Re: Funbdamenatl Reform of Copyright Law

From: Spectrum Press <specpres[_at_]>
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 1996 08:56:38 +0000

John Lederer writes:
> Right now copyright protection is akin to "double secret probation".
> The only sure result is contempt for the law.

When I first entered the publishing business, after a long tenure as an academic, I was amazed at the copyright laws. For 30 years I had copied pell mell in university libraries for my own use. Whole monographs were often copied by myself and other faculty. Off the campus, facing the copyright laws, I discovered that for 30 years I had been engaged in unlawful activity. Fair use? Balderdash. Most of the copying by research faculty is in connection with funded research projects, not teaching. And many of these research projects are funded by private corporations. Or consider the case of a law professor (in the days before Lexis) who uses the university's library to copy material of use to him in private practice. Or the analogous physician on the staff of a university hospital. All of it was (and still is) law-breaking. Now we hear a voice that says if it's done on a university campus, it's by definition fair use. Fine. So what about professionals who have copy machines at home? Is that fair use also? Is the idea that any copying by an academic is fair use? What about academics who are only part time? Part time students? What about corporations who pay access fees to university libraries? Copying by corporate personnel in university libraries is quite common. All fair use because it's on a campus? The present copyright laws are unwieldy and unintelligent, and faced with unintelligent law I will tell you that most professionals by instinct will find some higher purpose to justify ignoring the law completely. So the copy gets done and the publishers must charge ridiculous prices to the libraries in order to make the profit demanded by the capitalist system of economics. You manufacture and sell 2000 copies of a technical monograph to 2000 librairies, but that's it. The monograph may be read, copied, and used by 50,000 people, but you can expect a sale of only 2000. There is no way to sell that book at a low price. The end result is that only libraries can afford such books and journals, in much the same way as only museums can afford important artwork. (And librarians are now screaming that *they* can't even afford the books at current prices!).

It seems to me the entire system of publishing, distribution, and copyright is approaching a collapse.

As a 30 year law-breaker and current publisher, what I find missing in copyright law is an explicit and strong distinction between copying/distribution by a commercial interest and copying by a consumer. As long as this distinction is absent, it seems to me the copyright law is a law written for an unreal world. Any law that says copying an article of personal significance from a magazine and faxing it to a friend in England is a crime is a crazy law and will be ignored by all sane people.

I thus heartily agree with the remarks of John Lederer.

So what's to be done? Well, I think with new technologies, the publishing business will transform itself. Up until now, the philosophy has been to produce a property and have it protected against copying. With all the available technology, copying is too easy and that won't work. So I think what will happen is that publishers will realize they must stand the philosophy on its head. They must produce a property and *encourage* people to copy it. They will make money doing so by including paid advertising in their products, as magazines do. That magazine article that was faxed to England included side-bars advertising vacation spots in the Caribbean. That, my friends, is where I think books are headed. Book matter surrounded by advertising? Why not? Dickens first appeared surrounded by advertising in newspapers.

All of which leads to the following idea concerning database legislation: It's not necessary, absolutely not necessary. In the future, providers of electronic databases will make tons of money via paid advertising embedded in data. They already know that. Their problem is that at the moment they are not sure how to do the embedding. Let them work on it. Meanwhile, we don't need to make it more difficult for people to get and use information. That's not in the public interest.

Dan Agin

Spectrum Press Inc.
specpres[_at_] Received on Wed Sep 18 1996 - 14:03:56 GMT

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