17 June 2011

The Arrogance of Artists (and Publishers)

You wouldn't expect much else from a meeting organised by WIPO, but this is pretty rich even for them:

Copyright is necessary to allow authors to live from their trade and to guarantee their independence, and exceptions should be decided by authors and publishers, according to panellists on a copyright dialogue held at the World Intellectual Property Organization this week.

Amusingly, this was a "copyright dialogue": but I bet there weren't many people from the *other* side of the equation - the readers. The readers, you see, don't really count in this - "exceptions should be decided by authors and publishers" as the above insists. The fact that copyright is supposed to be a balanced quid pro quo - a time-limited monopoly in return for works entering the public domain afterwards, and that such a balanced of necessity requires both parties to agree, seems not to have entered the heads of those authors and publishers.

The very idea that "exceptions should be decided by authors and publishers" betrays the deep-seated arrogance and contempt that both of these now have for their readers. And that's all part and parcel of the publishing industry's problems: it sees readers as the enemy, something that must be fought and vanquished in order for it to be forced to buy books on the terms of authors and publishers - forced, if necessary, by ever-more Draconian laws that criminalise willy-nilly.

What is so regrettable about this depressing vision is that at the very same conference where these extraordinarily insulting comments about readers were made, another publisher revealed the wonderful truth:

For Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing, publishing is also investing in the future. Copyright is a flexible system, he said, giving an example of Bloomsbury Academic’s business model. The publishing company publishes social sciences and humanities research publications. They are available online under a Creative Commons non-commercial licence, and for sale as printed books. The publications are thus widely available, Charkin said, but surprisingly, he said that sales of books seem to be higher when they offer free downloads than if they do not.

Go that? "Surprisingly", when people can freely share books, they *buy more* - exactly as many of us have been saying for years, and in diametric opposition to the dogma of the same authors and publishers who insist that they know best, and that readers must be brought to heel like recalcitrant curs rather than treated as equals in a pleasant colloquy.

How to make money in the age of digital abundance is there for all that have eyes to see; sadly, even the most basic optical equipment seems lacking in this singularly benighted profession. Looks like they will have to learn the hard way....

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Anonymous said...

This is an appropriate answer.

Copyright beneficiaries are not the stakeholders. They are not part of the balance.


glyn moody said...

yes, thanks for reminding me of that post, which explored the issues well.