Re: HathiTrust & five universities sued (cont.)

Posting to Autocat

On 23/09/2011 15:46, Mike Tribby wrote:

[Aron Kuperman wrote:]

“Given the option now available to authors to directly sell their books on line as digital downloads, I suggest that any author who chooses to assert copyright (as opposed to granting permission to anyone to republish, which is easily done) has reason to object to anyone else making his book available. Indeed, book publishers might be obsolete in their current form since unless they are paying a large fee, most authors can probably make more money by selling the book in digital format – meaning they are in direct competition with anyone who wants to digitize and distribute their materials. Thus the situation is being transformed into one in which a library has the option of buying a digital copy, chooses not to do so, and then produces its own digital copy in competition with the author. No wonder the authors are not amused.”

I fully agree with Aaron on this. For background one might look in on the recent discussion of this lawsuit on the Videolib discussion list, a list with a significant population of subscribers who are producers of film and video works. Their perspective on this issue is much different from that of the “Library Groups” mentioned in the article Jim cited, as it pertains to their livelihood vis-a-vis the right to control access to their works. As I may have previously mentioned to Jim both on- and offlist in the past, full-text for the asking online may be an idea that will have to wait for the fall of capitalism and the magical change in the proletariat’s attitude that accompanies their ascendancy and eliminates greed and thoughts of personal gain from the human consciousness.

In the past, my colleague Bryan Baldus has suggested looking at the discussion of this issue on a couple of publishing-related email discussion lists (PubForum and Publish-L) for the perspective of some of the publishers and authors affected by this lawsuit. I assume my suggestion of looking at the Videolib discussion will result in a similar resounding silence in this august forum. And a disclaimer– I’m not an entirely disinterested observer here. My reviews are repackaged and resold with no further remuneration to me from the publishers (in one case, ALA). Sure it’s gratifying to occasionally see my name on Amazon, but a little cash would be nice, too. The company I work my day job for is prohibited from freely accessing my reviews for our website when we carry works I’ve reviewed.

Yes, Mike and I have gone back and forth on this issue, mostly privately, and I continue to point out: it is becoming clearer to everyone concerned that the interests of the authors and the interests of the publishers are *not at all* the same. Much of this, but not all, is based on a change in technology that has resulted in the fact that the traditional model of: someone writes a book or article; the author sends it to a publisher who does a decreasing amount of work on the author’s creations; the publisher prints and binds physical copies to send to bookstores or other similar retail outlets around the world; and people are supposed to buy whatever finds its way to their stores. This model, which made perfect sense in earlier times, is becoming increasingly obsolete today and an impediment in all kinds of ways. Publishers, who have always controlled matters, do not want this situation to change, or if it does change, they want to retain the vast majority of the power. Left only in the hands of the publishers, they have made it very clear that these out-of-print works of their authors will never be reprinted until the end of time (or when copyright runs out) and the authors will never get any more money. It is only due to of the efforts of Google and libraries that the issues are even being raised.

Especially when it comes to scholarly publications, almost none of the creators makes any money at all–that is, except for the publishers, who often make outrageous amounts of cash. I personally don’t think this has  much to do with capitalism per se–I think it has much more to do with a fundamental change in technology that is causing a rapidly increasing breakdown in the traditional system of publication of printed materials, which has had less and less to do with making money for the *creators* and much more to do with enriching the publishers themselves. I don’t think any of this is controversial.

If the publishers are so concerned about the authors making money, then let them prove it by printing those books again. But they choose not to. That’s fine–it’s their choice, but that is clearly because it is not in *their own* interests and the interests of their authors, readers, and society in general, can go hang.

Once again, copyright is not fulfilling its original purpose: “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.” There is a lot contained within this single sentence. I agree with the basic ideas it contains, but the current system of publication does not achieve it. It doesn’t mean that everything has to be free, but different business models must be found and implemented. The public obviously wants these materials. The authors want to furnish them. But the publishers do not want to supply them. Each has fully valid reasons. And it isn’t that the current situation just popped up overnight: it’s been on the horizon for twenty years, anyway.

I still believe that a lot of money will be there for whoever comes up with a new business model, but the old one is broken beyond repair and only serves to make everyone angry. I don’t see how it can go on indefinitely without becoming either a huge drag on “the Progress of Science and useful Arts”, as we are just beginning to see now, or even worse, just being ignored and hurting lots of people in the process.