RARA-AVIS: Re: Legal, but is it ethical?

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 24 Apr 2006

George the Librarian wrote:

> BlackMask.com reprints public domain editions (they don't pay the
> author or surviving family for the rights to publish) of classic noir
> fiction writers like Elliot Chaze, Day Keene, Wade Miller, John
> McPartland, Lionel White, Charles Williams, Charles Willeford, and Jim
> Thompson. It's probably legal (Authors are often not good about doing
> the paperwork required to extend copyright protection). But is it
> ethical?

Nope, especially since many of these public domain downloads being sold on-line from various sources are frequently just low-quality pan- and-scans that offer no respect for either the work or the author.

Too often these quickie books offer blurry (and occasionally incomplete) scanned text and are awkwardly formatted. Then you add in the inherent problem many people have with reading novel-length fiction off a screen and it's no wonder that many readers may prefer prowling on-line and in used bookstores for affordable reading copies rather than buying them in low-quality electronic form -- and that's regardless of the possibly murky ethics of selling someone else's work -- without their permission -- for profit.

Maybe if they treated the material with a bit more respect and a bit less blatant opportunism, instead of merely using it to turn a quick buck, I wouldn't mind buying them.

On the other hand, some people have been buying one copy from some of these guys and then sending them free to all their friends or even serving them up for file-sharing for the world to grab, which seems like a sort of rough justice.

I mean, ripping off those who rip off dead authors? Is that legal? Or ethical? Or just a little literary Robin Hood?

> Shouldn't the families get something? They may not be owed
> anything, but wouldn't it be nice?

Yeah, I think it would be a class act.

Maybe if some of these "publishers" were putting some real work into these things, maybe adding a foreword by someone who has a clue that offers some sort of interesting perspective on the work in question or perhaps some new artwork, plus, of course, actually re-setting
(and occasionally re-editing -- a sixty-year old typo is still a typo) the text so it's uniformly readable (and even searchable), and perhaps offering the estates some sort of compensation, I might be more tempted.

But as it is, buyer beware...

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.thrillingdetective.com

RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/
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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 24 Apr 2006 EDT