Publishing News: You may not own what you think you own

Two lawsuits address digital content copyright, Macmillan puts its money where the future is, and publishers experiment with QR codes.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

Two lawsuits wade into new territory


Michael B. Farrell at the Boston Globe reported this week on a copyright case making its way through federal court that could change — or establish — copyright laws regarding reselling used copies of digital media, such as music, books and movies.

As Farrell reports, the case involves a lawsuit Capitol Records brought against (PDF), a website that houses a resale store for digital music. MIT computer science professor Larry Rudolph, who created the site with technology entrepreneur John Ossenmacher, told Farrell he just wants “people to treat virtual goods like physical goods.”

Capitol Records, however, argues the digital-physical analogy. Farrell writes:

“‘While ReDigi touts its service as the equivalent of a used record store, that analogy is inapplicable: used record stores do not make copies to fill their shelves,” according to the record company’s lawsuit, filed in January in federal court in New York. … The company wants ReDigi to strip its recordings from its service and pay the maximum damages of $150,000 per song. ReDigi would not say how many songs it has resold, but about 100,000 people have used the service.”

Wired’s David Kravets reported on the case back in February when the courts refused to shut down the website:

“The brief ruling (.pdf) by U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan of New York did not clearly outline the reason for the decision. But in a transcript (.pdf) of a court proceeding Monday, he said that Capitol is likely to prevail at trial.”

Farrell reports that oral arguments are scheduled to begin in the fall.

In other copyright news, Mary Long at Mediabistro’s All Twitter blog reports that Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. ordered Twitter to turn over three month’s worth of tweets from Malcolm Harris, an Occupy Wall Street protestor. Harris is charged with disregarding police orders, and prosecutors believe his tweets could verify this. In a statement to news organizations, a Twitter spokeswoman said the decision was disappointing and that “Twitter’s Terms of Service have long made it absolutely clear that its users own their content.” Judge Sciarrino disagreed — Tiffany Kary at Bloomberg News quotes from his ruling: “What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.”

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Macmillan takes the future of publishing by the horns

Traditional publishers are taking very bumpy steps into an uncertain future, a future many of them fear won’t include them. If your business is destined to become a relic replaced by forward-thinking startups, what better way to survive than to invest in such startups and own that which will replace you? Erin Griffith at PandoDaily took a look this week at Big Six publisher Macmillan, which is doing just that. Griffith writes:

“The company hired Troy Williams, former CEO of early e-book company Questia Media, which sold to Cengage. Macmillan gave him a chunk of money and incredibly unusual mandate:

Build a business that will undermine our own.” [Emphasis included in original post.]

Griffith reports that Macmillan gave Williams more than $100 million to buy ed-tech startups for the new business, called Macmillan New Ventures. She writes that “[t]he plan is to let them exist autonomously like startups within the organization as Macmillan transitions out of the content business and into educational software and services” in preparation for the day “textbooks go away completely.”

You can read Griffith’s entire report here and more about Macmillan New Ventures on the company’s blog.

Publishing experiments with QR codes

QR codes made a few appearances in publishing news this week. First, Lauren Indvik at Mashable reports that Simon & Schuster (S&S) plan to add QR codes to the glossy jackets of their books starting with releases this fall. Consumers who scan a book’s code will be taken to the author’s page on the S&S website, where the publisher hopes they’ll sign up for newsletters and poke around for other books. Indvik writes that S&S executive vice president and chief digital officer Ellie Hirschhorn says the move is “designed as a low-budget marketing technique.”

But will it work? Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent writes that it may be worth a try, but quotes a Bloomberg Businessweek article that indicates consumers don’t care about the codes. Indvik also addresses this question and cites statistics from that not only show a low scan rate, but also that scanning consumers were 18 to 34-year-old males — not normally publishing’s strongest demographic. All the same, Indvik reports that “Hirschhorn says many publishers who have provided shortcuts to videos within their books have already seen ‘good results’.”

If a QR link to a corporate website isn’t the best idea, what about a link to the first chapter of a book? Julieta Lionetti at Publishing Perspectives reports this week on the recent Bibliotren project in Catalonia, Spain, a campaign sponsored by Random House Mondadori and the Catalan Government Railways that placed QR codes in 10 cars on 10 different trains. The codes led train passengers to the first chapters of 40 different books. The project not only proved a success with riders, but also turned out to be a valuable tool for Random House. Paxti Beascoa, marketing and business director at Random House Mondadori, told Lionetti, “QR codes are trackable and offer a valuable opportunity to gather user data. We have gained a treasury of consumer insight, much of which challenges previous assumptions about our readers.”


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