As theater script publishers embrace the e-Reader, how to protect author's rights?

Stage Directions magazine, April 2011 issue

Declares Jason Aaron Goldberg of Original Works Publishing: "It was always something we knew we would do, but did not know how quickly we could do it or what the process would be."  'It' is the movement of making plays available for e-reader devices like Kindle, Nook, etc. "This is obviously something not to be ignored," says Ken Dingledine of Samuel French. He sites the latest news from Amazon: In 2010 they sold more e-books than hardcovers. Ralph Sevush of the Dramatists Guild is also watching these developments closely.  He says there are as many possibilities as issues -- for example, do publishers automatically have the right to make an author's work available electronically?  "I think writers are somewhat conservative about making their material available in an electronic format," Sevush says. Playwrights make their money from licensing and none of these products have technologies that allow the ability to license anything. Then "there's the piracy issue which is troubling to writers." Dingledine's experience is that playwrights understand the idea of e-publications. "It's not a foreign or scary concept anymore. Certainly there needs to be protection in place, but we're feeling confident that that can be done. They are excited about it because they are excited about anything that gets their work into more hands and if this medium will do it, then great. But how we translate the technology to our industry is key." 


Commentary: The real impact of book piracy - does it increase overall sales?

Dan Misener, CBC News, 4/19/11

It's not just e-book sales that are on the rise. E-book piracy is growing, too. [But] publishing consultant Brian O'Leary makes the distinction between the instances of e-book piracy and the impact of e-book piracy.  He says one way to measure impact is to pick a book, wait for it to be pirated, and then compare sales before and after.  Back in 2009, O'Leary did this for one publisher which publishes technical books. Surprisingly, he found that sales actually increased after their books showed up on pirate sites. Piracy seems to have boosted sales. O'Leary says people may have been using the pirated editions to sample books before they actually opened up their wallets.  This is just one example, and we shouldn't extrapolate one publisher's experience to the whole publishing industry. But it goes to show: though e-book piracy is on the rise, it doesn't necessarily come at the expense of legit e-book sales.  So, if book publishers want to avoid some of the piracy issues that have plagued the music, movie, and television industries, what should they do?  It seems to me they need to better understand the real impact of piracy. They need to understand the motivations behind piracy, and they need to address the appetites of underserved customers. "I think the average consumer cares about getting the content that they want, when they want it, in the format that they want, without a lot of overhead, at a reasonable price," says O'Leary. "I think that publishers who realize that and organize their work and their publishing strategies to address those needs are going to succeed."


Commentary: How copyrightable ballets began with Balanchine

Caroline J.S. Picart, Arizona State Law Journal, 4/14/11

George Balanchine, a Russian émigré, was the first U.S. choreographer to acquire copyright protection for his choreographic works through his will and eventually, it was through his estate that the first copyright infringement claim occurred.  Balanchine created the "standard look" of the hyper-whitened, ethereally slim ballerina, and with that, the history of copyrightable American modern dance choreography began.  Balanchine created a will bequeathing his ballets as property because [he] found out that upon his death without a will, his sole heir would be his brother who lived in Georgia, in the Soviet Union. Appalled, Balanchine was determined not to let all of his possessions go, not to his brother, but the Communist government, whom he suspected would claim everything.  Eventually, Balanchine's ballets, inclusive of its look of hyper-whitened, impossibly thin feminine beauty, became delimited from the public sphere as private property.  The ability to control not only performances of the ballets, but also their "look" or representation, now passed into the hands of Balanchine's principal legatees.  [His] heirs had to be vigilant that their newly acquired rights would not be violated.  One such protective action, a landmark copyright infringement case, Horgan v. McMillan, left absolute control of photographic materials of Balanchine's ballets in the hands of Balanchine's estate.  Such dominance of control over choreography is true, principally of Balanchine's estate; crucial to establishing such control was Balanchine's possession of whiteness as status property. 


Commentary: We must rethink recorded music and copyright

Allen Bargfrede, executive director of Berklee's Rethink Music initiative,, 4/25/11

Few people would argue with music's impact on our lives, so it should be of tremendous concern to everyone that the recorded music industry continues to be in trouble. Global sales of recorded music fell another 9% last year. Various estimates put the drop in annual sales over the last decade at somewhere between 60% and 70%, and [it is estimated] that 19 of every 20 tracks downloaded is pirated.  Fewer new artists are breaking through, too. Sales by debut artists in the global top 50 album chart in 2010 were just one quarter of the level they achieved in 2003. Those that do succeed are frequently lamented for a perceived lack of talent. Given all this, how can a young performer hope to live his or her life through making music? At Berklee, this is a specific concern to us, as we want our graduates to not only survive, but also thrive in life as musicians.  These trends clearly indicate that the music industry needs to adapt to a very changed world. New music business models are dependent on several things.

> First, there must be a ready adoption by consumers of new methods of music consumption. While digital sales continue to grow, some business models, such as unlimited music access on-demand for a flat fee, continue to languish.  

> There also must be willingness by rights owners to venture into unknown, yet promising, waters. [C]riticism of many rights owners for failure to embrace new technologies is valid despite the fact that there are a number of different legally licensed distribution mechanisms.  They must go further, competing with "free" and adopting even more creative approaches to licensing and rights exploitation, while working hand-in-hand with distributors to ensure listeners have the ability to experience music via all technologies.
> Finally, there must be a movement to update copyright law. The Internet has brought with it an unprecedented capacity for the distribution of content on an instantaneous basis. Copyrighted material is now the largest export of the United States. In order to sufficiently protect our creative works, any changes to copyright must be technology-neutral, global in nature, and place some responsibility on Internet service providers for the content that flows through their pipes, without impacting net neutrality.

I believe it is impossible for us to remain silent at this critical juncture in music's history. Whether a song is provided as a product or a service, people will always want to listen. We must find a way to give them what they want. We must rethink music.


Canadian arts groups' election manifesto warns against copyright reforms

The Montreal Gazette, 4/21/11

More than 70 arts services organizations from British Columbia to Newfoundland have joined ranks to issue an unprecedented election manifesto calling on politicians of all stripes to safeguard federal cultural institutions such as the CBC and Canada Council for the Arts.  Artists warn against copyright reforms which undermine creators' rights and they want Internet service providers and wireless service providers to contribute financially "to the production of Canadian cultural programs."  The 2011 Federal Common Electoral Project is due to be officially unveiled at a news conference Thursday in Montreal, home of a powerful cultural sector, which rose up in wrath against Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 after he defended controversial cuts to arts and culture funding with the assertion that ordinary Canadians had no sympathy for "rich" artists who gathered at galas to complain about their grants.  Manifesto Signatories include the Assembly of B.C. Arts Councils, the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency, the Alberta Craft Council, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, the Canadian Museums Association, the Directors Guild of Canada, the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance and the Canadian Federation of Musicians. It notes the cultural sector represents 7.4% of the GDP and employs more than 600,000 Canadians.

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