The reactions to the launch of the ReLIRE registry in France last week were fast and furious.
Team AlexandriZ published a list of disturbing observations (link in French) about the registry. As more examples of translations and anthologies contained in the registry came to light, my post pointing out translated works in the registry including two award-winning authors also known for their defense of authors’ rights, Harlan Ellison and Ursula K. Le Guin, was cited in quite a few articles.
Helène Pedot started a petition (scroll down for an English translation of the French text) for readers wishing to show their support for authors and publishers refusing to participate in the ReLIRE program by opting out of what they view as an abusive system,
We accuse this project of sapping the vitality of the whole book publishing industry, by chilling the enthusiasm of publishers who work on bringing forgotten books back to life, by putting off writers who see their rights being trampled and their work stolen from them, by slowing down even the most spirited among them as they have to waste their time and energy going through the tiresome opt-out system—time and energy they could have better spent exploring the many possibilities and alternatives opening up to them in this digital age.
We who consider that culture without ethics is but the ruin of the art, we have nothing good to expect from a project that, in order to defend the special interests of a small group, damages the trust built between an author and his/her publisher, unbalances their previous relationship of equals at the expense of the author, and challenges the ancient connection between the artist and the State that just sacrificed the very rights it was bound to protect, thus violating the Intellectual Property Code and the international conventions ensuring moral rights for the authors.
The French news site devoted to books and publishing, Accualitté (whose name is a pun combining “actualité” meaning news and “litté,” short for “littérature”), ran a piece (link in French) explaining the problem of anthologies and translated works. When they cited the work of Team AlexandriZ, a lively debate ensued in the comments as a few people expressed their outrage to see an eBook file sharing site referenced as a source of factual material.
Last weekend, I discovered that in addition to keeping a list of “ReLIRE facts,” the Team AlexandriZ site is primarily a platform where readers who have digitized
out-of-print books can share them online. Last year, the site was in the French publishing news (link in French) when writer Thomas Geha found one of his books there and took them to task in the forum for distributing his work for free without authorization. Geha managed to open a dialog with the members on the forum, and it seems they eventually installed a Paypal button so that readers downloading his book could voluntarily decide to pay him. A few weeks before, it had been reported (link in French) that a group of publishers had filed a lawsuit against them, but I have not been able to find any further information about it.
I didn’t know about Team AlexandriZ’s site last spring when I wrote about the possibility that file sharing sites would emerge to fill the need that libraries were failing to serve. Unfortunately, many public institutions don’t seem to have gotten the message, at least in France.
While many see a noble cause in Team AlexandriZ’s efforts to digitize out-of-print books and share them freely, unless permission has been obtained from the owner, these activities clearly seem to be a violation of copyright. Authors may legitimately see these actions as piracy hindering them from making a living from their craft.
On the other hand, it’s hard for publishers to remain credible when condemning Team AlexandriZ for ignoring authors’ rights in digitizing and making works available for free while at the same time ignoring the same rights and digitizing the same works to sell for profit. I may add that apparently Team AlexandriZ’s activities are self-financed, while it seems that publishers may be able to use public funds to create the digital copies of the “out-of-print books” they will be able to sell.
This moral debate brings us to the heart of the matter, and it’s discouraging to see that antagonism between the writer and reader communities continues when these groups could mount a stronger opposition to the new legislation by acting in unison.
All may not be lost. The law may yet be challenged as unconstitutional. In that case, there is still hope for a more balanced approach to digitizing orphan works, and it comes from an unlikely place. I’ll describe this in more detail in a post coming soon.
Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. Le Guin Among Award-Winning Writers On French “Copyright Theft” List
Legalized Copyright Theft Begins In France: Government Prepares To Dispossess Wrtiers Using Public Funds
Digital Graft And The Citizen’s Library
France Chooses Profit For Publishers Over Authors Rights And Public Libraries