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Hot topics: copyrights, and creatorship

One of the hot topics in publishing is plain old copyright–which may be old but is far from plain vanilla today. I’ve been wondering why there isn’t a simple cribsheet that would cover the basic rules of international copyright on a single page, and why I’ve heard experienced publishers ask, “Would that be in copyright?” It shouldn’t be so complicated.

But the mere existence of protection placed on creative works seems to annoy some people. It amused me that those most vocal about how ‘information wants to be free’ have tenured positions: they don’t need to earn a living by their writing, and they seem to have no concern at all for those of us who do. I’d love to see what would happen if university education was also set free, and their regular paycheques were no more.

I just received the ALCS News, the magazine of the U.K. Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society Ltd., which I’ve been a member of for years. The ALCS collects fees from libraries, based on a survey of usage, and distributes them to authors. In Europe, similar programs are in effect for photocopying usage, too, ensuring that authors get some small addition income from the use of their creative work. A fascinating new development is the Artis’s Resale Right (droit de suite) which came into effect in the UK this year. “The right enttiels artists and visual crators to a [small] share of the sale price each time their work is resold by a gallery, auction house or dealer.” There are similar efforts underway to give authors a share of proceeds when copies of their books are resold.

This probably horrifies the ‘free information’ advocates, but as a creator it delights me. When I put on my publisher’s hat the situation becomes more complicated, but more on that another time. For now, I’ll close with a line from Terry Pratchett, the widely read and widely pirated fantasy fiction author: “I’m annoyed to be told by arrogrant people that ‘information longs to be free’. I reply that, in that case, maybe they would like to ‘free’ their bank account details and shunt them in my direction?” This is just the point I made in my second Google Debate essay.

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