Latest changes in the book trade 6
The current situation in the book trade is one of rapid change. It's important for writers to understand what is happening as it will impact on their own chances of getting their work published and how it will be published. This newly revised series will look at the changes in the book trade, with a different focus each week. First, where books are heading and what changes are taking place at the sharp end of the book trade - the bookselling world.
6: Copyright under pressure
Copyright continues to be under great pressure from the new media and in many ways this has intensified. The big publishers have set up their own digital warehouses to preserve control. Big investments have been and will continue to be made in digitising backlist and the large companies' frontlist is now being digitised as part of the production process. Microsoft backed away from their own version of Google's Search Inside programme, on the assumption that the internet search engine was so far ahead that they could not catch up.
The Google Settlement battle continues to rage and it is not yet clear what the final outcome will be. At the heart of this is the question of copyright and whether any organisation has the right to digitise an author's work without their specific permission. The focus has been on 'orphan works', which are books where no-one knows who owns the copyright, but Google are also planning to digitise thousands of books which are still in copyright. Those opposed to the Settlement are arguing that authors need to give their specific permission.
E-books look like being very much easier to copy and download than print books, in spite of all the efforts which publishers have put into Digital Rights Management. The rapid advance of the e-book in the past year therefore poses major new challenges. Amazon have, perhaps unwittingly, shown this by deleting books which have then also disappeared from people's Kindles.
An argument is currently raging about what the author should receive as an e-book royalty, as it is very much cheaper for the publisher to produce, once they have the original text in a digitised form. That does not however mean that publishers - and authors - don't need to recoup their investment of time and money spent on the book through the e-book edition. Beyond the very real problems caused by e-book prices and their relationship to hardback books in terms of timing and price, the major difficulty for publishers is the potential lack of control. Publishers do defend their authors' copyright, so this means loss of control for the author too.
It's never been easier to copy, 'borrow' or steal authors' work. Online plagiarism is rife and the idea that everything on the web is free continues to be highly seductive.
So where does the author currently stand in all this? Authors must retain control over their copyrights, it is the very basis of intellectual property and the cornerstone of the book trade. It is essential to preserve writers' ownership of their work and make sure they are properly remunerated and acknowledged. Publishers are in the best position to defend authors' copyright, as in this area their interests are close to those of the writers on whom they depend.
There have been some major test cases relating to copyright in the courts. In 2008 Tolkien's heirs sued the film company New Line Cinema for $150 million (£75 million) in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages. The Tolkien trustees said that as the author's heirs they had not received any share of the $6 billion (over £3 billlion) which the films and DVDs of The Lord of the Rings had taken worldwide. Big money was involved in this case, which was settled out of court in 2009.
In a possibly even more newsworthy case, also in 2008, J K Rowling sued a US publisher over the Harry Potter Lexicon. The fan who put the book together claimed it was homage to Harry Potter, but Rowling successfully maintained that the author Vander Ark had used large amounts of material from her books without seeking or getting permission to do so. This was an important test case in relation to an author's right to control use of their work.
The current tussle going on internationally in relation to e-book rights shows again the ultimate importance of the author's control of their rights. With the resurgence of Rosetta Books and the start-up of other e-book publishing ventures, the question of who controls e-book rights has become crucial. Random House US recently laid claim to these rights in relation to a whole skew of important backlist authors. They said that e-book rights had been included in the grant of volume rights many decades ago, even though those rights had not been specified in the contracts, having neither been invented or envisaged at that time. No-one yet knows how this will end, but it is an important test case for both publishers and authors.
In a global world, territoriality is becoming an increasing issue. Some American publishers are seeking to put world e-book rights into their contracts. Authors are entitled to hand these to them if they wish, as the crucial rule is that the rights in their work are theirs to dispose of. But if they do so they will have to accept that they may be damaging their publishers elsewhere in the world, whose control of individual markets will be threatened. Ultimately the international publishers will object and this means that these authors won't be able to sell their work around the world in the same way.
But not all recent developments in copyright are against the writer's interest. 'Creative Commons' has provided a new way of licensing material so that it can be used for other purposes, depending on what parameters the author has set. The Internet has vastly increased authors' potential access to their market, and produced a range of new opportunities.
Perhaps Reg Carr, Librarian Emeritus at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library, defending Google in the Bookseller should have the last word:
'For the Bodleian, however - an early Google signatory - such efforts mark the liberation of millions of relatively obscure and out-of-copyright books from the depths of its vast stacks. Our involvement contributes both to the betterment of society and to the legacy of our founder, Elizabethan diplomat Sir Thomas Bodley, who sought a repository of information not simply for the University of Oxford, but for the wider world. The internet has provided the opportunity to reinterpret Bodley's vision of the library's universal value by adding a potential readership of billions to the 40,000 or so individuals who are able to physically visit its premises each year...
Public domain books belong where the worldwide public can use them; and that is where the Bodleian wants them to be seen. Like it or not, the internet is where the public looks first for information. To resist that inexorable tide of progress is, to paraphrase Cervantes, tilting at windmills.'
Digitisation is opening up new opportunities and the Internet is the public domain of our times. As much material as possible should be publicly available, but only when this does not threaten authors' continued right to control their intellectual property, as enshrined in their contracts and the rules governing copyright.
Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage.
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