Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Copyright and times of change

Sent by a friend, as an introduction to an article on the GoogleBook/ search/reprint issue (more on the controversy here:

New frontiers - where do they allow us to go - do we want to go there? Will some aromatherapist figure out a way to infuse the site with the smell of wood pulp and ink? Tactile screens? Dog-ear the corners of screens ? What about those potato chip or Oreo crumbs in the seams? ... Important issues - oh, yes, and of course -what about copyright laws and compensation ... that too.

Where will they allow us to go? Places we didn't expect when we left.

Do we want to go? Do we have a choice? The choices I see are those of "who's in charge?" We will go, but with whom, and with what guidelines? Who decides, and how?

When books went from hand-scribing to moveable type, the trauma to ownership and authorship was traumatic. We are once again, facing that same trauma. For any who think all works should be free to any who want them, I have one question: Will you go to work every day for nothing? Don't tell me "it's different." It's work. It should be compensated. "It's different because I don't have to (read/watch/buy)." Oh? Try living without TV shows, movies, books, magazines, games. Completely without. Don't watch tv, don't go to any movie, don't rent a movie, don't read anything except instruction manuals that come with the products you buy, don't play any games at all. The people who create these things need to pay rent, buy food, pay for utilities to keep warm in the winter.

We are in a time of transition, which is always traumatic. We will figure it out. We may have to go back to the patronage system, whereby the rich "keep" artists of various sorts, who create for the patron, a la Michelangelo and others.

I think what Google is doing is great. My local bookstores don't stock much in the way of selection these days, just the absolute latest and/or most popular. I like to browse books new to me to see if the writing style is one that I can handle before I buy the whole book. And I still like to buy books. You can't take a computer into the bathroom. You most certainly don't want to use one while you soak in the tub.

In terms of having out-of-copyright books available online, the Gutenberg Project is already doing some of that. I've done some proofreading for them. Quite a lot of out-of-copyright books are also out of print, the only source being used book stores (I recommend www.abebooks.com). How many wonderful stories of life-and-times were lost, along with an understanding of the culture that spawned them, when the library at Alexandria burned?

We live in times of change. I'm not saying we have to like it, or that the change will be easy. We can shape that change, or we can stand on a soapbox and scream that the tide stop.

Jim and I both are personally bleeding from the changing times. We have either lost jobs or job opportunities because of shifts in the computer field. Jim is currently working as a security guard, as jobs in the computer field move out of the country, and what's left go to younger, less expensive employees. So, unlike Steve Forbes who speaks of the trauma of change without ever having it damage his lifestyle, I speak from the emergency room of life.

And choose to enjoy the change.