An Interesting Quandary

I went over to Scribd and discovered that several titles of mine were on the site without my permission, which gave me an opportunity to try out Scribd’s DMCA reporting form and process. I’m happy to say that Scribd seems to be doing a fine job on that score: The elapsed time from report to removal of the content was about ten minutes. That works for me.

However, one title of mine, The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, I haven’t requested to be taken down yet. It’s not up on the site by permission of the publisher, because among other things, the book is currently out of print and the rights have reverted to me. I certainly haven’t given permission for the book to be there, either.

But as noted, the book is currently out of print — there might be a few copies still in bookstores, but not enough to represent any major economic benefit to me at this point, and no more are going to be made. I retain the rights to the work and may eventually do something with the contents of the book, but at the moment I don’t really have any solid plans. Which means that although the text is there illegally (and I can have it taken down), at the same time it’s not actually doing me any economic harm to have it up there, either. It’s not stealing sales from me because as an out of print book there are no sales to steal.

And so my position on it is kinda: Meh. I took down the books of mine that are still in print; if you want them, please pay for them or borrow them from a friend or your local library, that what bookstores, libraries and friends are for. But the out of print ones? For now I’m content to leave them out there. If I ever do get around to doing something with the text I might change my mind. Or I might change my mind because I’m mercurial. Until then, though, if you see The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies on Scribd or anywhere else, have fun with it.

71 thoughts on “An Interesting Quandary

  1. Before anyone goes over to Scribd and notes it, yes, I am aware that several of my foreign editions are up on the site. I’ve informed my agent, who will inform the various foreign publishers. I mostly think about the English language versions.

  2. For what it’s worth, I’ve been told by a number of people who’ve tried the experiment that even for books currently in print, free online text improves sales. I mean, obviously it improves sales of their other books, but they also report better sales for the specific books that are available free. Musicians say this works for songs, too.

    The exact mechanism is not fully understood, but I think it comes down to “at least some people are going to buy the book because they liked it”.

  3. For authors who I haven’t read before, I would rather read their work for free before deciding to spend money on it. However, for me, free means the library where it’s free to me, but the author gets paid.

  4. I’m all for leaving it up there, but now that you’ve announced you are aware of it and are doing nothing about it, do you give up your rights to it through no action? Much like property rights over time, if you let your neighbor build a fence on your land you can lose control of that land to the neighbor.

  5. I think you should ask for it to be taken down anyway. As a photographer I get the “it’s not hurting you economically” and “but it gives you exposure” all the time. But the fact remains that it is YOUR work that was published somewhere without YOUR permission or say so. Whether it harms you or not, it was a violation of your control of your property.

    If you want it to still be available then pop it up on Amazon for free or for cheap. IMO.

  6. @Jeff trademarks work that way, but copyright doesn’t (though I am not a lawyer, so take this with the appropriate caution, not being legal advice etc. etc.)

  7. Jeff:

    No. Copyright doesn’t work that way.

    Seebs:

    This is one of the reasons that I have the “Scalzi Creative Sampler” linked to in the sidebar.

    Crios2:

    That would require effort on my part, aside from any other issues it might raise for me.

  8. Jeff, it works that way for trademark law, which *has* to be enforced, but not for copyright. At worst, what Mr Scalzi has done by posting this is give the uploader a temporary, revocable, license to distribute, but he’s stated in this post that he reserves the right to revoke that in the future.
    Copyright law is, luckily, remarkably forgiving in this respect. The creator never gives up their copyright forever, no matter what they do, and no matter what they turn a blind eye to.

  9. I’m a firm believer in copyright holders having complete control over the use of their work. If you want Scribd to distribute your work for free, that’s groovy. But I would at least have them set up to do it under license.

    “I, Scalzi, grant Scribd the rights to do the following things with the following works for as long as I see fit, according to this here agreement.”

    That way you are both protected and there is never a doubt about the work, and which rights have been conferred.

  10. @Andrew Hickey:

    Copyright law is, luckily, remarkably forgiving in this respect. The creator never gives up their copyright forever, no matter what they do,

    …Unless, of course, what they do is say “I hereby release $WORK into the public domain”.

  11. @Kara I think that visual and textual creations are fundamentally different. I agree with you that the impact a photographer feels from their work being out there without permission is damaging, but I think that it’s to a degree different for writers and in other ways different for musicians as well.

  12. You could ask Scribd how many views/full reads your book is getting to help in deciding whether to self-publish/do something with it. They have stats and might be willing to share.

    As to your creative sampler have you thought about doing it as a free single ebook or talking with your various publishers to do something like the book sampler Bob Mayer put out which has samples from all his books, reading order, some notes/comments. He mentioned he’s been getting good feedback and seeing an increase in sales.

    Ok so curiosity killed the cat. I hang out with too many self-publishers and marketing/PR people and can’t help thinking of ways other people could make more money even if they have enough and don’t need/want my advice. LOL

  13. I’m not sure I would make my work DRM free if I had to go check the web and send in take down notices. I don’t check the piratebay/file sharing stuff, but I would figure most drm free ebooks are up there. It would bug me if I put all this effort into creating something and people were stealing it.

    Do you guys think this impacts your sales all that much or are most people who are going to steal the books not going to buy it anyway?

    I can’t remember the name of this game… but I believe the following was discussed on slashdot.org (tech news site) in the last couple of years… India Game company has a game where you run a software company and make games. They put a pirating version of their game on piratebay/download sites, etc… had 1 change. You always get to a point where software pirates steal so many copies of your game, you lose money. There were alot of posts on their forums from people asking how to get past this part.

    So with the above as a reference, I might be inclined to put many copies of my books on theft sites with many pages greyed out, etc… making it hard to find a genuine copy stolen copy that had the whole thing.

  14. “Guess”, adding DRM doesn’t “protect” books from being distributed illegally. Once you have DRM-removal software installed on your computer, it’s literally a matter of a single click to get a DRM-free copy you can share with whoever you please. On the other hand, all the current DRM systems are incompatible with some operating systems, and so adding DRM *does* mean that you lose sales to people with those systems.

    The research on filesharing is inconclusive. Some people who ‘pirate’ stuff were never going to buy anyway, others do it instead of buying, and yet others do it as a way to discover new work which they then buy. It seems on the whole to have little real effect one way or another.

  15. I’m not sure I would make my work DRM free if I had to go check the web and send in take down notices.

    “DRM-free” is largely a red herring here. It is trivially easy to break the DRM on ebooks, if you’re so inclined. About all that DRM accomplishes is inconveniencing the people who aren’t going to file-sharing sites.

  16. @Guess – DRM makes the paid copy worth less than the pirated copy. By doing that, you create an incentive for otherwise honest people to pirate your product.

    @Scalzi – On an entirely unrelated note, I discovered when I roll over your picture, your head shrinks. Mildly entertaining.

  17. If you publish it yourself, do you still get to call it a Rough Guide, or is there a Trademark Issue there?

  18. Mike:

    If I were to republish it, I would probably update it significantly and rename it, while noting that parts were previously published in “The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies.”

  19. I think this is a very cool approach to this situation. The biggest worry I’d have in your place is to wonder if the text had been changed. It’s one thing to post someone else’s work, but it’s a totally different thing to change things in that work and then post it. I think ucblockhead’s idea has merit: if you’re going to allow it to be out there for free, why not make an official version the free one?

  20. To be a little more clear about the law of copyright, as other posters have noted, it’s correct that you don’t lose copyright if you ignore infringement.

    However, there’s a time limit on how far back you can collect damages if you change your mind, which is 3 years ( from date of lawsuit filing, I’m pretty sure).

    In general in the law, if someone is “injuring” you somehow, you can’t wait until the damages get big to sue, in order to collect a bigger payday. There’s both a “duty to mitigate” – if someone breaks your window, you can’t leave it unfixed/patched for a year and sue for water damage – and a “doctrine of laches” – you can’t get “equitable relief” from a court when your delay puts the opposing party in an unfair situation. “Laches” rarely gets applied to economic damages, but more so gets applied to injunctions. If you sue about the big parade that everyone including you hasknown about for months on the eve of the event, the judge will likely apply “laches” and toss your suit.

    In copyright, the Supreme Court ruled this year, in Petrella v. MGM, that “laches” doesn’t apply, that a movie studio can be sued over script rights long after the movie was made, and that it’s perfectly legal to wait until its “worth it” to sue for copyright damages, limited to the three years from filing.

    However, a separate legal doctrine, “estoppel”, prevents an author from suing after they’ve told people that a particular infringement is OK with them and other people rely on that statement. In this particular case, John has effectively waived damages for any infringer anywhere redistributing the text until he affirmatively tells them to stop it, creating a bit of work for himself (or a publisher) if he changes his mind. A more miserly author could have been silent, preserving more flexibility, leaving unauthorized publishers in legal limbo, and well-intentioned fans feeling guilty.

    Thank you, John.

  21. Basil–

    What is your comment on:

    “At worst, what Mr Scalzi has done by posting this is give the uploader a temporary, revocable, license to distribute, but he’s stated in this post that he reserves the right to revoke that in the future.”

    I think that at worst Mr. Scalzi has released his work into the public domain. People are often unclear, but there is no exact specific way to release anything into the public domain. In fact public domain is not something that even is a thing established in black letter law.

    However, many courts have setup defacto standards of when something is considered released to the public domain, and this would be as a good test case as anything else.

    “In this particular case, John has effectively waived damages for any infringer anywhere redistributing the text until he affirmatively tells them to stop it, creating a bit of work for himself (or a publisher) if he changes his mind”

    Do you have any theories on how estoppel would apply to derivative works? In other cases, not involving copyright (for example banking or patents), estoppel would most likely stop John from claiming damages on a derivative that was made during a period where damages were waived. Meaning, I should think that unless John was an interesting test case, an another could and use his work, update it, and republish it as “2nd edition” quite easily and within the bounds of existing copyright case law.

  22. This is what you could use an assistant/college intern for. They take the file, format it for Smashwords, then upload it to the Smashwords distribution channel. The book would be on Scribd again, but it would be under your name and earning you a small fee each quarter.

  23. What are your thoughts on second-hand sales of physical books? I’m a collector, so I will go out of my way to buy a hardcover first printing, even if the book is available as a paperback or an ebook.

    Of course, I prefer to buy any book brand new from the store, but that isn’t always possible. For instance, I discovered Robert Charles Wilson when Spin came out, and have purchased all his subsequent books new in the store, but I’m picking up his back catalog through eBay and other venues.

  24. JDF:

    I naturally prefer people to buy books first-hand when they can, particularly from authors they like. But I don’t really lose sleep if they buy used.

  25. @dh. I doubt very very much that John has put the work in the Public Domain, though as you suggest, there’s a LOT of “to be determined by the courts” surrounding PD under the “new” (post-’78) copyright regime.

    However, I think John has simply estopped himself from collecting damages from redistribution infringement until notification, and no more. I can’t imagine any court finding even finding that he “authorized” distribution, and he in no way authorizes a derivative work.

    If it went to court, the judge would parse John’s words themselves, with what I find relevant being:

    1. I haven’t requested to be taken down YET
    (my emphasis).

    2. It’s not up on the site by permission of the publisher.

    3. I certainly haven’t given permission for the book to be there, either.

    4. I retain the rights to the work and may eventually do something with the contents of the book, [...]

    5. [...] the text is there illegally (and I can have it taken down)

    6. But the out of print ones? For now I’m content to leave them out there. If I ever do get around to doing something with the text I might change my mind. Or I might change my mind because I’m mercurial. Until then, though, if you see The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies on Scribd or anywhere else, have fun with it.

    So, IMHO, I think any reasonable court will say that John hasn’t waived any ownership rights at all, but has said that he’ll ignore redistribution infringement until he doesn’t, and that he’s authorizing user downloads (“have fun with it”).

    Re-reading it, it’s actually less clearly “allowing” redistribution than I thought. Scribd is safe from Scalzi’s mercurial wrath, because this was user-uploaded content and they’re protected by the DMCA section 230 “safe harbor”, they can’t be sued for user content unless they fail to act on notice. But that was true before John’s statement too. It’s more ambiguous if John has estopped himself from suing someone who posts his work or not; I think he clearly has, but I can see a militant pro-IP judge pushing John’s words into the shape of “I’m not going to sue until I decide to sue”. (I wouldn’t expect that view to survive appeal, but who wants to even have the fight?)

    Since transfer of all rights has a formal requirement (“in writing”), I can’t see any court concluding that John put the work in the PD; it’s clear he didn’t intend to. Someone could argue that “have fun with it” is some sort of blanket waiver of John’s rights in the work, but in the context of rest of the statement, and the context of “John talking to his readers on his blog”, I think it’s clearly a reader-directed statement.

    In other words, John has simply just authorized individual user downloads of out of print works from otherwise infringing sources. Until he changes his mind.

    (And I think that’s enough of the thread-jack for now.)

  26. To be clear, I’ve definitely not released it into the public domain, nor have I relinquished any copyright claims. I’m simply at the moment choosing not to shut down an unauthorized distribution of the work.

  27. I went to check the book out on Scribd and it wants me to pay to download it. Seems sketchy to be making money off someone else’s content that you’re not paying for.

  28. Wow, I had no idea that you wrote that book, but checking my copy confirms it (I bought it almost a decade ago at Tower Records, back when such places existed). Now the editorial voice of it makes a lot more sense. It led me to seek out a bunch of movies I had never heard of, and clarified my feelings about the ones I had seen.

    I don’t have an opinion on the Scribd hosting, but anything that could (legally!) get the Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies back in front of a wider audience would be a good thing.

  29. Basil–

    I think that’s a pretty good reading. If I was going to argue the other-side I would go the way you anticipated, i.e. that “have fun with it” is widely open to interpretation, that JS publicizing the availability of it without penalty enhances the estoppel for future damages, and that leaving it up when the bar for him taking it down was so low that it is implicitly a waiver of use of the content for any purpose.

    JS–

    That does clear it up a lot. The problem is that the opposite of “not shutting down an unauthorized distribution of the work” could easily be interpreted (and rightly I think) as an explicit authorization to use the work (“have fun”).

  30. And, IMO, ‘The Rough Guide to Sci Fi Movies’ is a damn fine book. If you are a fan of SF movies, then I heartily recommend it as both informative and funny.

    Bravo Mr Scalzi.

  31. “The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies”…

    Hmm, there seem to be at least two places in that title where one could have MadLibs-like fun by inserting an extra noun. ‘Sex’ and ‘Hamster’ are a couple nouns that would spice up the title in very different ways.

  32. I’m in a different market than the proprietor—technical titles, and in a predictably narrow subject domain at that—and in the strictest sense, the rights have been mine from Day One.

    I figure that [a] stopping piracy is rather like trying to stop the wind, in that it can be done, but not feasibly by me alone; [b] there are tons of like products free-to-use online already, so that squawking about piracy would make ME the asshat; and [c] I’m lucky because the royalties aren’t the point—it’s about the work I can round up on account of having a cv that’s 320 pages long FOR A VERY GOOD REASON. (…If I can be arsed to point that out to people.)

    More generally, though, I take piracy of my product to mean the same as theft of my personal possessions etc.: a PITA to make up the loss, but whoever took it must apparently need it worse than I maintain possession or remuneration.

  33. If the rights have reverted to you, perhaps you could ask Scribd to pay you when the book is read, as if you’d gone through, e.g., Smashwords? Then it would be there “legitly,” and you’d get paid when people read it…

    Apologies if anyone mentioned this option before. It’s 1:30am and I’m typing fast. >_>

  34. Like Jacob, I went over to Scribd (for the first time, to be honest) to take a peek at the book. Like Jacob, I’m supposed to pay 8.99 for a 1-Month membership (means: for reading your book). I won’t do that. I like your position on the subject, and for existing Scribd users it’s a nice touch you let them know it’s there. For me, I’d rather not read it at all, than read it by paying the wrong people for it. I’ll gladly send you 8.99 if you ever decide to put it online yourself. Just so you know. :-)

  35. .I went to check the book out on Scribd and it wants me to pay to download it

    That is an option the uploader can set when uploading it.

    If I were you, I’d DMCA it to have it taken down, then upload it yourself, charging or not as you see fit. I’d also explore avenues of clawing back some of the monies the uploader has obtained by unethically charging for your work.

  36. My wife has a Scibd subscription and we have both read a lot of books using the site. The way it works is that when you read a certain % of a book then the publisher gets paid as they would for a purchased ebook. One clever way the publisher can make this pay off is to limit what they offer to Scribd (or Oyster which works the same way). For example, I am reading Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series and they have all but 2 books on the site. I went ahead and bought those 2 books on my Kindle. Since John’s book does not have a publisher then there is nobody to claim the money when the book is read.

    From what I read before we subscribed to Scribd, they started out (in the days before the paywall) with loose copyright protection. Not sure if they were doing it on purpose or just slack about enforcing it. But before we paid them for a year subscription we made sure they had gone legit. Oyster might be a better choice if you use this model – not sure of their reputation in this regard. Both services have contracts with Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster as well as smaller publishers for the service.

    As for DRM, a child could break it without much effort. Personally I appreciate that Tor does not use it – it makes me feel like the publisher trusts the reader and it makes me more likely to buy ebooks from them. In some cases I have bought short stories by John and other writers that were available free on the Tor website just for convenience sake and hope that the writers see a little something from the 1.99 I send to the publisher.

    Interesting experiment by John to leave the book there. I know I first read John when I got Old Man’s War in a Humble Bundle. Not free but it was a great deal even when matching (and going above) the Humble Bundle suggested price for the series of books. After reading that one I have purchased ebooks, real books and library copies of all his books.

  37. I am somewhat bemused by the many folks commenting here giving John options for expending effort — sometimes significant effort — to “fix” a “problem” he has already said he doesn’t want to spend any effort on.

  38. I think Scribd have a nerve, taking something without permission and charging for it.
    If it were me, I’d issue a takedown- and then host it myself. If it’s out of print, as John says, there’s little economic downside to it being free – and could act as a nice “teaser”.

    But it would grind my gears to have someone retailing something stolen from me.

    And I certainly won’t pay to download it, if there’s no benefit to John.

  39. Point the First, DRM: It’s great if you want to apply DRM to your ebooks, but first check with your DRM vendor to see how much liability they’re going to assume if your books show up in the usual piratical venues. Also check with your insurance company to see how much they’ll cover you for if your ebooks do get pirated.

    Point the Second, piracy then vs. piracy now: the qualitative difference between old piracy vs. new piracy, is accountability. In the elder days, Publishers had a rule of thumb of five unpaid reads for each sale (per Cory Doctorow over at bOING bOING), however they had no way of knowing whether this was due to library reads, bookshelf shares, shoplifting, counterfeiting, coverless sales, photocopying, or used book sales. Additionally, there were known and accepted avenues for unpaid reads, the aforementioned libraries, used bookstores, etc. In the modern age, what we have is an abundantly clear accounting of new venues of unpaid reads: torrent swarms, websites, etc, as well as a lack of accepted norms for legitimately reading authors without paying them, due to the relative nascence of the format and markets.

    Point the Third, marketing: It’s fairly safe to assume that any book of recent vintage, and certainly works that exist first and foremost as digital works, are available online, free from any sort of payment whatsoever. For those authors who are making sales, this has one signally important implication, namely that the readers who are paying you, are paying you of their own free will and moral conscience. This means that an author has two audiences, one that’s giving them money when they’re under no particular obligation to, and the other that’s not giving them any money, no way, no how, so when it comes to deciding how to spend your nonwriting time, perhaps it’s more productive to figure out ways to get more money from the paying audience than to getting money from an audience that’s not incilined to give it to you in the first place. Now I’m not saying that time should be zero, it’s just that you shouldn’t obsess about them like a douchebro over Scalzi.

    Point the Fourth, ebook piracy as civil disobedience: *tabled for irrelevance*

  40. Copyright law is extremely complex. For that matter, law is extremely complex, and while it’s true that laches, estoppel, and duty to mitigate are general principles, how they play out the context of copyright law may be very different from how they play out in, say, a personal injury lawsuit. I’m a lawyer, and I don’t feel comfortable pontificating on what Scalzi has or hasn’t done, other than to say that the idea that ‘I’m not going to actively enforce my DMCA rights’ equating to ‘forfeiting right to sue forever because estoppel’ makes no sense to me – though certainly I would defer to someone who is actually a copyright lawyer, or whose business is such that they are intimately familiar with copyright.

    Useful links on copyright &c:

    http://www.teachingcopyright.org/ [this is a project of the EFF]

    http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/copyright-law

  41. What is the business reason for making books/software have DRM if its not stopping the pirating?

  42. Guess:

    The DRM is meant to stop piracy. It’s just terribly bad at it.

    However, there is another reason for DRM, which is locking the consumer into a particular retailer — if all your eBooks are DRM’d on Kindle, for example, you can’t legally transfer them to another ebook reader. So you stick with Kindle (or Nook, or whatever).

  43. There are several comments along the lines of “if you want it out there for free, you should do it instead.” However, that misses a couple key points.

    1) Maybe it’s the philosopher in me splitting hairs, but it sure seems that “not minding something is out there for free” is quite different from “wanting it out there for free.” Ignoring a pirated copy is “not minding”, taking the time and effort to post it himself is “wanting.” He may very well not want it out there for free, but for now, that’s a mild enough interest that not minding it is out there is fine for now.

    2) You do have to think about reader reaction if he ever wants to re-publish it. If he lets an illegal copy sit out there for a while and later asks for it taken down when he decides to republish, fans are generally pretty understanding. However, if he puts it out there himself for free, and then later takes it down to republish, then you have a bunch of angry fans because they see you as screwing them over by taking away something you were giving them.Yes, logically, the differences are very subtle, but the human mind can quite easily take a subtle difference and blow it up into completely opposite reactions.

    So if John wants it free for now but might want to republish later, then his best option probably is to turn a temporary blind eye to the pirates… just like he did.

  44. kenmarable:

    Point 1 is a very good one. I was on the side of “issue a take down (to send a message) then reupload under your own account”, but I’ve rethought that now, due to this.

    Point 2 is also a good point, but a tad ironic, perhaps, given that Scalzi got his start in fiction by giving something away for free, then having it bought up by a publisher, so now you have to pay for it.

  45. @#john: they make a kindle reader application for the ipad… though i would prefer to be able to sync all my e-books into 1 central location. For example, I joined the hugo voting and I put all my epubs from into ibooks on my ipad.

    one reason i never got into ebooks is that i am tied to a vendor. If my one tool breaks, i have to buy a new one from them. it would be a pain to have books on ipad, kindle, and/or nook. Plus vendors discontinue lines and go out of business. I can only read a book if i have a working tool to read them. if the tool fails or they discontinue it , I can no longer read books i purchased. Its more of a license then a purchase.

    products come and go. so do vendors. if you can’t get a device or they raise prices on new ones all your previous purchases are gone.

    it sounds like you like ebooks right? I think you have a kindle. you seem happy with it? the only ebooks i have ever read are from this years hugo packet. I dont really like how the ipad feels in my hand. its kind of heavy.

  46. I’m happy to say I already own The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, the very handsome physical book, and would recommend it despite its silence concerning any film made since 2005.

  47. Guess:

    I own a Nook, actually. I use their latest e-ink reader. I quite like it (it’s also very very light). I also have various other book reading apps on my tablets.

  48. note: I generally lay on the floor when i read and use a foam roller as a pillow for my head. so i have a different position. its good for my back. so the heavier ipad is more noticeable when you are holding it up.

  49. i saw good reviews of the nook. my concern with the nook is that B&N is not doing real well financially. if they go under and i can’t get a new nook when the old one inevitably dies, i lose all my purchases. i believe there was another chain book store that went out of business a couple of years ago and they had some ereaders too.

  50. … so it’s almost like a “Project Gutenberg” thing for your out-of-press title? – Cool. :-)

  51. I think that at worst Mr. Scalzi has released his work into the public domain. People are often unclear, but there is no exact specific way to release anything into the public domain. In fact public domain is not something that even is a thing established in black letter law.

    This is entirely incorrect. There is only one way *any* copyright right held gets transferred to anywhere, including public domain, and that is through an explicit transfer of that right in writing. That’s the law. 17USC-204(a) if anyone cares.

    The only thing John has done here is diminish his ability to collect damages should he change his mind and sue Scribd for the violation.

    / Was gonna go to law school.

  52. From the preface of the technical book I just bought (http://www.amazon.com/Molecular-Rotation-Spectra-H-Kroto/dp/048667259X/), which is a Dover reprint of a much older edition:

    “[I]t appears that the demand for the present monograph has diminished little over the years since it was published in 1975, and I am delighted that Dover Publications has decided to republish it. It has been a source of some satisfaction to discover so many photocopies (even bound) in so many laboratories in all parts of the world. Autographing a photocopy of one’s own book has a certain curious appeal, especially as in recent years the book has been unavailable.”

  53. 17USC-204(a)

    Neither creates a public domain or addresses how copyright transfers apply to public domain. In the law you even referenced, it starts plain black and white “A transfer of copyright ownership”. Ownership in the context requires two parties.

    This does not mean anything like what you think it does.

    I think if you continue your studies you will find some interesting things, namely that public domain is not clear cut and established in black letter law (there are some who are in IP-world who don’t even acknowledge that public domain is a legal thing that exists; this is essentially why the Creative-Commons licenses and other similar projects are around, to provide a binding version of transferring to the public domain).

    There is no legally “accepted” form or format for moving things into the public domain.

  54. 17USC-204(a)

    Neither creates a public domain or addresses how copyright transfers apply to public domain. In the law you even referenced, it starts plain black and white “A transfer of copyright ownership”. Ownership in the context requires two parties.

    This does not mean anything like what you think it does.

    It means exactly what I said it does. *No* copyright gets transferred anywhere without an explicit, signed contract. There is no magical “oh, he didn’t defend the right so it’s in the public domain” hand waving to be had here. If the work doesn’t come with a signed statement saying “I release all rights to this work to anyone who wants them” then nothing gets released. There is no exception for “public domain” for the simple reason that there need not be one. The law is pretty simple in what it requires. Except by action of law (probate, tax lien, etc…) no copyright is transferred unless there is a written document signed by the owner that accompanies it.

    Copyright is a property right, just like your house. And just like your house, it doesn’t get to change ownership unless you explicitly say it does.

    So when someone says something like this…

    I think that at worst Mr. Scalzi has released his work into the public domain.

    You can rest assured that person is unequivocally and without a doubt, entirely wrong.

  55. my concern with the nook is that B&N is not doing real well financially. if they go under and i can’t get a new nook when the old one inevitably dies, i lose all my purchases. i believe there was another chain book store that went out of business a couple of years ago and they had some ereaders too.

    You’re right; this has happened before, and you can’t really count on a company that’s closing up shop to care much about what happens to its customers. This would be the #1 legitimate reason for non-pirates to get their hands on a DRM-removal tool.

    (Or to preferentially buy non-DRMed books in the first place. If I can get something from Smashwords or Baen instead of the Nook store, I’ll do so every time for precisely this reason.)

  56. I’ve still got all my Rocket eBook files, unreadable except by using the emulation software on a Windows computer, if I still have the setup file to install the emulation software on a PC and it works on Windows 7. Calibre apparently cannot convert a .rb file to a readable format. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking for an alternative, because I’ve got too much else to read, but yeah, that’s a risk.

  57. The nice thing about epubs, is that they’re open source, and they’re pretty much just HTML files with a wrapper. So the knowledge of how to read them is unlikely to go away soon, unlike a proprietary format. As for what to do when and if B&N goes under, this is why keeping backup copies of the books one owns on one’s home computer and/or thumb drive isn’t a bad idea.

    Incidentally, I googled Rocket Ebooks Convert and found several free conversion sources, some of which are online and some of which you download to your computer. So you should be able to convert all your old Rocket files to epub, if there are any books you want to re-read.

  58. Thanks, Cally. I should have been more specific. Calibre will convert to epub format the non-copy-protected .rb files, of which I have a few, bought directly from self-publishing authors. It will not convert the copy-protected files (bought through Powell’s) from traditional publishers that were made available as Rocket editions by being licensed to NuvoMedia, the (defunct) company that made the Rockets. Likewise, the online conversion sites that I tried will convert the non-DRM files but not the encrypted files. Information I found about a downloadable converter indicates the same. The problem, as I understand it, is that the licensed books are tied to the specific hardware, and the conversion process is not so simple. I looked into it a bit, and I think it’s possible to convert them, but it’s well beyond my time/knowledge/interest level. This is OT, so I won’t go on about it, but I wanted to thank you for your interest and effort.

  59. Copyright is a property right, just like your house. And just like your house, it doesn’t get to change ownership unless you explicitly say it does.

    Pretty sure you can’t foreclose on a copyright, or put a lien on it, or have it condemned or seized by the government, like your house.

    Copyright and other forms of IP involve some complicated law, and assuming that legal concepts that apply generally one place apply exactly the same to copyright is a profoundly bad idea.

  60. If there is demand for the book as shown by it being posted online but it is out of print but you hold the copyright that sounds like the opportunity for you to post it for sale on Amazon at a low price.

  61. That’s an interesting assertion, mythago… I would assume that, if I were able to arrange a loan secured by my copyrights, then the contract would trump my copyright and it would be “forecloseable”. Similar thing with a lien, although I can imagine an important distinction that the lien would be on the business of selling/licensing said copyright, and not the thing itself. Of course, as you point out, making assumptions about the law is a good way to be wrong.

    Condemnation and seizure are good examples of your point, though. Intellectual property is not “just like” anything else (although it’s substantially “like” a lot of things).

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