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Digital Rights

April 18, 2011

Shortly after news reached the world of the theft of Roberta Smith’s paintings from the library, Roberta got an email from Artloss.com inviting her to register her stolen works.

It’s kind of funny. I mean, who knew? Are they for real? I think I might overlook an email from a place called Artloss.com alongside ads for Viagra and Russian wives.

I wondered less that such a place might exist and more about how they found out about Roberta’s paintings so quickly. Perhaps they used some kind of Google service, hiring a web-crawling “spider” to search for potential customers.

Regardless, Artloss.com belongs to Art Loss Register, which does seem to be a legitimate service with a pre-computer, pre-Internet history recovering stolen art around the world.

We’ve had missing things show up in our library book sales. I can’t remember now who it was, but she found a book missing from her father’s collection (from Gunnison, I think).

We still charged her a buck, unfortunately; not sure why. I guess if Artloss.com can charge registration fees, we could charge a finder’s fee.

We’ve found missing library books a couple of times among the sale books, as well as photos, notes, cards, letters, bookmarks. I’m not sure if we’ve found money or not. We keep looking for that hundred-dollar bill used as a bookmark.

Our next book sale will be Saturday, May 7th, at the usual time: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. And the usual place: the library basements. I say “basements” because the basement of the old Carnegie building will house the “free” room and the basement of the library addition will hold the sale.

And, the usual prices, unchanged since 1989, although we didn’t sell DVDs back then. The book sale contains hardcovers, paperbacks, books on tape, books on CD, music CDs, DVDs.

The free room will have books, magazines (including National Geographics), videotapes, and probably some surprises.

Used book buying is dear to my heart, so it is with some trepidation that I look to a future in which digital “objects” will not have the “right of first sale” enjoyed by purchasers of real objects such as books, tapes, and DVDs.

It is through this right that one can buy a book and then sell it again, or Netflix can buy DVDs and rent them, or a library can buy books and lend them.

There are many people on both sides—owners and buyers—looking at this issue. How is digital “content” different from traditional “content”? How are digital “objects” different from traditional “objects”?

In the market for used things, what is a used eBook? How is a used digital file different from a new one?

Evidently, in France, California, and now the European Union, there is no exclusive right of first sale for art. Provision is made for royalty payment to the artist for subsequent sales of his or her work.

Possession may be 9/10s of the law, but that leaves room for a 10% commission.

Sometimes, the digital rights problem seems intractable to me. Other times, I recognize that many things are possible. It’s just a matter of agreement.

I’m sure certain aspects of 20th-century United States of America would have seemed impossible to someone living in the 16th century (for whom 21st-century America might look more familiar).

I expect we’ll work out digital rights in our society. Meanwhile, used books may be bought and sold, and we’ve got thousands of them waiting for you.

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