In Which I Debate The UK Publisher's Association Boss Who Attacked The British Library

from the which-planet-does-he-live-on? dept

A few weeks back, we wrote about the rather crazy exaggeration and attack from the UK Publisher’s Association on groups — including the British Library — who were seeking common sense changes to copyright law. After that post went up, I was asked to participate in a podcast debate with Mollett, chief executive of the UK Publisher’s Assocation, along with the head of the UK Pirate Party, Loz Kaye (also a composer/musician) for The Naked Book. You can now listen to the episode here:

It goes on for about an hour. The debate got a bit heated at times, but honestly I thought it was something of a joke. First, you have one of the biggest abusers of hyperbole and exaggeration — Richard Mollet — and any time Loz or I made any points against him, his response was to just accuse us of hyperbole. For example, he keeps setting up a ridiculous strawman, claiming that people like myself have claimed that everyone should just get everything for free and no one will ever pay for anything. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

For a good summary of the conversation, you could read this blogpost from Cheapass Fiction which covers the high (and low) points:

Throughout the hour-long show, he repeatedly attacked pirates as though they were some monolithic mob, rather than readers, librarians, professors, students, and even creators. (Maybe someone should have told him that Loz was a composer & musician.)

Richard Mollet bypassed the victims copyright. He went for the jugular, ignoring his opponents’ points – libraries being crippled, and culture stagnating without copyright reform. Every time – every time! – one of these points was brought up he got defensive, shifting the focus away from the issue, saying things like “this is classic Pirate Party tactics!” as in the quote above. The irony was palpable, for as a great defender of victim-authors, one would expect him to at least show compassion to the victims he himself has helped to create. But there was not even a charade of sympathy.

One final point: towards the end, we got into a bit of a debate about differences between the basics of UK copyright law and the US (since everyone else on the episode were UK-based). I pointed out the value of fair use, which Richard seems to think would be too difficult to implement in the UK now because it would create massive uncertainty. I don’t see why that should be, since a UK implementation could easily learn from what’s happened in the US and establish the rules accordingly.

However, I also brought up the importance of separating out the “moral rights” argument from the “economics rights” argument, and Richard seemed to react as if this was an impossibility. It is not. In the US, we’ve survived (and thrived) without a standard “moral right” as a part of copyright law (except for a very, very small category of visual artists, which is a relatively recent change anyway). If you are going to look at the actual economic harms done by copyright law, it’s a cheap and weak response to revert over to moral arguments the second anyone calls you on it. If we want to have an honest debate about preventing the economic harms, we have to separate out the moral rights. And as the US has shown, there is absolutely nothing crazy at all about that, contrary to Richard’s mocking claims or his insistence that I live on a “different planet” than he does. The planet he and I both live on confirms that what I said was true.

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Comments on “In Which I Debate The UK Publisher's Association Boss Who Attacked The British Library”

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Jay (profile) says:


If you notice, there are 14 fallacious points that people with weak arguments use to throw out ad homs. That’s not only on this site, but also in the world of politics.

It’s quite aggravating when even if you don’t agree, you “lose” an argument because your opponent won’t answer the comments that weaken his argument.

Also aggravating when you have so many people that seem to believe that copyright promotes innovation and yet ignore all of the evidence that proves otherwise.

Beta (profile) says:

guess a man's profession by his tools

I quit listening when Mollet’s constant interruptions became too infuriating to bear (which was pretty early) but I noticed that he used the word “slandered” quite freely to describe anyone contradicting him.

How telling that when the chief executive of the UK Publisher’s Association hears expression contrary to his worldview his first impulse is to respond with a legal threat.

Michael Avery (profile) says:


I find it remarkable that Mollett thinks that publishers are somehow “ahead of the piracy curve” when it comes to ‘protecting’ books.

“I do no think the impact of copyright infringement on published works is gonna be as great as it has been and continues to be on music and film …”

And that he thinks that all people with Kindles probably downloaded their reading material from the Kindle Store is laughable and naive.

A quick search will show most published ebooks available in one format or another. Another search will provide software capable of making an ebook compatible with any reading device.

The point here is that obviously copyright has not done what Mollett thinks it does, and that the supposedly stronger measures used to protect ebooks are a joke. That, and every classic on my Kindle has come from the likes of Project Gutenberg, and I’m sure there are many others like myself. There are many reasons that Amazon has allowed the Kindle to be officially unlocked.

Beta (profile) says:

What I wish Mike had said first:

[Host: Mike, what do you mean when you say that that the PA is making itself seem obsolete and out of touch to the younger generation?]

Well, Richard Mollett was just talking about book publishing in the 18th century, so imagine you’re a young man in the late 18th century and you’ve bought a book by John Locke. You’re likely to think that you are naturally free to do certain things with the book, like carry it around, read it as many times as you like, whenever you like, or lend it to a friend. Now suppose the publisher says “no, you must not read it on a Sunday, transport it by canal, read it aloud or lend it to your friend. This is, after all, John Locke’s work, his creation, the sweat of his brow, and he has the right to tell you how it may be used, even though he’s been dead for fifty years and we’re telling you on his behalf and for our profit.” Would you feel morally bound to respect the publisher’s wishes? Or would you think that the publisher was a nuisance and a half-wit, mistletoe to Locke’s oak, and that the sooner he got out of the way the better for everyone? That is how young people today feel about agencies like the PA.

Cynyr (profile) says:

Re: What I wish Mike had said first:

Actully, you didn’t write the transport part correctly. It should have read “You may only transport this book by horse and carriage provided that you use nor more than two horses at once, and no more than 4 on the journey” So now a book written just before the automobile by an author of 17 is likely prohibited to be transported on that new fangled car that comes out a few years later.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Richard Mollet comes across as a real jerk, but I don’t think anybody makes very strong arguments against his viewpoints. The establishment is standing strong after this debate.

He succeeds in making it sound like you simply want to abolish copyright and have a free-for-all, which very few people will agree with. The argument should be about where copyright is beneficial, and where it causes harm. And saying it’s for the benefit of the artist isn’t what copyright is about and only supports Mollet’s position.

Talk about benefits of reducing copyright for the public: expanding the public domain, remixing and derivative works (allowing everyone to be creative, not just established artists), the growing number of orphaned and out-of-print works because of extended copyright terms, permission-based creative culture, the extremely limited legal options to purchase work, invasion and erosion of privacy – these are all points where the establishment viewpoint crumbles.

And acknowledge that in cases of plagiarism, copyright has a terrific role to play, even if it never makes it to court.

Cynyr (profile) says:

those who are missing from the discussion

Amazon and the public.

Lars near the end mentions that Richard is excluding those that could help him. I couldn’t agree more. Where is Amazon and other people capable of building new distribution methods and whole new markets for the published works that his publishers are trying to hock. What the public would like is also not a concern of Richards. Maybe that is why he is having such a difficulty understanding where Mike and Lars are coming from.

I find it odd that the legislative system in the UK would require the government to do a impact study. I would think the first thing the government would do is require those affected to show that they are a significant part of the economy. At which point if they were a significant part then a impact study would be done. The thing the study should look at is not if it would impact any particular industry/players, but if the overall expected change would be positive then the law would be a go.

Also this should apply to any extension of copyright law, which I notice Richard never mentions when he discussing new laws for e-books. How will his new laws affect those that want to build systems to allow people to lend e-books to each other, or new devices to read e-books, etc.

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