Monday, August 18, 2008
You see it all over the place. The idea that works that are online should be free, digital works should be free. I think that drastically misinterprets the underlying hacker ideal. The hacker notion was that if you bought a printer, you should be able to access the source code, modify it, fix and replace it. And a good many people who have owned glitchy printers probably agree--but in this scenario the company made money selling you the printer. The open source, freeware, hacker ideal is not--and never has been--a blanket argument against copyright, let alone a universal one. Those that interpret it that way are, for the most part, seriously missing the point.
I get that traditional publishers may buy into the Doctorow doctrine. I mean ebooks may be given away free for many reasons. And one of them is to give extra functionality to a current or future owner of the print book. But when the ebook is a product, complete in itself, the decision about whether to charge money, and how much, is purely at the discretion of the copyright owner. That is, in most cases, the author.
How many of you, as kids, read the Little Red Hen?:
One day as the Little Red Hen was scratching in a field, she found a grain of wheat.
"This wheat should be planted," she said. "Who will plant this grain of wheat?"
"Not I," said the Duck.
"Not I," said the Cat.
"Not I," said the Dog.
"Then I will," said the Little Red Hen. And she did.
And the story continues with the hen cutting, threshing and milling the wheat, making the dough and baking the bread--all without help. And then:
She made and baked the bread. Then she said, "Who will eat this bread?"
"Oh! I will," said the Duck.
"And I will," said the Cat.
"And I will," said the Dog.
"No, No!" said the Little Red Hen. "I will do that." And she did.
The way we labor varies. My grandfather work in coal mines, he was illiterate all his life. But he was a good man who sent his kids away to school and wanted them to have easier lives. He worked in the union and fought hard to ensure miners got to earn a fair wage for their labors.
I work in an office and on a computer, but we have to fight the same for workers rights today, just in different areas. If someone pockets a lump of coal here or there it makes little difference. if someone emails an ebook to their grandmother, I won't get too upset. But if they post my books en masse to a filesharing site just because God gave them an index finger, and Daddy and Mommy gave him a Mac I will fight that tooth and nail.
My bottom line is this: if you want to eat the bread, make your own bread, find someone who is choosing to give away their bread, or pay for mine. I will never apologise for fighting for the right to benefit from my own labors.