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Does Apple’s new iPad raise more concerns for copyright? February 16, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services.
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Apple recently launched their new product, the iPad, to a mixture of frenzied fan worship and questions about exactly what function the new device fulfils. It’s typical of Apple to lead the gadget market to a new place, as they did with the iPod, but there are some who believe that the iPad is about to fundamentally shake up the publishing industry in the same way the iPod changed music.

But how can a plastic device rock the foundations of an entire industry, built on the foundation of decades of experience? Well, one might ask how the recorded music industry has changed so much in the past decade. It was not the creation of the device itself that changed the vista, we had hard discs back in the nineties and the ability to load music files on them. What changed was the creation of a true community, iTunes.

Once consumers could easily start loading music, video, and radio programmes onto your device and participate in a music community where favourite content is just automatically pushed to you, and other content is just a search button away then the old ways just seemed, well, old.

And so despite an ongoing love of books and paper, and the failure of dozens of supposed electronic book readers, will the Apple iBooks service now start changing the market?

The authors already think so. They want their royalties redefined to take into account the ease of distributing electronic files, rather than physical books. Booker prize winner Ian McEwan has signed a deal with Amazon.com where they get exclusive rights to his back catalogue.

Amazon reported that during Christmas 2009 they sold more eBooks than physical books. This is leading to a fundamental shift in the way books are produced and distributed. Amazon is even planning a publishing service, offering a royalty of over 70% to authors who cut out the publisher entirely and allow Amazon to publish and retail the book.

The publishing community Lulu has already explored this idea with some success. Lulu offers a publishing tool that allows an author to publish their book to all recognised retailers using the standard ISBN registration, but with one major difference. The book is print-on-demand, Lulu only prints and binds a copy when a customer clicks on the book on a site such as Amazon. Lulu offers 80% of profits to authors, after the cost of production.

These royalty rates far eclipse standard author rates of 15 to 20%. But as we move to a brave new world of electronic book distribution are there also unanswered questions about the content ownership? If I own a book, I can easily lend it to a friend. If I have downloaded the electronic version to my reading device, I am probably not able/permitted to beam it to a friend’s device, my friend needs to download again, or borrow my reading device.

The issue of author’s rights and royalty fees remains unresolved with Google’s book deal presently postponed by the US courts and forcing a rethink.

The iPad and iBooks service has the potential to completely change publishing, copyright, newspaper, and magazines. And those who think this view paints too dramatic a picture might want to stop and think about the last time their kids went to a branch of HMV to buy a CD single. Exactly.