Project Gutenberg: Sticking it to the man.

In my last post I urged anyone intent on reading ‘The Secret Adversary’ to head over to Project Gutenberg to get a copy for free.

Of course, it isn’t absolutely free, someone is paying for bandwidth, storage and the like. If you find that Project Gutenberg is a service that you use then you might think about making a donation to their upkeep.

The subject of copyright is one fraught with difficulties. A lady I know on Facebook has just published her third novel of a series. The books have been well received, and she is, understandably very pleased with how things have gone. But within a couple of days of the books launch she found messages asking for ‘cracked’ copies of the e-book of the novel. This isn’t a rich author, but a lady working hard to put her heart and soul into something that the public will want to read. And having managed to (a) write her story so well that it has a willing audience and (b) managed to get it published, she now has to hope that the majority of people who want to read it will purchase a copy to make it all worthwhile.

I am conflicted. I believe very strongly that artists both deserve and need to be suitably recompensed for the work that they put into their creations. The call for an illegal copy is reprehensible. But there should be a limit on the extent of copyright. Copyright is intended to ensure that both authors and the wider cultural space are enriched by artistic creativity. For a period of time the control of all works stays with the author (or their representative). The author will receive payment for the instances sold. This is as it should be. More power to those who represent this model. But when copyright comes to an end (a point which in America recedes at approximately one year per year, essentially making copyright for the last 50 years ‘in perpetuity’) then the work should enter the public space where it will help to enrich our cultural heritage.

The issue is complicated by the change to the nature of ownership which is inherent in the e-book reader ecosystem which currently holds sway. At the moment when you ‘buy’ a book from Amazon for your Kindle you don’t actually own it. You essentially license it, an agreement which can be revoked unilaterally by Amazon, seemingly with little in the way of redress or appeal.

And at the end of the day this is my real conflict. I love my Kindle. I really do. I love how you can readily carry around tens of books in a slim electronic device which supports searching, bookmarking and dictionary lookup. But I do worry about the power of corporations to modify the very nature of ownership.