Don’t Mourn, Organize
Joe Hill, the song tells us, urged working men (people) not to be sad that he had been killed, but, instead to band together, to fight for their rights. Well that is how I feel now as I work on creating multimedia enhancements to go with print books. The whole area of permissions — especially anything that has to do with music, performance, images, or video (in other words all of the multimedia good stuff) is a mine field patrolled by gimlet-eyed lawyers. Yes, ultimately, on some level, they are protecting rights — just as I want someone standing up for me — but in fact, in real, actual, practical fact, they are making certain that multimedia books will be created by corporations that either already own a great deal of material, or can afford whatever they like. The price — in time, in permissions, in risk — is so high that we individual authors either just give up or get squeezed out.
Unless, that is, we could get someone — the Authors Guild, the CBC, some new organization — to speak for us as a collectivity. There must be some way to create a fair pricing scale so that we can license material that is an enhancement to a book that will have a limited primariliy institutional sale. We need to create a system so a sole author, on his or her own, can be creative, can allow readers of a print book to listen, view, experience related materials without going broke or risking some horrible lawsuit. We authors are the ones who know which extras would work perfectly with our books. But we simply cannot use that knowledge. Sure we can include lists of sites and links. But how satisfying is that? Wouldn’t it be great if a print book came with a parallel site where you could experience that same narrative, that same slice of history or science, with sound, videos, animation — as well as blogs, blackboards, and other connections? The problem is not that we authors cannot create such sites. Rather it is that we have not the slightest chance of making it through the permissions minefield.
There is already a Creative Commons movement — for people who make perm free material available. But what if we could create an Author Standard Agreement — where if your book has a first printing of less than X; there is a standard set of fees for all multimedia uses, with a step ladder of increases should the book (or the site) cross some other boundary of book (or ad) sales. Couldn’t some smart laywer create a template that we offer to rights holders — with an agreement to revisit in X years when Y more books appear first in digital formats? Isn’t there some way for us to stop mourning and to organize?