Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tired Rationalizations

As noted in the previous post, reader Andrew Hughes caught a factual error in my piece for Beyond Chron about the Amazon Kindle/Orwell affair. Thanks, Mr. Hughes.

I'm in sharp disagreement with him, however, on the rest of his take on freelance writers' rights:

"[Information Access Company and its successors] had indemnities from the publishers who licensed the content -- so they were aware of and covered the issue, which rests with the newspapers who licensed them.

I've always felt the Tasini authors were barking, as the re-use in IAC, Lex Nex
a) was for internal information - not the more valuable syndication right
b) generates pennies (far more will go to lawyers than writers in these cases)
c) the action has disrupted and devalued the record of what was published --
now almost completely destroyed."

Taking these points one by one:

* Indemnities, inshmemnities. Writers don't particularly care who is on the hook for the infringement of their works -- just that some combination of first-print and electronic publishers have indeed infringed. I have heard the indemnity argument for 15 years. The database companies were put on constructive notice from Day 2 or Day 3, at the latest, that they were marketing pirated content. Making the indemnity argument to the people who are harmed is more of a runaround than anything else.

* "Internal information." What in the world does that mean? The database companies' for-profit products are utilized by libraries, institutions, individuals, the works. Tell you what: Let's deposit the royalties that writers would like to receive for their fair share into their "internal bank accounts."

* "Generates pennies." At the time Information Access Company was first being confronted by the National Writers Union's "Operation Magazine Index" campaign, in 2004, Ziff-Davis was selling it to Thomson for several hundreds of millions of dollars. Math lesson: one penny times 100 billion = $1 billion.

* Disruption of the historical record. Here's a real public-interest issue, and one that creators who are being ripped off by corporations are far more eager to solve, flexibly and fairly, than the corporations that are ripping us off. The Supreme Court in Tasini recommended a royalty system. The publishing industry responded with the mess of the UnSettlement that is now back before the Court. I have written at length on who is responsible for article databases turning into "Swiss cheese." Not freelance writers.


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