Philosopher threatened with prison for copyright violations

I'm very conflicted about this: An Argentinian professor who put Derrida's works in translation online because the published works were out of print or too expensive (way more than the European editions) has been charged with criminal copyright infringement, according to this page. While I think that publishers, especially academic publishers, who screw their market with exorbitant prices, or simply fail to maintain their catalogue are Bad Guys, I also know that the costs involved in publishing are nontrivial. Also, I tend to think that publishing Derrida is a criminal offense (I joke). But if it were my material being republished, I would be very unhappy. If he broke the law, then I suspect he's in for it, but the copyright system is broken.

Revised the title. He's not incarcerated yet.

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This is a case where the professor was acting entirely legally, IMHO, except for the part about this being on the internet. If his students could not access this material, making it available is cool, but it should have been in a restricted location (like sharing it on google docs, for instance). Then, if the publisher comes into the picture later, the story changes, and the pirates make him walk the plank.

(That link you've got there may not be to where you want it to be.)

Also, I tend to think that publishing Derrida is a criminal offense (I joke).

I was going to comment on that before I saw that you beat me to the punch. :-(

But since I feel the need to say something constructive, all the Argentine friends I've had insist that Argentine rather than Argentinian is the correct term for somebody from Argentina. I don't know if that's technically correct, but based on how firmly and fervently they all put it, I've decided to always say Argentine. ;-)

I think this deserves a bit of discussion. Bare with me if if I get long-winded.

As Laden said, I can't imagine this professor getting in trouble if the readings were supplied privately, within a closed server only accessible by the class.

That said, it's a bit misleading to label this as a common case of an educator being penalized for sharing texts with students (which the reblog page is writing it off as). Potel, the professor, was setting up an openly accessible digital library comparable to those found on Pirate's Bay or similar peer-to-peer databases. (But in that respect, though I don't want to seem like I'm condoning it, had the professor set up a torrent anonymously then referred students to it, he likewise might have avoided trouble.)

Personally, I've had an impossible time finding any original texts by Edmund Husserl, and have scoured every bookshelf in Boston, Cambridge and Chicago. Given the scarcity of the titles, I go in expecting to pay $50-75+ per title, because I respect that valuable material have value. Still I haven't had any luck. Abebooks is great, but even there I had trouble finding English translations for every title I was looking for, and $120 can be pretty steep for a 300 page book that could just as easily be custom printed for a fraction of the price. Given all these factors, having a resource like Prof. Potel's would be a great resource.

Thus, I somehow doubt that it was specifically the Derrida texts that were the main issue, but rather they were a handful of the many infringements that could actually be connected to him, much like the half dozen MP3s that average Janes will get sued for sharing, amongst the hundreds or thousands that others might be sharing similarly. The problem here was that the professor was running an ebook site (albeit crude) that was competing with those that pay the publisher for their inventory.

Except, of course, that there is no such ebook site, nor even a comparable physical store. Especially, and most importantly, not to the audience who was obviously still interested in it.

These cases are irksome, because I'm an advocate of new media (sites like Ubuweb are amazing) and online depositories (like Grey Lodge), but also not post-IP, let alone post-property in general, like some of the more threatening pirates out there are. (Some of the guys that run Pirate Bay talk like they truly want to ruin the very system that makes possible the content they so adamantly declare their right to take.) Mostly because, like you, I'd like to be able to make somewhat of a living from publishing material.

The IP owners still aren't completely innocent, though. Failing to take advantage of an audience -- and indeed a culture -- that is clearly hungry for information (though perhaps exaggeratedly so as some p2p users are simply pack rats of data) then penalizing them for accessing it anyway is completely disheartening.

If what it boils down to is a publisher/author/estate can't make money off of the few prints they make, don't print the books. We're on the brink of an age of digital/ebooks, and offering custom prints for titles in low demand makes much more sense than overcharging to make up for the handful of prints that will never be sold.

As depressing as it is in some ways, I have to agree with you Dan:

If what it boils down to is a publisher/author/estate can't make money off of the few prints they make, don't print the books. We're on the brink of an age of digital/ebooks, and offering custom prints for titles in low demand makes much more sense than overcharging to make up for the handful of prints that will never be sold.

And the fact is, it's really damned easy to print on demand if someone wants print copies. But the more I get into writing academic papers, the less keen I am on print or even scanned PDFs. It is just a whole lot easier to cite, when I can copy and paste, rather than reinventing the wheel and typing it all over again.

That said, I am a confirmed bibliophile and the thought that print may become entirely passe, is very depressing.

A reasonable copyright rule would be 7 years (free), renewable twice (for a reasonably hefty fee), as long as the product is actively for sale from the publisher. Once the publisher stops actively selling the item, it is fair game for everyone (particularly Disney and its 'vault').

By freelunch (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

Surprised no-one has made a comment about Open Learning in this thread yet. Seems like the publishers of text need, like the music industry, to come up with a better business model. Print-on-demand seems reasonable, but for the coming generations, PDFs and e-books will probably be commonplace.

Also, development of the data-to-data model â the semantic web â will be obstructed by access limitations, thus reducing the traffic a 'publisher' will experience. Click-through ads and purchase tacking will improve, so that sites generating traffic and thus purchases will return their creators' investment...but so far as artists go, when was money the main motivator anyway? Only when you need to be paid b/c what you do to create takes so much of your time that you haven't time to hold down a 'real' job.