Copyright scholars and publishers on crazy auctorial theories about books and tech

Two fantastic editorials on the Authors' Guild lawsuit against Google and the threats against Amazon for selling used books.

The first is from William Patry, a renowned copyright scholar who is anything but a radical, talking about the angry rhetoric from publishers and authors over Amazon's used books:

An article in Thursday's (September 29) Wall Street Journal discusses complaints authors and publishers have about the fact that offers books for sale at different prices: list price, new books at lower prices, and used books. Authors, literary agents, and publishers are quoted as saying they think they are being deprived of royalties and they want their share! It is really no fun to write about copyright owners acting like Luddite pigs, and being in private practice it has a definite commercial downside; I would much rather praise Caesar. But, things are as they are, and I have always opted for honesty over craven brown-nosing and over self-imposed censorship. I hope my twins forgive me…

I buy the vast majority of my books through and pay alot of attention to the choices they offer for the book I am interested in. Choice is bad, apparently. I should have to pay list price and I shouldn't be able to resell it (at least through without sending a check to the publisher, who will of course pass 100% through to the author, at least that is what a literary agent is quoted in the article as advocating.

Sad, is the only polite word I can think of for authors and publishers' utter failure to embrace an extremely beneficial system. The first sale doctrine was judicially created by the Supreme Court pre-1909 Copyright Act in order to prevent publishers from misusing copyright to maintain list price. Some things truly never change.


Next, an editorial in the NYT from publisher Tim O'Reilly about the inanity of the Author's Guild's suit against Google for creating searchable indices of every book it can lay hands on, a move certain to do nothing but invigorate the book trade by putting references to books into the search results that are increasingly the only way that potential book-buyers get their information:

I'm with Google on this one. It would certainly be considered fair use, if, for example, I circulated a catalog of my favorite books, including a handful of quotations from each book that helps people to decide whether to buy a copy. In my mind, providing such snippets algorithmically on demand, as Google does, doesn't change that dynamic. Google allows click-through to the entire book only if the book is in the public domain or if publishers have opted in to the program. If it's unclear who owns the rights to a book, only the snippets are displayed.

A search engine for books will be revolutionary in its benefits. Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors than copyright infringement, or even outright piracy. While publishers invest in each of their books, they depend on bestsellers to keep afloat. They typically throw their products into the market to see what sticks and cease supporting what doesn't, so an author has had just one chance to reach readers. Until now.

As my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden notes, "Tim O'Reilly 1000, Authors Guild 0".