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. identicon
    mertz, 25 Sep 2009 @ 5:13pm

    Re: is he serious?

    and then he does this more than once responding to a commenter where he uses the fine artist as an example because apparently based on what he knows (i wonder why he doesn't mention where he got his information from or is it just his opinion or is he just pulling this out of thin f'n air. we are not all damien hirsts or dan brown who he even happens to mention in his post. he's an artist, a creater. he works in business and he's an AUTHOR, yet what he's saying just points out that he might not know what he's talking about when it comes to artist. ugh. it's so furstrating because his intent can entirely be in the right place but the language he's using isn't alright. i mean someone pointed out that he uses bludgers which he admitted isn't appropriate but that he's sticking with theft, but the words he's using to make his case aren't the right ones. he's making the case that because fine artists own their products they, unlike authors, have a greater oppertunity of selling their art and SURVIVING from it. really? really? like what? okay i understand that he's making genralizations, uhm and that there is a degree of creating a sustainable livelihood from art more than books, because art is expensive (assumed) and books aren't (set at fized price, often marked down...i think it depends on what art products he's talking about really uhm because you can have art that is inexpensive just like you can also have cheap books...i feel like he's comparing two different things/degrees of uhm sellability (not a word)/value (maybe better term)) because a single art sale of single product will net the artist more than an author gets with a book...so i think he's right (willing to give him that credit)when he's talking about opperunity for point of sale and value of product, but another commenter pointed out to him that he needs to instead of lashing out at fans or libraries (because he clearly is trying to figure out a way he can net more money...maybe because he needs it, or maybe he's taking on a matter like lily allen because he feels there's something wrong in the system (which he mentions a little when he talks about uhm libraries haveing a robin hood complex, shifting money from the not so poor to the poor like all people who use libraries and read are poor. wow.)and i think it's good that he's passionate about something. writers have been and are getting shafted. lol. thanks for stating the obvious and welcome to the starving artist community that you are already a part of (unless on top of your art job you have another means of making money))take it up with publishers.

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