e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

Libraries and Copyright

Michael Capobianco, former president (and many other offices) of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, has written an excellent post on some of the issues surrounding libraries, the HathiTrust, Google, and the abuse of copyright by those who want to profit from a writer's work by claiming the work is in the public domain.   Copyright Is People was the starting point for my post, so go read it first, and also read the comments. 

(And for those who wish I'd use an LJ cut more often, talk to LiveJournal.  Currently, I can't make my text go in the gray area that's "behind the cut"...attempts to do so result in being told to make another LJ cut.  LJ should learn from WordPress--on my WordPress-software blogs, I can put the cut where I want to at any time, even after writing the whole piece.)

Anyway--you've read Michael's post and the comments, right?  You do understand that Anonymous is being snarky and troll-like, right?   

To start with, I've been a fan of libraries since I first walked into one and that would be...longer ago than most of my readers have been alive.   I first got a library card at age 5 or 6.   My mother fought with the head librarian and the children's librarian until they quit trying to restrict me to books in my grade level and let me check out whatever I wanted.  It was a library for a town of about 15,000, at that time and it was not overseen by today's sort of library managers, who insist on throwing out (and in some places shredding) any book that hasn't been checked out recently or often enough in the past year.   Books on the shelves were considered a resource, no matter how old they were (that's how I read my way through several volumes of naval history that no one had ever checked out since they were put in place--but by the thumbprints, they'd certainly been read.  They were too big to fit in my bike basket.)   I've admired librarians for keeping all those books in order, and for preserving old books so that I could find and use them.  I've used libraries of all sizes from under 1000 volumes to university libraries filling vast stacks and city libraries (both main and branch) with immense collections.  I've ordered books from Interlibrary Loan (a wonderful program.)   It's from librarians that I learned to notice who wrote a book I liked (not something that interests a child until they have to ask for another book like it--and the librarian points out that knowing the author really helps locate the book.)   Librarians of my childhood and youth and college years understood copyright and pointed out to us the problems with both plagiarism and copyright infringement.  I have librarian friends, at least two of whom are also writers.  

When I was first published in book form, I was thrilled at the thought that my book would be in some libraries (I knew not all) and that people like me (still using a library sometimes despite all the books in my house)  would get to discover my books the way I had discovered so many other writers' books...by cruising the shelves or by a librarian's recommendation.   I was glad that people who couldn't afford to buy my books could read them without charge in a library--thus both supporting the library and (maybe) acquiring such a taste for my books that they would seek them out elsewhere and maybe someday buy one.

But.  But attitudes have changed. With the ease of copying works (starting with photocopies and copiers in libraries) and particularly with the rise of digital works, even librarians--even good librarians--have leapt on the bandwagon of "copyright is a nuisance when I want what I want right this minute and I should have it free."    Although librarians are discarding books--perfectly good books, often rare books, books they didn't even have to pay for because they were donated (and let me tell you, it annoys writers who have donated one of their precious authors' copies to a library and finds out that the library just trashed it)--because they aren't checked out enough.    It's cheaper to "house" digital copies of books.   It's cheaper to just make more digital copies if you have a run on a certain title, than to buy a few more paper copies.   And if you want a book that's not in print--heck, just digitize it and hand it out that way.   Best of all, if you can claim the work is an "orphan" you can claim that copyright shouldn't count.  Only easy, cheap availability counts. 

And authors who complain are just...well, a nuisance that you can slander to your heart's content, because after all they're just writers--what do they know? 

They know Google stole from them.  They know libraries are now stealing from them.   Reminder: I never minded libraries having my books available for people to check out.   That's how I got hooked on books and on certain writers.   The libraries bought the books (albeit at a library discount, but fine) thus supporting my publisher and maybe a crumb for me.    I was in this for the long haul, so the fact that years might pass before a reader who liked Sheepfarmer's Daughter in a library actually bought one of the others in a store didn't bother me.  Doesn't bother most writers.  We have long honored libraries for preserving books and promoting reading and have accepted the short-term loss resulting from 50 people reading the same copy of the book in order to hook some of those 50 people on other books later.  But now...the new attitude among librarians that writers are a nuisance to be slapped down if they object to being digitized and distributed without their consent or remuneration is changing how many writers feel about librarians and libraries.    Combined with the relentless "culling" of library shelves  that results in a shallower selection--that has cost library after library any value as a historical repository--it seems to me, and to many others, that many librarians have become actively hostile to the people who write the books that are the reason for a library's existence.

Mr. Smith, in a letter to Mr. Salamanca, whose work had been digitized without his knowledge or consent, a letter dripping with condescension and, frankly, insulting, states that "libraries are not your enemies" and
"We are in the business of helping authors find readers..."  Which is, frankly, nonsense when applied to the modern model of library, busily dumping books into shredders and incinerators when the books don't find enough readers by themselves.   Libraries today are in the business of handing readers what they already want--the latest bestseller, the books assigned by a professor,. etc.   The other books are just a nuisance, and so are their authors.  Moreover, authors are in a very different business, that of making a living from their writing.  For this purpose, writers do need readers...but we have many other ways to find them than through libraries, valuable as libraries were (and still are, in some cases.)   We, too, have entered the digital age; we have websites and blogs and social media sites (like LJ and Twitter.)  

So libraries are "not our enemies" if and only if libraries increase--or at least do not markedly decrease--our income stream.  Crass?  No, realistic.   
Libraries started dumping their collections for economic reasons.   We protect our copyright for economic reasons.   Anyone who thinks this is terrible/horrible/etc. is welcome to choose a writer to support economically, to become a writer's patron in perpetuity.  Otherwise, shut up about the crassness of writers, who at least earned their copyright by writing the books.   Those who attack copyright are not attacking "giant international corporations" or "the music industry"...they are attacking me and my family, who depend on my writing for basic things like food, clothing, utilities, place to live, etc.   They are attacking every individual writer in the country...those who make more than I do, those who make less, those who are famous, those who are struggling to get that first work published.   And we have just as much right to care about our needs, our budgets, our families as anyone else.    Yet writers are traditionally, and still, expected to "do more with less" than, say, plumbers or the guy driving the backhoe.   We've always been expected to write stuff for nothing, give talks at schools for nothing, let someone use our work "for charity," donate books (not yet knowing they'd be destroyed at the whim of a librarian), give free advice to  as-yet-unpublished writers, etc.  And most of us have done quite a bit of that.

And now libraries (some libraries, certainly many academic libraries and those part of the HathiTrust--and Google of course) expect that writers should just roll over and play dead whenever a library or a big corporation wants to take the writer's work (without permission and ignoring all previous contracts that may still apply)  and let Google or the HathiTrust digitize and distribute the work without any remuneration.

It's as if a farmer discovered that a corporation or non-profit decided that since no one was home at the moment, it was OK to go steal the crop--pick the apples or the pears, pull the carrots and onions--because after all it's more convenient if you don't have to worry about the fact that someone else planted that field, possibly even saving seed from last year, grafting those trees, and doing the cultivation--if you can just pick what you want for free any time you wish. 

People with that attitude are my enemies as long as they're stealing.   They are thieves, whatever mantle of "social service" they wrap themselves in.   Google is a thief.  Hathi-Trust is a thief.    Google's digitization of my work was illegal.  They have yet to apologize to me, or state that they have destroyed the digital copy(ies) they made of my works.   So: thief.    Hathi-Trust has not revealed that it holds Google's digitization of my work (though it's an off shoot of Google's project) , but it has clearly infringed on Salamanca's and others' copyrights: and by the snide response from Mr. Smith, they aren't showing any remorse at all.  Mr. Smith chooses not to understand that the digitization alone--just that--was already an infringement and a theft.  I have no reason to think they are not secretly holding more illegal digitizations than they claim.   So: thief.   It is one thing to have thieves running around stealing stuff and acting like normal criminals.  But to have libraries--LIBRARIES--stealing without any conscience at all?   Because it's convenient?  Because it's cheap?   That's so far over the line, the line is invisible 100 miles back.

Libraries are now upset because publishers are limiting the number of readings per loaded e-reader they buy.  What the Sam Hilll did they expect would happen when they started this "digitize and distribute innumerable copies nationwide free" thing?   Oh, yeah, sure it's easier.  Cheaper.  For the library.   But are librarians completely blind to what keeps writers and their publishers alive?  No, it's not "finding readers."   It's finding readers who pay for the writing.   Those of you who "monetize" (make money from) your blogs by allowing ads, some of which is based on "click-throughs" should get this.   If people don't "click through" to the ad, you get less (in some cases no) money.   Some of you allow the ads because you can't afford to pay for the blog yourself; you get free space that's paid for by the ads  Fine.  Then you know that writers can't afford to live on pure admiration, no matter how much of it there is.  

For anyone who wants a "platform" on which to spout her/his stuff--fiction, nonfiction, poetry, recipes,whatever--there's a cost to put the platform up, be it in print or digitally on your own website.   The cost may be money, or allowing the web host to run ads on your site or blog.  The servers, the electricity to run the servers, the techs to keep the servers running...none of that is free.   Neither are the components that go into a book.   The more of the income stream is diverted by thieves (any kind of thieves, including libraries) the more the necessary price of the book goes up, even if nothing else does.  (Other things do.  Resource scarcity.)   I can't tell the power company that because my book sales dropped, I'll be paying them only a percentage of my electric bill.  The publisher can't tell their power company that.   If I self-published e-books (something we might all come to someday) I still can't tell the power company (or the propane company, or the city water department, or the grocery store) that.   And it wouldn't be fair if I did.  The person who grew the tomatoes that are in the can of diced tomatoes I buy also has needs; the person who drives the city truck out to check the city sewer system has needs.  The guy employed by the printing company who prints the paper books has needs; the guy who drives the trucks loaded with boxes of books has needs; the bookstore clerk has needs.  They should not make less just because I made less, and none of us should make less because some fat-assed smirking lawyer thinks it's OK for Hathi-Trust--doing this wonderful public service of infringing copyright--to steal from me and my publisher. 

Copyright is definitely people.  It's writers, first of all, but their copyright protection also serves everyone in the publishing chain and everyone with whom the writer or the publisher or the printer or the binder or the truck driver comes in economic contact, from the farmers who feed us to the road construction crews and rail construction crews who carry cargo we use or sell.  There are writers, artists, editors, printers, electricians, plumbers, factory workers in multiple industries,  retail business persons in large and small businesses, public and private utility workers...ALL of them, whether they read my books or not, who are affected by thefts from my publisher's income stream and mine. 

So I say to Mr. Smith (and many others) "Keep your sticky fingers off my property."  (And that of any other writer, since--if they get away with it with one, they'll get away with it with us all.)

Tags: copyright, politics, writing
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