Copyright infringement, another opinion: Should we independents “retire” in defeat?

I’ve received another comment to which I was composing a too-long response, so it’s turning into a post of its own.

The topic is copyright infringement and the comment came in on this post.

Here’s Michelle’s comment:

Ladies, as much as I understand your frustration I wish to respond in a
way that is not as supportive as other entries on this page. I am sorry
to say that technology is going to grow with or without you. Anyone who
expects a business to be protected against website publishing is
probably around retirement age. If properly blanketed by a solid,
reputable publisher the chances of protection are closer to a
guarantee. Perhaps you should invest more time in researching
publishers rather than letting everyone know something they already do.
We know you have to eat and we know how unfair people can be. Move with
the times or retire gals.

And here’s my reply:

Hi, Michelle:

The problem is not "website publishing" but stealing of copyrighted material, whether intentional or not.

As a publisher, I have choices about how to present the information that I make available to other people. I publish this primarily through print media, although I certainly evaluate my options on an ongoing basis and have been considering electronic delivery for some future projects.

At present, print still seems like the best way to provide knitting-related information of any length and complexity.

Making the material available exclusively electronically (which I assume is part of what you mean by "technology is going to grow with or without you") would obviate many difficulties of the current print-publishing system, including freight costs, damages and returns, and the other inefficiencies and expenses of today’s book distribution, which is, frankly, not in step with the times at all. However, it is a reality as much as is the technology of electronic communication.

Electronic books are not yet easy to read for extended text, and
the equipment to display many of the currently available formats is still
financially out of many people’s reach. PDFs can be displayed on standard computers, to which many people do have access. However, computer-only display of books means the text isn’t as portable as a traditional book—no reading on buses or subways, in bed, and so on; even laptops are not yet noticeably convenient in these locations. I think that most readers would consider it an imposition (and not very
satisfactory) to have to print out and make some sort of binding for
their own copies of books that are several hundred pages long, and that’s what they’d have to do to get the flexibility of a bound book from an electronic delivery system. In addition, electronic distribution doesn’t solve the problem of piracy, and may make it worse.

I obviously think that not publishing the books that I do would be a loss for the knitting and spinning community, or I wouldn’t be doing it, but perhaps that’s my personal delusion.

Then again, I’m far from alone. A number of knitting designers (who are not publishers but writers and providers of patterns) are struggling with issues similar to those faced by publishers like me: how best to deliver the information, how best to get paid for the work that gets done to create and present the information. If these problems don’t get solved, then these sources of material will dry up. The people who are writing, designing, and publishing (through our own efforts or through association with others) will find a different kind of work to do.

What you are saying, as I understand it, is that the only people who should be publishing books (or providing pattern designs, and so on) are those who are well-funded enough to have a flotilla of lawyers at their command. That goes against a lot of ideas I care a great deal about—including free speech and free enterprise and being able to choose to work in a basement that I own rather than a cubicle that someone else does.

I know I’m paraphrasing you, but this is what I am hearing in your message: "Life’s not fair. No one should act unless that person has lots of money to defend him or herself. Also, you must be old and you should retire." Each of these declarations, whether true or not, misses the point of the primary issue under discussion.

I don’t think the problems of copyright infringement have anything to do with age. Young or old, creative people need food, shelter, and clothing, just like corporate drones do. It does sound like you want us all to be corporate drones or to leave the workforce entirely. I put the word "retire" in quotes in the title of this post because "retire" isn’t an option for most of the people I know who are doing this work. We need to work for a living, so our only "retirement" would be from doing work that we are unusually qualified to do, and that would not be an age-related decision. I suspect that some of the older people in this field may be active on matters of copyright protection not only for their own sake but also in order to protect future options for the younger folks. And while you address the group as "ladies," not everyone implicated by these issues is female.

Life’s unfair—you’re right. And no one here has asked it to be.

Yet unfairness may run rampant if we don’t name it, and people won’t stop doing things that are unfair—or wrong, or illegal—unless and until we do some acknowledging and some educating. When you say "technology is going to grow with you or without you," you may also mean that we should not bother to do whatever is in our power to increase the amount of fairness in the world. Unfair behavior won’t go away completely no matter what we do, but simply to succumb to unfairness by saying that nothing can be done about it is defeatist. Inaction also has long-term, serious, negative consequences.

Your statement suggests that "solid, reputable publishers" are either immune to piracy or better able to protect themselves from it. I assume, because of the context of this discussion, that by "solid, reputable publishers" you do not mean the independents but you do mean the imprints of the conglomerates. It is not true that they are immune to piracy, and they may be even less able to protect themselves in some ways. Although the bigger publishers may have lawyers on staff (some do), they also have more titles to keep track of. And if the editors at those corporations cannot produce P&Ls (profit-and-loss statements) that come out in the black more often than not, then their publishing wings will be clipped as well. Those editors, the creative spirits of the publishing houses where they work, will be required to do something else. The big publishers’ P&Ls are affected by copyright infringement, as are the P&Ls of the smaller publishers.

Then again, maybe the ability to create new ideas and to share them through publication and to earn a living or a partial living for one’s effort doesn’t matter—maybe it doesn’t matter to you, and maybe it doesn’t even matter to human cultural heritage as a whole.

I think it does, and I’m willing to take a stand for it.

The truly positive news that has come out of the discovery of illegally scanned books’ availability on the internet is that there are people who would like to have access to this information who apparently cannot obtain it easily and legally. I’d love to find a solution to that problem, whether the fix is electronic or physical. I’m all about supporting creativity, whether of those who provide information or those who use it to spur their own unique projects.

I think that every one of us stands on both sides of that gate from time to time. The trick is in making sure we can see over to the other side, regardless of where we’re standing at the moment.



10 thoughts on “Copyright infringement, another opinion: Should we independents “retire” in defeat?”

  1. I am not sure that PDFs are viable for selling books because even at low res the files are just so huge. Plus there’s the question of copy protection. I find DRM to be annoying for the most part, but I certainly understand why artists want some kind of projection. People want to be able to copy their digital files for their own use — for example to play a song or video on their TV, computer, and iPod and to make personal backups, which is totally acceptable as far as I’m concerned; but it shouldn’t be too easy to just copy and give away files to other people, which is stealing.

    As far as ebook readers go, they keep failing in the marketplace. I am not sure there is a solution until a good hardware device is accepted by the public.

    I personally buy books because I like books. I like to have information in electronic formats for research, but I don’t like to read anything long on the screen. It’s completely uncomfortable. Plus books are accessable to anyone, no expensive or special technology is required to read them. That can’t be said for any form of electronic media.

  2. I agree completely, Donna, about PDF size (so far, our books have enough illustrations that even web-quality PDFs are pretty big), and DRM is an obvious question. I *want* people to be able to use their books freely and easily. The creators of the material (authors and publishers) also *need* to be able to have some income from each user.

    I actually have sold one electronic copy of a book, personally burned onto a CD, for someone who traveled a lot and made an individual request.

    My primary goal at BookExpo America last year was to find out answers to these problems. I came away with fragments of information, but no solutions.

  3. I like eBooks, but mostly its fiction ebooks that I buy. I’d prefer to have these in print, but I don’t have the money right now for printed copies and ebooks are cheaper for me right now. And, I still prefer my knitting books to be in print since I refer to these very often.

    And even with ebooks in the form of PDFs (which is what I use since I do not have the $$$ to buy Kindle or the like), you still have the problem of illegal copies being passed around and resold on eBay. Some romance fiction authors have had problems with this happening to them. There’s just no way to have some sort of net crawler going around and “destroying” bootleg copies of pdfs, at least not with the current technology that we have nowdays.

    I suspect that there will always be the need for knitting books to be in print – the problem is how to get these books to cross-country markets where the predominant language is not the same as that of the original books and booksellers may not be aware that people really are interested in these books.

  4. Regarding the issue of making books available in foreign markets: I guess I am wondering specifically which countries cannot get these books. I ask only because in the past week I have filled book orders from The Netherlands, Germany, France, Israel and Italy. They all came through my Amazon merchant acount (which is different than selling through Amazon as a publisher). Clearly, those people who are having trouble getting access to these books are NOT suffering from lack of access to the Internet–they are surfing the Internet to find outlaw copies they can download. So if it’s not lack of Internet access to order the book from a US source, what exactly is the issue? Is it an import problem? A money problem?

    If we’re talking about a translation problem (I’ve never gotten an order from Japan, for example) then that’s a completely different issue and one that needs to be addressed–but again, they are downloading English-language versions of these books so it can’t be an insurmountable issue. I am just not sure that “we can’t get those books here so we have to download pirated copies” is as legitimate an excuse as it might appear.

    Deb, perhaps your foreign reader will be able to provide some feedback and give me some information on why orders come in from some countries and not others.

  5. Deb, I’m on your side. I also think that this person’s conclusion–that those who want to make a living from their creativity and protect their copyright must be old? It doesn’t hold water. I’d love to be making a better living from my creativity, and I want to maintain copyright wherever it’s useful. I think the commenters on this post may know more about the issue than the original commenter. By the way, when my hardcopy patterns were available from Knitpicks, they sold hundreds of copies. The same patterns are now available as low price pdfs. Volume is way way down, maybe ten copies of each pattern a year. Even ignoring the issues of advertising, one can focus on hard copy catalog delivery along with the hard copy pattern. Obviously, there is still a big market out there for the hardcopy, whatever it is.

  6. I hate to say this, but Michelle is just cracked. This is not a technology issue. As I write this comment, it is protected by copyright–my copyright. Once it is made into tangible form (not just floating around in my head), I own the copyright to it–just as you own the copyright to your words on this site. Technology has nothing to do with who owns their own work. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act assures that, as earlier copyright legislation protects print works. “On the internet” does not equal “free for anyone to use.”

    There is not a craft book in the world I would buy as an E-book, although I buy a lot of fiction in that form. Craft books need to be seen and handled, just for the sake of usefulness. PDFs are okay for short instructions, but for a whole book? No. Too cumbersome.

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