We were recently writing about how there seems to be a massive double standard
when it comes to "sampling" in books vs. music. But that was really only focused on fiction books. When it comes to non-fiction, it appears the story is a bit more complicated. Author Marc Aronson recently took to the pages of the NY Times to complain about how copyright is massively stifling non-fiction works
, due to the difficulty of getting permission:
The hope of nonfiction is to connect readers to something outside the book: the past, a discovery, a social issue. To do this, authors need to draw on pre-existing words and images.
Unless we nonfiction writers are lucky and hit a public-domain mother lode, we have to pay for the right to use just about anything -- from a single line of a song to any part of a poem; from the vast archives of the world's art (now managed by gimlet-eyed venture capitalists) to the historical images that serve as profit centers for museums and academic libraries.
The amount we pay depends on where and how the material is used. In fact, the very first question a rights holder asks is "What are you going to do with my baby" Which countries do you plan to sell in? What languages? Over what period of time? How large will the image be in your book?
Much of his concern is how these costs will multiply in an age of ebooks, but it seems like a serious enough issue from the start. Just the fact that authors who are discussing and building on the works of others are being blocked due to copyright is hugely problematic. In this context, it hardly sounds like the new works would act as substitutes for the old works at all -- but could actually drive more interest in those original works. It's difficult to see why or how copyright policy makes sense in these cases.