Cyberspace and the digital world conjure for me the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and the rabbit hole. I feel all too often that something I’ve sent off via the internet disappears into a rabbit hole to arrive not at the intended destination but some alien world across the galaxy from us. I fear that the same could happen to intellectual property rights when dealing with digital or online formats.
Recently, my scientist friend and I were talking about the Shostakovich 5th Symphony, specifically a performance by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vanska that I heard in concert several years ago. I wanted her to hear it and suggested she check out the Minnesota Orchestra’s broadcast concert archive at Minnesota Public Radio’s website. But the concert wasn’t there! I felt like I’d dropped suddenly down the rabbit hole because I’d perused that archive in the past. Where had it gone? A very helpful fellow answered my query, telling me that they no longer offered those concerts online due to rights issues.
As a music-lover, I was not pleased by this. But as a writer who owns intellectual property, I understood the broad issue. Musicians, like writers, create a product, and like anyone who makes something to sell, they want to be paid for it. In the realm of books, we now have e-rights for e-readers or other electronic formats that can be licensed to those who produce the e-readers. At the moment, publishers are processing this fact, revising their boilerplate publishing contracts in order to clarify who owns the e-rights and for how long. No writer should give these rights away (or any other rights, for that matter), and allowing someone to license the e-rights “forever” or some equivalent would be giving those rights away.
Kindle, Sony’s e-reader, and other devices recently introduced to the reading public mean that the future is here now. But what does that mean? To me, it means only that readers have another way in which to experience stories. They can read the words on paper in books, listen to them on CDs, or download them from the internet stores to read on their digital device. It means that writers own another set of intellectual property rights for which they need to be paid, as they are for printed books and audiobooks.
I’ve seen people on city buses with Kindles. In sunlight, the screens are difficult to see, at least from my vantage point looking over a bus rider’s shoulder to peek at what he was reading. It reminded me of the electronic readers in the Star Trek universe, specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Evan Quinn’s world, only 40 years in the future, people have the choice of how to read their books and magazines, just as we have today. What enchants Evan, however, are “real” books. He loves the smell of them.
Perhaps those Minnesota Orchestra concerts will remain archived but unavailable online, but that’s OK. I think dealing with not having something at one’s fingertips, with not getting instant gratification could be a good thing….