Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Piracy: A Case of Whack-A-Mole

Last month we wrote about the issue of digital book piracy and along with others such as Peter Cox at Litopia, raised the bar on the public awareness of the issue. Today the New York Times wrote an article ‘Print Books Are Target of Pirates on the Web’, which again raises the agenda further.

One quote from the article which can best describe the problem was made by Russell Davis, an author and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a trade association that helps authors pursue digital pirates who said “It’s a game of Whac-a-Mole, you knock one down and five more spring up.”

When Litopia raised the issue of Scribd, some said it was unfair and the site shouldn’t be targeted, as it tried and was responsive when take down notices were sent. Others said the same about Wattpad. Our defence would be to browse Scribd and see the volume of taken downs that have been actioned and where they state the file has been removed. There isn’t a takedown without an infringement!

Some say that piracy is small and only the same as shrinkage and theft in physical stores, but is that a real excuse, or merely a case of apathy?

Plead all they can, the sites simply allow any material to be posted and only if it is a know infringement, or they get a take down notice, do they respond. They may claim that taking proactive action could land them with the liability so to take no proactive action is safer. The problem is that the mechanism of the DMCA (digital millennium copyright act) is inherently flawed, as it is retrospective action and is like trying to put the cat back in the bag – its too late its out its out and having kittens!

The efforts being expended by publishers in tracking infringements is growing, with many large house having to have dedicated staff continuingly trawling, tracking and issuing take down notices. This may work for the large corporate, but is it realistic across the thousands of medium or small publishers? Some may say that it’s like giving each a shovel and asking them to all to ‘wack-a-mole’?

Today we are only talking about whole works and not even attempting to cover part works or content of sufficient size to warrant permissions. Rather than build infringement databases that just generate take down notices, why not address the problem. We are trying to manage a rights business with no rights management.

This has been raised over and over and the proposed BRR registry isn’t the answer but only part of the answer. We have bibliographic agencies who catalogue all titles. We know that you can’t resell a digital file and each rendition and manifestation is unique. We have identifiers which identify genuine booksellers, publishers, libraries. Yet we can’t join the dots up and create a proactive environment. Some may say that we let businesses hide behind ineffective DCMA.

If leadership is not taken, then we may all find that ‘Whack-a-Mole’ becomes an increasing part of the publishing business.

1 comment:

Chris Meadows said...

As I point out over at TeleRead, no amount of piracy-fighting will ever be sufficient without effort taken by the publishing industry to make its e-books more attractive (and more available) to potential customers.

There are too many barriers right now. When people who want the book can't get it legally, reasonably-priced, or in a form they can use, they'll pirate it.