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Update for anyone who wants to watch the fireworks over at Litopia.

Update Update : Mike Masnick’s own account of the debate is up on Techdirt.

LOZ: Let’s start by his attack on the British Library, which it was–

RICHARD: –No it wasn’t, that is a complete and utter…that is… there you go again…… this is classic Pirate Party tactics

LOZ:  What’s extraordinary is thatyou will not even let me speak for more than 30 seconds….

~the Naked Book, Litopia Writers Colony,  copyright debate

The topic of piracy has crossed the airwaves of Litopia Writers Colony before, but this week, The Naked Book–Radio Litopia’s show on the life and times of books in the digital age–went from just entertaining the topic to full on debate.  Well worth a listen, but if you don’t have an hour to spare, here are the highlights and my take on them.

On Wednesday, Loz Kaye of the UK Pirate Party and Mike Masnick founder of Techdirt stepped into the ring with Richard Mollet from the Publishers’ Association.

The result was more a brawl than a debate.

While the publisher depicted his opponents as morally depraved thieves, the pirate attempted to give voice to the victims of copyright, and the tech blogger advocated common sense adaptations to the digital age.  Throughout the hour, Pirate Loz and Techdirt’s Mike weathered repeated attacks by PA rep Richard.

First, show host and referee, Phillip Jones, asked why the copyright debate of the 18th century is returning now.  Completely ignoring the intervening three centuries of social and technological development, Richard Mollet answered:  “Because there are people like Loz Kaye, and there are people like Mike … exciting people into thinking they can take things without paying for it…”  Later, he taunted the pirate over the party name: “The Pirate Party is the only party that includes in it’s name an invitation to break the law,” he said, incorrectly. (It is an invitation to change, not break, the law.)  “What does pirate mean?  What does it mean?” he jeered.

Throughout the hour-long show, he repeatedly attacked pirates as though they were some monolithic mob, rather than readers, librarians, professors, students, and even creators. (Maybe someone should have told him that Loz was a composer & musician.)

Richard Mollet bypassed the victims copyright.  He went for the jugular, ignoring his opponents’ points – libraries being crippled, and culture stagnating without copyright reform.  Every time – every time! – one of these points was brought up he got defensive, shifting the focus away from the issue, saying things like “this is classic Pirate Party tactics!” as in the quote above.    The irony was palpable, for as a great defender of victim-authors, one would expect him to at least show compassion to the victims he himself has helped to create.  But there was not even a charade of sympathy.

Repeatedly, Pirate Loz tried to emphasize the British Library’s recent plight for the preservation and access to culture and the digital lockdown that stands in their way, but the argument fell on deaf ears.  He, along with blogger Mike, attempted to remind the publisher that there is more to the writing world than the publishers would like to believe. (Thank you!  I’m right here.) They pointed out that there are business models (such as crowdfunding) that support authors and support cultural development, but do not rely on copyright.

But every time, they barely gets a few words out before being interrupted by Richard.  This is no problem for Mike, who handles it like a boss with a suave  “It would be great if I could speak first.”  He lead the debate towards a practical, common sense approach to the digital age, and away from the hardline attack.

Common sense is when you look at the whole of the data and the whole of the information in terms of what increases culture what grows culture, and what increases the ability of people to access culture, it’s pretty simple to work out some pretty objective measures for what is good and what is helpful.

~Mike Masnick on the Naked Book, Litopia Writers Colony,  copyright debate

But even common sense wasn’t enough to deter Publisher Richard who continually professed to speak up for the rights of the authors, returning again and again away from concrete back to the abstract refrain of authors’ moral rights.

*Sigh.*

For all the publishers’ talk about the “crimes” of the pirates, one would think they themselves were shining beacons of morality.  

Nope.

While trying to claim moral high ground, Richard Mollet gave appallingly little thought to the rights of the rest of society: readers, libraries, the cultural pool, and other creators whose actions, expressions, and cultural contributions are made illegal by copyright law.  Laughably, as a final insult, and despite using words like “theft” and “stealing,” throughout the entire broadcast, and then referring to an entire generation as a “millennial cult” he ended by vehemently denying that publishers are criminalizing readers.

Oh sorry.

I meant that it would be laughable.  If it weren’t so worrying.

Richard Mollet has confirmed that the publishing industry is headed down exactly the same path as the music and film industries before it.  And while it’s true that the average reader has only to face the threat of civil rather than criminal cases, it must only be a matter of time before publishers seek criminal charges for the big players in Pirate Bay- and Megaupload- style attacks.

The conviction of the Pirate Bay and the raid on Megaupload were symbolically convictions and raids of their users, since neither of those sites were responsible for any copyrighted content whatsoever.  They only provided an open space for us, the users, to communicate.  If they are criminals, then we are the real criminals.  And, even if not in the letter of the law, these attacks along with the continuous slander with “thief” epithets, go a long way towards criminalizing the customers.  And book oriented sites are no different.

So who will be next, when the publishers get their weapons warmed up?  Will it be TUEBL?  Will it be your local library’s ebook collection?

But we are in a state of flux.

As the pirate and the tech blogger remind us, a new guard has risen, changing the playing field whether the old guard likes it or not, and it is hard to see what road the industry will take.  Are there enough of this “millennial cult” coming into their own in the industry, that change is just around the corner?  Or are we looking towards a new Megapocalypse, this time, literary style ?

12 Responses to “Copyright Debate at Litopia Writers’ Colony”

  1. Scary Devil Monastery

    That sounds about usual for a publisher. Please remember – the person debated is fearing for his very existence, being part and parcel of not only the copyright industry…but also a direct representative of the distribution industry which have been informed they are dead and gone if the pirate views win the day.

    You might want to check a few fellow authors here:

    http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/02/10/neil-gaiman-piracy-lending-books/

    (My google-fu must be weak. I have seen you mentioning Gaiman in some comments but never where he shares the same views in many regards. Apparently, he does)

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/feb/01/paulo-coelho-readers-pirate-books
    http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2012/01/20/welcome-to-pirate-my-books/
    (Paulo coelho published “The Alchemist” on The Pirate Bay. His physical sales skyrocketed to a 12 million. And today rakes in cash hand over fist the more he gives it away).

    Similarly, the head of the swedish pirate party, Anna troberg, is a former publisher and pirate hunter turned pirate. You might want to contact her for the views of the publishing business.

    http://annatroberg.com/kontakt/

    Best of wishes.

    S.D.M.

    Reply
    • aeliusblythe

      “Please remember – the person debated is fearing for his very existence, being part and parcel of not only the copyright industry…but also a direct representative of the distribution industry which have been informed they are dead and gone if the pirate views win the day.

      You are right. I do try to have compassion for the people in the industry, particularly those who had a comfortable career for decades before wham! something changed everything.

      I get most angry over the missteps of the industry that seem to be hurting authors, such as DRM or battles with libraries. A classic, but non–piracy–related example.: the current price-fixing mess, basically ensuring books are NOT priced competitively! Of course, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I would not have panicked and done exactly the same thing, had I had years of the same conditioning.

      I hope in the future, there’ll be more people like Neil Gaiman, Paulo Coelho, and Anna Troberg within the industry who will help navigate the changes, instead of panicking.

      Reply
      • Scary Devil Monastery

        I should clarify that I personally don’t have very much compassion for the publisher you describe above. After all, as a system administrator my tolerance for idiots and clueless sheep hovers around negative values.

        I’m simply stating that Publisher Richard is being led by ignorance and fear. That, and the fact that for some reason people whose main job is in marketing are arch-conservatives who dread anything stepping outside the “standard” model. Sad but ironically true.

        We have some similar examples in Sweden where representatives of the main publishing houses have gone on record as dismissing the internet and open publishing simply “Because there is no one to quality control what is being written”. In a vein which leaves no doubt that what they imply is that what constitutes a good book is to be determined only in their own hallowed halls.

        In a sane world one would hope said “quality control” would spring from a consumer review. The world of media distribution, however, isn’t all that sane.

        I’ll let you in on an open secret…

        Large media distribution industries do know piracy doesn’t hurt sales. DRM, assaults on libraries, assaults on cyberlockers, assaults on anyone offering an alternative way of publication aren’t because of the reasons usually given.

        It is simply that massive distributors of media have gotten to where they are by being monopolies – by being one among few gatekeepers to which artists and creators MUST turn.

        What these industries dread the most is simply a paradigm where they aren’t the first and last option anymore. Where an artist and creator CAN in fact publish and market by themselves.
        Because in a world such as that there is no longer any market space for a massive conglomerate industry. The role of Gatekeeper offers a position in a market of such competitive benefit that any industry seeing the chance of losing it will happily use any means at their disposal to prevent said loss.

        This is not restricted to the media industry of course. One quick look at history shows us Microsoft crushing startup competitors in much the same fashion during the early 2000’s. SCO trying to get “open source” and “creative commons” declared “unconstitutional in the US. Or take a look at the reaction of the catholic church when protestantism offered to take their monopoly on bible interpretation off their hands.

        History is full of examples of a similar bent. Quite literally this battle isn’t about “business” in any shape or form. It’s about control. About being the power that says Yea or Nay. The ideal representation of such industries is corporate-controlled feudalism. A form of collectivist planned economy where the powers that be are guaranteed their tithed income irrespective of what they actually produce.

        And “copyright” is simply another information-control tool they borrowed from darker parts of human history, the same way Christianity and Communism did.

        And this is why we can keep pointing out peer-reviewed studies disproving the lost sale and why we can talk about Trent Reznor, Paulo Coelho and Neil Gaiman until our ears fall off. To the people driving what we see as madness it isn’t relevant when we talk of how individual creators can prosper in an open paradigm.

        They don’t care about that since the “open paradigm” itself is what they see as the enemy.

        Reply
        • aeliusblythe

          …publishing houses have gone on record as dismissing the internet and open publishing simply “Because there is no one to quality control what is being written”. In a vein which leaves no doubt that what they imply is that what constitutes a good book is to be determined only in their own hallowed halls.
          In a sane world one would hope said “quality control” would spring from a consumer review. The world of media distribution, however, isn’t all that sane.

          The quality control objection really common.

          I laugh so hard at the suggestion that my generation – the generation that can navigate its way through millions upon millions of pages on the internet, finding the quality material amid torrents of blogs, tweets, news feeds, videos, the generation that can find the important news on reddit – that this generation (and sympathetic folks in other gens.!) is incapable of filtering our own damn media without the assistance of massive corporations acting as gatekeepers. It’s is absurd. We find our way through the mess of crap and cat pictures every day. Every. Frelling. Day.

          What these industries dread the most is simply a paradigm where they aren’t the first and last option anymore. Where an artist and creator CAN in fact publish and market by themselves.
          *snip*
          To the people driving what we see as madness it isn’t relevant when we talk of how individual creators can prosper in an open paradigm.

          See, realizing this actually gives me hope. When was the last time you heard someone say “I can’t wait to see what Penguin has out this year!” People lined up at midnight for Harry Potter. Not for Bloomsbury.

          Consumers care about creators. Creators care about consumers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that really doesn’t include the middlemen. Sure, we all may have been convinced that we needed the big businesses to help us out. But the fact is they can shout themselves hoarse, ultimately they’re not the ones getting the attention. And that’s a good thing. More and more creators –and fans– are saying fuck the system and moving outside of it, even though it can be very, very difficult.

          Reply
          • Scary Devil Monastery

            “Creators care about consumers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that really doesn’t include the middlemen.”

            And stating this where the middlemen can hear will prompt frantic name-calling and guilt-by-association frenzies where the one making the initial statement will have his/her name linked with everything from piracy to terrorism and child pornography.

            Because the middlemen REALLY don’t want anyone to accept a paradigm where they are redundant.

            “More and more creators –and fans– are saying fuck the system and moving outside of it, even though it can be very, very difficult.”

            Not difficult at all. Just to an increasing degree hard to separate from “illegal” given the extent to which legal avenues of individual marketing are shuttered as part of the anti-piracy efforts of the industry. And of course, any site which actually acts as a nexus for the curious masses – where many gather to see in one location – will be extended the hardest shutdown efforts.

            In effect if the middlemen – the content gatekeepers – can ensure that they and only they are the one-stop-shop location and the alternatives are several thousands of individual webpages consumers will have to browse – then they’ve won. Because convenience is king.

            Of course, convenience works for us as well. I just helped an elderly relative with setting up her reading tablet and was struck by the fact that I could have taught her to torrent and copy the downloaded files in one third of the time it took me to install Adobe’s DRM engine. On top of which she noted that most of the books in digital edition cost just as much as their paperback counterparts, despite the manufacturing costs per copy being 0.

            This is the way the content industry drives people away. Cumbersome and ineffective solutions seemingly designed to make driving to a book store and physically purchasing a book the vastly preferred option.

          • aeliusblythe

            “More and more creators –and fans– are saying fuck the system and moving outside of it, even though it can be very, very difficult.”
            Not difficult at all. Just to an increasing degree hard to separate from “illegal” given the extent to which legal avenues of individual marketing are shuttered as part of the anti-piracy efforts of the industry.

            And there you just proved how pervasive the industry-sponsored conditioning is.

            The crushing weight of all the non-creative work required to make a penny in the creative business often makes me think saying fuck the system was a mistake. I think how nice the support of a big company would be. And I wonder, is signing a restrictive contract really so bad if it means having a little help?

            And that’s scary, because I know better.

            I know the reality of publishing. I know that the average (read: non-Stephen King) writer doesn’t get much of anything – just like in music, just like in film – and if you’re not a household name, you pretty much have to do everything yourself anyway. It’s just as difficult, and perhaps more so because that contract takes away the creator’s control

            I know these things. And yet, that pervasive fantasy still whispers in the corner of my brain, telling me that I need the system.

            Good thing I don’t like being told what to do. Some people aren’t so lucky.

          • Scary Devil Monastery

            “I know these things. And yet, that pervasive fantasy still whispers in the corner of my brain, telling me that I need the system.
            Good thing I don’t like being told what to do. Some people aren’t so lucky.”

            It’s called having an independent mind. And that voice is, I suspect, just that trolling part of your brain telling you freedom to think and make decisions for yourself is scary and onerous.

            We all have that little troll-face-shaped area just above our brain stem. It’s what tells us to give in, to let someone else do our thinking for us.

            It’s literally the part of your brain that when we’re in our 20’s, after a few hours in a pub tells us the overaged scarecrow at the other end of the bar actually looks like a photo model and right now, after downing five large ones, is the best time to make a move. What could possibly go wrong?

            In earlier years, just training, it just tells us to try licking metal lightpoles in the dead of winter.

            And after growing up it tells us it’s just too much work to make decisions and we should let someone else handle it.

            We know better deep down. We hate facing up to that. And far too many people end up swallowing, hook, line and sinker, the P.T. Barnum Act peddled by companies which couldn’t survive in a paradigm without a steady supply of easily led morons…

  2. dantewilde

    Excellent article. It worries me deeply the road the industry may take. If it heads down the same road as music and film, then it’s going to be clear (without sounding like too much of a conspiracy theorist) that they are going to kill all new types of creativity (or try at least). Unfortunately something of the type is already happening but on a smaller scale. I was talking to the Chair of the Society of Authors for New Zealand and the big names over here (Random house & Penguin) are only taking one unsolicited author per year. I don’t know what the amount for solicited authors is, but I imagine it isn’t much better. Their parent companies have also told them that they are pulling away from publishing New Zealand authors altogether. So they are to focus on American and contract writers for the time being. At least in this country the situation looks bleak outside of self publishing.

    Reply
    • aeliusblythe

      You know the terrible thing is that they’ll blame the one-author-a-year-thing on pirates, right? Amid all the terrible business decisions, like DRM, high book prices, limited availability, they’ll be pointing the finger at the pirates. Yeah, it was the free advertisers that did it.

      It’s hard not to feel betrayed by an industry that had 10 years to prepare for this, and is still making the same mistakes as the music industry that was blindsided by Napster and the film industries that were hit soon after.

      I wish that I could rely on a publisher – or at least hope for it in the future. But I really, really can’t.

      Reply
  3. BSOD

    I couldn’t figure out how to comment on litopia, but I wanted to tell that guy that ACTA, or any law… nothing in the world is going to bring back CDs. Music stores have become a relic, they can’t even compete with stuff like iTunes.

    Reply
    • aeliusblythe

      Yeah, I had to literally laugh out loud when he mentioned ACTA. It’s the very typical finger-wagging, like “be good, or else!” It really shows the naivety of the copyright crowd – they think that piracy is something so small that it can be chased away with stern legislation, rather than the huge sweeping and irreversible social and cultural change phenomenon that it is.

      The world has changed and there are still people trying to scare it back into the past.

      Reply

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