Copyrights Ups and Downs

This was from a March 2008 LJ entry. It discusses some more feelings on copyright, ebooks, and the like.

The original had various links embedded. I have decided to omit all the links except those that are absolutely necessary.

There were a couple of stories (ever notice how half of my posts are due to two stories on the same topic being read almost back to back) today that dealt with the issues of copyrights, free e-books, etc etc etc.

I'm not really going to try and go into any ideas on what I think makes a good versus bad copyright. I'm just going to post my gut reaction to these stories as is. I'm a bit of an old share and share alike kind of guy who thinks the arts are damned important but also thinks that arts work better as a community and the current book market seems to be barely breaking even and so needs some new kick in the pants.


The first deals with Neil Gaiman. A month or so ago, he put up a poll to see which of his books would be made free. Turns out this is a HarperCollins in general thing. The free bookis up, by the way, and you can read American Gods off the HarperCollins' website [Doug's note: probably not anymore, the book was going down at the end of March 2008]. It is not downloadable and is read through their reader. Seems to be a little clunky to let load. More fitting a sample reading than actual perusal. I doubt this would work, as a format, for someone who reads e-books on a held-held device, for instance. It also loses some of the benefits of e-books. It is searchable, but it seems like it would be that accessible to on screen readers or for people that need to change fonts and such. Still, it is a good book that probably will attract people to Gaiman, as long as they don't have to fight the format too much.

Neil makes a hint towards addressing a couple of these issues in his blog: The Nature of Free. "I'm currently talking to Harpers about ways we can make the American Gods online reading experience a more pleasant one. And about ways to give American Gods away that would make Harper Collins happy while also making, say, Cory Doctorow happy too."

In this blog post, he points out something I would say is the truth (a paraphrase from the article I first linked to): "The problem isn't that books are given away or that people read books they haven't paid for. The problem is that the majority of people don't read for pleasure."

The thing which might make the experiment the most problematic is that it looks like it has something of an initial ultimatum. The books are going for a limited times and sales are going to be directly correlated to them. I suppose if sales don't increase, the experiment will end. I'm going to break the fourth wall, here, for a moment, and say that this seems to be slightly off in the way its handled. For one, it means that I would not be able to show people American Gods a few months down the line. Secondly, it puts a pressure on supporters of the project to go out and buy the book. Finally, this is an author who seems to want his book out there, whose book has sold really well, and has also managed to trickle into the bargain market. Money will be made off this book for years, so it seems like a fear that a free copy of it will derail its sales, now, are unfounded.

I am curious to see how it ends. [Doug's note: I blogged some notes on the result]

Another company that is trying a different take on much the same thing, though getting the factors just one step closer to right, would be Tor. At least for now, they offer a free e-book every week (you have to sign up for it) and some other free goodies and once the week has passed, the offer is expired and another set of free e-book and other goodies shows up. You can download them to read at your own leisure. At the same time, the company is not forced to host them indefinitely because it holds on to them for only a week. In pdf format, you can search, highlight, bookmark, scan and all sorts of other useful things. I don't know how long they are doing this for, but I hope for a while because I think they are doing it right.

Of course, in both these cases, this is ultimately a "please buy dead tree versions" scheme. Which will probably be the dominate driving force behind e-books for at least a few more years.

The other copyright issue is J.K. Rowling's suing of a publisher to prevent an unofficial Harry Potter Lexicon from coming out. I really don't know what to think about this one. I dig that she wants to release an official guide. I dig that she feels they are taking the franchise from her. I especially dig the fact that she has said it can be for free but no money will be made from her work. But, unofficial lexicons have been about since early on in the series. If anything, it is the fact that this one looks like it aiming for quality that is bringing attention to it. Plus, it is something of a mark of how seriously a book is taken when annotations start showing up and printed discussions. And, plus, the free flowing nature of fan fiction and fan lexicons and fan costumes and fan etceteras have been about 60% of the reason for Potter-mania. It was the fact that these people could delve into the world that kept a lot of them going.

Hence my mixed emotions.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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