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Day 2 of the Global Information Industry Summit

Fun to see two GIIS bloggers, Richard Charkin and me, mentioned in this article, “Chiefs who blog.” At GIIS I watched Richard blogging–he hijacked one of the vendor’s computers during a coffee break–and decided he’s far more obsessed about it than I am, which makes him a better blogger. He had me write a comment on his blog, which I’m now mentioning on mine, which also mentions Tim Coates’s Good Library Blog, which quotes Richard, so it’s all quite incestuous, but not as bad as some of the techie circles where people spend all their time circulating on one another’s blogs. At least we’re trying to do things in the real world: sell books, educate people, save libraries and the planet, too. (And, in case you’re wondering, blogging together is fun but, no, it’s not as good as sex. Or good dinner party conversation, come to that.)

But back to business: the first Global Information Industry Summit. Our lunch speaker on the second day was Stefan von Holtzbrinck, president of the privately held family business Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, one of the world’s major publishing companies. I wasn’t expecting much, since these keynote speeches seem to be seen as a chance to educate or preach, not to entertain. But von Holtzbrinck was kind to us, and charming. He made jokes and told a coherent tale of a company that is more diversified than some strategists would consider sound. The diversification isn’t really strategic, but instead based on the family members’ passions. As a believer in passionate publishing, I was pleased to learn about this and see how well it works–and how it mitigates risk, too, in these fast-changing times. Everyone seemed to enjoy the talk; an English colleague commented approvingly, “a self-deprecating German!”

The panel I enjoyed most was the last of the day, about copyright. That’s not to say that the others weren’t good–some presenters did a terrific job–but they just didn’t connect with my tactical concerns. In part that’s because we’re so small (and new) a business. There was a panel about being a small player in the global information industry, but all the companies there were much bigger and more established than we are; they’re small only by comparison with the giants, Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer and Thomson. Oddly, I didn’t feel this at the Content Forum in May; I found myself leaving almost every session with notes about things I could do or test.

The copyright panel was moderated by Ed Colleran, senior director of Rightsholder Relations at Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), which is based in Danvers, Massachusetts. I’ve met some great people this year through SIIA and Ed is one of them: he really knows his stuff and sticks at it. Copyright is a huge issue for writers and publishers, and it’s an area where there is a startling amount of confusion, and ignorance.

The main point made by the panelists was that companies should do what it takes to be perceived as tough on copyright violation and piracy, because that reputation will get the pirates looking for softer targets. (Same principle as holding your head high and looking alert when walking down a dark city street.) Pirating and copyright violation will continue, but we can get some measure of control over it.

But a more important copyright problem exists among people who you’d think would know better. Educating educators–and other companies–about how copyright works is a key part of what CCC does. Unfortunately, efforts like the Creative Commons can end up working in opposition to CCC (and publishers and authors). One of the speakers, Lucie Guibault from the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam, announced proudly that she was the only academic at the conference (this meant, I think, that she was the only one who didn’t have sordid financial motives) and that she had helped set up Creative Commons licensing in the Netherlands.

I actually like some things about Creative Commons, but I find myself annoyed by academics who act superior as they try to undo copyright protection: they seem to have no awareness that creative people who need to earn a living through their writing or music, or that publishers, too, do work that creates value. Nor do they seem to realize that open source software is not the same kind of thing as, and therefore cannot serve as a model for, creative written work, or songs, or symphonies. Open source is a great idea for some things, and inappropriate for others.

I asked the panel about YouTube, the website where people upload video clips. They’re supposed to upload clips they own–i.e., that they created–but lots of people record TV clips and upload them. Companies could pursue this as a violation of copyright (which it undoubtedly is), but seem to consider it publicity at the moment. But what happens when the value of YouTube, its available to draw visitors, is partly based on content archives that include hundreds or thousands of clips from, say, MSNBC? Won’t they want a cut?

My days as a struggling freelance writer are still vivid, and I think that’s why I have so much to say (and ask) about copyright! Arguments on this are welcome; I’m sure there are plenty of people who disagree, or don’t understand what we’re so worked up about. Let’s talk about the assumptions behind copyright protection–or free use.

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