from the who-owns-your-words dept
Singer is somewhat obsessed with Churchill, running an entire bookstore devoted to Churchill. As such, he actually says he’s had a very good relationship with Churchill’s heirs for years. But when he finally sought to write a book on Churchill himself, the family went the usual route and claimed no quotations unless you pay. The approximate rate: 50 cents per word. Quoting other Churchill relatives also costs money and the rates may differ. As Singer explains, he basically had to significantly cut back on what he quoted, and completely excise some Churchill family members from the book. But he did have to pay for the 3,872 words he used that included direct quotations from Churchill — though the family gave him a slight discount, such that he had to pay £950 — which works out to about 40 cents per word.
Singer admits that, while some lawyers told him he could fight this, he gave in to keep up his strong relationship with the family. Of course, that only brings to mind Churchill’s quote:
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile–hoping it will eat him last.
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
It’s too bad Singer chose not to stand up more.
To be honest, the podcast is a little weak in that it doesn’t go too deep into the legal issues here and how they can impact history, culture and research. Furthermore, it does little to explore the actual law and how far the Churchill estate is overreaching. Oddly, it seems to suggest that this is just “the way” that the UK’s copyright laws work (not quite true) and then does a little section on the attempts by the UK government to reform the laws — even though the UK government decided to reject the idea of including a US-style fair use exception.
Stephen Dubner then talks to Steve Levitt about copyright in general, and claims that his take is “un-economic” because he doesn’t seem to care much for stringent enforcement of copyright, and would prefer to share his own works more widely. I don’t see how that’s un-economic at all. In fact, as Levitt notes, his own status goes up as the work is more widely shared, increasing all sorts of opportunities elsewhere. I actually found this part of the discussion kind of disappointing, as there were a bunch of interesting nuanced directions in which it could have gone, including a much deeper analysis of the economics of copying, but instead, they went with the standard line from people who are just exploring this topic for the first time, which I’ll paraphrase as: “well of course copyright is important, and we don’t want anyone copying our book, but perhaps it goes too far in some cases.”
The parts on Churchill are interesting, and hopefully Dubner (and Levitt?) will follow up in more detail down the road. For example, it would be great for them to bring on Chris Sprigman and Kal Raustiala, who they’ve had guest-post for them in the past, considering they’ve written an entire book on these kinds of things.