21st Century Copyright

October 31st, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Sometimes we admire our self-restraint. Like when we read an interview with Cory Doctorow. Our inclination is (usually) to copy and paste the thing in its entirety. It certainly would be easier that way. But then you (our lovely readers) might miss out on discovering a new and different site. We’re sure you wouldn’t want that. So, once again, we’re limiting ourself to a few choice quotes while feeling confident you’ll go off and read the whole thing at your leisure.

And we do recommend reading this particular article. Not just because we strongly support Cory Doctorow, but because his approach to licensing his work is the first real test of how art will be distributed in the future. Doctorow publishes all of his works under the Creative Commons license. Creative Commons (link below) is a different way of looking at copyright (or copyleft, if you will). Doctorow has made his work freely available while making it commercially viable. His rationale:

On the one hand it was that, as a science fiction writer, we’re supposed to be looking towards the future, and it’s pretty clear to me that the future involves electronic text. It’s very hard to imagine that we’ll read fewer electronic words or more paper words as the years tick by and so I wanted to be involved in that practice; I wanted to be one of the people who was a pioneer in that practice, because I’m a science fiction writer and it’s what I should be doing.

Doctorow’s distribution is summed up pretty simply (if one realizes he’s not one to speak in short, succinct sentences):

Now, in terms of the commercial exploitation of the work, the traditional commercial exploitation is royalty-based. And we can divide up my readers into four pools: There’s the people who would buy it except that I’m giving it away for free; there’s the people who would buy it even though I’m giving it away for free; there’s the people who would buy if they’d only heard of it; and there’s the people who wouldn’t buy it if they’d heard of it. And so of that third group is bigger than the first group, if more people will buy it because they’ve heard of it (because its [sic] available electronically) than won’t buy it because its [sic] available for free, I make more money. And so far, that has just worked in my favor. So far, if you compare the emails that I get that say “Ha-ha, you dumb hippie, you made your book available for free, now I’ll never buy it” to the emails that say “I never would have found your book, but for that it was available electronically, and now I have bought it,” that second group outweighs the first group by orders of magnitude.

For most authors, this approach may seem terrifying. Doctorow realizes that in a strict royalty-based world, he’s missing out on sales because of used boooks, because books are passed among friends, and, in rare cases (he tested the process), because they’re pirated*. His philosophy is that making work easily accessible to possible readers is the best way to build his audience. Less restrictive copyright certainly makes sense for many sorts of publications; it will take other authors willing to risk their work to prove this concept. However, we believe this will be the future for many authors.

We’ve never been convinced that file sharing or giving away work for free is the worst thing for sales (as evidenced by news that Sony Music is re-evaluating file sharing systems). Most people will pay for art; they simply want to be able to acquire the product in the manner most convenient for them. Whether or not Doctorow’s approach proves to be mutually beneficial for authors and readers remains to be seen — the future will likely reveal many permutations of the distribution process. Now, however, is the time for artists to start exploring ways to distribute their work in ways that are most beneficial to them. (Via Beatrice.com)

* – While book piracy outside the United States is going strong and should be fought vigorously, it’s a relatively small business compared to motion picture and music piracy due to the labor intensive process involved. Unless the pirate receives a good quality electronic version of the product, pirating may not be cost effective.

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