London Police Ready for Piracy Crackdown; U.K. Author Blasts “Moral Squalor” of Digital Book Theft

In the U.K., two new separate efforts aim to defend copyright, one by enforcing the law, another by highlighting the immorality of piracy.

The London police department is launching a 19-person intellectual property crime unit, The Bookseller reports.  Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet applauded the new unit as “a hugely significant development in the fight against online intellectual property crime which undermines the creative industries on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, acclaimed author Philip Pullman today ignited public debate on unauthorized book downloading with his scathing piece in Index on Censorship magazine.

“The technical brilliance is so dazzling that people can’t see the moral squalor of what they’re doing. It is outrageous that anyone can steal an artist’s work and get away with it,” writes Pullman, who is president of the Society of Authors. “It is theft, as surely as reaching into someone’s pocket and taking their wallet is theft.”

In his lengthy defense of copyright, Pullman argues that authors confront a threat similar to that which musicians have faced.

“The internet only shows up in stark terms how like a cobweb the law of copyright is when confronted with the sheer force wielded by large corporations. As Richard Morrison wrote in BBC Music Magazine: ‘Google has been adept at fostering the impression that it is merely an altruistic and democratic ‘platform’ – a digital version of Speaker’s Corner – rather than a commercial publisher that is as accountable to the laws of copyright, libel and theft as any old-fashioned ‘print’ publisher would be.’”

Pullman’s piece appears alongside a counter argument from Cathy Casserly, chief executive of Creative Commons, an organization that offers “open content licenses,” through which creators can let others use their work for free.  Casserly writes that copyright law, as currently written, belongs to the analog age.

“By default, copyright closes the door on countless ways that people can share, build upon, and remix each other’s work, possibilities that were unimaginable when those laws were established,” she writes.

Pullman’s comments have unearthed some emphatically anti-copyright attitudes. Within hours of the Guardian posting a story about his article, the piece had attracted more than 1000 comments. Many blasted Pullman’s use of the words “moral squalor” and his comparison of unauthorized downloads to stealing a wallet. While some commenters came to the defense of authors, others seemed offended by the idea of writing to make a living.

The notion that authors should loosen up and stop worrying if readers download their work without paying may be growing dangerously mainstream.

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