何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)

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Obligations of an Author w.r.t. Intellectual Properties

已有 1364 次阅读 2018-11-14 20:33 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察

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Let me say at the onset that this is NOT about the on goimg dispute bewteen China and the US regarding intellectual properties.

Consider the hypothetical case of an author who has produced a bestselling book published by a company. I believe it is universally agreed upon that no one (except his family) can ask the author to give him/her a free copy. After all, this is asking the author not only to give up a portion of his hard earned royalty income but also to go out buy a copy of the book in order to give it to the requesting party. The author nor any other person/organization also cannot photocopy (or electronically steal the printing manuscript of) the book and republish the book to sell at a lower price or even give it away for a good cause. Because the copyright is owned by the original publisher. He will surely be sued and ordered to pay for damages to the original publisher. This much is clear to everyone.

However, there is a specialized exception by common unwritten agreement in the case of scientific papers published in recognized scientific journals. Interested scholars can write to the author for reprints. In fact, originally journals typically offer to sell additional hard copies of the paper at the time of publication for a price to author for distribution to his interested academic friends (no longer practiced to my knowledge due to the wide availability of computers and electronic copies). This is because: 1. Authors do not derived royalty income for papers published in technical journals, 2. In fact often the author must pay “page charges” to the journal for publication, 3. Publication of technical journal enjoys wide profit margin http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1565-1063923.html . Companies really don’t care about ten or twenty extra copies of a paper freely distributed by the author. In fact the effort may increase the visibility/exposure of the Journal. Thus, asking directly for copies of paper from author becomes routine. However, asking for free copies of books published is never done. Over the years I fill many request of papers and happily e-mail them or upload them to Research Gate for distribution. But I do receive one or two requests per year from China only for free copies of my best selling textbook published in 1969 and reprinted in 1975. Usually, I simply reply saying there were no electronic copies of my book available because of the early publication date. However, after many years I became a bit irritated for continuously receiving such requests exclusively from China every year. It is either construed that I owe China this obligation to provide free books to anyone asking or total ignorance of worldwide practice and common understanding as I explained above after opening up the country for more than 40 years. Below is the latest exchange between an unnamed scholar (not a student but academic employee at a major university) and me received a couple of weeks ago:

 

My answer to his request:

50 years ago there were no electronic copy of text. Besides you are asking for a free copy of a book. Do you really expect every author to give away free copy of books? How will some of them live then? Think about it. Your action represent China to the outside world.

 

His somewhat indignant reply

Thank you for your reminding. 
The book which I ask for is published over 20 years ago, that means the authors have benefitted from the book over 20 years. In my opinion, that is long enough as a period of benefit. In fact, the period of benefit is finite in every industry.
On the other hand, if a person is forbidden to ask for learning for free once in a while, that means the poor don't have the right to learn. 
The authors have the right to give or refuse my request, but I also have the right to ask for. I think that is an event just about generosity and resource shortage, but not an event which is related national image.

 

Let me rebut point by point:

1.  About the 20 year limit –This is probably based on the notion that copyright is valid only for a limited period of time. However, copyright can be continuously and indefinitely renewed. My textbook still sells a few hundred copies a year after 40 years without revision. Although I don’t depend on the still not insignificant check I receive every spring who is the requester to decide that I should no longer derive benefit from my effort after 20 years. Nor do I have the right to do so as I explained above. The publisher owns the right and still owns the right and renews the copyright. Contractually I am forbidden to do so unless I buy the book to give it away. 

2.  For Resource shortage - Yes I do make donation to charity (libraries and scholarship organizations). This way I can depend on the charitable organization to determine need for any request for help instead of giving blindly. Judging from the knowledge of English usage and the graduate level of my textbook, I don’t believe the author is in financial distress nor did he represent himself as one asking for charity.

3. Finally, if Chinese scholars make similar requests to other foreign scholars for free book routinely, don’t that cast the Nation of China in a bad light? China is now number two in GDP and a genuine middle income nation on per capita basis. Let us discard the habit of “you are stupid if you don’t grab freebie regardless of your need 不拿白不拿 at least in foreign dealings. Internally, you and your government are free to behave any way without interferences from outside (even this right is subject to controversy and limitations).

4.  A Technical book involving graphic can consume many hundreds of gigabytes of memory. Even if I had an electronic copy, it will require technical expertise beyond me to transmit it via e-mail.

5. See a related article of mine 9 years ago http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1565-218436.html. Things hasn't changed except now instead of student but gorwn adults are taking part.

Note added 11/19/2018 Just to show that there are readers who are different and have an open mind, here is another response to the same comment I posted above:     Thanks for your reply.I apologize for my foolish behavior.

 



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