HarperCollins digital direct platform has a problem: Free Narnia now!

As reported earlier in TeleRead, HarperCollins launched its direct-to-consumer ebook sales platform, co-authored with Accenture, with C.S. Lewis and Narnia as its flagship media properties, in October 2013 in the form of the C.S. Lewis.com and Narnia.com websites. But that brave attempt at an end-run around Amazon and Smashwords has hit one little snag – C.S. Lewis’s works are now out of copyright in Canada and elsewhere, and the Narnia series is now available for free in its entirety from the Project Gutenberg Canada website.

“Find out how fans of C.S. Lewis are celebrating the life of this much-loved author 50 years after his death,” crows the banner on the HarperCollins Narnia.com website. Well, obviously Lewis fans at Project Gutenberg Canada celebrated by digitizing the entire Narnia series and putting it online, in HTML, text format, and very respectable-looking EPUB editions.

HarperCollins was fairly coy about its plans for the Narnia platform and similar initiatives when talking to TeleRead. Partner Accenture wasn’t so circumspect, however, describing this as the first iteration of “an end-to-end e-commerce and direct to consumer distribution solution for HarperCollins Publishers e-books globally.”

I have no idea whether there were any commercial considerations behind the timing of the rollout of the C.S. Lewis-related platforms. Perhaps HarperCollins calculated that it could counter an inevitable dropoff in ebook sales of Narnia books with a strong promotional and branding effort, especially for markets with a longer copyright term than Canada and Australia’s 50 years. This is pure speculation, though.

What is absolutely not speculation but cold hard fact, though, is that Narnia and C.S. Lewis fans now have a totally free option to download every book in the Narnia cycle, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe of 1950 to 1956’s The Last Battle. Lewis’s very interesting early science fiction novel Out of the Silent Planet is also up on Project Gutenberg Canada already, as are his works of Christian apologetics The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters. Doubtless others will follow soon.

Of course, all this assumes that readers outside Canada will be such shameless and unscrupulous bad-hats as to download these works in defiance of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and other high-minded public-spirited intrusions by U.S. media groups into global copyright law like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “The ebooks on this website are in the Canadian public domain, and are offered to you at no charge. If you live outside Canada, download an ebook only if you are certain that the book is in your country’s public domain,” declares the Project Gutenberg Canada website. But Project Gutenberg Canada also carries a headline against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trojan horse for U.S. copyright norms, exhorting Canadians to: “send a short and very clear email to your government to say no copyright extensions – The public domain belongs to the people!”

So there’s your choice, people. Free Narnia now.

6 Comments on HarperCollins digital direct platform has a problem: Free Narnia now!

  1. The copyright extension act of the late 1990s isn’t the issue here. There’s no excuse to carp and complain about it or to use it in a somewhat sleazy fashion to rationalize the violation of U.S. copyright law.

    The first in the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, came out in 1950, so under the pre-Bono law it’d still be under copyright protection through 2030. Using the misbehavior of others to justify stealing strikes me as childish–the “Johnny did it” excuse.

    Hopefully, HarperCollins will show some sense about the ebook version. The Kindle edition of Narnia is a ridiculous $45. It should be priced similarly to the $9.99 that the Kindle edition of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings sells for. After all, you can buy a paperback edition of Narnia discounted to as low as $11.78.

    Those who’d like to listen to an excellent and free audio version of The Chronicles of Narnia can find it here as a series of podcasts done with the full permission of the Lewis estate.

    http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/series/the_chronicles_of_narnia

    You shouldn’t use the sleazy political antics of Disney to justify your own misbehavior.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

  2. Actually, that’s a seventy-year term or 2020 for the first Narnia book. It’s been a long day of writing here. My brain is vegetating.

  3. The US copyright law at the time tha Narnia books were published would have given the books 56 years of copyright. The only reason they are still under copyright in the US is because we keep extending the copyright on existing works.

  4. Just out of curiosity, is there an actual “HarperCollins eBook Store” in operation yet? That is, a store that sells every eBook by every author that Harper Collins has the digital rights to? I did a search, but I can’t find one.

    I tried reading the first Narnia book many years ago. I hated it and gave up after a couple of chapters, so Narnia.com is a non-starter for me.

    HarperCollins, however, does publish books by authors that I like, and if they have their own store, I would at least like to check it out.

  5. Australia used to have a life+50 copyright term before they succumbed in 2006 to the same pressure that the US is now exerting on Canada to raise the term to life+70. In Australia, Lewis’ works will become public domain in 2034 along with most of Europe. Since the US has a 95 year term for works published before 1976, the Narnia books won’t become public domain in the US until 2046 through2052, assuming companies like Disney fail in their quest to make copyright permanent.

  6. If Congress had not retroactively increased the length of copyright terms in 1976 and 1998 for books already published, all of the Narnia books would be public domain in the US today. The 1976 act pushed the expiration out from a maximum of 56 years to 75, and the Bono act pushed it out to 95 years.

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