Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Copyright

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In an op-ed in the Books section of last weekend's Globe and Mail, John Degen, the head of the Professional Writers Association, argued that the panic over copyright in Canada is a false one. After years of defending copyright against those barking online that cultural products should be free (both in terms of access and monetary exchange), Degen ends his piece by declaring that, henceforth, his most recent novel, The Uninvited Guest, will be available as a free pdf download on his website.

Is he doing it out of a sense of futility? No, he's doing it because he believes it'll help sell him books. As Degen argues "People who like the download are free to share it and thereby market it." How is this action really any different from the free dissemination of books through the public library system?

In a day and age where the choices available at the local bookstore are just too much to deal with and the price of virtually everything is on the rise, why shouldn't a potential consumer have the ability to test a book out before making a purchase. Most of us still prefer the concrete, offline version of the book. Beyond simple fetishism (of which the three of us are surely guilty), it just makes for better reading. If I like the 'test drive' I've given a download of a book, chances are I'll probably go and pick it up in hard copy.

Piracy can be great for business. So why not simply pirate yourself?

But there's still a problem, isn't there? Degen ends his piece by stating that he still owns the film rights to the book, and those rights cannot be taken away from him. Yes, of course this is true. But is that all the hope that a writer has anymore? Degen's solution seems like an imperfect one - the type of thing that requires the author to take a massive leap of faith without any real basis on which to believe.

Let's face it, as authors we're not really in the best of situations. It's not like we're musicians, whose real money more often than not comes from live performance. People aren't going to download pirated versions of our book, but then pay to hear us read at the local library. We can't afford to give away the products of our toil the way Trent Reznor and Prince can.

On our website, we have tried to find a middle ground, providing excerpts of chapters - tasty niblets of information that hopefully wet the appetite (or turn the reader off our book entirely). But perhaps, if we really believe in getting our product to the people (and to young people especially) we'll need to do more. Perhaps it's time to get PayPal and hold out the e-donation cup with fingers crossed. It's something we're talking about, but that will require much more thought.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel

Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel are the authors of Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started (Dundurn Press, 2008). Kickstart profiles over 30 prominent Canadians who explain how they started their careers.

Go to Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel ’s Author Page