Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Blame Everyone But Yourself

Somehow I missed The Slow Death of the American Author last week, a touching attack by Scott Turow on everything that doesn’t turn the reading experience into a cash making enterprise for authors.

The problems are legion, we’re told. Pirates downloading illegal ebooks, presumably while saying “Arghhh!”; search engines that deliberately point searchers to the illegal content they want, because that couldn’t be done by machine or anything; publishers not paying authors the same royalties on ebooks as they do on hardbacks; libraries lending ebooks without even forcing people to come into the library to download them; and scholars who want to be able to use writing for educational purposes without having to pay each time. Darn them all!

It’s a sad list that compares libraries with greedy publishers or downloaders of illegal ebooks.

The problem? Devaluing their copyrights, or something like that.

Authors practice one of the few professions directly protected in the Constitution, which instructs Congress “to promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The idea is that a diverse literary culture, created by authors whose livelihoods, and thus independence, can’t be threatened, is essential to democracy.

Somehow I doubt the founders believed a diverse literary culture is essential to democracy, and they probably wouldn’t include the sort of tripe that now routinely makes the best seller lists as constituting a “literary culture” anyway.

I can’t speak for publishers or Amazon trying to squeeze every last dime out of authors. They’re in the business to make money, not make authors rich.

As for libraries, we might emphasize another part of that Constitutional quote he’s so fond of: “by securing for limited Times.” You see, there’s the word limited right in there. When was the last time any authors or authors’ guilds pointed that out to people? I can’t think of any times, so I’m pointing it out now.

Authors, publishers, and various creative types have been fighting to extend copyright indefinitely. When Disney was trying to protect Mickey Mouse, did anyone from Disney draw attention to that limited part of copyright?

When authors and publishers were fighting for copyright to be extended for the life of the author plus 75 years, didn’t any of them see that limited in the Constitution?

Yeah, I didn’t think so, either.

If you want to know one reason why nobody cares about your copyright anymore, it’s because by making copyright effectively perpetual, you’ve already betrayed the spirit and letter of the Constitution. The people who just want to suck money from you, like publishers, benefit. The rest of us don’t care that much.

When copyright becomes perpetual, betraying the spirit and letter of the Constitution, harming the people by thwarting a truly diverse literary culture that isn’t suffocated by corporate control of literature that never ends, then it’s no wonder piracy abounds.

So please don’t blame the libraries, which support future authors by allowing people to read freely. And don’t blame the scholars, who help educate future writers.

You want to blame everyone but the authors, but as an author you don’t seem to mind perpetual copyright. You just mind when it doesn’t make money for the authors.

When you’re ready to accept a little of the blame for the current system, and when you’re ready to acknowledge the cultural harm from perpetual copyright, then we can talk.



  1. Amen to this, AL! The corporate interests who have pushed to extend the copyright term to insane lengths are in no position to get high-and-mighty about the special constitutional status of “authors.” Turow’s self-righteousness is hard to take.

  2. Thank you for this! I understand wanting to be recognized for and benefit from your work, but something needs to give in order for ideas to progress.

  3. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    “…Hathi suspended the program. But that litigation also continues, even while millions of copyrighted works are stored online, one hacker away from worldwide dissemination for free. ”

    And a hacker couldn’t break into the servers of a publisher or even perhaps the author’s own computer? (assuming that Mr. Turow doesn’t use a quill and parchment paper for all of his original works)

  4. As both a librarian and an author, I tend to agree to most of what AL is saying. While fiercely protecting my current books from piracy (including from one library that recently posted all of one of my books online (in error) and had the link picked up by WorldCat), I really don’t think we need to extend copyright more than 25 years from publication date. Why? Because, unless you wrote the Bible or Gone with the Wind, you’ve made most of the money you’re going to make from the book you’ve written after 10 years or so. If copyright becomes less onerous, we may be able to save it (he says, optimistically).

  5. Thanks for speaking out on behalf of AL’s everywhere!

  6. Sister, testify!!!

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