Ebooks and Illegal Downloading

Thursday, October 27, 2011

At StakeIllegal downloading has wreaked havoc on the music industry, DVD sales have suffered - are ebooks the next? And wouldn't you know it, my alma mater, the University of Michigan, leads the charge of copyright infringement - they tried to give their students and professors access to a digital version of the works of J. R. Salamanca. Wait, you've never heard of him?  Well, he did have a bestseller - fifty years ago. Luckily, the Authors Guild was there to sue and set those Wolverines right, the lawless scoundrels.  

Now, I don't want to diminish the works of Mr. Salamanca, I would be lucky to sell as many books as he has. But Kevin Smith, Duke's Scholarly Communications Officer (sweet title), notes that the last transaction in their libraries for Salamanca's work from the list was 2004 - when it was sent to "high-density storage." There had been no transactions for the decade prior. Smith points out that Salamanca is far more likely to find new readers via HathiTrust than any alternative the Authors Guild presents.

The Authors Guild is picking battles that are easy to find when the real threats are elsewhere. Michigan, and the other research library members in HathiTrust , aim to preserve books by digitizing them with the help of Google Books. On the side, they sought to provide digital copies of books in the public domain or whose copyright owners could not be found, so called "orphan works." Apparently some of the orphans weren't quite so orphaned. But the real threat to authors and the industry is peer-to-peer file sharing, far more likely with current bestsellers than with anything that could approach orphan status. It's like the music industry going nuts over a copyright dispute regarding Elgar's Sanguine Fan while millions of Rihannadownloads are what they're really worried about. Of course, the peer-to-peer sharing is harder to stop or even identify and makes for poor headlines - hey, we sued Bill from Kankakee for downloading Harry Potter! But what the Authors Guild is doing now is of questionable value, despite the gloating.