Information Age: Copyrights

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The information age is disruptive, and one of the most disrupted areas is copyrights (intellectual property). Economic wars are being fought over who owns what, and for how long, and it's breaking whole markets. The Music industry sort of collapsed and is scrambling because used music is as good as the original. The same with books, articles, comics, and anything creative. An information economy is a pirate economy... the sellers of content (whether that's audio, video, written), no longer have a monopoly on distribution, because it is so easy to get it from other people. And there becomes conflict between buying something new, and giving the author their piece, or buying something used and getting the best deal -- but cutting the author out.


When I wrote this in 2002, was getting attacked for reselling used books.

Authors have never been really hot on used bookstores. When you buy a used book, the author and publisher do not get any royalties for that; other than what they obviously earned on the ORIGINAL sale. No one comes back and gives them their royalties on a used book that gets sold again. So every time the resold books exchanges hands, someone is making money; just not the writers or original distributors. The end results are that the more used media you buy, then the less those people earn, and they don't like it.

This valid concerns motivated the Authors Guild to react publicly with Press Releases and on their website about how it feels that Amazon in general, and Amazons founder Jeff Bezos in specific, was being way to aggressive in selling used books or encouraging other to use their used book selling service, and basically implying that if we don't stop Amazon that authors won't be able to afford to write books, and literary development will cease. Considering the quality and quantity of books, and current amounts earned (and who gets it), this is not a big fear for me, but they have their concerns.

Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon) decided that if they were attacking him, then to do a little tit for tat and counter attack them, only better. He used direct email to his customer list, to point out all the good that Amazon and used books do for the free market, individuals, and the universe in general. Who knows, the cure for cancer could be found because of someone reading a used book? Then giving out the email address of the Authors Guild, and Paul Aiken's name in specific, encouraging readers to let them know that you support Amazon and their used bookstore. This was a blatant attempt to have the grass roots masses swamp the guild with an email attack until the Guild capitulated. I'm surprised that Paul's home phone number wasn't included in the email; but they're probably saving that for the next round.

The amusing battle aside, there are bigger issues going on here. And of course this doesn't just apply to Amazon and used books. Used music stores have always been on the record companies hit lists, and libraries are actually unpopular as well; since a record, book, cassette or video borrowed is one less sold -- at least in some people's mind. Even video rental stores are not particularly popular in some circles.

The thing is that before the Internet, there was a major "inconvenience" factor in buying used anything (books included). In fact, it was enough of a pain, that most people didn't bother; or only did so for rare finds. But the Internet has made it much easier for buyers to find sellers, especially when there is a trusted middlemen like Amazon, or eBay. So this is another case where the Internet is changing business. And therein lies the twist. New goods are having to compete against used goods much more; and the costs of distribution and finding what you want is coming down. New sellers have to lower their prices or add more value, or they will lose business. And many don't like thinking like that, and so instead of fixing the problems and figuring out new ways of doing business, they are attacking those that are trying to change the paradigms.


This was written in 2002, but I look back on it, and the fight hasn't really lessened. The authors guild and other cartels are still trying to prevent competition with used media. But like it or not (and they definitely don't like it), the Internet broke their cartel. Used competes with new. The ability for the Internet to empower people getting in touch, empowers people to do direct commerce -- and that gives used markets a huge boost, which puts pressure on new markets. Most things that are hard goods (and especially expensive goods) could adapt pretty easily: they've always had to deal with those secondary markets. But soft goods are just too easy to resell, and this is unusual for them, so they're still struggling with commoditization. In the end, the free market will win, and those who don't adapt to it will lose. But in the short term, anything the guilds can do to slow down progress, will benefit them in the short term. So they're still doing it.


Written 2002.04.15