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A while back, I wrote a post about how the term intellectual property theft lacks semantic foundation, and argued that no such thing actually exists. Instead, I pointed out that the correct term would be intellectual property infringement. Part of the problem, when talking about intellectual property, is that, depending on where you are, different rules exist. While that in and of itself would not necessarily be a problem, I feel it is a problem when laws in one country are changed for the sole reason of harmonisation with those of another country.
Norway, where I live, has a copyright time of the creator’s lifetime plus seventy years. It used to be fifty years, but that was changed to conform with US copyright law. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem, if it didn’t serve to hinder the spread of Norwegian culture. The way this happens is insidious and not a little nasty, and it happens the most with books. A lesser known author has a book published, which sells moderately well; enough so that he earns some money, but not enough so that the publisher wants to reprint it.
A few years pass, and interest wanes. The book is out of print, and the publisher doesn’t want to risk the cost of another edition. The author, relatively unknown as he is, does not have the clout to push the publishing house to reprint. Fast forward to the author’s death: The book is still out of print, and interest is at an all-time low, with the result that a reprint is out of the question, even if the publishing house was interested.. Fast forward another seventy years, and interest is now relatively non-existent.
Here we come to the heart of the matter: Interest is not non-existent based on the quality of the work. It is non-existent because no-one knows the book was written in the first place. I see this as a grave threat to all culture, and in particular that culture which is so tied up in the language.
In the title of this post, I mentioned a way forward. Here it is: Instead of making still stricter copyright laws, make them less strict. Make it lifetime plus, oh, I don’t know, say twenty-five years. That’s the legal side of things. However, the author can also do something here. When publishing a work, do so under a Creative Commons license. Share the work.
I can, of course, see the counter argument from the publishing house, which goes something like “What? Are you crazy? How are we to earn our money?” It’s a fair question, but the answer is as simple as I think it is obvious: When writing a contract with an author; all rights of publishing usually (in Norway, at any rate) revert to them ten years after the last edition was published. At that point, the publishing house is out of the picture, and the author is left with a choice: Cling to the right granted by law, or offer the work up to the public at large.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution. I’m not saying it wouldn’t lose you money. It isn’t and it might. However, if you turn it to your advantage, it might not. By giving away one book when publishing another, you can hook readers in, get them interested, and, in effect, sell more books.
There are no simple solutions. This is one suggestion. Whatever you do; make a conscious choice, and do what feels right.