I’ve written some tips for book authors I have. I hope you’ll find them useful, and I hope I’ll remember them if I ever write a book. If you’ve written a book and followed any of the tips, please let me know how it went. I’d also like to know about other tips you might have.

The article also hints at another, more insidious kind of copyright “theft” or “piracy”: that of copyright holders who hold onto their copyrights after the author has recouped their costs. Copyright only exists to provide an incentive to authors; once they’ve done the work and recouped their cost (and possibly the cost of their next project), they should donate their work to the public domain.

The theft of authors who don’t (or worse, publishers or other people who have taken their copyright) is far worse than the so-called piracy of copyright infringers, even if the infringer would have paid the author had they not infringed. Instead of one person (the author) losing something, the entire public loses. Congress should take fast action to prevent further such thefts from their constituents. (An easy and surely uncontrovertial step would be for copyrights to expire after the author’s death.)

Some people seem confused by this; they think it’s Marxist. In fact, it’s actually very capitalist: the whole point of capitalism is to have competition lower prices until they’re just above the cost of the work performed. Unfortunately this doesn’t work with writings, since the work is useful to the public at large instead of a small group of people or just one person like with traditional goods. So we have the copyright law, a limited monopoly which allows the author to be paid in small amounts from each member of the public. However, since such a monopoly isn’t subject to competition driving down prices, people need to use their own judgment to set a fair price. The current price is “all the money I can get until 75 years after I die” which clearly isn’t fair.

I wish I could find a clearer way to express this.

posted January 14, 2003 04:45 PM (Politics) #


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Aaron Swartz (me@aaronsw.com)