Friday, February 02, 2007

Lip service

This is not a poll. It is not a poll because the number of people visiting this blog is not statistically significant. In fact, I’ll be thrilled if half a dozen people respond in the comment stream. I’ll be flabbergasted if a dozen respond. Go ahead, flabbergast me.

The questions below pertain to the general topic of how people share information, ideas, and art. Feel free to focus on just those questions that interest you and to which you want to respond. These questions are intended only to stimulate thought and discussion.

In responding, please state, for everyone’s benefit who reads this—even if you know that I know who you are—whether you are a knowledge creator (an author, for example), a knowledge processor (an editor, for example), a knowledge purveyor (a publisher, for example), a knowledge steward (a librarian, for example), or a knowledge consumer. You can be part of multiple categories; there are no points off for that. It might also be interesting to know whether you are under thirty, thirty to fifty, or over fifty. No need to be more specific than that about your age, I should think.

Okay, on to the questions…
  1. Google has entered into agreements with certain libraries to digitize every book in their collections, including books that are still protected by copyright. Google believes it does not need to secure permission from copyright holders to do this. Does the public interest in free access to information outweigh publishers’ and authors’ interest in being compensated for their work?

  2. E-books can be produced in such a way that once you pay for one and download it you can send copies of the files to your friends or post them on your own blog or Web site. They can also be produced in such a way (using digital rights management) that you cannot share the book. Some people argue that the latter model creates a barrier that limits sales. Other people argue that the open model encourages piracy. What is your opinion?

  3. Most authors never earn a nickel from the books they write. If all authors understood this, do you think the number of books published each year would continue to increase or would begin to decrease?

  4. If it’s posted on the Internet, it’s okay for you to use it. True or false?
If I get some responses to these questions, I’ll post some more. This could become an interesting discussion.

UPDATE
Ketherian has picked this up and is promoting it as a meme. Feel free to join in.

I am refraining from replying to comments, because I really want to see what a cross-section of people think about these issues. I would like to clarify a few things, though.

First, I worded the questions with some care. Incomplete information and ambiguity are intentional. Comments about the quality of the questions, while I do not mind them, do not advance the discussion.

Second, I do not have an axe to grind and will not be arguing against anyone’s position. I just want to see where this goes.

Third, so far I have posted all comments; I do not intend to censor anyone’s opinion.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dick,

I found your blog through reading the Copyediting list. I'm a full-time publicist for an academic publisher in Canada and a freelance copyeditor for them and others as well. Age between 30 and 50 and consider myself a consumer of all this stuff as well. I'm still a student plus I spend most of my free time on the internet reading various things.

With that background I answer your questions thus:
1. Google libraries. Google is using material from libraries that do not hold the copyright for it. I don't believe they should be allowed to state they do this for the greater good. They have another program -- Google Book Search-- that needs the permission of the publisher, which I believe to be appropriate and it's one we subscribe to.
2. E-Books. I think there should be some protection on them. Someone has to bear the cost of producing e-books (hidden costs like editing, formatting, etc., rather than the obvious printing) and making them really easy to download and distribute contributes to (I think) publishers not taking this medium seriously. Right now we only sell our e-books to sites like Net Library, where I believe use is restricted.
3. I think writers will always write. There are just too many reasons to keep doing so and I know very few people who profit monetarily from writing.
4. If it's posted on the internet you can use it if you cite it. I would tend to ask permission if I stumbled across something that looked like personal musings rather than research.

Clare

11:25 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I'm a creator and a consumer

1) Does the public interest in free access to information outweigh publishers’ and authors’ interest in being compensated for their work?

No, and the premises for Google’s digitization are flawed.

2) Some people argue that the latter model creates a barrier that limits sales. Other people argue that the open model encourages piracy. What is your opinion?

Authors should be paid for their work. If a person buys a book and hand it around, only one person reads it at a time. If they broadcast the novel electronically, that’s publishing and that’s wrong.

4. If it’s posted on the Internet, it’s okay for you to use it. True or false?

False. It has to do with property rights.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dick,
I'm over fifty a writer and publisher (of ebooks) and have a background in financial and business journalism, among others.

1. Since Questia and others can run the kind of service Google is claimg to aim for with full respect to copyright law and authors' and publishers' rights it is clear that Google is not acting in good faith.

2. Putting restrictions on ebooks is counterproductive and by no means guarantees protection. Better to have happy buyers and some risk - but many potential pirates can be educated!

3. You specifically asked would so many be published? If revenue goes down to publishers (commerical, small and self) the numbers published will drop. Self publishing numbers - made by by those on a mission - will not. Actual numbers writing will include those who will write, and those who write for payment. The latter numbers would drop so overall there would be a drop.

4. Education is essential, and now Google has muddied the water with the impression that author's wishes do not matter this will become more difficult for publishers.

There is also the complication that a lot of material is offered free for use, and websites are a good example. Here there is an implication that the author/publisher offers the right to copy and too few are explicit that it is a permission; some fail to point out that they do not want their suff copied too.

The point is thee is no education to people that the writing belongs to someone.

Joseph (you know who ;-) )

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Dick,

I'm a 50+ freelance editor and big consumer of books and magazines who followed your link from the copyediting list. I'm married to a self-employed writer/editor who also is a big consumer.

1. I think that if you don't own the copyright or have permission from the copyright owner you have no business publishing it. That said, my consumer side loves finding free things on the Internet, so I'm a bit of a hypocrite.

2. If I buy a hard-copy book, I share it freely. I'd like to do the same with e-books I might buy. I suppose that e-sharing isn't quite the same thing since many readers could be using the book at the same time. I wouldn't buy an e-book that couldn't be shared at all, but I might if there were a limit -- perhaps 10 -- on the number of times it could be shared.

I have to admit that I've never bought an e-book, and can't imagine reading a whole book on the screen. I love print materials, and listen to audio books, but there is something about the computer screen that does not give the same experience as holding a book or magazine.

A number of newsletters that come into our household have been converted to e-zines, and although they continue to be delivered, they are very rarely read, whereas they would have been at least scanned all the way through when the were delivered on paper.

3. I think that writers generally know in their heart-of-hearts that they are not likely to make any money from their writing. The Internet allows more writers to get their prose and poetry out to the world without worrying about making money or passing a publisher's scrutiny. That said, a real book that you hold in your hands has much more permanence and appeal than characters on a screen and some writers will always strive to achieve that. As long as publishers are making money, books will be published whether authors see any of the proceeds or not.

4. I think you can use anything posted on the Internet if you give proper credit. But it's dangerous to use anything that you can't verify, and in general you're better off to get permission to use information. Not only is it good manners, but it can be to your advantage. For example, if you want to use an illustration in print, the owner may offer you a higher-resolution version of the image to use.

Interesting questions, Dick. Thanks for getting me to really think about these issues.

Bridget

1:47 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Hi, I'm a knowledge creator (technical writer/author) and processor (editor in both cases) by trade. I moonlight as a knowledge purveyor (technical publishing) and steward (researcher) from time to time. I was born a knowledge consumer (avid reader, into usability and IxD/IxA). I am between 30 and 50 in age. I stumbled across your blog last Friday and added it to my Blogroll.

1. Google has entered into agreements with certain libraries to digitize every book in their collections, including books that are still protected by copyright. Google believes it does not need to secure permission from copyright holders to do this. Does the public interest in free access to information outweigh publishers’ and authors’ interest in being compensated for their work?

No public interest in free access to information never should outweigh publishers' and authors' interest in being compensated for their work. In all previous venues public interest usually increases a publishers' and authors' expectation of profits; the internet as a business model should not be treated any differently. There are many venues through which the public can acquire free information via the Internet. And it should be expected that prices for information will reduce as people are able to buy answers and limited amounts of information instead of the whole thing. It is far cheaper, for example, to acquire a subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica than to buy the whole set + yearly updates. It should be cheaper to acquire a subscription to a magazine than to purchase the actual copy.

But so long as people require money to live, any worker should be able to gain a wage for their work. The internet is based around the ideas of information freedom. It is a shame that most people believe information freedom is synonymous with free information. It isn't.

2. E-books can be produced in such a way that once you pay for one and download it you can send copies of the files to your friends or post them on your own blog or Web site. They can also be produced in such a way (using digital rights management) that you cannot share the book. Some people argue that the latter model creates a barrier that limits sales. Other people argue that the open model encourages piracy. What is your opinion?

Both ideas have truth in them. The existing international copyright law (BTW: IANAL) allows quotations from an otherwise copyrighted work for the purpose of satire, review, or use; so long as the quotations are appropriately cited and not inappropriately credited. So an e-book should allow you to copy short passages for use so long as they are cited.

You should not be able to post and trade an e-book *unless* the author/publisher/creator(s) have given their permission for such use. There are numerous types of copyright statement out there -- allowing users a variety of choices as to how to disseminate the information garnered from an e-book or a web-page.

E-books should be treated as books. If you own the copy - you should be able to give it to someone else, or sell it; but if you give/loan or sell it - you should not be able to keep a copy as well; just as in the physical world if you give/loan or sell your book - you no longer have a copy.

Complicated DRM (digital rights management), difficult interfaces, and scary warning messages limit sales. The e-book is not yet as easy to use as a physical book; and explanations as to what you can do and when with the e-book can get confusing to a new user.

3. Most authors never earn a nickel from the books they write. If all authors understood this, do you think the number of books published each year would continue to increase or would begin to decrease?

This question is rather like asking "if thieves knew they'd be killed for committing their crime, would crime rates rise or fall". No thief ever expects to get caught. And, by extension, most authors either assume they'll be famous -- or don't really care. Those that assume will always write. Those that don't care will also always right.

A friend (and professional author) is fond of saying "Writers don't write because they want to. They write because they have to."

4. If it’s posted on the Internet, it’s okay for you to use it. True or false?

I believe your fourth question is a bit too vague to answer concisely. So I will answer: True with a caveat.

If you use it (regardless of where it is from and how it was published) and it's not yours, it must be used in such a way that it's obvious it isn't yours.

Take your questions for example. Were I to post them to my LJ as a mime, I should (in good conscience) offer a link back to your blog and start the post stating where I got the questions and from whom they came. Misquoting these questions is, I believe, far from the same level of crime as misquoting a larger published work (such as claiming a novel written by someone else as my own); but it's the principle that's at stake here.

After all, if it's published, it's ok for me to use it in certain ways.
If people do not want their work cited, used, satired, or reviewed - they should not publish it in any medium. Ever.
If people want to restrict the way their work is used - they can ask their readers to abide by these restrictions; but certain uses (such as for research, for satire, and for review) are protected under international copyright law and as such cannot be revoked.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. 40yo freelance book production editor/designer.

1) I have an objection regarding how you state your first question. You don't make it clear that Google only wishes to make the digitized books searchable, and that unless a book thrown up by the search is in the public domain, the searcher will be limited to a brief excerpt. So Google isn't "publishing" these books at all, any more than a public library publishes books it makes available for anyone--even non-cardholders--to flip through. How does this do authors out of just compensation? It seems more likely to me that sales (for some books, mostly non-fiction) will increase as people are able to use Google to find better sources of information than they are likely to run across if limited to their own local libraries.

2) I think publishers should pick a model--open or closed--regarding e-books and be up front with their authors about what their plans are. Authors have the option to not sign with a publisher whose model offends them. Personally, were I a fiction author I would embrace the open model. A handful of fiction publishers have experimented with making some of their books available for free online (with the authors' okay) and some have seen significant growth in sales of the participating author's printed books--both those available as free e-books and their other writings. Some self-publishers of non-fiction have claimed similar results.

3) Probably some decline but not a drastic one. I liked rebecca's point about most authors either assuming they're the exception to the rule or not caring.

4) I agree wholeheartedly with rebecca on this one, too.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous John Garison said...

Hi Dick,

I am a freelance technical writer and I know you personally. (And I can still beat you in pool.) My wife works in the business of publishing newspaper content online. We are both avid consumers via hard copy and the Web. Neither of us has ever bought (or plans to for now) an eBook.

I'm interested but have no real firm opinions due mainly to shameful ignorance about the topics. However, I'll give you what thoughts I have just to assist in upping the numbers and flabbergast factor.

1. Google: I agree with the last poster who confirmed my understanding about their efforts. While they will scan and index the entire content of a book to which they have no copyright privilege, they will not make all that content public. Google's argument is that, by making a printed book more accessible to the public, they will actually contribute to increasing a writer's sales. I don't know what wwill happen, but my inclination is that if I had a book out there, I wouldn't minfd if it were more accessible as long as I dodn't lose any sales as a result of it being unintentionally downloadable in whole.

2.Ebooks are something I have never used or cared to try and use. Due to my advanced age (mid-fifties) I am still a sucker for a book on paper and am likely to remain so despite 25+ years of putting tech docs online.

3.Writers write. That's what they do. You couldn't stop them if you tried. Most don't do it for the money.

4.If it's online, I try - except in emails to very few friends and relatives - to adhere to 'fair use' rules. Most of the time I will link to something rather than cut and paste large portions of text.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Char said...

Hey there. I'm a 50something book designer, somewhat mildly opinionated blogger (any given day), and might best define m'self as a knowledge presenter.

1. IMHO, Google isn't infringing. The snippets you get from anything other than the full views (which are public domain, as far as I can determine) are miniscule at best. I believe it's something like 20 words total with the search term(s) right about midway. Technically, they probably can be deemed "guilty" of infringement simply by scanning the entire book to index but is that wrong if we look at them as a virtual library? I don't think so and as long as they don't charge for the service access I can't see how they can be charged with violating a writer's rights.

2. This is going to sound odd, perhaps, but I don't take ebooks seriously. In large part this is due to the poor writing and presentation that I find in the vast majority of ebooks. Many aren't even "real" books to me. Possibly thought that's due to being of the 50something generation and being unable to adapt to reading on a screen intimately and most in-depth reading (novel or technical) is an intimate endeavor/investment for me.

3. I have to agree with the last responder. Writers write. It's not just what they do it's what they are and anything that comes from that origin doesn't usually get done for the $$$ waiting at the end. Having said that I do think that authors hope to make enough money to live on so they don't have to go get a job at Lowe's to pay the bills, which in turn takes away precious writing time. Overall, I think the number of books on average would remain the same or grow. There's something compelling about seeing yourself listed as the author of a book .. it's a mystique that rises above and beyond the color green, I think.

4. To some degree if it is posted on the 'net I think the belief is that it is up for grabs. Again, that doesn't mean that it's right to assume it's free for the using. It does mean that you need recognize it will happen and to build into your business model the margin for lost revenue. There isn't anything made, rights managed or not, that isn't able to be hacked into. Lock it down and throw away the key and I betcha it will be taken as an invitation to break into by someone with the right skillset.

As a graphic designer this is an issue that has been around for many years. Perhaps that's why I'm somewhat ambivalent about all of this upset now regarding Google. A grahic work is easily taken by a right click|save target as every day. Just being on a website causes a copy of the graphics to download into your cache. People were resorting to encrypting web pages to the point that they removed basic functions like copy/paste in Office applications just by having your web browser open on that site. Having seen the extremes and knowing just how well they don't work I rarely lose sleep over copyright infringement now. Those who want it badly enough will take it; those who respect the arts enough will not. For me it's that simple. And that complex.

As always, visiting your blog is interesting and engaging!

9:09 PM  

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