Charlie's Diary

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Wed, 09 Nov 2005

Copywrongs is currently running an article on the controversy surrounding Googles plans to index books on paper, as well as on the web. It's a deeply annoying article, because whoever wrote it seems unaware that the argument is being misrepresented by two of the three sides:

Google insists that its project is legal, as it would only offer snippets -- one or two sentences -- of copyrighted works that publishers had not given the company permission to scan. It also argues that its plan would boost, not reduce, book sales, and would be a boon to the book industry. But its quest to bring books to the Web now looks certain to spark a major courtroom battle,

I'm generally in favour of making books available on the net, both as a reader and as a writer. But it seems to me that The Authors Guild are absolutely right to bring a lawsuit against Google over this project -- because a critical aspect of the publishing world is being damaged by Google's ignorance.

Which is this:

Publishers do not generally own copyright over the books they publish -- authors own copyright, and license publishers to make certain uses of their work, with strings attached.

I can't emphasize this strongly enough; in talking about getting permission to index the books from publishers, Google is talking to the wrong people.

Let me give you a concrete example. I'm a relatively recently published author, and my book contracts all discuss electronic reproduction rights. However, none of my book contracts discuss the issue of the rights to index the book and publish the index for use by third parties. Arguably, this is a separate contractual right and one that is not implicitly granted to any publishers simply by their having obtained a license to publish the work in its entirety as an ebook.

But that's not all. I'm published in the USA and the UK (and in translation in a whole lot of other countries). The English language ebook rights to my novels are split, by territory; before I could release Accelerando as a free download I had to obtain permission from both my US publisher (Ace, an imprint of Penguin) and my UK publisher (Orbit, an imprint of Time Warner). Without the consent of one of these publishers, it would be illegal to make the ebook available in their territories (as enumerated at mind-numbing length in the book contract -- if you've never seen one of these, it's like the deed of sale for a house).

Moreover, the rights to publish an authors' books may well revert to the author if the publisher stops using them to make money. If, for example, a book goes out of print (that is, the publisher runs out of copies and decides not to reprint it), or if sales fall below a certain number, the author can notify the publisher that they are terminating the contract, at which point the publisher stops being allowed to publish the book and the author can take it to another publisher or publish it for themself.

By asking publishers to grant them a right that the publisher is not entitled to grant Google is laying itself open to lawsuits for copyright violation by authors. Google is also systematically undermining the rights of authors to exercise control over how their copyrighted works are published.

I, personally, think the Google print index is a great idea, and I'd really like it to succeed. However, it would be counter-productive to say the least were Google to contribute to the reduction of authors -- the folks who write the books -- to the status of producers of work for hire.

Andrew Burt, of the University of Denver Department of Computer Science, has suggested one possible way out of the impasse; the adoption of a standard called COCOA, the Copyright Owners' Control of Access standard. The idea is that a database can be established which will permit publishers to specify their default preferences for online republication services such as Google print, or Amazon's search inside, and which will also allow authors to issue overriding instructions for all, or some, of their works.

I think COCOA has considerable merit, although there are some technical shortcomings in the proposal that need to be addressed before implementation. For example, identification of copyrighted works can sometimes be difficult -- a book may be published in two or more countries with different ISBNs (they're granted on a per-publisher basis) and even with different titles. And COCOA needs to be able to handle access control sensibly in different countries. (For example, if a book is published in the UK and the USA, it makes no sense to forbid searching of the UK edition by users in the US, while permitting them to search the US edition -- and vice versa. Which is possible in the current draft of the scheme if the books are identified by different ISBNs.)

Unfortunately, while I believe something like this is needed, I'm not sure how likely it is to be adopted in practice. Firstly, the large multinationals who are capable of indexing libraries -- Google, Microsoft, Amazon and the like -- have a vested interest in each presenting themselves as being the most comprehensive indexing service; thus, there is commercial pressure to ignore COCOA and index everything. Secondly, the potential loss of earnings at stake in any single work is small enough to make lawsuits look financially unattractive. A class action lawsuit against any one of the corporations will take years to settle, generate acrimony and ill-will, and probably fail; the Authors Guild, with 8000 members (most of them not terribly well paid) is a poor match for Microsoft or Amazon in court.

Still, if you're involved in publishing or writing in any manner, I'd recommend you go and read the COCOA proposal and then, if you think it's a good idea, to sign the petition.

And whenever you hear someone say that it's between Google and the publishers, correct them: because the people who really stand to lose -- to lose the rights to their own work -- are the authors.

(As for me, I'm signing the petition -- and granting Google blanket permission to index my works and make them available to readers. Because, y'know, I'm happy for people to be able to find my work in the library; but it'd be nice if they asked for permission first.)

[Link (Salon)] [Link (Cocoa)] [Discuss copyright-censorship]

posted at: 17:41 | path: /copyright | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 24 Feb 2004

Grey Tuesday

fuck the RIAA

This site is grey today because it is respecting Grey Tuesday.

EMI are apparently sending legal nastygrams to participating sites:

We are aware of the so-called "Grey Tuesday" event, sponsored by and described on the website as a "day of coordinated civil disobedience" in which participating sites will make the unlawful Grey Album available for downloading, distribution, and file-sharing in order to force "reforms to copyright law that can make sampling legal." Your site is listed among those that will engage in this openly unlawful conduct. Any unauthorized distribution, reproduction, public performance, and/or other exploitation of The Grey Album will constitute, among other things, common law copyright infringement/misappropriation, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment rendering you and anyone engaged with you in such acts liable for all of the remedies provided by relevant laws. These remedies include but are not limited to preliminary and permanent injunctive relief as well as monetary and punitive damages necessary to remedy your openly willful violation of Capitol's rights.

I have two words for EMI's legal department: Fuck and off.

And I have a suggestion for the rest of you: Boycott Capitol Records and EMI until they come to their senses. This can loosely be defined as: realizing that the audience is not the enemy. I'm serious. If you buy their records, you encourage their gangster-like tactics by demonstrating that extortion works. The only language these guys understand is money: so hit them where it hurts.

[Link] [Discuss copyright-censorship]

posted at: 15:31 | path: /copyright | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 24 Sep 2003

Sanity prevailing in one small arena

It looks like there's been a minor victory for sanity today in the patent wars, as the European Parliament today approved a draft Directive that paves the way for the introduction of software patents in Europe -- but, thanks to grass-roots petitioning by critics of the measures, the original draft has been moderated considerably by MEPs. The revised (and passed) directive doesn't allow the patenting of business methods, severely restricts the types of software that can be patented (excluding software found in embedded devices like mobile phones, video recorders and set-top boxes), and restricts software patents to "true inventions". Oh, and only manufacturers (not users) of patent-infringing devices can be sued.

The fight isn't over yet, but the worst excesses of the US patent system -- which is driving many US companies to outsource their software development to foreign companies because of litigation fears -- look as if they've been held at bay.

[ Link ][ Discuss copyright-censorship ]

posted at: 19:20 | path: /copyright | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 31 Dec 2002

DRM on ...

According to this report, the DRM system for Microsoft Reader e-text files has been cracked. So authors putting their trust in locks to keep readers from copying their work are going to be disappointed again -- as opposed to those authors who put their trust in readers.

As Tim O'Reilly points out, piracy is progressive taxation in another guise; authors and artists have more reason to be afraid of obscurity than piracy. Using DRM tools to lock your work up so that it can only be read by people who paid for it, using one specific computer, increases obscurity and decreases the chance that new readers will be exposed to the work -- readers who might buy later works as a direct result of enjoying the free taste. So I'm going to give my qualified applause to this crack -- and hope that Microsoft have more sense than to go after the authors the way that Adobe went after Dmitri Sklyarov and Elcomsoft.

[ Link ] [ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 17:34 | path: /copyright | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 29 Dec 2002

Finally, a solution to the DMCA and copyright fascism!

It turns out there's an exemption to the DMCA for the exercise of religious freedom. So ...

[ Link ] [ Discuss ]

posted at: 12:35 | path: /copyright | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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