Scott Turow “The Slow Death of the American Author”

This op-ed that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times is easily one of the best pieces I’ve read on both the cultural and financial dangers of forsaking copyright in the name of technological “progress.”  The entire article is a pull-quote, but here are two that get right to the heart of the matter:

“The value of copyrights is being quickly depreciated, a crisis that hits hardest not best-selling authors like me, who have benefited from most of the recent changes in bookselling, but new and so-called midlist writers.”

“The Constitution’s framers had it right. Soviet-style repression is not necessary to diminish authors’ output and influence. Just devalue their copyrights.”

Please read the full article here.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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13 comments

  • An excellent op-ed by Turow. Definitely one of the best I’ve ever read in defense of copyright; this should be required reading.

  • It’s refreshing that an apparent copyright maximalist finally realizes that the increasing modernization of libraries is a serious threat. These days I can pretty much get hundreds of thousands of books for free in ebook form my local library and other online legal sources. What is the incentive to buy a book? Charity?

    Libraries just want to do their historic jobs more efficiently as free repositories of human knowledge and culture. You can’t really blame them. The library was original promoter of free culture. That has always partly conflicted with the scarcity-based business model promoted by copyright.

    But today, accomplishing their free culture mission increasingly means making their repositories freely available online. The information age can not be ignored forever. Even pre-information age, the library-author relationship a moderately tenacious relationship, but was balanced by the fact that a library lived in a physical realm of real scarcity. But now the new age it will bring authors and libraries into open conflict for the first time.

    Unfortunately author advocates must know that making anti-library statements is not a very good position for PR purposes. It’s going to be hard to demonize a system that is almost universally considered benevolent.

    I’ve said that the copyright is self-defeating, and I mean it. All we need to do to ensure the failure of copyright is nothing. It is failing on its own accord, with its supporters helping it along the road to failure. As long as copyright remains unchanged, the amount of enemies the copyright system will only increase. The system is breaking without anyone needing to help it along. The longer copyright reform is delayed, it will be become increasingly clear that the death of the American author will not be slow at all.

    • And the fact that you view this as a good thing is naive in the extreme. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion and even to your predictions, which may prove true. But it is nothing short of embracing Soviet style culture, as Turow rightly describes.

      • I don’t view the the failure of the traditional copyright as a good thing, I view it as an inevitable thing. What I view as a bad thing is the increasingly shrill attempts to delay an actual solution to the conundrum of making creative development more profitable in the absence of a functioning copyright system.

      • And by seeing it as an “inevitable thing”, that means that you don’t have to defend your position, right? That’s the “beauty” of what Ruen calls digital determinism and Morozov calls technological defeatism – since what happens is “inevitable”, arguing about whether or not what happens is a good thing is pointless. No need to defend the impoverishment of creators then.

      • Improved information technology does has a deterministic effect (I prefer the term causal) on business models and the economy in general (and politics, and communication, etc. etc.). Overall the effects are much larger in scope then making copyright ineffective..

    • M wrote: “These days I can pretty much get hundreds of thousands of books for free in ebook form my local library and other online legal sources.
      .
      …Then why would you ever need to visit a pirate or any other ‘illegal’ site??
      legal sources don’t fund terrorism, human-trafficking, organized crime syndicates, ect… and are usually authorized by the content producer. Most of the time they even benefit from these [legal] uses and thus can create even more content that you seem to enjoy. I don’t get your prospective.

      • You ever heard of the expression “trading analog dollars for digital pennies”? That’s all that is happening.

    • “I’ve said that the copyright is self-defeating, and I mean it.” Not to the artists who depend on it. It’s the last line of defense. Only someone who doesn’t give a toss about the rights of artists would claim that copyright is “self defeating”.

      Turow made excellent points in his opinion piece. Sadly, those points seem to have gone over your head. And “copyright reform” just seems to me another way of saying get rid of it.

      It’s not going to benefit artists and the public if copyright is eliminated. You can bank on that.

      • I don’t think you get what I was saying. One of the symptoms of copyright enforcement to make copyright unpopular. I’ve seen it time and time again. Suing TBP lead to the creation of the Pirate Party. The promotion of SOPA led to a retaliation that has caused Congress to become fearful and suspicious of copyright bills. RIAA lawsuits backfired hard in the PR area, killing Napster led to more robust filesharing systems, etc. etc. In a way, the anti-copyright movement really owes a lot to people like you.

  • Of course, the point is that libraries will be much smaller in content and less viable in the future without copyright. There will be far fewer Scott Turows without copyright. Who can afford to spend months/years creating, when their is no publishing incentive? Are we to believe that the New York Times Bestseller list will become “the best blog list?”

    • On the contrary, at least for music the amount of albums published has only increased. There is no content shortage. More art then a single person could consume in a thousand lifetimes is being made on a yearly basis. If you take just one website, Wikipedia, just keeping up with the new content is literally impossible for a single individual. It’s just produced too quickly.

      The real value is the companies who take all this often and filter out 99.9999999% of it to find the right content in the right context at the right time. These aren’t the human curators of yesteryear (who couldn’t but hope keep up) but computer algorithms implementing some pretty deep concepts in machine learning and graph theory.

  • All the more reason to support the creator.
    And don’t be fooled, those illegal sites are raking in millions of dollars.
    I don’t see why anyone would support organized crime or mega corporations over any kind of Indie or even the worst of the eccentric super-stars.

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