Got a Lot in the NYT

The NYTimes has a couple of interesting articles worth discussing. You need a free subscription, and the links will probably die in a few weeks.

This doesn’t need much discussion, but I can’t help but point out another dig it my good buddies at Clear Channel. Similarly, while anyone who has read my thougfhts about media ownership won’t be surprised, I enjoyed the article on Sunday about the new documentary/video op ed by Robert Greenwald, Outfoxed. But this article also highlights the problems that come from the continued erosion of the fair use doctrine.

But the most pernicious piece is this article, which asks Are Used Bookstores Napster? Oh my stars! Have we really come to this, where folkks in the book industry have no shame about saying this stuff in the NY Times? I occassionaly joke to my son that we need to go to libraries before they become illegal. Ho ho.

On the other hand, I really wish the book industry would try to “fix” this “problem.” It might finally wake the rest of the public up to what’s at stake.

The Clear Channel piece is merely for amusement and further documentation that fears that companies will refuse business for political reasons even if it hurts their bottom line (you’d think this is obvious, but the number of people who believe in the myth of the “free market,” even when they don’t know what a “free market *is* continues to startle me. Absence of regulation does not automatically produce a ”free market,“ sorry, whatever you might have read in Atlas Shrugged.) For those who can’t access the article, it describes a conflict with Clear Channel in its billboard owning capacity. (Clear Channel is the largest owner of billboards, and sells packages of its billboard and radio advertising). CC refused to accept an add from an anti-war group which featured a bomb in red white and blue witht he caption ”Democracy is Best Taught By Example, Not War.“ CC claims it objected to the bomb motif (I wonder if they reject all violent ads?) CC claims to have accepted an alternative version using a dove instead of a bomb. The antiwar group dsays this is news to them.

Of more interest is the piece on Greenwald’s new op-ed/documentary ”Outfoxed.“ This chronicles how Fox News slants its ”fair and balanced“ news coverage. While more directly on target for thos of us concerned with promoting diversity in the news through diversity of ownership, don’t miss the ”fair use“ discussion. Greenwald is using lots of clips from Fox News to hoist Fox with its own petard. Will Fox file a copyright infringement suit to keep this out of theaters? Will they harrass Greenwald and his co-producers for years, even if the film gets released? On the one hand, this is the epitome of what the fair use exception is about. There simply is no substitute for Greenwald indicting Fox with its own coverage. Mere verbal descriptions of the coverage won’t do it. But a stack of bad cases raises some significant legal issues.

Even if Greenwald ultimately prevails, this demonstrates the chilling effect of the current fair use regime. We live in an age where anyone can make these kinds of documentaries. But we are not fostering the national debate we could be having. How many people can count on having Lawrence Lessig as their lawyer, and being able to cope with millions of dollars in attorneys fees?

But the final cautionary tale comes from the article by Bob Tedeschi, who asks in the opening line ”Is becoming the Napster of the book business.“ All those interviewed, even from the book business, agree that selling used books (even offering them for sale next to new books) violates no law. But the sense of entitlement that eminates from the book industry as a consequence of what the music industry has done radiates from the piece. What a deleightfully pernicious idea, that manufacturers are entiled to use the copyright laws to preserve their existing business models. Never mind whether the market has become ridiculously bloated or what the actual state of the law is now. Never mind that we are not even talking about ebooks or new technologies. This is the well recognized ”first sale“ doctrine that has been in existence since the first copyright statute.

The evil of bad ideas is not simply their immediate effects. It is the cascading effect of evil ideas. The success of the music industry against Napster and in Congress encourages others to imagine a similar regime. Why not require libraries to buy ”site licenses“ for books, as they must for programs? Why allow free libraries at all? The music and movie industries have pushed hard for a ”pay-per-view“ model on the grounds that it is more efficient. To use the now cliched metaphor, they want to charge you to buy a bottle of wine, to buy a glass, and then to charge you for each sip. All in the name of fairness and efficiency.

Still a part of me hopes that the book industry will work really, really hard to pus this idea. Perhaps they will be able to persuade someone in Congress to introduce legislation to ”fix“ this ”problem.” If anything can still serve as a wake up call to the average American about the importance of the copyright fight, threatening to outlaw the used book market and charge for libraries should do it.

Stay tuned . . . .

One Comment

  1. I’m on a couple of email lists for small and self-publishers, and I remember a stink when Amazon first started selling used books. Some people got all up in arms. And then the writer’s guild or whatnot got all up in arms and said “We Must Do Something About This!!” It all struck me as rather silly.

    As a publisher I can’t help but noticing that if I browse to the Amazon page for Acts of the Apostles there are usually between 15 and 22 used copies for sale. If used copies were harder to come by, would I sell more new copies? I doubt it, actually. Books are a very word-of-mouth phenomenon, and there are lots of people who are hooked on the whole “brand new book” experience. So, if somebody, let’s call him Joe, buys a used copy and he tells Mary and Dennis and Arthur and Montgomery that the book is really good, then (a) he can’t sell or give his used copy to all four friends and (b) Dennis and Mary happen to be the kind of people who never read used books. They like new ones. So, it’s to my advantage to have Joe buy a used copy.

    Or that’s the way I like to look at it because I can’t do anything about it anyway.

    It is on this reasoning, obviously, that I have made both of my books available in their entirety in PDF format. I expect that having done so has led to sales — it certainly has led to publicity –and in any event it has let me feel active and not passive, so, I dunno, that’s worth something.

    But as a book buyer and owner, and as a Normal Human Bean I must say that this whole idea of “used bookstores as napster” is nutty, and were it ever to be used to cause legislation about buying or selling of used books, it would be extremely horrible and scary (in addition to being nutty)

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