I started writing a response to Chad’s comment on my post E-books and illegal file sharing, but halfway through I realized my response was longer than some of my actual blog posts. So I’m just gonna put it out here on its own. More after the jump. Continue reading
I very much liked this post about the ethics of file-sharing, especially of e-books: http://deepad.dreamwidth.org/61462.html
Obviously, as an independent bookseller, I am in favor of physical copies of books. But there’s a lot to chew over in this space; e-books vs. paper books; illegally sharing e-books vs. using the library or buying used books. As the post points out, just having the option of using an e-book means you’re in an incredibly privileged position:
To have the ability and the desire to read an e-book, one must first, have the privilege of being literate. Second, literate in a dominant language like English. Third, have computer literacy enough to be able to navigate the internet enough to obtain the book. Fourth, have sustained access to a computer or other electronic device in order to be able to read it. Fifth, have access to whatever complex catalysts of creative and societal stimulants that foster a spirit of creative consumption – the desire to read, and the desire to read that particular book. And then finally, after all those barriers, the book must be there.
A used book store like Anthology tries to lower the entry barrier to reading, by making more books available to more people for less money. Books don’t need expensive equipment like a laptop; don’t even need electricity. They are freely sharable, nearly untraceable, and don’t become obsolete. But of course, getting a book from a used bookstore or a library doesn’t benefit the author either.
It’s a complex issue, and there are no easy answers. What do you think?
I’m going to see the new Alice in Wonderland movie tonight, like everybody else, and it looks pretty cool. I like the visual style and the humor seems right u p my alley. But it got me thinking – about copyright. Yeah, you know, like you do.
As an artist, I totally believe artists should make money off their art, and should be credited for what they create. Absolutely! But it also makes me sad that so much of my actual culture is unavailable for me to use, to reimagine or “remix”.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were published almost 150 years ago, in 1865. There have been hundreds of plays, movies, fan sequels, music, and more riffed off of this material. Pretend for a moment that none of that ever existed, because the law said that Charles Dodgson’s estate should continue to control that work forever. Effectively, the theory goes that not only should the artist make money off their creation, but so should their children. And their children. And all of his descendents forever – or, in lieu of relatives, a “trust” or “estate”, effectively a corporation created solely for the purpose of controlling and profiting from the work. Wouldn’t that stink? No Disney movie (well, actually, Disney might have licensed the movie rights anyway… but that’s a different issue), no plays, no millions of editions with different illustrations by adventurous authors.
It sounds a little farfetched, right? But that’s actually the law we have in the US now, only slightly exaggerated for effect. Check this out: The Duration of Copyright.
A relevant summary: “Works created in or after 1978 are extended copyright protection for a term defined in 17 U.S.C. § 302. With the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, these works are granted copyright protection for a term ending 70 years after the death of the author. If the work was a work for hire (e.g., those created by a corporation) then copyright persists for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter.”
Compare and contrast with the original language of the US Constitution: The Congress shall have Power [. . .] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
Nothing you like will ever be in the public domain in your lifetime. Dodgson died in 1898. If Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had been published under the current copyright restrictions, it would not have been in the public domain until 1968, more than a hundred years after it was published. He didn’t even have any descendents to benefit from this
(On a related note, sometime you should check out the correlation between the increasing length of copyright terms and the expiration of the copyright status of the Mickey Mouse cartoons – it’s almost magical.)
Yeah, I want to make money on my paintings, jewelry, books, and anything else I put my hand to. But I don’t expect my (future) fame and glory to support my entire family and all my descendents til the end of time. Especially not at the expense of all the other artists out there who might be able to make something even cooler out of what I did.
The shared pool of art and experience available to a community for assimilation, reuse, and reimagining used to be called “culture.” Now all that’s left is the “public domain” – the songs your grandparents listened to. Everything else is licensed.
My views on this have been unashamedly influenced by Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig and their much more eloquent defenses of the public domain. I highly recommend you seek out their work for more information.
I’ve been considering getting a Kindle (an e-book reader from Amazon.com) for some time now. Much as I love paper books (and an entire wall of my house attests to just how much I do!) there is something alluring about the prospect of carrying my library around on a single device. But I have some philosophical issues with the DRM (Digital Rights Management/”copy protection”) scheme Amazon has put on these devices to prevent people copying, modifying, or using the books you buy. The EFF has some interesting (and funny!) videos up discussing the issues here.
The EFF has all kinds of cool stuff about how computers and the internet impact our creative life and cultural heritage, focusing on US copyright laws. The info on their site includes anything about intellectual property, copyright duration and public domain, patents and trademarks, fair use, DRM, network security, internet censorship, etc. They also provide legal assistance to people involved in lawsuits around intellectual property. I highly recommend checking them out.