgments section of my Master’s Thesis. At the end of a grueling year of research, when I thought of all the people who had made it possible for me to have completed a thesis, which I could well and truly say I was proud of, I only thought it appropriate to thank the nameless do-gooders who created Gigapedia – an online utility, so robust, so powerful and so generous, that I went from being a bibliophobe (at least when it came to research), to a hoarder bordering on the obsessive-compulsive. Gigapedia, to which I was introduced by my research guide, in no time became my one-stop shop for any idea that caught my fancy – be it counselling psychology, art therapy for recovering schizophrenics, the collected works of Sylvia Plath or the poems of Rumi in Arabic that made dear friends gasp ‘How on Earth did you manage to find this?’ Gigapedia for me was a gift that kept giving, a wild-card entry into a world of knowledge and high-culture that was hitherto inaccessible to me due to financial reasons; and each time a nagging query crept into my mind, I unfailingly headed straight to it.
Just like today – on a rather sluggish Friday morning, when footfalls were scarce owing to a public holiday, I received a call from my Head of Department calling me immediately to ‘The Fourteenth Floor’. Now an urgent call from the floor in question usually means ‘Drop everything you are doing and get up here immediately’, and I did just that, wondering all the way what task awaited me. And then, as if in a dream, a very senior figure in the management briefed me in very precise words “Some of our patients whose hospital stay has been prolonged require not only medication but counselling too, in order to make a recovery”. And just like that my skills were called upon to deal with some of the most complicated cases in the hospital. As someone who has been struggling to make elbow-room in a landscape dominated by specialists and super-specialists, the faith shown in my skill was a validation of my efforts. At the same time, I was well aware of the fact that I had to carefully plan my modus operandi before I started speaking to any of the patients. So, as always, nagging query in mind, I hurried to my workstation and typed out ‘Library.nu’ (the current DBA name of Gigapedia). But it wouldn’t load. Probably another name-change I thought to myself as I googled to check what was Gigapedia’s latest name. But what I saw was as this poignant piece on Kafila.org mentions ‘…a visceral experience of loss’.
Gigapedia had been shut down, by a collective of major publishing houses the world over – much like MegaUpload and BTjunkie which were wiped out by SOPA-PIPA-ACTA wave earlier this year. But while the arguments made in favor of blacking out Gigapedia were the same as those made to pull the other two abovementioned sites viz. loss of revenue and violation of intellectual property rights, shutting down Gigapedia was meant to make a statement to people like, and several others the world over, who feel the sharing of knowledge should be free and democratic, that any attempts to change the status quo will be quashed. This was not about revenues at all; after all what money can one expect to make from individuals who neither have access nor the wherewithal to legally purchase obscenely expensive scholarly research. In other words, broke students from developing nations have never been the target audience of the Elsevier’s and the Wiley’s of the publishing world. They have neither made any attempts to make their publications accessible to every curious mind that wishes to access them, nor have they ever wondered how a student like me who struggled to scratch together a fifteen thousand rupee term fee would afford to buy a text book priced at $ 39.99 plus shipping.
At the end of the day, the publishers consortium may have won this round, but their victory means that thousands like me who want to ‘know, argue, dispute, experiment and write just as those in the leading universities of the world do’ will now remain confined to the outdated, mildew-infested leather-bound tomes their local universities can afford. Makes me wonder how if Gigapedia was ‘illegal’ and ‘wrong’, is the world a poorer place without it?