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Why public domain
#1  pwalker8 10-06-2019, 01:28 PM
One of the running discussions that spans a number of threads is the idea of public domain and eternal copyright, i.e. the idea that copyright is a personal property right of the original author and is passed down to his or her heirs for eternity.

Obviously this discussion can go into the various legalities of copyright, derivative works (in some countries derivative works are not covered under copyright, in others they are) and the like, but that's not really what I want to focus on. Instead I want to focus on two ideas. The first being that when a work goes into public domain, anyone can make a copy and the second the idea of new works using the characters or universe of a previous work.

To my mind, the real value of the idea that anyone can make a copy of a work once it goes into public domain is that works remain available to everyone well after they are commercially profitable. Most books go out of print within a few years of publication and disappear from view. Frequently, the author has either abandoned writing, or died. Now, I have no issue with paying for a book, I simply have an issue with not having the book available. For those who dismiss the idea that a book should be available, I say, then what is the purpose of copyright if not to assure that books exist?

In a way, this particular discussion is well hashed. Copyright terms is basically driven by those rare works that retain a high commercial value over the years. The works of Tolkien, Dumas (the father of the idea of long term copyright) and such. If it weren't for such works, the US would still have a 28 year copyright and each year might see a resurgence in interest in formally obscure authors as they come into public domain and become available again.

It's the idea of derivative works that I find a bit more interesting. One of the little secrets out there is there is already a huge body of derivative works out there based on a wide range of books or series of books. It's called FanFic. For the most part, copyright holders politely don't notice FanFic as long as they are not required to notice it for legal reasons. Quite a few mention in passing that some of the FanFic can be quite good. I've seen a number of authors who mention that they got their start in FanFic. Basically, it seems that the rule of thumb is that as long as you aren't trying to make money at it, or do something the copyright holder considers highly offensive (the idea of Mickey Mouse porn is one of the reasons trotted out to support long lasting copyrights), most authors don't have an issue with it.

The other branch of derived works that is licensed books. This is the whole Star Wars, Star Trek, shared worlds such as Thieves World or Wild Cards, industry. You see short story compilations based on a successful novel or series of novels all the time - John Ringo's zombie universe, David Weber's Honorverse, the Harold Shea universe, the list goes on and on. These books actually prove the point of why there is value in derivative works.

There is a mass of commercially successful books written by a lesser known author based on books written by highly successful authors. We still see books (and TV series) based on books originally written by Tom Clancy, Edger Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), Robert Howard (Conan the Barbarian) and H.P. Lovecraft (I'm the proud owner of a Cthulhu for president, why settle for the lesser of two evils? T-shirt) among others.
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#2  leebase 10-06-2019, 09:21 PM
I’m not so sure in the age of ebooks that “books disappear” is much of a concern.

Of course it’s those “rare” economically viable works that drive the copyright debate. Nobody writes fan fiction in the <name some obscure book that never sold well in the first place>.

It’s precisely those works that still HAVE economic value that people want to take that value for themselves via getting a book for free or writing new works based on economically valuable characters someone else created.

In fact, I think “economic death” might be a better yardstick than death of the author. If a book goes 28 years with no economic activity...it’s fair game.
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#3  barryem 10-06-2019, 09:44 PM
I think it's too soon to know if ebooks are the answer to books disappearing. That does seem to be the case at present but commercial ebooks haven't been around very long yet and at some point that may change. I would be surprised if, at some point, ebook sellers didn't decide to reduce their inventory. Storage isn't expensive but it's not nothing and there are the costs associated with tracking and indexing and maintenance. When Amazon or Kobo has 100 million books, most of who's pages haven't even been viewed for a decade or more, they might decide to cut back. In fact they probably will at some point.

We have a very badly flawed copyright system. I think we can all agree that authors should have a chance to be paid for their work but when that work becomes part of our culture we have some rights as well. I don't know the answer but what we have now isn't working very well.

I don't think we'll have an answer until we can have open discussions on this topic among lawmakers without being pressured by publishers.

Barry
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#4  pwalker8 10-06-2019, 10:01 PM
Quote barryem
I think it's too soon to know if ebooks are the answer to books disappearing. That does seem to be the case at present but commercial ebooks haven't been around very long yet and at some point that may change. I would be surprised if, at some point, ebook sellers didn't decide to reduce their inventory. Storage isn't expensive but it's not nothing and there are the costs associated with tracking and indexing and maintenance. When Amazon or Kobo has 100 million books, most of who's pages haven't even been viewed for a decade or more, they might decide to cut back. In fact they probably will at some point.

We have a very badly flawed copyright system. I think we can all agree that authors should have a chance to be paid for their work but when that work becomes part of our culture we have some rights as well. I don't know the answer but what we have now isn't working very well.

I don't think we'll have an answer until we can have open discussions on this topic among lawmakers without being pressured by publishers.

Barry
In general, I don't think it's the publishers pressuring lawmakers, but rather the copyright holders. Publishers have a contract with the copyright holder. Long copyrights simply aren't in their interest. For the most part, copyright is driven by movies and music, not by books. Top box office movies make a heck of a lot more than best selling books.

The book publishing business is quite different than the music industry or movie industry. The customer base for books is much lower than music or movies.
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#5  pwalker8 10-06-2019, 10:10 PM
Quote leebase
I’m not so sure in the age of ebooks that “books disappear” is much of a concern.

Of course it’s those “rare” economically viable works that drive the copyright debate. Nobody writes fan fiction in the <name some obscure book that never sold well in the first place>.

It’s precisely those works that still HAVE economic value that people want to take that value for themselves via getting a book for free or writing new works based on economically valuable characters someone else created.

In fact, I think “economic death” might be a better yardstick than death of the author. If a book goes 28 years with no economic activity...it’s fair game.
I could go for that scheme.

Actually, quite a few of the licensed universes don't have significant economic value. Jerry Pournelle created a licensed universe, War World that produced some 8 volumes of short stories. He said that he made very little money on that.

FanFic, of course, has little to no economic value, that's why authors tend to take a live and let live approach to it. I suspect the main economic value for those who write FanFlc, is the possibility of being noticed by an agent or publishing firm.

Of course, there is very little economic value to most books published in a year. That's why most can't make a living as an author.
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#6  leebase 10-07-2019, 12:03 AM
its not the fanfic that's valuable but the universe they are writing for/in.

And if a particular fanfic became successful enough...it COULD have economic impacts. It could tarnish a brand (porn Mickey), it could water down a brand (writing good Star Wars books but without license or direction from the owner of the copyright). This could be true whether or not someone charges for the fanfic.
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#7  crich70 10-07-2019, 04:55 AM
Quote pwalker8
In general, I don't think it's the publishers pressuring lawmakers, but rather the copyright holders. Publishers have a contract with the copyright holder. Long copyrights simply aren't in their interest. For the most part, copyright is driven by movies and music, not by books. Top box office movies make a heck of a lot more than best selling books.

The book publishing business is quite different than the music industry or movie industry. The customer base for books is much lower than music or movies.
Ah, but what about all those movies that began as books? Treasure Island, Moby Dick, The Time Machine, and many more. And different movie studios may base movies on the same book and yet copyright other aspects such as the makeups. For example both Universal Pictures and Hammer Studios have made movies based on Frankenstein but Hammer had to come up with its own look for the creature since Universal owned the rights to their adaptation starring Boris Karloff. If Frankenstein were still in copyright there wouldn't have been so many movies (starting with Tom Edison's short) based on the story. First came the book, then a stage play and then finally the first movie.
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#8  pwalker8 10-07-2019, 05:40 AM
Quote crich70
Ah, but what about all those movies that began as books? Treasure Island, Moby Dick, The Time Machine, and many more. And different movie studios may base movies on the same book and yet copyright other aspects such as the makeups. For example both Universal Pictures and Hammer Studios have made movies based on Frankenstein but Hammer had to come up with its own look for the creature since Universal owned the rights to their adaptation starring Boris Karloff. If Frankenstein were still in copyright there wouldn't have been so many movies (starting with Tom Edison's short) based on the story. First came the book, then a stage play and then finally the first movie.
What about them? Obviously all the movies you mention were based on books that were already in the PD. Sure there are plenty of movies where someone buys the movie rights of a book, but generally the movie rights aren't all that much compared to what the movie actually makes. LOTR and Harry Potter are real rarities.

I have long held that a two tier copyright system would be best for all concerned. Most books fall in tier 1 with short copyright with only a handful in tier 2 with a longer copyright period. Something like the music industry, where you can purchase a license to record a song, but the copyright holder gets a set royalty would likely be the best compromise, IMPO. For that matter, I'm good with the idea of after a short period of time, say 14 years, most books go into a literary pool where any publisher can publish the book, but must pay a standard royalty based on the list price, purchase price, or fixed fee (whichever is higher).

The point of copyright, from a society point of view, is to have books available to the general audience. That's the public good, the trade off for giving the author/artist the government granted monopoly. Our current system fails that test miserably.
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#9  barryem 10-07-2019, 09:52 PM
Quote pwalker8
In general, I don't think it's the publishers pressuring lawmakers, but rather the copyright holders.
Publishers have lobbyists. Most authors and composers don't.

Barry
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#10  pwalker8 10-08-2019, 08:15 AM
Quote barryem
Publishers have lobbyists. Most authors and composers don't.

Barry
The movie industry and music industry have massive lobbying efforts in the US.

https://www.newsmax.com/hirsen/hollywood-lobby-sopa-tpp/2014/01/06/id/545405/


The publishing industry? Not so much. Follow the money. The best selling book last year was Michelle Obama's Becoming, selling 3.4 million copies, outselling the number 2 book by 2 million copies. List price $32. Of course, books rarely sell for the list price (current price at Amazon $16) and the publisher sells it to the book seller for roughly half the list price. Just for argument sake, let's say that the publisher got $16 per book. That comes out to $51 M.

The top box office movie from 2018 was Black Panther pulling in $700 M at the box office. That doesn't include the DVD and digital sales, merchandising or anything like that.

Disney pulled in around $12.6 B in profits last year on $59 B in revenue. Penguin-Random House had a total revenue of around $3 B.

Disney, of course, holds the copyrights to their movies. Pengin-Random House holds the contracts with the authors holding the copyrights. Typically, the rights to a book reverts back to the author once it goes out of print, it depends on the contract. With the exception of a small handful of books that never go out of print, the publisher simply isn't concerned with copyright length because their interest in the book has vanished long before the original 28 year copyright, much less the current life plus 70.

There are exceptions of course, we read stories of authors who foolishly sign contracts where the rights to the book never revert back to them, but that's why you have an agent and have a lawyer experienced in such matters go over a contract before you sign.
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