The Supreme Court has made it clear that foreign book editions can be legally resold in this country, and the authors’ lobby is upset. Authors Guild president Scott Turow opens a rambling NYT op-ed this way:
Last month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright. Not only does this ruling open the gates to a surge in cheap imports, but since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties. This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.
But the way Turow characterizes the situation just isn’t remotely true. Most had assumed foreign editions were covered by fair use protections and the court’s decision just reinforced that. He then claims, somewhat confusingly, “the value of copyrights is being quickly depreciated.” That’s right if he means the ability to enforce copyrights has diminished, but the protections afforded by them have never been greater.
Rob Pegoraro tries to sort it out: “I’m not unsympathetic to the underlying business-model problem. But that’s what it is–not one of weak laws, as Turow suggests. We’ve now had 15-plus years of proof that laws (and DRM) are weak barriers to copyright infringement in a system built for near-frictionless data transfer.” Makes sense to me.
The rest of Turow’s op-ed is devoted to Google-bashing and his imagining of a bleak totalitarian future in which libraries lend e-books. He’s very concerned that people are googling “Scott Turow free e-books,” implying the search engine is an accomplice to piracy, but as Mike Masnick points out, nobody is doing that. The whole op-ed is a complete mess; a kernel of legitimate grievance surrounded by overheated complaining about technological inevitabilities.
I’m a firm believer in supporting worthwhile writing and music, and I also believe that if you care about those things you have a responsibility to do so. That’s why I’m such a fan of Chris Ruen’s work on copyright, though I can’t agree with some of his prescriptions. The Authors Guild’s job in this day and age is more or less to oppose any innovation at all—they went after Amazon’s text-to-speech software on copyright grounds, and Turow recently criticized its acquisition of Goodreads—but to be convincing, it will have to provide more substantive arguments, and more effective solutions, than this dispatch from the “old-man-yells-at-cloud dept.”