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
    Cody Jackson (profile), 25 Sep 2009 @ 3:25pm

    I don't bitch that I'm not paid for my book

    I wrote a book last year and, though it would be nice to make money off it, I haven't. Because the book is about programming, the market is pretty saturated. When I contacted a publisher about printing it, I was told there just wasn't a market for an intro to programming book like mine. This is after I spent 9+ months researching, writing, and creating code examples.

    So, I self-published it online as a free ebook, even putting it on The Pirate Bay and Mininova as a torrent. It's been downloaded more than 6000 times and I have received no money from it. Naturally it would be nice to make some money but I feel it's more important to share the knowledge and give back to the Internet community where I learned to program in the first place.

    Maybe when I revise the book I will set up some way to make it financially beneficial to me. But, I certainly don't think people are stealing from me; I borrowed plenty of ideas from other programming books and web sites.

    And that's where Mr. Edwards runs into a vicious cycle: in his world, would I be responsible for paying the authors of my research data, especially web sites? Obviously any library books should be providing a cut to the authors but what about all the "free" tutorials on the web? I would suspect that Mr. Edwards feels that ad-supported sites aren't enough and anyone that gained knowledge from a site should chip in with a donation, just to ensure the author can make a living.

    I wrote my book on my own time; I have a "real" job in the military. As a matter of fact, I wrote my book while deployed to Iraq; I didn't have a nice, cozy little house to stay in while writing. It may not be a professional book with paid copy editors, but it was a work of love, if you will, not greed.

    It would be nice to be paid to spend just a couple hours a day writing and then do whatever I wanted for the rest of the time, because that's exactly what I did while writing my book. I'm not a professional but there is simply no way someone can spend a full work-day writing. In reality, Mr. Edwards probably made $40000 for 4-6 hours a day of work for 6 months. Not that bad.

    Simply put, I feel no sympathy for these so-called "struggling artists". If you aren't making enough money, then get a real job and write in your spare time. I did, in a war zone even, so it can be done.

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