Mister Nick Harkaway, despite not having a shiny new website yet, is considering buying an e-book reader.
Actually, in one of those, ‘isn’t converged media-space wonderful‘ moments, Nick’s Facebook and Twitter feeds both told me that a day ago, which I regard as useful information, rather than a repeat of what’s to come, as it means that ebooks have not been furthest from my thoughts either, although as the thought was planted by Nick Harkaway’s Twitter feed, it’s all a big lead-in scam.. or something. Anyway, back to the plot.
There’s a long and sensible list of suggestions on Nick’s blog as to what he wants from an ebook reader, most of which I suspect he won’t get this time around, but that’s by the by. What is interesting is that he takes some time at the end of his post to consider the nature of the medium, and what it’s likely to do (or might do) to copyright.
Consider one of them – the ebook reader has to be recyclable. Yep – no argument there – in fact our disposable culture is something that gets overlooked whenever new technology is discussed, so tis good to see it being addressed – iPods aren’t meant to last forever, as aren’t mobile phones – the difference between the two is that we rarely see the cost of a mobile phone as it’s embedded/hidden in the monthly contract (no-one really believes it costs £27 a month to make calls over a sealed network?), but the battery on each is probably going to wear out just as fast. Difference being – you replace your phone, but you feel bad if you have to replace your iPod.
Sorry – this is a research blog. Better stop ranting.
So – Copyright, and more interestingly (here, at least), content. Which are linked. Really.
The point I think Nick is raising with regard to copyright is that the ebook, being a different platform to the printed page, has a singular effect on the ecology of writing, publishing and consumption of books. The digital file necessary to make an ebook is far smaller still than an mp3, and we’ve seen what happened when that hamster was caged. So, what to do? Does the content of this new platform echo that of the printed book, with all of its attendant glories and fallbacks, or does it become something new. Conventional wisdom would dictate that it has to transform – that something transposed to so changed a space cannot help undergoing an alteration of some sort.
Nick’s ‘repeat after-me’:
e-books must be substantially cheaper than physical books, or we will get cooked to catsmeat. Buying and reading an e-book has to be better than not-buying and reading one, or we will get cooked to catsmeat. Less fingerwagging and wailing, more “ain’t this cool”. Or we will get…etc. [Repeat until you feel it.]
might be of some help here.
But copyright didn’t exist until 1709, anyway. The Statute of Anne, once signed into law, created a 14 year term for works published subsequent to that date. No complicated deals, hawt lawyers or anything else to muddy the waters. Of course, not much of a living for writers either.
And there’s the point. Digital writing, storytelling, transmediality – whatever you want to call it – doesn’t have a model for copyright. Nick’s right – e-books must have more ‘ain’t this cool’, or writers will be catsmeat, but the answer isn’t, I think, in a one-size fits all restrictive clause copyright law, which is only going to restrain transmediality, but in a two-tier (or more) system, reflecting the complexity of writing in a medium, writing for a medium, and getting paid for what you do while you do it. Drawing up that contract is not going be easy, nor should it be attempted without the assistance of a damn fine media specialist.
And that’s my two-pennuth for Thursday.