Friday, January 22, 2010

Librarians as Offline Pirates

Earlier this week, I had to report to the local government on the historic preservation project that has me in such close association with the Reverent William T. Price and family. Part of that project has sent me reading up on copyright issues and the public domain. I even wrote a little report on it: Pocahontas County Historic Preservation Project: A Draft of Digitization Policies.

Join that with my recent interest in ebook readers and you'll see why everywhere I look, I find more to read about copyright laws, digital rights management (DRM), and intellectual property theft. This week Slashdot pointed me to this amusing analysis: Offline Book "Lending" Costs U.S. Publishers Nearly $1 Trillion

Hot on the heels of the story in Publisher's Weekly that "publishers could be losing out on as much $3 billion to online book piracy" comes a sudden realization of a much larger threat to the viability of the book industry. Apparently, over 2 billion books were "loaned" last year by a cabal of organizations found in nearly every American city and town. Using the same advanced projective mathematics used in the study cited by Publishers Weekly, Go To Hellman has computed that publishers could be losing sales opportunities totaling over $100 Billion per year, losses which extend back to at least the year 2000. These lost sales dwarf the online piracy reported yesterday, and indeed, even the global book publishing business itself.

From what we've been able to piece together, the book "lending" takes place in "libraries". On entering one of these dens, patrons may view a dazzling array of books, periodicals, even CDs and DVDs, all available to anyone willing to disclose valuable personal information in exchange for a "card". But there is an ominous silence pervading these ersatz sanctuaries, enforced by the stern demeanor of staff and the glares of other patrons. Although there's no admission charge and it doesn't cost anything to borrow a book, there's always the threat of an onerous overdue bill for the hapless borrower who forgets to continue the cycle of not paying for copyrighted material.

The slashdot story comments were also amusing:

In related news it has been discovered that the contents of textbooks, which often sell for $200 or more, are largely made up of information and ideas developed by previous authors. The previous textbook authors are starting to complain that they aren't getting any royalties from new textbooks and are now calling new textbook authors "seagoing murdering thieves" (pirates). Others are wondering why books mostly inspired by previous works, have more than a hundred year copyright, when the Constitution only authorizes copyrights for limited times, not a trillion years.

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