On stealing – and debate – in book country
June 11, 2007 by ruediger

Roughly a week ago, at this year’s BookExpo America, I ran into a smiling Rüdiger Salat, the person in charge of all things bookish at Holtzbrinck. He was beaming as he had just returned from the Google booth  where, together with Richard Charkin, the CEO of Holtzbrinck’s Macmillan publisher, they had grabbed two of Google’s laptop computers that were sitting there, unguarded, and returned them only when a nice Google employee asked if those were theirs – doing so in an analogy to what Google does, according to him, to publishers by scanning copyrighted books from libraries.

When Charkin bragged about the story in his blog, expectedly, he triggered quite a controversial debate, spanning from ethical questions (like: Should CEO’s act like High School grads) to the fine print of copyright law and the general discussion on Google’s digitization of books from libraries and their understanding of how to handle Intellectual Property Rights of out of print books, an exchange that even made it into the NYT.

Being not a lawyer, I have the feeling that Lawrnece Lessig’s analyses of the ‘stealing’ issue is probably a pretty straight forward comment on the legal side of it.

Personally, I am more interested in the ‘interactive’ or ‘performative’ perspective of the somewhat surprising occurence: I think it is great to move that stubborn and redundand IPR/Google/publishers debate as far away from the lobbyist / lawyer / corporate communication routine where it got stuck.

Go for it from a user’s perspective: The next time you (or your kids) get sued for illegally ‘grabbing’ some stuff from the Internet, call it e.g. an experimental, yet recognized industry practice. Or think of the unholy controversy on open access and scientific publishing: It is probably just too simple to think that all academic exchanges can be fitted either into the costly scientific publisher’s baskets, or set up their open archives, yet with no money for the authors.

I guess what Charkin so convincingly demonstrated, is just this: We need more experiments in the rights sphere, and less legal cases. So I am just gratefully and curiously looking forward to his upcoming test runs indeed!

Comments are closed.