Wednesday, February 25, 2009

so there's free!... and then there's free?

As mentioned in the previous posting, this is Freedom to Read Week in Canada -- a time to celebrate and insist upon the right to free expression.

But just to be clear, "free" does not necessarily mean "unpaid."

From the New York Times today:

The Kindle Swindle?

... thanks to Bookninja for the link.

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Infringer said...

Hey John. It's probably no surprise to you, but I really don't understand the objection here. It is still the same e-book that is being sold. Just because this piece of hardware is able to present that e-book in alternate ways, does that means the authors have somehow earned more money?

Should DVDs cost more if you watch them on a big 50" screen instead of a 19" TV? Should you pay more for your music if you listen to it on a big stereo instead of your little MP3 player?

Sure, you might retort that this is a fundamental shift in medium and those others are not. True, but the shift is being done AFTER purchase and for the consumers own personal enjoyment. Reading aloud to ones children is the same shift in medium and is also for private enjoyment. What is the difference here that would have you charge more when a machine does it rather than a human? From the authors perspective, the exact same operation is being performed. Should the cost not also be the same?

In a similar vein, I can well see the day when some smart programmer somewhere writes a program that can read and understand a story. It would then be able to use the same characters, situations, and even the original authors style to create new stories based on the old. In a rudimentary fashion it actually wouldn't be that hard to do today! Would you say that such a machine would be libel for copyright royalties if it was done for private pleasure? How does that balance with your stated views on fan fiction and your own creations with "Frog and Toad"?

I'm not trying to start a flame war here John. I am just curious if you have considered these, (what I consider natural) consequences of your stated view point here.

I'm expecting you will not see merit in any of these arguments and instead choose to wield your trusty flame thrower so excuse me while I now don my Kevlar suit....

joeclark said...

You have, for some reason, developed a kind of reputation for electronic copyright knowledge, chiefly by relentlessly promoting the electronic publication of one of your books, something many of us had done already.

But are you trying to insinuate here that you legitimately believe that a synthesized voice reading a copyrighted literary work is a violation of copyright?

The Kindle doesn’t (legally) exist in Canada. But screen readers do. Your Mac has one built in. If you go to my Web site, itself a copyrighted literary work, and use your screen reader to read it out loud, have you violated copyright? Do you owe me money?

How is the Kindle different?

How much of this insinuation represents Ontario Arts Council policy or a policy direction you intend to push the Council toward?

John said...

joeclark (if that is your real name),

I mention in my welcome section to the blog that this is not an official OAC site. This is my personal blog. You should not assume that what is written here represents actual OAC policy and direction, or even intended OAC policy and direction. I mean that very seriously.

I find it interesting that both commenters have assumed that Roy Blount Jr. and I are the same person. I didn't write the op-ed; I merely linked to it.

Finally, when you say I am "relentlessly promoting the electronic publication of one of[my] books," are you referring to The Uninvited Guest, available as a free download from this earlier posting on my blog? I'm not sure how relentless I've been with the promotion since I haven't mentioned it in many months, but thanks for bringing it up.

As to all the questions so far about Mr. Blount's opinions, I suggest you direct them to Mr. Blount.

Infringer said...

I don't think any one here is accusing you two of being the same person John, but your comment does suggest that you would agree with him.

If that is not the case, then this would be a good time to clarify your position.

I could direct my questions to Mr Blount, but I am honestly interested in your opinion and to what degree you agree with him. You did after all bring the subject up. I thought you might at least be willing to discuss it.


Infringer said...

Cory Doctorow has BoingBoing'd the same NYT article this morning.

More food for thought and debate...

John said...

Well there you go -- Mr. Doctorow addresses his concerns to Mr. Blount. A novel idea.

Cory Doctorow is well known for his views on authors (other than himself), and publishers (other than his own) insisting on their industrial rights. I believe he also scoffed at writers and publishers for taking on Google.

Clearly, he is an influential thinker on these topics.

You all are welcome to carry on debates in the comments section, as long as it remains civil. I don't have time to participate, but I'm happy to keep posting topics that keep people thinking.

John McFetridge said...

Today it's a synthesized voice - someday it may be as good as an audio book.

Before that happens it would be great if we could get the legal stuff out of the way.

I would like to be able to sell my books in all forms as one unit to consumers. Someday perhaps that will be the case.

For now, though, I sell different rights to different companies. I just signed a contract for the US rights to my next two books with St. Martins Press, but those rights do not include audio book rights (other companies specialize in audio books). This is simply a detail that will get worked out should the e-book also be the audio book.

Again, though, this is really a matter of respect. The marketers of the new Kindle with text to voice know perfectly well that e-book and audio rights have been sold seperately and they chose not to deal with that. Certainly they knew this would force the issue.

If the technology gets good enough it will likely just put audio book companies out of business (and some actors will lose a payday) and perhaps e-books will become a little more expensive for consumers as they'll have "Audio included!"

Infringer said...

Hi McF,

I don't think it is a matter of respect or non-respect. These are companies that think only of how to make money for their shareholders. Respect is irrelevant to their behaviour.

As for getting the legal stuff out of the way. I couldn't agree more, and to that end I think that Amazon's Kindle is well within the law. Therefore getting the "legal stuff out of the way" simply requires a little case law in Amazons favour.

The reason they are well within the law is that for copyright to exist, the work must either be fixed within a medium or must be a performance. As the audio version in this case is not fixed within a medium, for copyright to exist on it, it must be on the performance aspect of it. Then you will need to get into all sorts of muddy waters regarding who is the performer, and the applicability of US fair use. It is not clear cut, but at the end of the day, I do believe that Amazon will prevail.

Your conclusion is dead on though. If authors know that book readers are a possibility, they will have to consider whether they want to charge a greater royalty on the work to compensate for that. In the end this becomes a matter of contract rather than copyright law, which is what it should be.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, this is really about contracts.

And when it comes to the law, it's too hazy to predict anything. Deals will be made...

John McFetridge said...

If authors know that book readers are a possibility, they will have to consider whether they want to charge a greater royalty on the work to compensate for that.

My dream goes like this: someone reads my books and recommends it to their friend. The friend says, "Can you email me a copy," and the other person says, "Come on, it's five bucks, buy your own. The guy worked on it for two years."

"Yeah, but that's an e-book, I want an audio file."

"It's the same file, just buy it."

"No wait, I want an actual paper book."

"Take the file you bought to the POD machine in the mall and get it printed out. They'll charge you a few extra bucks for the paper and printing - less than the latte you'll buy while you're there."