Good writing is hard work and the sale of that work is how I produce income, which is why I support US copyright laws. Those who use my work should pay for it just as those who eat McDonald’s have to pay for hamburgers. As most writers only get about $2 per hardcover, one can understand how important it is to protect the copyright. It takes a lot of sales to cover the rent or buy groceries.
There is a slight hitch to our copyright law, however. Unlike hamburgers, books can be resold. The author gets no part of that. Nor do publishers and they don’t like it.
Publishers scored big in 2011 when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor in a case involving the resale of textbooks. (Read Publishers Weekly article) Simply stated, a student purchased books that were produced elsewhere and resold them to his fellow students. It is the “produced elsewhere” part of the transaction that got him into trouble. The court agreed that he violated the law. No problem there. However the court went on to rule that books produced outside the jurisdiction of the US copyright law cannot be resold.
You say "So what?" Where are many of our goods currently manufactured? China. China is outside the jurisdiction of US law. Therefore a book printed there cannot be resold. The market most affected is textbooks. Publishers may have won a battle but, in doing so, they knifed the kids and have potentially unleashed a reaction that will negatively impact all writers.
A case in point: A theology student confessed to me that he used a pirated copy of a textbook. He simply did not have $400 to buy it.
In forcing students to buy new textbooks at ridiculously inflated prices, US publishers are pushing them to pirate. If they overcome their consciences often enough, they will not stop at textbooks. (Pirating is already a big problem. Let’s not have divinity students piling on.) The end result is that everyone loses: the students, the writers, and the publishers.
We cannot undo the court’s decision. However we can encourage our publishers to print books here so that they can be resold. We may not make any money on the resales but at least we can keep our kids from stealing.
I wrote this blog several years ago and pirating remains an issue. The advent of ebooks and digital distribution has made the problem worse. Think about it the next time you grab something off the Internet. Are you taking a writer's grocery money?