The New York Times had a piece on digital piracy of books and the contrasting views which was picked up by Slashdot. Starting out from the anti-piracy view, it does note that bestsellers are often the most pirated books which backs up Cory Doctorow‘s assertion:
“I really feel like my problem isn’t piracy,…It’s obscurity.”
His own position of publishing free digital copies at the same time as the paid for “treeware” version comes out has helped the all important word of mouth get about his books. He has built a passionate community around his work who both download and pay for books. Through his acknowledgement that there will be cheap skates who will only download the free version but encouraging the rest of the community to be involved in discussing and remixing his work, his latest novel stayed in the NY Times bestseller for seven weeks.
There must, however, be an acknowledgement that the creator has rights to the work. Doctorow uses Creative Commons to protect his original work but to allow users certain rights to do something with the work. The Open Definitions also do this. Through a simple transformation of rights as open shops rather than closed, i.e. changing to saying what you can do, rather than what you cannot, could change publishing and how it reacts to piracy.
So perhaps publishers need to accept that there will always be a certina amount of it going on. However they should not see piracy as open (it’s not and never will be). The challenge, I believe, for publishers is how to digitise and make available works to a community and allow the community to do things with the books and find new markets and models that way.
The transition would be rough and mistakes made but they need to happen. Publishing needs to learn the lessons of iTunes rather than seeing the digital world as Napster.
It would be great to link into publisher versions of books to create citations or from which to construct models in blogs and wikis using community licenses. It would allow for publisher works to be re-used, ideally be open but perhaps operate on micro-payments based on traffic or level of citation, and for the user to have some authentication (or not depending on publisher) of the data as coming from a reliable source.
Just a thought but the time is ripe for change and experimentation.