Saturday, July 4, 2009

Authors throw the book at pirates; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/8/09

Sydney Morning Herald; Authors throw the book at pirates:

"FEEL like reading Australian author Colleen McCullough's Thorn Birds, but don't want to pay for a copy?

Then just hop onto a site like and the book is available free as an electronic download. While this might be a bonus for readers, it is a disaster for authors, who get no royalties from the downloads.

Like the music industry, which has fought and partly won the battle over free music downloads from sites like Kazaa and Limewire, the publishing industry is about to face a similar struggle with piracy as electronic books become a reality.

The copies of McCullough's works were the most flagrant breaches of copyright the Herald found on sites set up to allow file sharing. But other Australian authors' work are also available.
David Malouf's 1985 work Five Stories from the Antipodes is available in Russian from Scribd. And for a month, John Birmingham's science fiction work Weapons of Choice, the first in the Axis of Time trilogy, was available from the Suvudu Free Library.

Birmingham's agent in the US, Russell Galen, at Scovil Chickak Galen, said he believed the free download had been authorised by the publisher as a marketing tool for his new novel Without Warning, recently released in hard cover.

But for many authors, the morphing of these sites from file sharing sites into fully digital bookshops/libraries is just one more issue they must confront in the rapidly evolving world of digital books...

Amazon's approach to the e-book market is very much "a walled garden" similar to the early days of the Apple iTunes store. Amazon controls books available for purchase from its electronic bookstore. It only publishes books for which publishers give permission, it sets the price and they can only be downloaded to a Kindle or on an iPhone using Kindle software.

Google has announced it would begin selling electronic versions of new books online later this year, in a direct challenge to Amazon.

Google sent shockwaves through the industry in 2005 when it announced plans to scan millions of books through its Google Book search service. This allows people to browse and search millions of texts in libraries around the world.

Google has limited full downloads to books out of copyright, and only snippets are available from copyrighted books, but it has led to a brawl over who has the right to digitise a book: the author? The traditional publisher? Or anyone?

After all, books are available in libraries. Why not in a digital library? On the other hand shouldn't the author have control over digital publication of his or her work, because once it is on the internet it can be copied at the click of a mouse? Last October Google reached a settlement with authors and publishers who filed a class action alleging copyright infringement over the Google Book project, in effect acknowledging that authors had copyright.

Under the settlement Google agreed to establish an independent "Book Rights Registry" which will provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitise their books. Publishers and authors are now in the process of opting in or out of the Google settlement.

The executive director of the Australian Society of Authors, Jeremy Fisher, said the Google settlement was an important acknowledgement that authors owned the copyright. But there is still seething resentment about the way Google has gone about digitising copyright material without permission.

Ms Capel, McCullough's agent, said she had not yet opted in on behalf of her clients because it is a bit like "paying a burglar to get your stuff back"...

The Australian Society of Authors provides advice for writers on how to seek redress if their works are digitised without authorisation. In the US there are take-down laws that can be activated and similarly in Australia, Mr Fisher said.

"Other countries though are more problematic. We have had success in having unauthorised works taken down, but it takes time."

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