Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Freedom =/= Free

OK, I don't know where the "does not equal" sign is on my keyboard. That's the best I can do.

My fellow NBD colleague, Mary, sent me two links I thought I'd share that offered some interesting insight into the issue of copyright in the digital age—a truly complex issue in which laws are being created, boundaries pushed, precedent explored. A brave new world with compelling arguments from many perspectives.

By way of back story, as you may know, both the Association of American Publishers (of which Harlequin is a member along with most other publishers and I am on the board) and the Author's Guild have filed suit against Google over copyright & a Google project with several University libraries (Stanford among them, Google founders are Stanford alums) to make digital copies of material under copyright without the copyright holders permission. You can go to Dogpile.com & search for additional detail...

On a side note, if you find it confusing, Google has a number of initiatives, some appropriately requesting receivingng copyright holders permission, the Library project not. However the names these various initiatives are called seem to change, making it hard to pin things down (perhaps that's the point).

I see this issue as being the subtext to the conversation between Richard Sarnoff & Lawrence Lessig below...

Click through to the blog by ZDNet's Mitch Ratcliffe. He's talking about a forum at the D: conference (all things Digital) with Richard Sarnoff, Random House CEO and Lawrence Lessig, a lawyer teaching law at Stanford University.

I found Mitch's piece well articulated, focusing on what I see as the true challenge—the ability for creators to control and be compensated for their work.

I am going to quote two paragraphs of his, in case you don't click through, because I think he puts things so nicely:

"But I think it's a little too easy to applaud lawyers complaining about lawyers when the problem is a question of, as Lessig said, 'the digital destiny of American culture or world history.' The lawyers are the sideshow, the problem is how to pay for the culture Mr. Lessig wants to preserve, and lawyers aren't the experts I'd rely on for culture. After all, with rare exceptions, lawyers don't produce writing or video or music that anyone would want to read, see or hear except to pass a test.

"The big question is how artists, writers, performers and others who dedicate themselves to creative work and make no living from a "day job" are going to get paid. This doesn't mean one has to be a "paid professional" to be a writer or artist or filmmaker, only that if one does choose to make their living that way, they need to put food on the table just like anyone else. And, if they produce a great work or monstrous hit, why shouldn't they live in a big house and eat caviar from the belly buttons of their favored gender or contribute their fortunes to charity and schools for the art, should they so choose? After all, it's only fair given the nature of the economy that someone who bets everything on their creativity should get paid when they make something people want, enjoy or participate in with zest."

While one could continue to argue this is a new medium, needing zero barriers to entry, I actually think it's time we began to up the ante & ask for moreƂ—like let's start to figure out control & compensation, which is what copyright is supposed to be about.

The next story Mary shared was the Virgin France music piracy article, where the courts found that Virgin France had illegally downloaded Madonna's Hung Up to sell on their own website. Check out the BBC article.

In case you don't click:

"France Telecom's Herve Payan told the International Herald Tribune: 'This is an amazing case of simple piracy by a respected company.'"

Why, you might wonder? "Virgin France said it had broken the exclusive agreement in the interest of consumers. The group...have recently attacked record firms for releasing top selling singles to mobile and internet firms under exclusive deals. Similar deals in the US involving the Starbucks coffee chain have also prompted anger, with retailer HMV claiming such moves limit consumer access to music."

There is a sense of entitlement that seems to feel justified in rolling over individual decisions and the right to control one's own content....But ultimately, it is something the courts will decide.

As a treat for reading this far, here's an example of a publisher (moi...well, whatever) choosing to give something away—a cool $1.00 off Coupon, good wherever books are sold—for Brenda Novak's DEAD SILENCE, out July 26th, set in a small fictional town in Mississippi. Scary.

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