Copyright Protection Stressed at AAP Meeting
Jim Milliot -- 2/19/01

The protection of intellectual property in an increasingly globalized and technology-driven media world was touched on by a number of speakers at the Association of American Publishers annual meeting held February 7-8 in Washington, D.C.

At the conference's opening business meeting it was announced that the association had increased its antipiracy budget by $750,000 for the coming year. Susan Pia, AAP's deputy director of international trade relations, said the association's new strategy is to "go after the big players, the sharks," who are involved in piracy efforts around the world. Pia noted that the development of new technology, particularly print-on-demand technology, was posing new challenges for the AAP, observing that it is very difficult to determine between legitimate and pirated POD products. Pia told the publishers the AAP is giving top priority to stemming piracy in Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea.

In her address, Playboy Inc. chairmanChristie Hefner discussed the need for publishers to protect First Amendment rights in relation to the Internet. Hefner said she is concerned that governments will want to regulate the Web as much as possible. Hefner warned that if foreign countries are allowed to impose restrictions on what is delivered via the Internet, the free flow of ideas could be curtailed. "It's critical for the book industry to add its voice to those looking to protect online information distribution and defend the right of people to receive and read constitutionally protected materials," Hefner said.

Among the meeting's speakers, the staunchest proponent of the need to improve copyright protection was News Corp. president Peter Chernin. Chernin called strengthening copyright the most important issue for not just book publishers, but for all media companies. Without adequate copyright protection, "any content-based business is in jeopardy on the Web, and book publishers are in danger of being extinguished in a matter of years," Chernin warned. While the development of the Internet has given more people greater access to information, Chernin said that d sn't mean consumers have the right to "shoplift online."

Chernin urged book publishers to join with other media companies to ask Congress to pass new laws that will prevent "online looting" of copyrighted materials. According to Chernin, new legislation is needed that guarantees publishers' control of not only the integrity of an original work, but of the extent and duration of users' access to that work, the availability of data about the work and restrictions on forwarding the work to others. "Without broad-based support for these essential rights, all providers of content, owners of copyrights and especially publishers of books are at risk of extinction," Chernin said.

Chernin's remarks also included a defense of the ownership of American trade houses by global media companies. He argued that rather than being the death knell that some had predicted, the rise in corporate ownership has allowed a number of trade houses--backed by the resources of their parent companies--to thrive and to "produce a wider range of books with greater ambition and confidence than would ever be possible for an independent press." But while larger publishers may be producing a diverse range of titles, they shouldn't necessarily produce more books, Chernin advised, noting that more titles are published now than at any time in history. "It's a publisher's job not to add to the flood. Publishing houses must be more discerning than ever not only about how to market their titles but about which titles to produce in the first place."

Chernin refuted the notion that large media companies are only interested in squeezing out the last nickel of profits from their publishing divisions. Owning a book publisher "makes a company like News Corp. a player in the world of ideas," he maintained. "What makes a publisher so valuable to a parent company is its ability to make good books, not just to make fiscal year profits."

The mandatory e-book presentation was given by Gemstar-TV Guide International chairman Henry Yuen. Yuen acknowledged that the e-book industry faces a "transitional danger"; book publishers and others are currently investing millions of dollars to develop new systems and services, but the market at present is a very small one. Yuen urged publishers not to be discouraged, noting that Gemstar is "determined to make e-books into a success."

Yuen said that the e-book market still needs "more devices, more content, more consumers and better gadgets." He predicted that the ideal e-book--one that is less than $100, weights eight ounces, has a color monitor and a six-month battery life--should be available by late 2002 or early 2003. Yuen estimated that RCA shipped between 35,000 and 50,000 REB 1100/1200 e-book machines late last year, and he indicated that he expects the distribution of devices to greatly expand this year. Gemstar's own expansion plans include entering the French, German and U.K. markets this year, while in the U.S. the company is holding discussions about expanding into the library market.

In some AAP housekeeping notes, association president and CEO Pat Schr der signed a new three-year contract. Peter Mayer of the Overlook Press, Robert Flaherty of the Brookings Institute Press and Joseph Reynolds of Bell & Howell Information & Learning were elected to the AAP board. Total AAP membership is now at 310 companies.