Friday, April 1, 2011

The Threat to Book Publishing From Long-Dead Authors, and a Solution

The US constitution empowers Congress
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
ToysBut the framers could never have anticipated the threat to our civilization posed by the unholy alliance of long-dead authors and electronic books.

In the print world, long-dead authors compete fairly with the living and the recently departed. James Patterson, whose every word is dearly paid for, is offering his hardback "Toys" for $27.99 (list). Steig Larsson's heirs are saved from poverty and Swedish taxes by $27.95 per copy from "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest". They compete for the book buyer's dollar with works such as "The Count of Monte Cristo" by long-dead author Alexandre Dumas, offered by Penguin for $15. That's a fair competition; I mean even at half the price, how many readers really want to read about vegetable shortening math?

But when it comes to ebooks, even James Patterson has trouble making a buck. He has to compete not only with Dumas, but authors like Mark Twain, James Joyce, Agatha Christie, H. G. Wells, Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, and even William Shakespeare. Though dead, these authors are brazenly flogging their books, nouns verbs and adjectives all included, on sites like Project Gutenberg, where they have the chutzpah to be selling the ebooks for $0.00. That's right, they're giving these ebooks away! For zilch! Nada! That's an umpteen gazillion factor less than Larsson's Hornet's Nest, which sells for a paltry $11.99 on the Kindle.

How is a living, breathing author to compete with free? Living authors need money to eat; long-dead authors don't. They don't need to pay support for their illegitimate offspring. Shakespeare doesn't need to pay lawyers to defend against infringement suits from Francis Bacon. Dostoyevsky doesn't need a shrink. Joyce doesn't need to buy whiskey, Twain doesn't need cigars; James Fennimore Cooper doesn't need to pay for a writing coach. The Bell brothers are just as dead as the Brontë sisters, whose sickly father is no longer needing medical care.

This unfair competition needs to be stopped! Luckily, the US Supreme Court is on the case. In Golan v. Holder, the Court is considering whether Congress may remove works from the public domain. A crybaby Conductor of music, Lawrence Golan, is complaining that his free-speech rights were taken away by a law that removed the works of Igor Stravinsky, a composer currently bereft of life, from the public domain in the US. Stravinsky has been trying to compete unfairly (though unsuccessfully, I might add) in the free-music marketplace with the likes of Rebecca Black.

The SecretClearly modern authors need protection from unfair competition out of the hereafter. A favorable ruling for America's creative industries will pave the way for Congress to take action against the long-dead authors. Copyright protection should be restored to ALL creative works that have been produced. It's only by doing this that we can be assured that authors like Rhonda Byrne will have meaningful incentives to write a sequel to The Secret.

You may be wondering how we'll dispose of the royalties generated by works of long-dead authors. These royalties can be used to eliminate the other main reason that authors won't bother writing anything decent for ebooks. That's right, the taxes that living authors have to pay on their royalties! By cutting or even eliminating taxes on live-author royalty income, we'll stimulate the creativity of our moribund authoring classes. Publishers will no longer be desperate for unsolicited book manuscripts.

The more I think about this course of action, the more it makes sense to me. Think of the huge amounts of money that will be saved over the current complicated and idiotic rules that govern copyright status. With the extension of copyright to all works, the answer will be easy and cheap to determine- everything will be covered by copyright! Orphan works problem- solved!

The free-culture crowd will inevitably denounce the extension of copyright to all works as a threat to the freedom of speech. That's ridiculous. Dead people don't have the right to free speech, and even if they did, I'd hate to hear them try. Speech may be free, but in the words of our greatest President, "I paid for this microphone".

  1. Patterson has been trying his best to compete with the dead-author slushpile. He's been forced to offer the first 21 Chapters of "Toys" for free on the Kindle.
  2. If long-dead authors were free to express themselves, they'd just write more tedious run-on sentences like
    the provision is unequal to the task; the means either cannot or will not accomplish the end, and the whole affair is a felo de se; for as the greater weight will always carry up the less, and as all the wheels of a machine are put in motion by one, it only remains to know which power in the constitution has the most weight, for that will govern; and though the others, or a part of them, may clog, or, as the phrase is, check the rapidity of its motion, yet so long as they cannot stop it, their endeavors will be ineffectual; the first moving power will at last have its way, and what it wants in speed is supplied by time.
    It's just common sense to keep them in their coffins.
  3. Of course, to achieve the maximum benefit from copyright uniformity, website readers will have to start paying royalties for the articles they read online. This minor inconvenience is a tiny price to pay for the cultural renaissance that will ensue in the universal copyright regime.
Enhanced by Zemanta


Contribute a Comment