Thursday, April 11, 2002

On the author's guild's objections to Amazon providing links to used booksellers (objections that surely also apply to libraries), and their request that people should therefore no longer link to Amazon I will simply make a couple of observations. When I was a teenager, I borrowed books from libraries a lot. I also bought many books from second hand booksellers. The reason for this was that I did not have very much money but I did have time to seek out the books I wanted, and both these ways of obtaining reading material were cheaper than buying new books, although the hassle was greater. Now that I am older and richer, I usually buy new books, because they are nicer, because I often want them immediately after publication and because buying them is less hassle. Even when Amazon provides me with links to used booksellers, I still tend to buy more expensive new books, because an order of half a dozen books comes in one box and I only have to pay one shipping fee, and I know exactly what I will get.

However, if I had not had access to second hand books when I was younger, I would likely be a far less voracious reader than I am now and I would spend less money on books in total. If I had not had access to second hand books when I was younger, there are a great many authors who I would not have discovered and whose new books I would not have subsequently bought.

The point is an obvious one: for books there are a variety of channels through which I can obtain my reading material: new hardcover, new paperback, second hand, library. Within these channels there are a variety of tradeoffs between cost, hassle and control on the part of the author and publisher. The free and cheap channels have certainly expanded my total consumption, and I am now prepared to pay to reduce the hassle. Copyright law gives authors and publishers a monopoly on the right to produce premium products to reduce my hassle. I think that is enough. Becoming so paranoid about intellectual property rights that you reduce convenience for the user is likely to reduce the size of the market, reduce economic utitlity, and be ultimately counterproductive.

One more argument in favour of second hand books (although admittedly one that the authors guild is unlikely to have a problem with) is that books go out of print. Even if a book has gone out of print, I still have the right to read it if I want to. I don't think the writer or publisher should have the right to take this right away from me. (I find online markets in second hand books such as abebooks to be wonderful - almost nothing that has ever been published is now unavailable). The doctrine of first sale is crucially important. The right to be able to use published intellectual property is very important to me, whether or not the author and publisher still exist, is very important to me. I don't want to lose it for music, DVDs, video games, software, or anything. Attempting to add complicated licences to regulate intellectual property, and to abolish to right to onsell intellectual property is the beginning of taking these rights away.

By the way, let me link to Amazon again. (For the sake of disclosure, I am an Amazon associate. In the unlikely event that people do actually click on the links to Amazon on this page and then buy things, I will be paid a commission).

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