Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What Does the Viacom Decision Mean to Writers?

Yesterday I answered the first question Tara asked about the Viacom v. YouTube & Google court decision handed down last week. Today, we'll address Tara's second question: Do you think this will affect authors?

The New York Times had an article on Friday here titled "Roll-Up Computers and Their Kin." The story focused on the digital future of books. Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman and Founder of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC), is quoted as saying, “The paper book is dead.”

Mr. Negroponte is doing God's work by developing inexpensive, durable computers for children in third world countries. According to his bio on the OLPC site:
He is currently on leave from MIT, where he was co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laboratory, and the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Technology.
Mr. Negroponte's entire life is digital media. He was even an early investor in Wired Magazine. We can excuse him for believing that the rest of the world is at the same place and time that he is vis-a-vis digital technology. As far as he's concerned, paper books are dead.

I don't think he's right though ... at least not in our lifetimes. I do think that by the time our great grandchildren are able to read,
p-books will be collectibles, to be treasured and handled carefully and then put back on the shelf so the acids from our fingers don't damage the pages. By then, reading will be completely digital.

And that leads me to the crux of Tara's question. Does the Viacom decision affect authors? Viacom certainly thinks so. Remember how they described their case against YouTube:
YouTube has harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale, depriving writers, composers and performers of the rewards they are owed for effort and innovation, reducing the incentives of America's creative industries, and profiting from the illegal conduct of others as well. Using the leverage of the Internet, YouTube appropriates the value of creative content on a massive scale for YouTube's benefit without payment or license.
I think Viacom is stuck in the same rut as the Big Six publishing houses. They are so focused on looking backward over their shoulders at what used to be that they've forgotten to watch the road ahead.

Our technology is moving forward at breakneck speed, but our copyright laws have stagnated. We need to stop and take some time to realign the law with the technology. Instead of facing the future with fear and anger, we need to recognize that the key to our success as writers in that future is our readers. Aggravating those reader/customers with DRM locks, video take-down notices, and artificial pricing for e-books is not the answer.

I'm not a particular fan of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. I acknowledge his genius without admiring his take-no-prisoners approach to negotiating. However, his single-minded focus on customer satisfaction is the reason Amazon became the mega-corporation it is today. We writers could do worse than to take a lesson on reader satisfaction from Bezos and his company.

Nearly three years ago, I did two posts on the need for copyright reform. I've done lots of posts since then on the subject, but I think it's worthwhile today to revisit those early ones. Go here and here to read the two posts that were published on subsequent days in 2007. Those posts include very specific suggestions as to how to reform our laws.

Instead of buying into the paranoia surrounding copyright, I believe authors need to keep their focus on the reader and on what makes sense as far as guaranteeing that reader's satisfaction. That means authors should lead the demand for substantive copyright law reform.

I hope this answers your questions, Tara. If not, feel free to bring up additional quesions. I'd like to hear what others think on this subject, too.

1 comment:

Tara Maya said...

Thanks for answering. I agree with you on both points, as it happens. I notice that literary mash-ups (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc.) are big, and I can imagine that if this trend were extended to books by living authors, the publishers, and perhaps most authors, would have a fit. But I wonder if it wouldn't have the opposite effect they suppose. Certainly I think that's what happens with fan fic.