Mike Shatzkin writes about a serious issue facing big publishers. That issue concerns publication rights owned by publishers, and what they know or don’t know about those rights. This is something I’ve also thought about and it really is a big deal. Most publishers have a terrible system for storing rights information about a book they’ve published. That terrible system is typically paper based and searchability is extremely difficult. The ramifcations of this organizational nightmare will soon come to a head once Google builds the Book Rights Registry, something they’re compelled to do as part of their settlement with the AAP and the Author’s guild. Publishers will find that they need to invest lots of time and money into the process of pulling data from paper and inputing it into the Google database. My bet is they won’t do it, and as a result, thousands of books will remain orphaned. That’s a shame.
I often run across people who don’t know very much about copyright law. Typically they are honest people who wish to copy content for use in a new work of their own that will ultimately be distributed to the public. I’m always grateful when they call me first and ask “is this OK?” Unfortunately, a lot of folks don’t ask first, and end up unknowingly infringing copyright.
There are times when copyright ignorance runs the opposite direction. People claim copyright on property which itself isn’t copyrightable. Those are interesting conversations, I can tell you. It’s not fun to inform someone that they cannot own what they think they own. It’s a downer for them, for sure.
I thought about this today after reading this article on note-taking inside a bookstore. The president of a bookstore at Harvard took umbrage with students who were comparison shopping inside his store. The students would take their list of required book purchases into the shop, write down the ISBN for each title, then go home and use the identifier to see which online retailer offered the lowest prices. The president witnessed the students taking notes and asked them to leave the store. When confronted about this, the president stated that he considered the information to be the bookstore’s intellectual property. After taking the matter to an IP lawyer, the president found out a thing or two about his claim of copyright.
ISBN data is similar to phone book listings, which are not protected by IP law.
Novelist John Lanchester has some interesting things to say about copyright. This is a must read.