I wouldn’t have thought that anything could get me more excited today than learning that Harmonix had gotten the rights to make a Beatles game, but then I learned that Google now has the right to sell copies of out-of-print but in-copyright books.
I am extraordinarily surprised, amazed, pleased by this. Books have been very important to me for longer than I can remember (I used to read upwards of five hundred books a year), and there are out-of-print books that I’ve had to search years to find. The very concept of “out-of-print book” offends my soul: books are the cultural heritage of our species, they are a sacred gift, and the idea that they can simply be made inaccessible offends my soul.
It should also offend the constitution: while I don’t expect others to share my reverence, I’m happy to compromise on the matter and allow that copyright should have as its goal “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. (Actually, I don’t like the word “useful” there, but never mind that for now.) And there, too, restricting access to out-of-print books is quite counterproductive. Especially given the orphan works problem: there is no realistic way to find who has the right to allow copying of the vast majority of out-of-print works.
There has been some rumbling in these areas, so I was cautiously optimistic that we’d have some progress within the next decade; I was completely unprepared to finally get around to reading yesterday’s newspaper this evening and come across this. Especially given how sensible it is: sure, I would like to eliminate the concept of “out-of-print book” entirely, but as long as the default is set to allow viewing/purchasing unless the rights-holder actively objects, that’s 95% of the victory.
I can only hope that other industries will follow the lead of book publishers here. I’ve given up on getting anything sensible (heck, anything not actively self- and culture-destructive) out of the music industry; maybe the movie industry will see the light, though? (Admittedly, the texture of the orphan works problem is rather different there.) As somebody who cares about old video games more than most, I’d certainly like to see a solution in that space as well.
Side note: this is the first time that I’ve felt that my twitter feed has let me down. This was announced two days ago, but nary a tweet mentioning it. I trust that I’ll find a few entries in my feed reader on the subject? (I haven’t read RSS feeds since Monday.) I have, reluctantly, removed Lawrence Lessig from my feed reader, but I did go out and look for his take on the matter, if you’re curious. Though I suppose there’s a bit of poetic rightness in learning about this from a print medium…
This post has not been revised since publication.