UK Publishers Don't See Why Anyone's Complaining About Copyright Law

from the because-they're-paid-not-to-understand dept

As the copyright reform effort is underway in Europe, a number of legacy players are running a bit scared. The UK Publishers Association published a rather amusing attempt at “mythbusting” claims that reformers are making about copyright. Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader does a nice job showing how many of the Publishers Association’s claims are complete bunk, and clearly influenced by what’s in the publishers’ best interests, rather than anyone else’s — but that’s to be expected. They’re there to represent a position — and rather than take a long-term view, recognizing that what’s best for the public long-term will be best for the publishers as well, they take the short-term, protectionist, anti-consumer view. Because that’s what these silly trade groups think they should do.

The document was released with a weird nonsensical statement from Richard Mollet, the head of the Publishers Association:

?It is time to debunk the long-pedalled myth that copyright is an obstacle to growth in the digital economy.

?When you look at the success of publishing and other creative industries in developing online products and services it is palpably untrue ? copyright is the means by which the digital economy functions, allowing works to be made available to consumers and rewarding creators and the companies which invest in them.

?In order to undermine copyright, people often wrongly cite it as the source of problems in the digital single market; or, they falsely claim not to be able to do things which actually they can. Also, we often hear people propose that copyright is a block to them doing things which would be unfair and damaging to authors and publishers.

It is no myth that copyright has been an obstacle for many businesses. To claim otherwise is just laughable. An intellectually honest argument would admit that copyright law clearly benefits some parties and harms others. The policy questions we should be arguing are about who is helped and who is harmed and what’s best overall for society and culture. But, the Publishers Association doesn’t even want to give an inch and can’t even admit that some innovators are clearly held back by today’s copyright law.

The last paragraph really gets at the crux of the full document they posted, because the summary is basically “people are upset about this thing they can’t do — but they can do it if only they pay us lots of money.” That’s basically the argument behind nearly all of the “myths” the document “busts.”

First, it claims that the idea that Europe needs a “single digital market” is bunk because you can just license everything in different regions with today’s law:

Copyright is delivering a digital single market. The ability of publishers to simultaneously license works across the EU ? and in many cases the world ? derives from the current copyright framework.

Then they mock the idea that text and data mining uses are blocked under copyright law… because, again, they can just license:

The market-based licence solutions can be tailored to the needs of different researchers and enable publishers to check bona fides and ensure the integrity of the content platform.

How about students being unable to access resources across borders? No problem, the publishers claim, we have a license for that!

The licences under which publishers provide universities with material do permit students to access course materials from anywhere in the EU (and very often the world).

Okay, what about teachers looking for resources from other countries? Well, the Publishers insist, no one really wants that anyway, and if they did, well, there’s a license for that:

There is no effective demand for this. In both the primary and secondary school markets textbooks and other resources are produced explicitly to assist the delivery of each member state?s curriculum. As such the supply and demand for such materials is highly country-specific and cross-border requirements are minimal. Should there be such a demand (for example, if a school in France was teaching the English curriculum) then these materials can easily be sourced and a licence secured.

What about libraries lending ebooks? Guess what? The publishers say you can license that as well:

A variety of agreements between authors, publishers and libraries are in place across the EU which are giving rise to thriving models of e-book lending. The licences underpinning these models help ensure that authors are rewarded when their works are enjoyed, and ensures that authors are willing for their works to be borrowed in this way.

Yeah, but that’s not how regular libraries work at all — and that model kinda worked pretty damn well for a long time. Libraries didn’t have to pay royalties every time someone checked out a book. Changing up that model may make publishers happy, but it makes life more difficult for everyone else.

In short, the Publishers insist, don’t reform copyright law because as long as you give the publishers enough money, they’ll let you do what you want. This isn’t just tone deaf, it totally misses the point. It’s an argument for permission-based learning and permission-based culture. It shows no recognition of how actual education and learning occurs. It shows no recognition of the power of being able to research and learn from a variety of sources. It shows no understanding of the ridiculous prices these publishers often like to charge for many of these “licensed” solutions — and the simple fact that they will often hold back these licenses.

And, most importantly, it shows no recognition of the fact that requiring different licenses in every region is a massive waste of resources and efficiency. But the publishers don’t care because that inefficiency is where they make money.

The other “myths” are just as laughable and can basically be summed up as “this is a myth because we don’t like that idea.” For example, they hate the idea of “exceptions” to copyright law being “harmonized” because it might mean some countries that have overly aggressive rights might lose those. Notice that the following gives not even the slightest nod of interest to the rights of the public.

Fully harmonising exceptions so that the same rules are mandated across the EU will be hugely disruptive and would result in some creators being deprived of rights. There are different legal traditions across the EU with long-established precedents in place (for example, in France there is a much stronger protection of the author?s moral rights). Variations in copyright law, within the over-arching framework of the Directive, are currently permitted in order to recognise these inherent cultural and legal differences. Imposing a single order on the whole of the EU?s creators would almost inevitably cause some to have their rights eroded.

Yes, that’s the point. There’s a tradeoff here, and people are arguing that giving the public slightly more rights to works can actually help culture overall. Yes, some artists might lose some currently granted “rights” to block people, but that doesn’t mean those artists are harmed. It just changes the marketplace somewhat, and likely will help expand it by simplifying rules across a much larger territory.

The list also trots out the usual talking points by those who are against fair use in other countries — claiming that even though the US has it, it would somehow totally upend the legal systems anywhere else:

The introduction of Fair Use would be highly disruptive and expensive for creators and consumers. There is no established basis in European law for the concept of ?fair use?, whereas in the US it has been fine-tuned over 170 years of established legal precedents. Simply introducing the concept into EU law would presage a great number of legal cases, with associated high legal costs, as the market ? and judges ? came to an agreement as to what the terms allowed and precluded. Since there is no evidence that the present system is in need of radical reform, introducing Fair Use would be an unnecessary and damaging step, and one which would have limited application given that international rules on copyright, such as the Three Step Test, would still apply.

Way to sell Europe short, Publishers. It is entirely possible to implement a fair use system today. Arguing that it cannot be done is clearly hogwash. In fact, all that case law in the US should actually help the EU to develop a better fair use system, since many of the questions have already been debated and answered and the EU can draft accordingly.

We’ll close with the final one, because it’s just so insane and so ridiculous:

MYTH #10 An ebook is the same as a normal book and therefore I should be able to resell it

It is not the same. Physical and digital books have very different properties and so require different treatments as regards the ability to re-sell them. An ebook is easier to copy and digital copies are identical clones of the original work meaning that second-hand goods are largely indistinguishable from the original; they can be reproduced indefinitely without any loss of quality. They can also be circulated widely without control but even introducing a ?forward and delete? function would not provide effective protection given the ease with which such measures can be circumvented. It is clear that the existence of a market for second hand digital copies will destroy the primary market for authors and publishers.

Of course, as Nate wrote in his piece, if that were true, piracy would have already eroded the book market entirely, but it hasn’t. Either way, the Publishers’ position on ebooks appears to be: (1) we get paid many times for the same book and (2) we block you from reselling it. In short, they’re focused on taking away value from ebooks, to make them even less valuable than regular books.

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Comments on “UK Publishers Don't See Why Anyone's Complaining About Copyright Law”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Also, just incorrect

In short, the Publishers insist, don’t reform copyright law because as long as you give the publishers enough money, they’ll let you do what you want. This isn’t just tone deaf, it totally misses the point

It not only misses the point, in the absence of a law requiring publishers to grant licenses to all comers, it is actively incorrect — especially in places that have so-called “moral rights”.

Anonymous Coward says:

UK publisher’s have never represented the majority of UK authors, because they have never printed their works. Rather they benefited a very small percentage that they agreed to publish, while effectively blocking the rest from being published. hat was a role forced onto them because of the limited capacity for printing real books. Ebooks are totally different, as there is no effective limit on the number of titles that can be published, at almost zero cost for the storage needed on a public facing server.
Given these economics, there is no role for a publishers as the chooser of who will be given the chance to reach an audience, and this scares them, hence the ratcheting up of copyright law to try and preserve their role as controllers of who gets published.

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not quite.

The capacity for “publishing” works is actually still limited, because you need things like “editing”. Of course, as soon that’s done, and an ebook is made, there’s nothing to keep it from being around forever, with “storage”- and “delivery”-costs near zero.

In the end, an ebook still costs around 50’000-100’000 credits to make, but there’s no (printing-, storage-, delivery-) cost associated per piece.

Since the author gets around 10-15%, a book that sells for 15 credits gets the author 2 credits, another 2 credits might be needed for editing, leaving 11 credits for the rest. Now you know why an ebook should cost 5 credits instead of 15.

If a book for 15 credits sells 25’000 times for the author to get a decent return, it just might be he could sell 3 times that much if it cost 5 credits — and get five times as much money, as the editor doesn’t get a cut. After all, after buying a book for 5 credits, the customer would have 10 credits to spare, for which he could buy 2 other books..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The capacity for “publishing” works is actually still limited, because you need things like “editing”.

Actually you do not need editing and that is just an excuse for publishers to control a market. Authors can improve their style, and fix flaws in a work by using fan feedback, and the likes of Github makes this easy to manage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The original comment be Seegras implied professional editors, with a limited capacity to edit books as a limiting factor in book publication, and editing in that sense is not required, and neither is it necessary for an author to edit a book before publishing it. Publishing simply means making available to the public, and all editing can affect is the relative success of a book.
On a related note, look at many Youtube channels, the first video published are often very amateurish, and could possible be improved by a good edit, however with feedback, and practice, people start to deliver much more polished results, while still doing all of their own editing.
My point stands, books do not have to be edited, they may be improvable with some editing. Publication may lead to the feedback that allows the next effort be a much better book, without the author trying to polish a poor work. Publish, and listen to constructive criticism will do more to improve an authors work, by improving their story telling ability, than any amount of editing of a rough early work.

Anonymous Coward says:

What’s intentionally misleading is how legacy media outlets pretend that they present a view intended to provide the public with neutral information on the subject when in reality they don’t express their conflict of interest in the matter and they pretend that this conflict of interest has no impact on what they express to the public. It’s really disguising and more and more people ought to call them out on it.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Copyright is delivering a digital single market. The ability of publishers to simultaneously license works across the EU – and in many cases the world – derives from the current copyright framework.”

Oh, so *that’s* why the eBooks I can access are restricted by region, simply stepping into another EU country can change my Netflix catalogue (or disable it completely), I’m not allowed to download the “digital copy” of my DVD I received from the UK in Spain even though they’re both in region 2, etc., etc.? Why libraries of any media differ wildly in price and availability across EU regions, and you’re not even guaranteed to get the EU language you want to access even though physical media normally retains the ability to import the correct one (whereas digital is restricted to the local store you’re accessing)?

I stopped reading there. If your point has a preamble of outright lies, I don’t need to see which rabbit hole they go down – it’ll all be fantasy no matter what. I know most of the problems outlined above are not in the publishing world the article is apparently addressing, but the point above is ridiculously wrong.

“MYTH #10 An ebook is the same as a normal book and therefore I should be able to resell it

It is not the same. “

Exactly. Which is why I’m willing to pay far less for it than I would for a physical copy. Yet, you still want to charge me the same. Piracy wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t easier to pick up the more valuable second hand paperback for less than you try charging for an eBook – a method for which you get exactly nothing, but which has been legal for centuries.

Klaus says:

Re: Re:

I remember this from a few years ago. Amazon never explained why, but the suspicion was that a Norwegian Kindle user had bought eBooks in a different market (UK), a market which had some years earlier made setting and enforcing RRPs in the book market illegal. It opened the door for British retailers (essentially supermarkets) selling books at their own discounted prices.

This Amazon incident helped reinforce my already deep-seated loathing and hatred of DRM.

CanadianByChoice (profile) says:

Between the lines

“An ebook is easier to copy and digital copies are identical clones of the original work meaning that second-hand goods are largely indistinguishable from the original; they can be reproduced indefinitely without any loss of quality.”

So why, then, do they cost so much? Frequently, I can get a physical book – and have it shipped to me – for less than an ebook. Price them reasonably (and actually make them, you know, like …. available) and piracy goes away.

privatefrazer says:

yet they all share files

they all have file servers set up (bookcases, coffee tables) displaying files (books , magazines) that they may not even own (partners, childrens’) which they encourage friends and clients to browse, read and borrow without payment to the author because they know it encourages the art of reading, promotes sales and that sharing is good.

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