Copyright Issues in a Digital World Continue to Cause Book Publishers Angst
Two sessions planned for next month's Publishing Business Conference's book publishing track that are attracting a lot of attention are “Rethinking Author Contracts for the Digital World” and “Rethinking Copyright for the Digital World.” But they have more in common than similar titles—both will be led by the Copyright Clearance Center's Christopher Kenneally. Kenneally agreed to give Publishing Business Insider readers a preview of his two sessions, which will be held Tuesday, March 9 at the New York Marriott Marquis.
Because of the importance of these issues in today's changing publishing marketplace, Book Business Extra wanted to share the interview with its readers:
INSIDER: With the advent of user-generated content in an ever-evolving digital world, copyright issues are increasingly coming to the forefront. What are some of the major copyright issues the book publishing industry is currently struggling to iron out?
CHRISTOPHER KENNEALLY: Besides the Google Book Settlement, you mean? Under ordinary circumstances, that would be plenty, considering the case may qualify as the single largest and most important class action lawsuit affecting the book publishing industry in U.S. judicial history. However, we don’t live in ordinary times. There are lots of worries and plenty of angst over “orphan works” (books, films, etc., that don’t have an immediately locatable owner) as well as the licensing and permissions challenges presented when so much content is available online and can be made instantly ubiquitous with a single keystroke. There have also been a spate of recent lawsuits regarding the scope of rights in author-publisher book contracts (particularly about whether those older contracts cover e-books as well as print books).
INSIDER: Many publishers are still struggling with the "free" content issue. What's your take on free?
KENNEALLY: When I was young, I learned a short, quick lesson about “free” from an uncle. “If it’s free, take two,” he told me. I think he was referring to samples of candy. But he never counseled me, “If no one’s looking, or no one’s home, grab what you can and run.” When it comes to copyrighted content (and under U.S. law, any fixed work is copyrighted automatically, whether it’s published on the Web or written on a napkin), the decision to distribute a work without charge to the recipient—in other words, make it “free”—should always lie with the copyright holder. Until the Internet came along, that principle was pretty much taken for granted. As an author myself, I wish it still were, but the open availability of digitized content has upended a lot of the old rules. If authors (Chris Anderson, among them) as well as publishers decide “free” samples—say, book chapters online—will promote a work and lead to increased sales, they aren’t right or wrong. It’s entirely a business decision—but it’s their business decision.
INSIDER: With all of the new issues presented by the digital content realm, do you see the struggle between publishers and authors getting worse before it gets better?
KENNEALLY: I’m an author and was a freelance journalist for many years, and I know quite a few people who are likewise, so I have a rule-of-thumb: scratch an author, and you find someone who has a problem with his or her publisher. That’s human nature; I don’t think it’s a struggle necessarily, just a fact. The rise of independent publishing services and online bookselling certainly point to more authors going their own ways, but there’s a strong case to make that authors and publishers will need to strengthen their relationships and not strain them. In a recent “Beyond the Book” podcast, Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah described to me her vision of the next evolutionary step for authors and publishers as a business partnership that is meant to be long-term. That sounds right to me.
INSIDER: What else do you anticipate covering during your two sessions at PBC?
KENNEALLY: For “Rethinking Author Contracts for the Digital World,” Melville House Publisher Dennis Johnson and Sara Pearl and John Silbersack, who are both with Trident Media Group, are going to come with the very latest thinking on a subject that is still a developing story, nearly 15 years into this “digital revolution.” It’s an exciting time and just about the only safe prediction is that our discussion will tie directly to breaking news in the publishing industry. My session on “Rethinking Copyright for the Digital World” should help everyone view “copyright” and “digital” as compatible and co-existing, not contradictory.
As director of author relations for the nonprofit Copyright Clearance Center, Christopher Kenneally is responsible for programs that address the business needs of authors and independent publishers. He is also host for CCC’s own podcast series “Beyond the Book” (www.beyondthebook.com). Complete program details are at www.facebook.com/BeyondTheBook.”