Wednesday, 29 October 2003

More on Amazon.com copyright infringement

I'm quoted in today's Seattle Times in their story, Amazon's inside look irks authors: Search function previews any page

Unfortunately, the story focuses rather narrowly on whether authors would want to participate in the full-text search and retrieval system as Amazon.com has established it. But that's not a choice authors have yet been given: Amazon.com only approached publishers, not authors.

Amazon.com claims that giving away full text online will increase book sales. That might be true, but it might also undercut sales and licensing of other rights to the same content, such as excerpting in magazine and newspaper articles, use on other Web sites, downloading to PDA's, and so forth. As an author, I can't really evaluate Amazon.com's sales claims, since Amazon.com refuses to provide authors with reports on sales of their books -- only publishers and distributors get those. And Amazon.com categorically refuses to provide any links, even from reviews or comments, to authors' or publishers' own Web sites -- even those that already provide the full texts of their books. If Amazon.com wants to get writers' agreement for its full-text search and retrieval service, they might start by providing participating authors with reports on sales of their books through Amazon.com, and with links from the book pages on Amazon.com to the authors' and publishers' Web sites.

Readers would appear to be disserved by getting the texts of books through Amazon.com rather than authors' own Web sites: Amazon.com provides only a snapshot of the book as published, while many publishers' and authors' sites (including this one, through this blog and other articles ) provide updates after the book goes to press. Travel publishers, of course, have been leaders in online updating.

Lonely Planet, for example, commissions all the writing for its guidebooks as "work for hire". Unlike my publisher, Avalon Travel Publishing , Lonely Planet owns copyright to its books, and could have made them available for search and full-text retrieval through Amazon.com. But with only its own profits at stake, and no need to consult or obtain approval from the writers whose one-time fee already purchased "all rights" to the books' content, LP appears to have chosen not to make any of them available for Amazon.com's search and full-text retrieval system.

Although I discussed it at length when the Seattle Times reporter contacted me, today's article doesn't go into the more significant legal and ethical questions of Amazon.com's copyright infringement. Perhaps that will have to wait for reporting by a news outlet other than Amazon.com's hometown newspaper, or one of the companies convicted of wholesale plagiarism in Tasini v. New York Times, et al. .

Amazon.com labels its bootleg images of pages from my books as "publisher copyrighted material". But those images of my books available from Amazon.com include images of the copyright pages, plainly showing that copyright is in my name. The Amazon.com Enter Publisher Information for Search Inside the Book requires publishers to certify that they are "the exclusive rights holder (including copyright and marketing/promotion rights) of the titles you wish to submit to our Search Inside the Book program." That's rarely true, except for self-publishers and books produced as work for hire. Almost every copyright page image I called up through the new Amazon.com service showed copyright in the name of the author, not the publisher. At best, Amazon.com was grossly negligent in failing to notice the discrepenancy between publisher's claim to own the rights they were licensing, and the copyright notices in the books themselves. At worst, Amazon.com was knowingly proceeding in bad faith.

The Seattle Times story also omits the connection to Amazon.com's Alexa division, which has already been engaged in the sort of plagiarism of the World Wide Web that Amazon.com is now trying to expand to the contants of Books in Print . This article in Wired makes clear how the new program is, in fact, the fruition of Amazon.com's acquisition of Alexa and adoption of its attitudes. (Thanks to Dan Gillmor for calling my attention to the Wired story in his blog , although he didn't address the copyright question.)

As I said in my original article on this topic and in yesterday's follow-up , the real issue is the hypocrisy of those who whine about pettty retail copyright infringement through sharing of single MP3's, while turning a blind eye to wholesale copyright infringement by big companies like Amazon.com and Google.com (see this new story from Publishers Weekly on Google's copycat plans , also summarized here ) that are systematically attempting to compile bootleg libraries of every book or Web page ever published anywhere in the world.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 29 October 2003, 07:11 ( 7:11 AM) | TrackBack (0)
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