access to books is important

“In Brazil the Redemption through Reading program has been created with the intention that prisoners will not only improve their literacy skills but so that “a person can leave prison more enlightened and with an enlarged vision of the world”.

— Alex Hundert

blurry overexposed book shelf

It’s bad enough that there is no longer any funding for librarians in Ontario’s public school system.

It seems to me that people in jail should have as much access to books as possible. While in jail, inmates occupied in reading may well be improving their minds, possibly improving their literacy, maybe even learning empathy. At minimum, they are occupied. I’m guessing inmates who read in jail are less likely to re-offend on release. Are Canadian jails and prisons intended to punish or rehabilitate?

Having read the following four articles by writer Alex Hundert, a political activist currently serving time, writing from jail:

No Books for Prisoners: An Open Letter to the MWDC

No Books for Prisoners Part 2

Abusive Authority Means Little Hope: No Books for Prisoners Part 3

No Books for Prisoners Part 4

as a lifetime reader and writer, I am appalled.

It seems nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment to deny prisoners access to reading material.

School children at least have other options.  Prisoners do not.


the cart = a library trolley carrying as many as 150 books which makes the rounds through the jail to deliver books to inmates

MDWC = Metro West Detention Centre aka “the West”


publishers, writers and rights, oh my

Spiderweb beaded with raindrops

The Internet has changed the world faster than any other technological revolution in history.

corporate vs. creator copyright

When that obsolete stuff known as videotape was new, it, too, wreaked havoc. Suddenly movies and tv shows were being released on the new medium. But the big media companies felt no compulsion to actually share the new found wealth with the creators.

an open trailer of video tapes for disposal

Some creators took issue with this, and fought it out in court.   And courts duly ruled that creators were entitled to compensation from these new revenues.

Having written the music for the Disney classic “Lady and the Tramp,” Singer/songwriter Peggy Lee was at the forefront of the fight. Urban Legend has it the Disney company did not take the court decision very graciously and vowed not to release the popular children’s film again until after Peggy Lee’s death.

It doesn’t matter if the legend is true or not, it would be a reasonable business practice; a sound corporate strategy. Suppressing the work warns other would-be litigants about the economic risk of asserting their legal rights with the added bonus of imposition of artificial scarcity which inflates the value of the product when finally released.

To me it illustrates the difference between corporate and creator agendas, and in particular why corporations should never be allowed to hold copyright. Creative works of any kind, what human beings call art, are valued differently by human beings, while to a corporation, the only value of art is the bottom line.

enter the lawyers

Here in the Twenty First Century, Intellectual Property Law has become the “sexiest” area of the legal profession because it is both one of the most lucrative areas of law and the source of mind boggling power.  IP law has been changing the world.

The primary changes to copyright and lawmaking have been driven by the big media interests.

Music, movies and television “rightsholders” have been driving the changes since those are some of the most lucrative forms of intellectual copyright product.

All the changes to Copyright Law over recent decades have been made to benefit corporations at the expense of both creators and culture; the rules of copyright have been quietly becoming madder and madder (as in the hatter).

writers and publishers

Ironically, although copyright began to provide incentive for the creation of literary works by making it possible for good writers make a living, the publishing industry has not been in the forefront of the current copyright war. The American book publishing industry was built on commercial piracy, more properly called bootlegging.

In the early days of twentieth century paperback novels sold for less than a dollar and writers were paid only a few pennies a word.

Nearing the end of the century I was surprised to learn that writers were still being paid mere pennies a word although paperback novels sold for upward of ten dollars.

The justification was always the great expense borne by the publisher. Printing and distribution costs rose with inflation while payment to the creators did not keep pace. Publishers impressed upon writers that demanding better pay would make books too expensive and lead to fewer books sold. Physical costs were tangible and so always managed to take precedent over the writer’s intangible creativity.

The 21st Century we have seen the introduction of ebooks. Digital books differ from physical books in one crucial way: they cost next to nothing to copy.

Yet customers have been conditioned to spend on the order of twenty dollars for a physical book. Naturally publishers have been happy to sell the average ebook in the ten dollar range. After set-up production costs are negligible, making the revenue stream approach 100% profit.

Amazingly, these same publishers begrudge any change in the royalty payments to the authors. Instead of sharing this good fortune with their writers, the golden egg laying geese of the publishing industry, most publishers have been trying on the same power grab movie companies tried with video: laying claim to legal rights they had not been granted.

One of the most compelling reasons I never seriously considered placing my novel with a traditional publishing house was the problem William Styron’s heirs had with the publisher.

Mr. Styron’s family believes it retains the rights, since the books were first published before e-books existed. Random House, Mr. Styron’s longtime publisher, says it owns those rights, and it is determined to secure its place — and continuing profits — in the Kindle era.

The discussions about the digital fate of Mr. Styron’s work are similar to the negotiations playing out across the book industry as publishers hustle to capture the rights to release e-book versions of so-called backlist books.

New York Times: Legal Battles Over E-Book Rights to Older Books

That was my tipping point. Would you trust this industry to do right by you?   I wouldn’t.   Given the choice, I’m not willing to hand over my creative work to traditional publishing. Particularly since this same digital revolution gives me choice: technology has made self publishing a valid and viable option.

The arrogance of publishers to assert claims to ebook rights by default– simply because they’d published traditional physical paper version– is ludicrous.

At issue is who holds digital rights in older titles published before the advent of ebooks. Publishers argue that the ebook rights belong to them, and authors and agents respond that, if not specifically granted, the digital rights remain with the author.

The Guardian: Publishers rage against Wylie’s ebook deal with Amazon

Odyssey Editions Logo

On Friday (June 23rd, 2010) the Wylie Agency shook the world

by taking a stand for authors and against the publishing houses. (And for themselves, never forget that. Wylie has launched a whole new business here; this may well be straying into anti-trust waters.)

This Literary Agency is setting up the Odessey Books imprint under which they will release older works as ebooks; specifically books whose digital rights have not been signed over to the physical publishers.

The publishers who believed themselves entitled to this copyright are of course greatly outraged that works they believed safely under their control has been snatched out from under them.

Odyssey certainly appears to already be a going concern, with a set of clean simple text based digital book covers for the classics they are releasing exclusively through Amazon’s Kindle for the first two years.

Good for Wylie, good for Odyssey.

From a consumer’s point of view I have reservations. I only looked at the pricing for one book, so the prices may vary, but I have to wonder how the ebook version of a books could cost more than the physical paperback version also sold through Amazon. Yes, the ebook version is sleek and lightweight, but the Kindle is after all a reader laden with DRM that I understand prevents copying for both format shifting and backups. In other words, the ten dollar ebook will be locked inside a brick if the Kindle breaks down or becomes obsolete. But that’s another story.

From an author’s point of view, there may be financial problems. Odyssey doesn’t seem to be offering authors such a great deal.

“Yes, there are costs of creating a digital version, but offering a 25, 30% royalty is insulting.”

~Kassia Krozser, Today in Publishing: A Skirmish

Although I don’t believe the Guardian’s assertion that Wylie’s Amazon deal brings the end of the publishing world nigh, I certainly do think this is a good thing.

It sounds to me that the Wylie Agency is stepping in and performing the service that that publishing houses should have performed for their clients. Adaptability is key to any business long term survival. The total control they have long held seems to have seduced the publishing industry in much the same way it has the recording and movie companies into believing that they deserve control of these copyrights.

this story can help start the copyright conversation

Technology has changed the world indescribably, and corporations have exerted untold amounts of pressure on lawmakers the world over to legislate anti-progress in the form of copyright laws and treaties.

Tony Curzon Price


@tonycurzonprice rt @tom_watson
DRM lobbyists are back in parliament. they want even more.

The changes being made to the world in the name of copyright are still largely unnoticed by most people. Demographically young computer savvy people are among the most knowledgeable sector of society about these issues, but they are a minority. And the fact remains that the whole world NEEDS to be part of the conversation. Allowing corporate interests to control the conversation is increasingly leading to greater and greater imbalance.

copyright and the public domain

I’ve never understood how anyone besides the creator is entitled to the proceeds from copyright. License the work to the publisher sure, but giving them copyright? No legal system should ever have allowed this. Copyright was meant to encourage creation for the good of culture.

In the beginning there was the commons. Ownership of the songs and stories of belonged to everyone. Story tellers preserved and shaped the culture, and in return society made sure they could make living at it. Minstrels telling a good tale or singing a good song were fed. The introduction of the printing press changed things in that the words of the writers could now be spread and shared through this artificial means. Copyright is an artificial right assumed by society in an effort to encourage creators to continue to create by controlling the monetization of their work for a finite period of time. When the term was up, the work went into the public domain so that all of society could get the benefit.

tweets from ORGcon

The UK Nonpartisan Open Rights Group, working to fight the UK’s ill advised hastily passed Digital Economy Act, today held #ORGCon. Cory Doctorow tweeted highlights. Copyright and the Public Domain were central to the convention, and much of what @doctorow and other attendees shared online, particularly comments by keynote speaker James Boyle provide some powerful background for this article:

Cory Doctorow thumbnail taken at University of Waterloo, 2009

Black and white photo of James Boil from #org
James Boyle

tweeting at #orgcon

rt @thepublicdomain
aka James Boyle keynote at #orgcon

@owenblacker rt @owenblacker

Our educators’ understanding of copyright is akin to playground understanding of sex

@footage rt @footage
Baby Boomers can legally share/use/mix much of their own history after 28 yrs. Generation X & Millennials can’t. Copyright discriminates.

rt @rob_jewitt:
The odds of copyright incentivising dead authors is pretty low

@elmyra tweets:

For further first person #org coverage read:
Elmyra’s ORGcon 2010 Livejournal

rt @doctorow: Until the tenth Century a musicians just needed to play.
Until the 19th century musicians just needed to be literate.
In the twentieth century, musicians needed to be geeks,
But in 21st Century musicians need to be lawyers.

NO Canadian DMCA

These laws will force all of us to be lawyers.

Everyone from professional media makers to children putting together school projects.

The United States has enacted the DMCA. The UK the DEAct. Canada has tabled Bill C-32, copyright legislation misleadingly titled “The Copyright Modernization Act”. And the secret international copyright treaty A.C.T.A. seeks to subjugate the copyright laws of the whole world.

Copyright is no longer simply an area of special interest to publishers and writers. Changes being made in the name of copyright effect culture and the the way we access culture in every country of the world.

We all need to be part of the conversation.

Image Credits: spider web used under a CreativeCommons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (by) 2004 cybershotking
Fate of videotape (en:obsolence) © 2004 by Tomasz Sienicki used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license
William Styron, Santiago, Chile, 1988 photo by Marcelo Montecino Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Wikipedia cropped cinema image of Peggy Lee, used under the public domain in the US and fair dealing in Canada

Kindle: Not Available in Canada, eh?

[This began as a comment on the Globe & Mail story Canada snubbed as Kindle goes global but it got a little out of hand…]

the foundation trilogy Cover Art

The very first time I encountered the e-book concept was in the 1970’s… within the pages of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

My son’s high school library (where I first discovered Foundation) doesn’t stock the book any longer.   And sadly our local public library doesn’t provide shelf space for any of Asimov’s fiction.

Fortunately for me I am happy to say that quite a few of those old fashioned rectangular things with Asimov’s name emblazoned on the cover reside in my own home library, which in itself is made up of those old fashioned rectangular things we call books.

Because of this, I was able to lend my kid Foundation, which he wanted to read for a comparative lit assignment.

If I had Foundation on a Kindle, would I be legally able to lend it to my kid? Or would that constitute a copyright infringement?

If I was allowed to lend it to him, and he put it in his backpack and took it to school, how easily it might be damaged. Or lost. Or even stolen.

LOTR trade paperback

When I was in high school myself I borrowed my brother’s single volume trade paperback version of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Awesome book.

The paper was as thin as bible paper but denser. I couldn’t put it down. So I dragged it around with me at school, to be prepared if an opportunity to read it presented itself.

I was only a little way into The Two Towers on the day I accidentally forgot it in the cafeteria. Naturally it was gone when I came back for it.

It was a pretty devastating loss since I had to save enough money to replace my brother’s copy, and then save enough money to get my own since he wouldn’t lend it a second time. Those were the days when the cost of an ordinary paperback was measured in “cents” not dollars. But this copy of Lord of the Rings was priced at well over twenty dollars.

So, the new economical Kindle reader only costs $259.00. That’s a pretty good investment right there. So if its lost or stolen or broken… certainly it would be a hit. But then lets look at one of the selling points: you can store your whole library on the reader. At $10.00 a book, with a 1500 book capacity, the replacement value is now up to $15,259.00.

A fully provisioned Kindle = 1/2 year at U of W
fully provisioned Kindle = half year at U of W

This is a substantial replacement cost for a high school student to shoulder. We’re looking at a sum of money roughly equivalent what it costs to attend the University of Waterloo for maybe a half year.   Perhaps a full year if you’re careful.

In these days of “climate change”, the weather we have is increasingly unpredictable. Twice this year I’ve been caught in a torrential downpour with my digital camera.

The first and worst time it was so beautiful when we headed out for a walk that I didn’t take my camera bag. I was soaked and my camera was drenched in gallons of water before I could deploy the plastic bag I had for the dog.

I was sure the camera was destroyed forever.

the first truly portable literature

Fortunately it wasn’t… but it took weeks to dry out. And there’s still a few things that don’t work quite right. But I’m lucky that the hundreds of dollars invested in my camera weren’t lost.

But what if it had been a Kindle?

Getting drenched in a downpour could wipe out a much larger investment in the blink of an eye. From where I sit, that makes the Kindle a lot less portable.

Oh sure, Gutenberg’s contribution to the world was important, no question, but the REAL revolution was the introduction of the “dime novel” Portability was key. Certainly the price made books affordable to common people for the first time, and that is also why people would carry them around in their pockets.

Because they only cost a dime you wouldn’t end up in the poor house if you lost one. And when prices rose, as prices do, dime novels became more commonly known as pocket books.

reading in a tree

And how many parents would allow their kids to take something so expensive outside to read in a tree? A great deal of my childhood was spent reading out of doors. By the creek, on a beach, in a tent or up a tree.

But the money invested in a Kindle would make the risk far too great. I’d be more inclined NOT to bring it with me.

I love books. I grew up in a reading environment. My family didn’t have a lot of money for books, but we had books anyway.

In those days, if a family wanted to provide a good educational environment for their children, the parents would buy an encyclopedia set.

It might take years to pay off, but many people considered it worth it. (Of course the sales pitch was 40% future success for your kids combined with 60% guilt at how much they’ll suffer if you didn’t buy them.) Of course the families who shelled out hundreds of dollars when the child was in kindergarten were left with a rather obsolete version by the time the children were actually old enough to make use of the things in high school or college.

Instead of buying a set of encyclopedias he couldn’t afford, my Dad taught us the value of reading, first by reading himself and then by reading to us. Probably why we grew up to be readers. Better still, he took us to the library. We learned to find what we needed in those public spaces. And in those days Ontario public schools could actually afford librarians, so students learned how to find what we needed or wanted.

2009 Elora Book Sale line up
2009 Elora Book Sale line up

Books are as important to me as food. I borrow books, and lend books. I’ve bought additional copies of good books to donate to schools or as gifts. One reason I can afford to buy new hardcover books (and help support the writers I read) is because I also buy lots of books at used book stores or book sales. Like most of these sales, The Elora Used Book Sale is a fundraiser, and they accept donations all year long. Because volunteers price the books, and what doesn’t sell this year will be back on sale next year, the pricing is erratic and entertaining, ranging from about five dollars for hardcover fiction to a paperback mystery I paid a dime for. Is that Irony or what?

Used book sales allow me to economically replace books I’ve loaned out and not gotten back. They help me fill the holes in my collection. Sometimes I’ll buy a “lending” copy of a favorite in paperback, so I don’t have to risk losing my hardcover copy of The Nature of the Beast or Shibumi. A lot of the books I love are long out of print and very hard to find. I’m getting close to having all the Nero Wolfe books, but most are only available in paperback.

Lining up in the drizzle;  more of the book sale line
Lining up in the drizzle; more of the book sale line

Thanks to the absurd length of American copyright term, most of these books written before I was born will only enter the public domain after I’m gone, so they aren’t likely to be reprinted or end up on a Kindle. Many of these are likely to be lost entirely to future generations. But not to my family. We’ll still have books.

Probably the most compelling reason to not trust all my books to an electronic device like a Kindle is the fact that I don’t trust Amazon to support the Kindle forever. The only way you can be sure that your electronic data won’t evaporate or decay is to back everything up. I’m pretty sure that the only way to back up a Kindle is to have two of them. Having heard horror stories about a legal challenge resulting in a released e-book being sucked off the e-book reader, well … if I was halfway through reading a book and they pulled it…. I can’t even THINK about that one.

I’m tired of having to buy the same things over and over again (Betamax… vhs… DVD… hddvd…   78… LP… 8 track… cassette… CD…  MS DOS and then too many versions of windows to count and living in fear of the day when my now unsupported XP won’t run and I have to switch to VISTA…)

So I am not willing to pay even a few hundred dollars to buy an electronic reader that may or may not work next year, or that may or may not remove the book I’m reading on it due to a legal challenge, and that may or may not result in the Canadian Copyright Police breaking down my door if I lend a book (and therefore the kindle) to my friend to read.


There are so many reasons why I would never get a Kindle… and yet.

Just because I don’t want one doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. Canadians deserve a choice. There has been a lot of speculation as to why Amazon is willing to market the Kindle in the Congo, but not in Canada.

A Kindle is nothing by itself, like a DVD player with no DVDs. The kindle must be able to access the Amazon collection in order to download content. Kindles need internet access. Since the carriers have a virtual monopoly (Bell/Telus/Rogers control the wire) and since our regulatory body is allowing the carriers to control the content, my best guess is that Big 3 want a piece of the action that Amazon believes is too high.

So the Canadians who want the Kindle can’t get it. This is just a small indication of what can happen when the carrier is allowed to control the content.

I don’t believe that Amazon has snubbed Canada, I think it is much more likely that Canada has snubbed Amazon.

P.S. The Kindle is now available in Canada. Complete with DRM. So sad.