Buying Copyright

It our current capitalist, individualist world, copyright is a good thing.  It’s often misunderstood, even by those who hold it.  It can also lead to confusion.  Basically, anything you create is covered by copyright.  This applies to written work, artistic pieces, photography, music, and so forth.  Even the words on this blog are covered by copyright, although it’s difficult to enforce on the internet.  If someone wants to use a work covered by copyright, they have to have permission from the rights holder.  You can sell copyright.  That’s essentially what authors do when they publish books.  They sell copyright for the promotion and, if they’re lucky, royalties the publisher provides.  Once money’s involved, everything changes.  After publishers, say, have the rights they can do anything with them, if it’s specified in their contract.  They can sell them again, or sublicense them.  (This is going somewhere, I promise.)

Different countries have different copyright rules and so sometimes a book is available in one country and not another.  Now Amazon, and some used book sites such as Bookfinder, have made used copies available.  Used copies can get around national restrictions.  I remember wanting a certain Hebrew grammar that was only available in hardcover in the US, and very expensive.  When we moved to the UK, it was available cheaply in paperback.  That’s just one example of how it’s intended to work.  Here’s the twist: the same book can be sold under different titles (even in the same language) if published in different countries.  It’s possible to mistakenly think that they’re different books and buy them twice.  Publishers don’t mind that at all.

Even in the same country, publishers can give the same content different titles by releasing a hardcover version first and later publishing a paperback with a different name.  Sometimes it’s difficult even for someone who works in the publishing industry to know if that’s happening.  Copyright is meant to protect the creator.  For the buyer it’s caveat emptor.  There are times when it’s convenient to have two of the same book.  Like libraries, however, houses also have limited physical space.  And the owners limited budgets.  Publishers need to make money, I realize.  Hardcovers, being more durable, cost more than paperbacks.  And overseas sellers face different markets so sometimes have to give the same book different titles.  In this interconnected world, the buyer must beware—capitalism encourages spending and copyright can be most protean.  Especially when money’s on the line.

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