JK Rowling is famously known amonst online book circles as the highest profile author to refuse to allow digitization of her books. This has not deterred individuals from offering a home brew ebook version of every title in the Harry Potter series. In fact, Book 6 was released at midnight and online reports told of the ebook version available less than twelve hours later. Recently, the High Court of Delhi required eBay to halt four auctions on eBay India of illegal ebook versions of Potter’s book.
If one can get past the piracy issue, it is important to understand that there were purchasers of this illegal ebook version. Which means that there is a market for the ebok version and rather than the market being filled by a legitimate source, authorized by Rowling, the market is filled with illegal versions for which Rowling will receive no royalties.
The argument some have made is that piracy is the very reason that Rowling and others like her refuse the digitization form of their books. The fundamental fallacy in that argument is the idea that not having ebook versions prevents piracy. It is obviously untrue. Christine Feehan suffered the ignomy and insult of having her books digitized and sold on eBay as well. I am sure that there are other such tales. With declining costs of scanning equipment, it is possible for a home user to transform paper books into ebooks. In fact, it is likely safer, legally, to transform the paper books into ebooks.
There is no specific prohibition to the format shifting of a paperbook into an ebook. It’s not an issue that has been brought before the Supreme Court who interprets the laws enacted by Congress. Time shifting, what TIVO does now or what your VCR used to do, which is preserve entire television shows to be viewed at a time convenient for the user, is specificall permitted under Supreme Court case of Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984). Under Section 109 of the Copyright Act, the first sale doctrine effectively terminates the distribution rights of the publisher. (The author’s distribution rights were terminated at the sale of the work to the publisher). Under the Audio Home Recording Act, a 1992 amendment, purchasers of legal copies of music may make unlimited copies for personal use. It’s a bit ironic that if the user starts out with a paper copy or a CD and then transforms that into a digital copy, it is not an infringement. Take a legitimately purchased e-version and make a copy and you are a criminal.
The inside copy of each book denotes that the scanning and uploading of a book is a crime, not the scanning itself. If an individual chose to go to the effort to scan in her own library, she is probably within the letter of the copyright law. If she scans the book in and digitizes it for her own use, it is likely within the letter of the copyright law. It is once she shares that digital copy without the permission of the copyright holder (in this case, the publisher who owns the distribution rights to the work in the US), that the copyright law is broken. Thus, there is actually some motivation for the reader to digitize her own library so that she can use the e version on whatever ebook reader she chooses without the fear of breaking a law. But what reader wants to spend the money and the months to digitize her library when she can just buy a new digital copy? This is where the author loses out if there is no ebook version.
The best argument against that I have heard is that the sales of a digital release are not considered in calculating unit sales for the big Bestseller lists. I can definitely see why an author would chose delay the digital release but it’s a bit of a two edged sword. If you think that esales are going to be big enough to prevent a bestseller list appearance, then how many esales are being lost by the delay or non existence of eversions? My plea is that all authors make the ebook version available to readers in all popular formats. It might increase your sales, rather than detract from them. As readers, we need to contact publishers and let them know what authors to put in ebook format. We should also contact the USA Today and NYTimes and tell them that digital sales need to be include so that authors aren’t punished by increasing esales.
- USA TODAY7950 Jones Branch Drive
McLean VA 22107-0020;
Fax: 703-854-2053. Feedback to editors: 800-872-2215.
Link to online suggestion box. (I would put “Life” as the category as the Book Section falls under that heading)
- Contact for NY Times
Bill Keller, Executive Editor
The New York Times Company
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY [email protected] or leave a message at 1-888-NYT-NEWS.