New Zealand Author Claims Libraries Are Involved In Grand Theft By Loaning Books

from the this-has-to-be-parody,-right? dept

Via Family Holloway, I came across a short opinion piece by Brian Edwards bitching about how libraries are facilitating book theft. At first, I honestly thought it was a joke or a parody, to make fun of those who complain about online "piracy," but I actually think he's serious. I'd never heard of Edwards, but apparently he's a big media personality and author in New Zealand. And, boy, does he hate the fact that libraries don't pay him every time someone checks out a book:
What pisses me off as an author is that for every person who buys your book, dozens of other bludgers get to read it for nothing. Let me give you an example. A few years back I wrote a biography of Helen Clark. It took about six months to write and during that time I had effectively no other income. The book retailed at $45. On the standard author's royalty of 10%, I got $4.50 for every copy sold. Helen, Portrait of a Prime Minister sold 9,000 copies, a reasonable if not spectacular figure in the New Zealand market. So I got $40,500 before tax for my six month's work.

I'm not complaining about that either. But...

Every public library in New Zealand bought at least one copy of Helen. And they lent each of those copies to other people to read for... nothing. Last year there were still 227.4 copies of the book in New Zealand public libraries. If each of those copies was taken out by one person a month, that's 2,729 people who read but didn't pay for my book -- my six month's work. At $4.50 per unsold copy, that's a theoretical loss of income to me in one year of $12,280.
While he later admits that not all of those people (and he made up the numbers anyway...) would have bought the book, but them immediately follows that statement up with this doozy:
But there's a principle here: when one person buys a book and lends it to another person to read, they effectively become an accessory to theft. Their generous act amounts to little more than stealing the author's work. When a public library buys a book and lends it to thousands of other people to read, it's grand theft copyright and really no different from illegally downloading music or movies or copying CDs or DVDs on your computer.
For someone who positions himself as an expert, he seems to have almost no understanding of the purpose of copyright law or of the public library systems. In the end, he says that libraries should pay him 1/4 of the usual book sale royalty per loan of his book. So, in his case, $1.13 every time the book is loaned out. Apparently, he doesn't quite realize that he's basically asking the public libraries, funded by public tax dollars, to subsidize him. The original Holloway link above does a nice job schooling Edwards, and then discusses things in more detail with Edwards in the comments -- though Edwards seems unwilling to budge on his claims of libraries being theives, or to understand basic common sense. Someone points out to him that if he bought a chainsaw, it would be ridiculous to stop him from lending it to someone, and his response is: "There is no intellectual property in a chainsaw."

Edwards also seems fully enamored with the myth that copyright law is based on some sort of "labor theory" -- that the more time you put in, somehow the more money you deserve to get out. While I'm unfamiliar with New Zealand copyright law, in the US, such theories have been widely discredited in the courts repeatedly. And, of course, they make no sense when viewed alongside the actual purpose of copyright law. Edwards seems to believe that copyright is welfare for creators, rather than an incentive to create.

In the meantime, perhaps the public libraries of New Zealand can do Mr. Edwards a favor next time he publishes a book: don't buy it. Ditto for anyone who might think of lending it... er... I mean, being an accessory to a crime in distributing copyrighted materials.

Filed Under: brian edwards, copyright, libraries, new zealand


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  1. icon
    Tor (profile), 25 Sep 2009 @ 11:31am

    Understanding the secondary market and the purpose of copyright

    He also wrote: "As for the second-hand market, while it’s nice to know your book has a second life, there’s no financial return in it for the author."

    Clearly he doesn't understand how removing possibility to resell a product would affect the price of the new product.

    Here's another interesting respond by Brian Edwards to someone who didn't feel Edwards understood copyright:
    "You really are an arrogant bugger. Not only have I been involved in publishing for more than 40 years, I have written and lectured on the subject of copyright. I know what it is. And for all your high-minded rationalisations, the principal function of copyright is to vest in the originator of a work the sole right to reproduce (or perform) that work or to authorise others to do so. I already agreed that what public libraries do is not technically a breach of copyright. But the effect is the same as reproduction."

    So he seems to think that the primary function of copyright is to... give authors copyright.

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