On the one hand, then, by conceding copyright society declares that it holds individual creativity in high respect—every member of society can dream of one day benefiting from copyright, of transforming genius into money—but by the same token it draws the author into a bourgeois mentality where writing is a job with an income; the writer now has an investment in stable markets and attentive policing.
Tim Parks, “Does Copyright Matter?” (NYRblog)


The NY Times has an article about yet another ridiculous bit of copyright law, the fact that moviemakers have to license artwork, even if they own the physical piece to show it in a movie. And it gets even worse, when you find out that the ridiculous position of the Artists Rights Society (think the RIAA/MPAA for artists) is that the newly released 3D version of Titanicneeds a new license, because its use of artwork is somehow not covered by the original license…

Why do we let this kind of craziness happen? Why don’t we, as a society, stand up and point out that it makes no sense. If you have possession of the painting, why shouldn’t you be allowed to use it in a movie? Even if you don’t have the painting. How is having that painting in the movie, in any way, harming the economic value of the painting? The answer is that it is not. If anything, it’s increasing the prestige and value of the painting… and it’s doing all of that for free. ”



Yesterday on twitter, I expressed annoyance with the hundreds of people who send me emails or tumblr messages or whatever to let me know that they illegally downloaded one of my books, as if they expect me to reply with my hearty congratulations that they are technologically sophisticated enough to use google or whatever. (I dislike it when people pirate my books. I know that not all authors feel this way, but I do. As I’ve discussed before, I think copyright law is disastrously stupid in the US, but I don’t think piracy is an appropriate response to that stupidity.*)

I then pointed out that my books are already available for free at thousands of public libraries not just in the US, but also in Europe, South America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the UK, etc., to which many people replied, What’s the difference between pirating a book and checking it out from the library?

1. Libraries are broadly collecting institutions curated by experts. The curation facet of a library is hugely important: We train these librarians to organize information based not solely on what is popular (which is what piracy does), but also on what is good. The truth is you can’t get “anything” via piracy; there are hundreds of thousands of books you can’t get, because they aren’t yet popular. American public and school libraries play a huge role in preserving the breadth of American literature by collecting and sharing books that are excellent but may not be written by YouTubers with large bulit-in audiences.

Libraries improve the quality of discourse in their communities in ways that piracy simply does not. And if it weren’t for the broad but carefully curated collection practices of libraries, the world of American literature would look a lot like the world of American film: Instead of hundreds of books being published every week, there would be four or five.

2. Libraries buy books. Lots of them. And there are tens of thousands of libraries around the country. That is good for me and good for my book. (Like, the average library copy of The Fault in Our Stars might get checked out 100 times, or even a thousand, butsingle files of Looking for Alaska have been illegally downloaded more than 50,000 times.)

3. For the more than 100 million Americans without Internet access at home, libraries are the only free places to use the web to search for jobs or connect with family or buy t-shirts at I am very happy if my books can help add value to institutions that facilitate such important services. I do not feel the same way about BitTorrent.

4. And this is the most important: I believe that creators of books should have control over how their work is distributed. If, for instance, a musician doesn’t want her songs played during Rick Santorum rallies, then Rick Santorum should not be allowed to use them. I don’t want my books to be available for free download (unless you borrow an e-copy from a library, that is). I just don’t. It’s not because I’m a greedy bastard or want to keep my books from people who might otherwise read them. It’s because I believe books are valuable. Right now, on Amazon, my brand new hardcover book costs about $10, which represents 1.2 hours of work at the federal minimum wage. I believe books are worth 1.2 hours of work. 

One last thing: A lot of people compare the world of books with the world of music. I think this comparison is unfair. For one thing, CDs were overpriced before Napster. I really don’t believe that books—at least my books—are currently overpriced**. More importantly, most musicians have a secondary source of income: They can charge for live performances. Writers—or at least the vast majority of writers—can’t do this. The book is The Thing. The book is all we have to offer.

And in my opinion, libraries preserve the integrity and the value of the book in ways that piracy simply does not.

Based on how many of you have already seen Season 2 of Sherlock, I realize that most of you disagree with me. And I’m happy to acknowledge that I might be wrong. I welcome your thoughts and responses on these complicated questions.

* The whole argument that piracy is some kind of civil disobedience in response to unfair copyright laws is ridiculous and indicates to me that not enough people are reading Civil Disobedience, or even the wikipedia article about it.

** As pointed out by no less an authority than John Darnielle, CDs weren’t overpriced by many independent record labels. Also, I should add that many books—particularly literary fiction hardcovers published for adults—are overpriced, sometimes dramatically. I think this is a bad and discouraging trend, which is one of the (many) reasons why I like publishing my books the way I do: It’s still possible for a hardcover to cost less than $20, and if you adjust for inflation, it always should be.

"Twice a month, the library in [the Belgian town of] Dilbeek welcomes about 10 children to introduce them to the magical world of books. A representative of the library in question is quoted in the De Morgen report as saying there’s no budget to compensate people who read to the kids, relying instead on volunteers (bless them).

SABAM got in touch with the library to let them know that it thinks this is unacceptable, however, and that they should start coughing up cash for reading stories from copyrighted books out loud. The library rep calculates that it could cost them roughly 250 euros (which is about $328) per year to pay SABAM for the right to — again — READ BOOKS TO KIDS.”

(via Techdirt via LISNews)

So, were Google permitted to provide complete online access to all the world’s books, in their entirety, the gain in access might more than offset the loss in authors’ royalties.

Judge Richard Posner, the most revered jurist of his generation*, would get laughed out of most rooms in Washington, D.C., for proposing this kind of radical reform of copyright. (via arlpolicynotes)

*Your LJ tumblrer is not an expert on revered jurists, but it’s worth noting that Posner is “the most cited legal scholar of the 20th century.”

(via libraryjournal)



Today, with help from our partners at the Center for Social Media at American University, and the Law School at AU, and with support from a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ARL is proud to unveil the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. Based on 36 hours of focus group deliberation with 90 academic and research librarians representing 64 institutions in meetings held all over the country, the Code is comprised of eight Principles that describe general circumstances where the groups found library uses to be fair, followed by Limitations that describe the outer bounds of the consensus and Enhancements that the groups thought represented salutary but not necessary steps to protect the interests of other stakeholders…

"Generations of young people have thrilled to the crackling wit of Holden Caulfield, the teenage narrator of The Catcher in the Rye. But if you want to hear an authorized audiobook of J.D. Salinger’s seminal 1951 novel, you’ll need what amounts to a doctor’s prescription.

Salinger died in 2010, without relinquishing the rights for an audio recording. But U.S. copyright law grants the Library of Congress permission to produce an audio recording or Braille edition of any published work for the blind and physically handicapped, provided the book is distributed free, unabridged and, in the case of recordings, on special digital playback equipment.”

(via Library Stuff)

"The Association of Research Libraries might have a solution to what some librarians call ‘the VHS-cassette problem.’

Here’s the scenario: An academic library has a collection of video tapes that is slowly deteriorating, thanks to the fragile nature of analog media. A librarian would like to digitize the collection for future use, but avoids making the copies out of fear that doing so would violate copyright law. And the institution’s attorneys have advised the librarian that the fair-use principle, which might offer a way to make copies legally, is too flexible to rely on.

When the Association of Research Libraries and a team of fair-use advocates surveyed librarians to find out how they navigate copyright issues, many of them described that exact conundrum. But they may soon have a way out. Tomorrow the group will announce a code of best practices designed to outline ways academic librarians can take advantage of their fair-use rights to navigate common copyright issues.”

(via Library Stuff)