Wednesday, 5 November 2003

More book genres join travel authors in questioning Amazon.com giveaway of e-rights

Authors and publishers of cookbooks, short stories, and how-to books are joining travel writers and publishers, as well as major publishers like Penguin, in raising questions about Amazon.com's so-called "Search Inside the Book" program, which actually bundles together searching with free display of images of all pages from the books included in the program.

(According to a statement on the Amazon.com site , Amazon.com is "no longer accepting submissions to the Look Inside the Book program", under which publishers and/or authors could authorize only selected pages to be available through Amazon.com -- typically the introduction, table of contents, index, and perhaps a sample section -- without having to make the entire book available for free online display and download. Now, apparently, Amazon.com is requiring access to images of all pages as a condition of display of any excerpts, or inclusion of the text in searches.)

In Amazon's New Search Serves Up Recipes , the Washington Post (29 October 2003) describes the particular concerns of cookbook authors that "Amazon.com was giving away the recipe[s] for free".

Although some cookbook publishers quoted by the Post defended their decisions to participate in the page-display program, they also acknowledged that their right to do so was dependent on the terms of their contracts with authors for electronic rights to the content of the books. For example, the Post quotes Natalie Chapman, vice president and publisher of culinary at John Wiley & Sons, Inc. as saying, "If we have acquired electronic rights I would imagine that would allow us to do this." The Post says that, "Most contracts [between authors and publishers] now contain clauses that allow for all manner of electronic rights," but that's not true of many contracts, including those for many of the books currently included in Amazon.com's page-display program.

As of this morning, the listings for my books on Amazon.com still carry the "Search Inside!" banner across the cover images, and a "Search Inside This Book" link. But when I click on the cover image or the link, I get a page saying, "An error occurred when we tried to process your request. Rest assured, we're working to resolve the problem as soon as possible." Let's hope that means they are working to resolve the problem of their copyright theft.

The Post story also gives readers precise directions for how to overcome Amazon'com's "copy protection". It's not hard, and takes only a single keystroke: press the "Print Screen" key to print. Surely no one would figure that out without professional assistance from a hacker.

The Post points out that authors sometimes authorize specific content to be made available on the Web for a limited time. What isn't mentioned is that Amazon.com's Alexa division (the apparent source of the "Search Inside the Book" and page-display programs) already infringes those time-limited rights by making copies of Web pages available from its "archive" without regard for whether the license for Web display (which was never granted to Alexa in the first place) has expired. Google's so-called "cache" does the same thing, with the same disregard for copyright. Both sabotage authors' ability to re-sell the content for display elsewhere on the Web, or in other form, once the original license has expired.

Short stories are also at particular risk, since someone who wants one story may have little or no interest in the rest of the book in which it appears. Short stories in most genres pay poorly, but there's a well-established commercial market for science fiction short stories, novellas, and anthologies. Popular sci-fi stories are frequently re-sold to multiple anthologies. Not surprisingly, sci-fi story writers are also concerned about Amazon.com's online giveaway of excerpts undercutting the value of their electronic and print reprint rights. Sci-fi writer Kathryn Cramer reports in her blog that some have asked the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to get involved in the issue on their behalf. The SFWA already is the only writers organization with an active e-piracy public awareness campaign

[Addendum, 6 November 2003: In an update in her blog , Kathryn Cramer reports that several sci-fi anthologies she and others edited have already been removed from the page-image display program, although pages from other authors' books remain visible despite their requests for removal. In an earlier article , she had shown that URL's can be constructed to link directly to the image of a specific page from a specific book -- which some reports, presumably based on claims by Amazon.com, had said was impossible.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 5 November 2003, 08:12 ( 8:12 AM) | TrackBack (1)
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