This Internet Revolution Is Tangible

Old discs, made redundant by new digital technology, are being adopted by music lovers.

Hundreds of discs have had good reason to cheer up over the last two weeks. After years in dark, dusty drawers, lying forgotten, they are now being played repeatedly on home stereo systems by new owners who appreciate them. Directly responsible for the change in these discs' fortune is War of Liberation (Milhemet Hashihrur), the new forum of the music review site The Blind Server (Hasharat Ha'iver), which encourages surfers to set free the albums they no longer listen to and to give them to other surfers who actually want them.

Several weeks ago, Shai Barash, a regular devotee of the music review site, decided to get rid of dozens of old discs taking up coveted space in his library. He admitted to himself that he no longer listens to them and no longer needs them, and suddenly realized that other surfers might actually be interested in them. Without thinking about the possible ramifications of this step, he entered the general forum of the Blind Server and posted a notice under the heading "Giving is knowing that you will receive (everyone wins the lottery)."

Barash, who is known on the site by the moniker "Hametargem Hazo'em" (the irate translator), listed 30 discs that he was willing to give to whoever was interested and invited his friends on the forum to come and get them. "I'm willing to give away each of the following albums, for free, so long as the people who take them really spin them just as I did," he wrote. He imposed only one condition: The recipient has to say thank you.

"People on the forum were very excited and really jumped on the offer," says Barash. "Within an hour and a half, all the discs were claimed. Whoever wanted a disc contacted me, and we arranged how to transfer the disc." Following the enthusiastic responses and several conversations with Guy Hajaj, the manager of the site, they decided to set up a forum devoted to disc giveaways. Within a few days, the new forum, War of Liberation, surfaced on the Web site. In the two weeks since then, visitors to the forum have happily shared hundreds of albums with anyone who asks.

Laws of brotherhood

"Just like books exist to be read, discs are meant to be listened to. Discs that have not been played for years are just another bit of decoration. Free the discs from the prison of your shelf, let them fulfill their true destiny, to bring enjoyment to the ears of others," the forum's opening statement urges. Barash, who was appointed the site manager, lists the rules: All discs are to be handed over free of charge, the discs are originals (and not burned copies) and under no circumstances may payment be requested, not even for delivery costs.

The spirit of cooperation infusing the new forum is reminiscent of days long gone, when Web surfers of the world united and the scent of revolution arose from keyboards all over the world. Then it was Napster that enabled people to share their favorite music with complete strangers, free of charge, and engendered a new world devoted to cooperation and fraternity. Today, after years of legal battles in which representatives of the recording and film companies jammed sticks into the wheels of the revolution, it seems that War of Liberation is offering a new variation of file sharing: The legally purchased discs here replaced copied files, and it seems that no attorney can put an end to the festivities this time.

"You can find lots of forums for swapping discs on the Web, but there aren't any that are dedicated to free handovers," Ya'ara Ranan, 21, of Ganei Yehuda, says enthusiastically. "I love the spirit of giving in the forum. At first, however, I wasn't sure that this is what I wanted to do, because I thought to myself, I bought these discs with my own money and why would I suddenly give them away? But after I posted a notice that I want to give away a few discs, I felt very good. It was fun for me to feel that I'm giving away something just like that, that I'm freeing myself of all these possessions that I'd accumulated. In the end, I also received from others more or less the same number of discs that I'd given away."

Until now, Ranan has offered 13 discs, of which 10 have already been claimed. Two of the listeners came to her house to pick up the discs, she mailed four other discs to their new owners, and the rest will arrive at their new homes in the coming days. The handover ceremonies, it turns out, somehow evoke additional gestures of generosity from the parties involved. "One of the people who came to collect a disc lives in Beit Shemesh," says Ranan. "On Friday night he was in Givat Shmuel and notified me that he would come to pick up the disc. He hitchhiked the whole way, but after a while realized that he got mixed up and went to Or Yehuda instead of Ganei Yehuda. So he hitched another ride and managed in the end to reach me and get the disc. After all that, I just offered to drop him off somewhere central." Renen Solciner, a 24-year-old musician living in London, discovered the forum and was captivated. Apparently, from London things look even more impressive: "It's one of the miracles that's happened in Israel," he says decisively. "I send discs from here to people and I don't care that it costs me money. The purpose is nice and I know that if I see some disc on the forum that I want, people will gladly send it to me. I believe this is just the beginning and that later on people will also liberate DVDs and books."

If he goes out to stroll the streets of London, Solciner is likely to bump into another Israeli, Uri Bruchin, who can tell him that the dream of liberated books has been a reality for some time now. Bruchin, 31, who moved to London around a month ago after receiving a job offer, is an enthusiastic member of the site, which encourages members to "liberate" books after they've finished reading them - so that others may enjoy them - and enables them to track their books' journeys.

A system of book liberation

The system is simple. Every book has a sticker affixed to it with a serial number. The numbers are listed on the Web site, which urges anyone who takes a book to report this. The borrowers are asked to liberate books once they've finished reading them, so that new owners can be found. This way they can enjoy a book that they didn't have to pay for and can also become part of a cooperative, warm and supportive community. The site, set up in 2001 by American Ron Hornbaker, today has some 424,000 registered users worldwide, and its operators boast that the term bookcrossing has become so widespread that last year it merited an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Bruchin, who has liberated no fewer than 256 books in Israel, is also a participant in the Israeli bookcrossing forum, which opened six weeks ago on the Tapuz site. Compared to War of Liberation, activity on this forum seems very sparse. Bruchin responds: "It's not fair to compare the two forums. The disc forum has the benefit of the regular surfers on the Blind Server, whereas the book liberation forum is just a small commune on Tapuz that people still don't know exists." A review of the general bookcrossing site indicates that indeed the status of book liberation here is apparently better than it seems based on the forum - last week, 649 Israelis registered there.

Much like the disc liberators on the Blind Server site, Bruchin relates that one fine day he realized that his book shelves were filled with dozens of books that he would probably never read again. A random visit to the bookcrossing site clarified for him what he really wanted to do about it.

"Some of my friends thought I'd lost it," he admits. "If I'm already going to liberate books, they asked, why record them on the Internet? But for a control freak like me, liberating books in a controlled manner, so that I could know what happened to them, gave me a very good feeling."

"I'm basically a collector who's been rehabilitated," Bruchin says of himself with a smile. "For me these aren't just objects, these are important things. I was worried that people would find the books I'd liberated, keep them in their collections and not pass them on, so I put large stickers on them and relied on the fact that they'd be very embarrassed if someone found them with the book and saw the sticker."

Bruchin, who is one of the founders of a concept site for digital culture, explains that the bookcrossing phenomenon is especially interesting "because the principles of cooperation and openness that are typical of intellectual property on the Internet, are applied to physical objects in bookcrossing." He believes that it is a phenomenon that is spreading, growing and gaining momentum, like an avalanche, and dares to predict that within two years, Israel will be ranked among the leading countries in the field of book liberation.