[-empyre-] Book Piracy and Alienated Labour

Emmett Stinson stinsone at unimelb.edu.au
Fri Jun 4 10:57:09 EST 2010

Hi Everyone:

Michael has asked me to introduce myself, and I thought I¹d talk a little
about my own research in relation to the posts so far.

I think the question of what AAAARG is (raised by Renate) is an interesting
one. Sean, obviously, sees AAAARG as an online library or archive, one that
offers freely accessible digital copies of books that, by and large, are
related to the tradition of continental theory and related disciplines.
Others (notably, it would seem, Pan Macmillan), however, would see AAAARG as
simply a website for book pirates, which violates authorial copyright (and
the copyright license owned by publishers).

I¹ve just written an article offering a pragmatic analysis of so-called
Œbook piracy¹ for Overland magazine, and I have mixed and contradictory
feelings about the practise. On the one hand, I am emphatically against any
attempts to criminalise or penalise activities relating to not-for-profit
Œbook piracy¹ and am a staunch believer in copyright reform that enables a
more free and open access to copyrighted material. But I also come from a
publishing-industry perspective and strongly believe that both authors and
their publishers (or other intermediaries) have a legitimate right to expect
payment for their labour.

The argument that books and information should be (monetarily) free to
everyone is absolutely compelling for academics; since most academics have
salaried positions, they don¹t need royalties from books to survive. But for
other kinds of writers, the idea of free culture may simply result in more
alienated labour (i.e. people who say things like ŒI write advertising copy
during the week, but I¹m a novelist on weekendsŠ¹).

Book piracy is clearly a huge problem for the industry (much bigger, I
think, than most publishers realise), although I think publishers themselves
can partially solve this Œproblem¹ simply by acknowledging that ebooks
require a different form than print books. This goes beyond ebooks that
include Œvalue adds¹ (i.e. audiovisual content); publishers need to
radically rethink the form of ebooks by creating books that can be
customised by users and include user feedback/interaction in order to make
the book a dynamic process rather than a static artefact. An artifact can be
pirated, but an evolving process can¹t.

On a final note, last week I spoke with two librarians in charge of major
Australian research libraries; interestingly, they were both strong
advocates of significant copyright reform, and very much believe in
something like the creative commons mode of copyright. Ironically, they
argued that electronic providers of copyrighted content are currently the
biggest barrier to a more free and open information exchange. Most
Australian research libraries spend far more money on electronic resources
than they do on print, and very few digital providers offer reasonable
single-use or single-user fees. So digital publishers, themselves, are not
in anyway inherently more open or free.

Emmett Stinson
Lecturer, Publishing and Communications
School of Culture and Communication
The University of Melbourne
Parkville, Victoria, Australia 3010
Ph: 613-8344-3017 

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