Legal, Laws, and Regs

Outweigh the rights of the many

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I wrote and subsequently pulled a posting yesterday, about the Eldred vs. Ashcroft decision. I pulled the post because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to deal with the consequences of my writing. I knew that I was not following the ‘popular’ weblogging path in my post.

However, I believe in what I wrote so I’ve re-posted it and plan on continuing the theme it started in this post. Damn the pundits, full speed ahead.

I asked in the post the question: Do the rights of the public domain exceed the rights of the author to have control over their own acts of creation? Lately, all I’ve heard is voices in defense of the commons, but what about the artist?

Aaron Swartz created a set of Tips for Book Authors having to do with how we, since I am a book author, release our works into the public domain. In the introduction to these tips he wrote:


The article also hints at another, more insidious kind of copyright “theft” or “piracy”: that of copyright holders who hold onto their copyrights after the author has recouped their costs. Copyright only exists to provide an incentive to authors; once they’ve done the work and recouped their cost (and possibly the cost of their next project), they should donate their work to the public domain.

Since when is an artist obligated to give their works to the public? Is this same requirement demanded of all people? Exactly when did we lose our sense of perspective when it comes to both copyright and the importance of the ‘public good’.

Rogers Cadenhead, another author, responded to Aaron with:


As a computer book author, I applaud Swartz for applying the terms “theft” and “piracy” to the practice of keeping book copyrights, thus ensuring that no rational discussion of his idea can possibly take place.


Rogers also goes on to say that if we only re-couped our costs, there would be no incentive to give up so much of our lives in order to write the books that Aaron wants us to so easily give away.

As Jonathon Delacour writes:


This utopian idea that authors should write for love, not money, probably reflects the majority belief that writing a book is no more difficult than baking a cake. Yet I’m reminded of a New Yorker cartoon showing two people at a cocktail party. One says, “I’m writing a novel.” The other replies, “Neither am I.”


If only it were as easy as baking a cake. I spent yesterday working on one section of one chapter of Practical RDF. Just one section, trying to ensure that I captured the nuances of the technology clearly, and with representative examples. One day to write the number of words you see in this post, and the last.

In the comments over at Roger’s, I wrote:


I’ve authored or co-authored 13 books, all related to computer technology of some form or another. None of them would live past the old copyright period much less the new timespan, because technology tends to date as soon as a book hits the streets.

As other authors in this thread can attest, computer book authors rarely make large amounts of money. Seldom can we give up our day jobs in order to write fulltime. When Aaron states that we should be restricted to only re-couping the cost of writing a book, I have to laugh; with my current effort for O’Reilly, I’d be glad if this did happen, because it’s taken well over a year to write this book.

Personal efforts aside, what people seem to forget is the larger question — when does the rights of the ‘public domain’ supercede the rights of the individual? I’m not talking about publishers or corporations — I’m talking about the artist. A book or a piece of music or painting are works of creativity that took not only effort, but time, considerable time, on the part of the artist. To say that the creator of the work has so many rights to their effort, and no more, because the will of the ‘people’ must be satisfied, is just another variation of mob rule. When are the rights of the individual respected over that of this faceless, nameless, and soul-less public domain?

Aaron has all these ideas, but he’s never published a book. He’s never had to put the amount of time and effort into writing several hundred pages, go through the editing, or listen to reviewers cutting it to shreds. He’s never paid the price necessary for him to blithley write out ‘Tips for Authors’, and telling us how much we’re entitled to for our efforts.

Cory Doctorow did an incredible thing, publishing his book online. I respect him for it. But this wouldn’t work for computer books, because chances are, free online versions of the book would cut into the sales. And these books have a short earning life span, as it is.

And I have to ask — why should we put these books online for free? I’m not denying people access to the information. They have access to much of the same information online I do, but my books help them access the information more easily. However, not having my book online won’t deny people access to the information. As for electronic forms of the book on CD, did this with Que and Sams books, and next thing we knew, they were online all over the place.

What’s worse in all of this is to be accused of being a ‘thief’ because I choose _not_ to put my work into the public domain immediately, or maybe not at all until the copyright ends. But you know, that’s my choice. Why is there this almost mob-like mentality, carrying aloft words like ‘theft’ and ‘piracy’ rather than torches, ready to condemn if one doesn’t immediately turn all of our creativity over to the ‘public domain’. Where is the good in this? To me, this is just as bad, perhaps even worse, then over-extending copyright or patent priviledges. I would rather see Disney hold on to its copyright of the Mouse, than to see artists forced to give up their creations for some ‘common good’.


Perhaps I should change my tag line to read: Pirating from the Public Domain since 2001.And ya know something? I plan on continuing my ‘pirating’ into the future.


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