The Changing Nature of Books and the Uneasy Case for Copyright
George Washington Law Review, Vol. 79, p. 101, 2011
33 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2011 Last revised: 25 Aug 2011
Digital technology penetrated the publishing industry decades ago, but it was only in the past two years, that the digital revolution finally reached the book industry, as eBooks became a viable alternative to printed books.
eBooks are not simply a fancy package for buying and selling books. They are transforming print culture. They are changing the nature of books as we know them, giving rise to new social practices of writing and reading. eBooks and digital libraries are also transforming the publishing and bookselling industries, enabling new methods of production and distribution, shaking the boundaries between the traditional players, and introducing new players to the scene. While many booklovers are mourning the demise of the printed book, eBooks open up a new era, expanding the cultural, social, and economic possibilities related to books.
The rise of digital books may require a reexamination of the legal policies that regulate the book market, primarily copyright and competition law. This Article questions the wisdom and legitimacy of granting copyright to publishers as the book market enters the digital age. Part I describes the emergence of eBooks and the changing nature of book publishing in the twenty-first century. It discusses the special characteristics of digital books, the rise of user-generated content (“UGC”), and the introduction of new intermediaries. Part II revisits the justification for copyright protection in light of these changes, and discusses the implications of these changes on copyright. Copyright law, the legal regime mostly tied to the emergence of the printing press, may now come into question. With the rise of eBooks, the role of publishers is declining, and consequently the case for granting copyrights to publishers is weakening. New business models of online intermediaries, which facilitate eBook publishing, do not necessarily rely on copyright protection. The Article further examines how copyright law structures the market for eBooks and shapes relationships among the different players.
Keywords: ebooks, copyright law, competition law, online intermediaries, publishers, user-generated content
JEL Classification: K00, K21, K23, K11, O30, O34
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