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Material Copies Are Sometimes Valuable · Wednesday November 12, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch

I’m amused by Mike Masnick’s astute observation in Newspapers Are Souvenirs that a blip in sales of newspapers around Barack Obama’s presidential election is not necessarily indicative of a preference for the paper and ink based medium during important events – it could be indicative of an abnormally high value placed on permanent and authentic copies produced by a news vendor, e.g. for souvenir, archive, memorabilia, or collectability value.

This is just one of those peculiar circumstances in which a newspaper is valued for being a copy of the news, rather than for being a convenient means of obtaining the news (and commissioning it).

So, as Mike suggests, now is not the time to be buying up old printing presses for an apparently growing market for paper copies of news.

It still seems as if the future is to sell the news, and then without the anachronistic monopoly of copyright, enjoy a free market in printed copies for whatever price the market will bear.

As an early example of this we have such novelties as WikiTravel books being published (uncontrained by copyright). The online information may be copied without charge, so the value of a book printed from it must be wholly due to it being a material book, and thus its value attributable entirely to its printer – not its authors1.

One of the key requirements for business success concerning intellectual works (without monopoly) is working out whether you’re selling the copy or the intellectual work.

With the monopoly of copyright, they’re notionally bound together. That’s why it’s so difficult for people who’ve grown up with the equivalence of ‘copy=work’ to figure out what the flip I’m talking about when I try and explain that they’re as different as a map from the landthe copy is not the work.

If one doesn’t understand Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” then there’s a long way to go.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Given copyright is ineffective today (and as unethical as ever) it’s now vital to be able to distinguish between them – the work and the copy.

Once the producer of the intellectual work has exchanged the value of their labour for whatever the market can bear, that’s the end of the matter. Authorship is not entitlement to royalty (this is a prerogative of kings). Moreover, the author also remains unentitled to the value of any material or intellectual work other people add to it or incorporate it into.

___________________________

1 I’m talking about the value of the book, the material copy that is the book. The value of the intellectual work within the book is of course entirely attributable to its authors – and they have already exchanged the value of their labour. If you buy a WikiTravel book you are paying its printer – not its authors. If you want to pay its authors for their intellectual work you should pay them.

Tel said 3758 days ago :

I think you are going to have trouble convincing the software industry of the distinction between the work and the copy.

Increasingly, creative media work is do directly to digital so I’m sorry to tell you but the work IS the copy. My electrons and your electrons are exactly the same.

You could argue that the real work done is creating that piece of software or media in the first place, not the item that was thus created. Get’s a bit tricky, people have a mental preference for tangible goods.



 

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