And By Raging I Mean Flailing, And By Light I Mean Relevance

A friend of mine points me to this incredible New York Times article in which publishers lay out the fact that they are fundamentally opposed to public libraries, detailing their struggles as they take up arms against these nefarious institutions promoting such injustices as culture, literacy and the greater public good.

Ms. Thomas of Hachette says: “We’ve talked with librarians about the various levers we could pull,” such as limiting the number of loans permitted or excluding recently published titles. She adds that “there’s no agreement, however, among librarians about what they would accept.”

It’s really a great article, full of these little turns of phrase that seem to come out of publisher’s mouths without them even realize how evil they sound. “There’s no agreement among librarians to bend themselves, the public and the greater good over this barrel we’ve offered to sell them at a very reasonable rate”, they don’t quite say.

HarperCollins was brave to tamper with the sacrosanct idea that a library can do whatever it wishes with a book it obtains.

This sacrosanct idea is better known as the First-Sale Doctrine; those crafty librarians, always falling back things like “established law” and “century-old Supreme Court decisions” to make their case. Crazytimes, right?

But that’s not the best bit:

David Young, Hachette’s chief executive, says: “Publishers can’t meet to discuss standards because of antitrust concerns. This has had a chilling effect on reaching consensus.”

Mr. Young lays it flat out: that laws prohibiting anticompetitive collusion and price-fixing are having a “chilling effect” on major publishers’ attempts to collude, fix prices and thwart competition.

I can’t imagine a functioning adult saying this with a straight face, but there it is. “Laws against doing evil things are having a chilling effect on the efforts of aspirant evildoers.” I’m sure it’s a problem for somebody, but as far as I’m concerned, mission accomplished, gold stars all ’round, well done laws and keep up the good work.

As has been noted many times, by many people, we’ve juiced up the entirely artificial copyright laws of the world to the point that if libraries weren’t already a centuries-old cultural institution, there’s no chance they’d ever be able to come into existence today. And here in this miraculous age of free-flowing information, that’s sad as hell.

14 Comments

  1. Jamie
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    I like the various points they make about the “inconvenience” of physical books vs. ebooks. Of course, one of those inconveniences is requiring an author to use a publisher in order to get a physical book produced and shipped out to sellers, a problem that is avoided if an author were to put out an ebook on their own.

  2. gah
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Grey on dark grey? Dark grey on black? Are you *trying* to make us go blind?

    A little common sense in color schemes will go a long way.

  3. Kimc
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I have the same complaint as “Gah”. I “selected” the whole thing, which made it black on white, so now my eyesight is dazzled and has stripes over everything.
    Otherwise, good article.

  4. mhoye
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Grey on dark grey? Dark grey on black? Are you *trying* to make us go blind?

    Yes. Thanks for your feedback!

  5. Teigerman
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Now, if you just select it and paste it into any word-processing software (just to read, mind you, and then obediently delete), you immediately have nice readable text.

    But seriously, the electronic age marks a turning in the history of civilization equal to the Renaissance, the rise of empirical investigation, the invention of the printing press, and the internet, whatever combination of persons and institutions invented it. If someone patented a particularly good wooden wagon wheel, what good is that patent today? If someone claimed ownership of smallpox vaccines, would we go back to tolerating smallpox?

    Intellectual property ownership ought to die with its creator. His or her culture provided the shoulders and resources to build on, and those just naturally pass to the next wave of creators. It makes no sense to make it tough on them–the progress of the racial commonweal is what will save us, if we are to be saved.

  6. Andrew
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    The last point is braindead. There are supposed to be laws against evildoing, but you’re asking for laws against speech

  7. Eli
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Another step of the shift to rentier capitalism. “Pay up the ransom, or your book gets it!”

  8. mhoye
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    The last point is braindead.

    Ah yes, the “I’m just talking’, here” defense.

    The reason it’s called “collusion” is because people agree amongst themselves about the bad things they’re going to do before going out to do said bad things. There are lots of contracts and agreements that are illegal to enter into, for excellent reasons, and your argument that this is supposedly an imposition on freedom of expression is pretty reprehensible.

  9. txvoodoo
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, your color scheme is difficult. I used Readability.com to clean it up.

    Thanks for this post.

  10. Stormrunner
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    The color scheme is just fine.

  11. Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    Relevant comment, the once-sensible Teresa Nielsen Hayden over at Scalzi’s blog (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/12/27/dear-readers-publishers-think-of-you-as-customers-i-swear/#comment-294625):

    “I observed, not for the first time, that IMO the default answer to someone who’s ranting about the Big Six, the evilness in general of NYC publishers (who only promote bestsellers and anyway are only interested in books by celebrities), the coming selfpublipocalypse, et cetera et cetera yammer yammer yammer, is ‘I’m sorry your book was rejected.’”

    And to think, I didn’t even know you’d written one.

  12. mhoye
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Yeah, it comes as a surprise to me, too. It’s really kind of a shame, I used to like her writing a lot.

  13. Posted December 29, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I gave up on Making Light a long time ago now.

  14. txvoodoo
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    @stormrunner – not if you’re visually impaired and/or older!