Thursday, September 22, 2005

Copyright Copyfight

In today's world of digital media and the WWW, I find it fascinating to follow the two ends of the copyright issue debate: those seeking to keep the laws and restrict access to their work through strict copyright laws, and those seeking to expand access to their work and change copyright laws.

The first group took action today:

From The Book Standard - Authors Guild Sues Google
After an ongoing battle between publishers, authors and Google over the search engin's right to digitize copyrighted material, a formal lawsuit has been filed against the company. The Authors Guild, [...] alleging that Google, which is making copyrighted material publicly accessible through its Google Print for Library program, is "engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense and rights of individual writers."
"It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied."

The Guild, which represents more than 8,000 authors, [...] are seeking an injunction to stop the search engine from further infringement as well as damages.
A more comprehensive article about the lawsuit can be found here.

The second group, with Cory Doctorow as its most prominent speaker, seeks to reform copyright laws.

From Doctorow's interview with Worldchanging -
Copyfight is the broad banner to describe people who are fighting for reforms to intellectual property -- trademarks, patents, copyrights and what are called "related rights" (broadcast rights and so on).

WIPO -- the World Intellectual Property Organization -- is the UN's most captive agency. WIPO was originally a stand-alone organization, essentially an industry consortium for rightsholders' interests, and they got brought in under the umbrella of the UN thirty or so years ago, with the understanding that they would change their practices to make them consistent with other UN instruments like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights -- humanitarian instruments -- and that it would become a humanitarian agency for development.
The choice is not simply one of piracy or monopoly. There is a whole rich middle ground of public domain and open information regimes which could give developing world countries the tools they need to serve humanitarian purposes, while protecting the legitimate interests of authors, performers and inventors. WIPO could have created a global knowledge goods regime which protected both the commercial and the humanitarian fairly.

More resources on the matter Electronic Frontier Foundation.

You can also check out one of my earlier posts on the matter Writers Unionizing and Free Books

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Cavan said...

As you can probably tell by the fact that my novel is available as a free download on my site - I'm firmly in the Doctorow camp.

IMO, there's nothing to be gained by restricting access to books, save for a few extra bucks for the author. Frankly, though, I think the potential to develop a wider base of readers outweighs any monetary setbacks.

Melly said...

Cavan, I definitely think there is room for change. You know, progress and all that, but I don't know if completely free is the answer either. I'm still trying to figure it all out.
Putting his books for free on the web worked for Doctorow and for a few others but I doubt it would work for everybody, and if writing is your profession then you'd better make money off it.
So I'm still hearing the arguments at this point.

Cavan said...

Let me modify my argument - I think this is something (ie. offering free books) that works well for novelists. Why? Well, we all want to curl up with a good book.

Besides, if you're a novelist who's lucky enough to have writing as a full-time profession, chances are you've "made it" and won't be hurting for the extra bit of cash allowing free electronic downloads will cost you.

Jennifer said...

This reminds me of the 'music' downloading delimma that's still going on.

I think this is a bit more complicated. I can see Cavan's argument of offering novels. I think a lot of it depends on what type information is being offered. I can see how certain people wouldn't want their work to be 'free'. I guess I'm kind of split.

Wow you've got me thinking now Melly!

Melly said...

True, if you're a novelist living off your writing, then you probably "made it," and offering the book online might increase exposure.
And what if you're a starting novelist?
Putting your novel online might jeopardize sales to publishing houses. You might get good exposure and a sale of a subsequent novel, but until then you've made zero dollars on your book.
On the other hand, a first novel that rarely sales so using it to get exposure is a good tactic.
Oh boy.

Melly said...

Good point Jennifer. It is similar to the music industry, and the photographers and other artists whose artwork can be found online.

I'm with you, still listening to all sides.

Cavan said...

I don't know about putting an unpublished novel online - that's a stretch even for me (of course, John Scalzi sold a novel that way, so it can be done). Anyhow, I think it works best if your electronic download is available only after you've been published. That way, the e-version can act as a try-before-you-buy type of thing.

Cavan said...

Sorry to clog up your comment boards here, but speaking of John Scalzi, he's just posted his view on the Google case. As always he and his commenters make for good reading.

Gina said...

you should really read "THE MOUSE THAT ATE THE PUBLIC DOMAIN"

Very interesting reading on how "steam boat willy" (aka mickey mouse)and his friends are keeping things out of public domain and how artist work of public domain.

Gina said...

try this

ME Strauss said...

You all have good points. This really is a difficult argument--defintely well set in the gray, not the black and white.

As a writer who is the primary bread winner of my family and who writes a check to Georgetown every month for more than three times my house payment . . . it makes me a little itchy. Most writers who have published five or six books only make 415k or so per book. That's not really a lot. I do a lot of "work-for-hire" to make the money I do.

Tonight I gave away some things on the blog . . . they're not going to make me rich. But each time I do, I wonder if I'm doing it at the expense of my family.

Melly said...

Scalzi, that's who I was thinking of. Thanks for reminding me. I had it at the tip of...
I'll go check out the link.
Good stuff.

I think, if it works on shareware, then why not on books? Is that what you're saying?

ps. clog away ;)

Melly said...

Gina, thanks for the link. I'll be sure to check it out. I like the title :)

Liz, what do you mean "only 415k per book"? 'Cause that sure sounds like a pretty handsome sum to me.
I view the stuff I write in my blog as sort of practice. Besides, it's very different from fiction, but I know you write non-fiction right?

Lee Carlon said...

It is a very interesting topic, and I'm glad you posted about.

I'm usually all for anything google does, they seem to have a lot of good ideas about a lot of things, but Google print really ticks me off.

They've decided to put everything up in Google Print and have stated that if authors wish to opt out all they have to do is tell them.

Personally I think it should be up to google to gain permission for what they are doing, not the other way around.

I actually think giving away novels would be a great way to gain exposure, particularly if you were giving away the first in a series, but it should be the author and the publishers choice not googles.

Melly said...

Lee, I'm the opposite. It's been a long time since I've been in favour of anything that Google does (even though I use a lot of their services). Little by little Google is starting to behave like Microsoft (only with better product).

I abhor negative options, being at the other side of them a few times, which is what Google does, it is also, probably, an infringement of *currrent* copyright laws, but I'm no lawyer.

As for the authors, they also got a bit too excited, because, if I recall correctly, I don't think it's Google's intention to show all the work, but parts of it relevant to a search. This will gain authors exposure.

Eric Mutta said...

In the software world we have a counter-part of the "free book" issue, only there they call it "open source". What you have is a bunch of guys writing software in their free time, then giving it away for free, complete with the source code (the instructions to the computer) so end-users can change the software as they see fit. The caveat is that if you make changes and enhancements, you must return the source code to the community.

The opposite is "closed source" where users get a closed program that they cannot change by themselves.

The battle between open and closed source has been waged for a long time (as far back as the 60s, maybe even earlier) but there's no clear winner. Different people prefer different things and the model that works for someone depends on their exact needs and budget.

I will stand on either side of the fence depending on what I want to achieve. I've always known I could write, but it's only recently that I've considered doing it professionaly. Right now, all my writing experiments are available online at no cost. I'm still tuning the radio so to speak, still finding the perfect broadcast frequency for the ideas I have in mind. Once I know that frequency I'll look to getting published, because every man eventually has to pay his bills. However even after being published, some things (mainly short stories) will remain free.

In closing, it's important to remember that people have been paying for things for a long time. As a result, sometimes "free" is synonymous with "worthless".

Melly said...

"As a result, sometimes "free" is synonymous with "worthless"."

I don't know about this statement being an absolute truth. To continue your software example, we have Windows which is 'closed source', expensive and 'crap', and we have Linux which is 'open source', free and much better.

So sometimes like this, and sometimes like that...
I'm sitting on the fence with you.

Eric Mutta said...

Melly:>I don't know about this statement being an absolute truth.

It isn't. Notice the 'sometimes' thrown in there :)

Lee Carlon said...

If as you say they aren't going to be showing the entire work, that's not so bad, but it was my understanding that the whole thing would be available.

I can still see instances where non-fiction writers might lose out, but that's not really something I'm concenred about.

melly said...

The 'sometimes' escaped me Eric :)

Lee, here is a quote from the Google Print page:
*Quote*How does Google Print work?
Just do a search on the Google Print homepage. When we find a book whose content contains a match for your search terms, we'll link to it in your search results. Click a book title and you'll see the page of the book that has your search terms, along with other information about the book and "Buy this Book" links to online bookstores (you can view the entirety of public domain books or, for books under copyright, just a few pages or in some cases, only the title’s bibliographic data and brief snippets). You can also search for more information within that specific book and find nearby libraries that have it.*End Quote*

So, yeah, not so bad. Still, not great either.

Lee Carlon said...

That sounds a lot better than I thought.

Melly said...

Lee, the site is operational btw. You can try it out for yourself. I tried with a few books but the ones I was looking for I couldn't find. Don't know why.

Lee Carlon said...

Cool, thanks Melly.