Two news reports over the past week together demonstrated just how fragile “ownership” of digital books is for consumers. Of course, alert readers will know that they don’t actually own e-books anyway, they license them, usually under terms that give readers very little actual control over the content. However, it would be pretty to think that I could at least move the e-books that I have purchased from one location to another, or reload them on a new device with ease. That would make it simple to buy books from any vendor that I choose, instead of feeling like I have to go to Amazon, the biggest vendor available, which uses its own proprietary format. But that’s not the case. Continue reading
Last month, a British tabloid reported that Bruce Willis was planning to sue Apple. The actor, the newspaper explained, was furious that iTunes’s terms of service would keep him from leaving his music collection to his daughters when he died. The story was soon revealed to be somewhere between fantasy and fabrication. But even before a five-word tweet from Willis’ wife (“it’s not a true story”) definitively refuted the article’s claims, the news had gone viral, spreading far beyond the usual haunts of fatuous celebrity journalism. Something in the rage of Imaginary Bruce Willis had touched a nerve.
Part of what makes the story so remarkable is that it’s also so implausible. Bruce Willis is one of the most successful actors of his generation, with a Hollywood career spanning three decades and multiple mega-hits. He’s so successful that surely he could afford to leave his daughters enough money to buy all the digital music they they can listen to. No child of Bruce Willis will ever want for music.
But the story blew up like something out of a Bruce Willis movie because it tweaked an anxiety many people share about copyright: that we no longer really own the songs we listen to or the books we read. Traditionally, a crucial part of copyright law’s bargain between author and audience was that the author owns the copyright, the audience owns their copies. This second half of the deal—that we have the right to give away our media, to lend them to friends or sell them to strangers—was enforced by the doctrine known as first sale. You buy something and it’s yours. Only the author has the right to authorize more copies, but you can do with yours as you please. Continue reading
The UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology (BCLT) is among the most eminent study centers for intellectual property (IP) law. Coordinated by Professor Pamela Samuelson, this last week it pulled together approximately 200 highly accomplished and well-spoken legal scholars, practitioners and librarians in a small conference on orphan works, “Orphan Works and Mass Digitization.”
Obstacles and opportunities.
The conference started with a series of talks on the dysfunctions of current copyright law, with its propensity to generate orphans. The overall consensus, most succinctly aired by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, is that the the problem is so pervasive and the barriers to a comprehensive resolution so high — while networked communications make sharing ever more straightforward — that institutions are increasingly prone to adopt a “Damn the torpedoes” approach. For these panelists, the prospect of new legislation attempting to facilitate use of material with dim rights status is often scarier than the status quo given political deadlock; further, uncertainty over the use of these materials is endemic but the risk is fairly low, in part because libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) are respectful and conservative. At the same time, the cultural value is often tremendous.
On January 24, Senator Harry Reid will likely call for an up-or-down vote on considering the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the Senate’s companion bill to the House of Representative’s much maligned Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. This is a part of a process called “cloture” which enables the Senate to break filibusters and move a bill toward passage. If 60 votes are obtained from the 100 available, the bill is essentially fast-tracked toward approval.
PIPA and SOPA are most clearly associated with Hollywood interests, but a quick perusal of the list of supporters reveals that all of the large U.S. publishers, or their corporate parents, are lined up in favor of passage: Hachette, Penguin, HarperCollins, MacMillian, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Continue reading
A consortium of Japanese book, e-book, comic and magazine publishers issued a press release Tuesday rebuking Apple over pirated books that were illegally scanned and sold as apps in the App Store, according to the Wall Street Journal. Works by well-known Japanese authors Haruki Murakami and Keigo Higashino were being sold in the App Store illegally, though they have since been taken down by Apple. The consortium of publishers said in a statement that “The associations we represent believe that Apple bears grave responsibility for this problem.”
Here’s more from the WSJ:
The consortium goes on to say Apple’s claim that it is not able to check for copyrighted material during the App screening process is “a wholly unconvincing explanation.”
An Apple Japan spokesman declined immediate comment. Apple has said in the past that it removes pirated material once notified by the copyright holder.
The consortium has asked to meet with Apple’s Japan unit to discuss the problem. While there hasn’t been a notable case like this in the US concerning Apple, this news shows how easy it can be for book pirates to illegally publish works in a vast and difficult to monitor digital marketplace.