Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Copyright and Cost

So many book publishers have been concerned about reducing the protection of copyright on their books. When the copy machines first came out there was a great deal of worry about people copying books and not buying from the publisher. Jerry Pournelle (a Sci-Fi author with libertarian leanings) is thinking that writing as a lucrative career is getting tough (via Instapundit).

I find it interesting (and depressing) that I spent $15 on a 300 page softcover book from Barnes and Noble. I almost never buy my books in a bookstore, if I buy them new at all. I tend to use Amazon for the large selection and additional information (reviews and such) for purchasing new and frequent library fundraising sales and use Paperback Swap a great deal for used books, and also enjoy electronic copies of books no longer bound by copyright protection (or released with a limited protection), which I download from the internet.

Library fundraising sales sell books the library is clearing out of their system (usually old books) and resell books donated by private individuals. Paperback Swap is a website for people to trade their books. You list books you no longer want in the system and if someone wants it, you mail it to them. For sending out that book you can select someone else's book to receive in return.

You'll notice that most of the books that I aquire with copyright protection I'm either not buying them at all or paying a small fee to a third party that will not forward any proceeds to the publisher. I am gaining the product of the book without the author receiving any royalties whatsoever.

How should that play with a philosophy that holds property rights and the protection of intellectual property dear?

I believe that the library system (based on improper premises though it is) may be the answer. It seems that libraries pay a premium for material. Subscriptions are more costly than for the layperson because, built into that subscription pricing, the assumption is that many people will be enjoying that newspaper or magazine and thus not ordering for themselves. It may be that publishers can take trading and reselling into account in the initial price of the book (limiting what a new owner of a book can do with it is possible, though unlikely to be effective). Another possibility is one that has lead a science fiction publisher to make limited texts available. From the Baen Free Library Page:
Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.
It's certainly true that I can't find everything I want at these free or reduced price places and have discovered a number of new subjects and authors that I would not have been willing to pay full price to read.

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