Scott Turow: The Slow Death of the American Author

New York Times Op-Ed on how new legislation on imported copies of American authors works affects issues of copyright.

LAST month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright. Not only does this ruling open the gates to a surge in cheap imports, but since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties.

This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.


Wait a minute, aren't they getting the royalties from the first sale in the other county? (YES, is the answer) The Supreme Court just upheld the "first sale" doctrine, which means that once you bought something, you get to do what you want with it (i.e. resale it, loan it out, etc). Without the "first sale" doctrine publisher could forbid libraries from loaning out books or other materials.

E-Books are a different sticky issue since technically you are buying a license to view the text, not buying a copy of it.

Engineering book sells in U.S. for $100. Author gets $10.
Book sells in India for $10 and author gets $1.

Person buys book in India and ships book to U.S.
Author gets $1 for the sale in India.

This is why publishers are upset.

Then publishers need to realize that we live in a global economy and adjust to survive or stagnate and fail.

What will be tough is that the fix from a publishers perspective is to not sell the books in countries that cannot pay the American price.

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