Slashdot links to a New York Times Magazine article on The Tyranny of Copyright? with the usual assortment of blather, off-topic comments and the occasional dead-on remark (threshold of 4 or 5 recommended for Slashdot). The article picks up many of the facets of the on-going copyright issues.
Just today, the National Writer’s Union wrote to me, expressing their concern over Amazon’s book searching feature that lets a site visitor read actual pages based on search criteria. Supposedly, this feature is limited to a certain number of pages, printing is disabled, although surely hackable. The union was concerned and offered information for those authors who want the feature turned off, while maintaining a fairly neutral status on the issue. I can understand and sympathize with both viewpoints. Someone who published a cookbook of barbecue recipes isn’t going to sell the book if the recipe can be read off the website, even if it needs to be hand-transcribed. On the other hand, if they can’t find your book, they can’t buy it. I have sample chapters of my books available on the publisher’s web site and have allowed liberal quoting of the book on websites such as the FoxForum Wiki, simply to let the readers know how valuable the book can be. If someone is determined to steal the book, they will. If they want to borrow it from their library, photocopy hundreds of pages and stitch a binding themselves, they will. They may gain, but I don’t lose from their theft — they would not have bought the book anyway.
I prefer the models of the Baen Free Library or Janis Ian’s website, where content is available for free download, but sales of the products continue. Why? Because most readers will do the right thing. And, even for those who don’t, perhaps the authors can take comfort in having enriched the world a little, at no cost to them.