Friday, July 9, 2010

Awl Ah Wahnt Is Mah Monnnaayy. . .

Over at the Lithium Press, my brother-in-law's blog, he's written an interesting post on an interesting post that's attracted a lot of attention from folks who don't want to be called digital pirates, but are in the eyes of some.

This is the question of the ages, and how it'll be settled will decide the fate of more than one industry, area of study, discipline, and commandment.

And, frankly, it's a lot older question than the Internet likes to pretend it is. Take me, for instance. I can't remember the last time I bought a new book at a bookstore. Yet books continue to flow into my house at an alarming rate. So alarming, in fact, I had to pack two boxes of books under the stairs because they were becoming a fire hazard in the study. I bought all of those books used, from thrift stores, with none of the proceeds going to the authors. And legally, there's nothing they can do about it, unless they suddenly go after every thrift store, used book store, library sale and garage sale in the nation, looking for a cut. And you've got newspapers and magazines bragging to advertisers: Hey, each copy of our publication is read by 2.3, 3.4 people. That's pass-along readership. The subsequent readers don't pay a cent for the publication they're reading. But they've obviously got some value to the publication, as they're bragged about. "Hey! We have freeloaders reading our stuff! You ought to pay us more!"

Why, suddenly, in the digital era, can't we buy used e-books? And why can't we share our paywall passwords with other people, so they can read the stuff we just read? What is it about the digital age that suddenly equates a one to one ratio between consumer and media to be consumed? Yeah, we can spread the copies around easily. But you know what, I have a sister in North Idaho who shops for books at a used book store up there, and she sends me the occasional book. It's laborious and more expensive than the Internet, but I still get the books I want without having paid a cent for them. The authors get nothing out of the transaction.

About a year ago, I saw a new book from one of my favorite authors at the book store. I really wanted to buy it. But it cost $24. It stayed at the bookstore. I don't have that kind of money lying around the house. But you know what? I've got the book now. Didn't pay for it. My sister bought it used. Read it, then mailed it to me. She doesn't have the room to store books, and typically doesn't re-read books anyway, or at least not as much as I do. So I've got the book. Free, absolutely free.

I'm scum.

I'm a wannabe author. I finished writing the first draft of a fantasy novel just a few weeks ago. It's available for free, in installments, on my blog. Nobody wants it. Nobody's reading it. Who am I to think that if it's printed, bound, edited and marketed that suddenly someone will want to read it? Did I write it for financial gain, or for the fact that I wanted to write a book? What's more important? The remuneration, or the reward of having accomplished something difficult? I don't think it's unreasonable that somewhere along the line, if people want to read what I've written, they ought to pay me for the privilege. That's all Mozart wanted with the music he wrote. He loved doing it. But doing it all for free didn't help pay the bills.

My brother-in-law writes this, which offer something to think about:
When a pianist, as in this article, collects all the significant piano music ever published, pops it on a thumbdrive, and gives it away to other pianists, I have a hard time seeing any difference between that pianist and most scholars. Probably, true enough, this is sowing some seeds of destruction, but it also contains the seeds of creation. And I don't know why doing this is fair-use if you work at a university but piracy if you, well, work for a living. But of course, if academics ran the world, we'd replace copyright with open access on day one, or at least some generous implementation of Creative Commons licensing.
We can't say something is okay in one instance, wrong in the next -- which is illustrated by buying used books and by counting pass-along readership. Speaking of which, a friend of mine just e-mailed me a NPR article on the fate of the weekly news magazine -- because said friend wants my input as we as a group at Uncharted.net ponder how we can enter the print market. We've already published our first book. We published a four-page "magazine" in order to secure copyright on the Uncharted name in print media. But the big question remains: Will we be flogging a dead horse? We can't get our website to pay for itself, let alone paying to print books and magazines. And in the meantime, I paid no one to read that article. In its entirety. E-mailed to me at home so I didn't even have to search it out.

Here's something along the lines of what my BNL writes about: Tony Woodfield, writing for the Wall Street Journal, about the incredibly high fees he's being asked to quote copyrighted material in a book he's writing. I've got the same problem with another book I'm working on. If the fees are like this, the song that partially inspired me will have to be excised -- and at a dear cost, since the song is almost a character in the novel.

But don't people who create something have the right to expect -- and receive -- some kind of remuneration for their creativity along the way? Creative Commons licensing may foster creativity, but as an author myself, one of these days, I reserve the right to make the following statement:

video

Awl Ah Wahnt is Mah Monnnaaayyy. . . 

This video clip is, of course, copyrighted by 20th Century Fox. It comes from Episode 21, Season 10, of M*A*S*H, which I'm posting here under our nation's comically vague fair use laws, in order to prove a point. May God have mercy on my soul. Does it take the curse off it if I say it comes from the Season Ten DVD set that we bought -- legitimately -- and since I'm not posting the entire episode, but only a portion, nobody can really pirate this? I don't know . . .

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