Authors Guild's Scott Turow: The Supreme Court, Google, Ebooks, Libraries & Amazon Are All Destroying Authors

This post, by Mike Masnick, originally appeared on TechDirt on 4/8/13.

from the old-man-yells-at-cloud dept
We’ve written more than a few times about Scott Turow, a brilliant author, but an absolute disaster as the Luddite-driven head of the Authors’ Guild. During his tenure, he’s done a disservice to authors around the globe by basically attacking everything new and modern — despite any opportunities it might provide — and talked up the importance of going back to physical books and bookstores. He’s an often uninformed champion of a past that never really existed and which has no place in modern society. He once claimed that Shakespeare wouldn’t have been successful under today’s copyright law because of piracy, ignoring the fact that copyright law didn’t even exist in the age of Shakespeare. His anti-ebook rants are just kind of wacky.

However, in his latest NY Times op-ed, he’s basically thrown all of his cluelessness together in a rambling mishmash of “and another thing”, combined with his desire to get those nutty technology kids off his lawn. For the few thousand members of the Authors Guild, it’s time you found someone who was actually a visionary to lead, rather than a technology-hating reactionary pining for a mythical time in the past.

First up, a confused reaction to the Supreme Court’s protection of first sale rights in Kirtsaeng.

LAST month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright. Not only does this ruling open the gates to a surge in cheap imports, but since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties.

First of all, no, this was not a “change” in US law. Courts had not forbidden this particular situation in the past, because the specifics of this hadn’t really been tested in the past other than a few recent cases with somewhat different fact patterns. The point of the Supreme Court’s ruling was to reinforce what most people already believed the law to be: if you buy a book, you have the right to resell it.

As for the “surge” in cheap imports, let’s wait and see. It might impact markets like textbooks, which are artificially inflated, but for regular books? It seems like a huge stretch to think that it would be cost effective to ship in foreign books just for resale. And, of course, secondary markets have existed for ages, and studies have shown that they actually help authors because it makes it less risky to buy a new book, since people know they can resell it. Turow admits that secondary markets have always existed, but then jumps to what this is all “really” about in his mind:

This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.

Yes, that’s right. The Kirtsaeng decision isn’t just about first sale, it’s really about the evil “global electronic marketplace” sucking authors dry. Of course, Turow fails to mention that Kirtsaeng had next to nothing to do with the internet. Yes, Kirtsaeng ended up selling his books via eBay, but tons of books sell on eBay. That had no impact on the ruling at all. The issue in the ruling was about books legally purchased abroad, and Kirtsaeng did that without the internet — he just had friends and family back in Thailand buying books for him. To blame that on “the global electronic marketplace” is just completely random and wrong. It seems like the kind of thing someone says when they just want to blame technology for everything. Turow has his anti-technology hammer, but he’s got to stop seeing nails in absolutely everything.

 

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