In a disjointed piece in The New York Times over the weekend, Scott Turow railed against our copyright system, ebooks, academics, and even our libraries (oh, the socialism!).
There are many responses out there, but I wanted to make a few additional points:
- Advocating for more protective copyright laws, Turow declares that our “Constitution’s framers had it right,” forgetting, it seems, that the Copyright Act of 1790 permitted copyrights for only 14 years, with the option to renew once if the author were still alive. That means Turow’s One L would be in the public domain by now.
- Turow worries that ebooks, the fair use doctrine, libraries, and Google will create a dystopian world in which “authors are left to write purely for the love of the game,” asking rhetorically, “what sort of society would that be?” Well, it’s the one we live in right now. Only a small fraction of writers will ever make enough to live off of their writing alone. Most of the writers I know hope to make a living at it, but their motivation to write really comes from how much they love their craft. Ideally, more authors would be able to make a living from their art, but Turow’s attacks on ebooks, Google, and Amazon will not bring us closer to that dream.
- Turow freaks out at academics who “call for copyright to be curtailed or even abandoned,” asserting that these individuals are “simply promoting their own careers over the livelihoods of other writers.” What a hypocrite. Turow’s copyright radicalism — which could, for example, make consumers liable for re-selling used books — primarily helps a tiny minority of authors, the ones making a living purely off of their creative works. It hurts the rest of us who want better access to books, need Amazon and Google to inform people about our works, and rely on a broader notion of fair use to develop our own creative products.
- Turow closes his piece Cold War-style, as though the Russia he visited last October were still the Soviet Union: “Soviet-style repression is not necessary to diminish authors’ output and influence. Just devalue their copyrights.” Next, I expect we’ll see Turow write a piece that starts with: “I have here on this blog a list of 205 — or is it 57 — known Communists working at Amazon and Google …”
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this rant from some unknown crank, but it’s shocking and disappointing to see it in the pages of The New York Times under the byline of the President of the Authors Guild.