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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


Thanks to Karl For Making the Anti-Copyright (or as he puts it "Restriction") Case

The beginning of a new year would be precisely the wrong time to turn this blog into an extensive debate between just a few participants. But I do need to respond to his argument. Karl — if you would like this whole blog to make a more extensive case, just email me at and I’ll post it for you. And then we are on to new subjects for the year.

I don’t see why artists who create books (authors, illustrators, editors, packagers, publishers) should be working day jobs with their art having the status of a give-away. Why should they have that obligation and, say, doctors, or lawyers, or computer manufacturers get to charge for their work and find redress in court if you illegally avoid paying them or make your own copies? When I write a book there may a year’s labor in it. To use Karl’s example, why should a bar be able to charge for liquor (one of the day jobs he listed), or a distributor charge the bar, or a liquor company charge the distributor? Why do each of those actors have a right to "restrict" the use of the product of their labor and a person who lives by his creativity not be able to do so? I have to say I find that argument ridiculous. Why should artistry be any different from any other form of labor? Now perhaps Karl wants all forms of "restriction" to end, and to transform how people are paid in every field. That is a worthy utopian dream, but only as a dream.

That said, I do see something of a mid-ground between his view and mine. I have just been doing very extensive picture research for the book on sugar I wrote with my wife. Google Image has been a terrific resource, as has the Library of Congress digital files. Both sources allow me to view and consider a far wider range of images than in the past. So wide open sharing does have great benefits. But just because I can see an image does not mean I have the right to use it. Many rights holders are clever enough to make available only a low resolution file, or a high res file of a tiny image. That way they know I need to come to them if I want an image for publication. Fine. 

My frustration is that so much is available to be viewed, and some of the rights holders charge significant fees even for books that have small budgets and are aimed at K-12 (and are not textbooks). I do wish we could invent a Knowledge Bank which institutions such as museums and libraries which have an educational fuctional would be encouraged to join. You would submit your project to some review, to show you are not really doing a giant coffee table book and trying to snooker them out of their rightful fee. And there would be some kind of staggered deal — if your book sells more than X, you owe them an increment of Y. That way you can create the most attractive, appealing, informative book. Today, an institution will ask about your print run and where you expect to sell the book (only North America or around the world, only in English or in translation). But even so, for many places, the lowest number they quote — which often restricts you to only a quarter of a page for the iamge — is over $100. That is simply out of scale.

So I suggest that books created with the assistance of images from the Knowledge Bank give prominent credit to it, on the cover, say. I suggest the KB create a sliding scale that begins at, say, $25 an image — with no size limitation, since using images in a small size is punitive in books for younger readers. And I suggest that all institutions that make their images available to the KB get some additional tax benefit — they have given up some potential income in the service of education. 


  1. I’ve given the folks at an hour of my time to make their argument. It isn’t working for me. It’s true that if Karl makes a copy of my bicycle, then he has one and I have one. But if I am trying to *sell* my bicycle, then he has one, and I have one and I don’t have any money. I’m not Steven King or Nora Roberts or The Beatles or any kind of *star* but I make about $50,000 when I sell a book to a publisher. QCopy suggests that a *patron* will give me this money. Show me the patron. Never mind me as a writer, as a reader, I don’t think there are enough patrons out there to drop 50 on my favorite authors so they will provide the books I want to read. Where are these everyday patrons? Are they maybe the people who were happy to loot music like end-of-the-world rioters in a B movie when they had access to free, unchecked, file sharing? QCopy says *Grants* and I see *Government control of the Arts.* boo hiss. Look at what the NEA pays for and how easily their choices are corrupted by bad publicity. Private Foundations could be set up, but who pays then? Rich people. I don’t want my reading material run through a Rich-People-Filter, either. I don’t like the current system for all the reasons you give, Marc, but people like Karl seem to want to drop one system with no clear idea of replacement in hopes that things will “work out.” It’s like Greenspan’s faith that the market will regulate itself. Maybe it will, or maybe it won’t, but why should I lose a lot of money in the interregnum?