In simple terms, authors own all the rights (Intellectual Property Rights or Copyright) to their published and unpublished work and they generally receive their income from royalties that are paid by those to whom the author has issued a licence for use of certain rights (the publisher). So far, so good!

In a perfect world, the author will have found a publisher (not the easiest thing to do, I might add!) who will take a licence to publish the book in exchange for the royalties to be paid. The publisher will then market the book and booksellers will then sell the book to willing buyers who will take it home and read it (I did say “in a perfect world”). The sale of the book generates the royalties and the author should, in theory, get paid. But this is not a perfect world!

The reality is that writers need readers … … – otherwise there is no reason for the writer to write except to inflict their ideas on the world – and many publishers have now positioned the price of a book (particularly text books) too high for the market: especially if that market is in the developing world (in Vietnam, for example). The result is that those in the developing world take a proactive decision and simply photocopy the book and distribute it to their students in complete breach of the Copyright Law.

It seems, therefore, that we need to approach this in a different way – copying and distributing a book is wrong, but if we deny them that facility, then they will not receive the level of education they desire and they will not become potential customers for future books. Either publishers, in their own enlightened self-interest, need to have a differential pricing mechanism in place, or the author should use geographically limited licences. OR we should abandon the current publishing model and find something that addresses the fundamental issues.

The published material on the web site is covered by a Creative Commons Licence that allows anyone to use and copy the material however and in what quantity they want providing they ensure that the copyright holder (or author) is duly acknowledged as the copyright holder (or author). This at least ensures that potential readers and users are not guilty of breach of copyright but it doesn’t address the supply side of the relationship: it doesn’t ensure that the author gets paid. Instead of trying to enforce the unenforceable copyright laws, and instead of charging so much for publishing a book, it seems to me that authors and publishers need to find a completely different business model that ensures the creator (the author) is paid for his or her work, that the publisher receives compensation for their value added contribution, and that readers are free to use the published work in whatever way they want.

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