Nick Bilton (author of I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works) has a piece in the New York Times pertaining to himself and his wife using their iPhones to snap photos of pages from some books in Barnes & Noble, for the purpose of showing them to their contractor as they planned interior design ideas for a new home.
Afterward, Bilton found himself wondering about the morality and legality of what they had done, so he did some research into the matter. He compares the camera phone to the Xerox copy machine and the controversy it engendered in the 1970s over students copying other books and textbooks. Other experts he talked to suggest it might have more in common with MP3 music piracy.
Regardless, this sort of thing is not actually new; it has been going on for years. Back in 2003, the Japanese publishing industry was upset enough by people taking (fairly low-res) camera photos of magazine articles that it mailed out 34,000 posters to bookstores to ask patrons not to do it.
Simply taking pictures of magazines on store shelves generally does not constitute copyright violation under Japanese law if it’s only for individual consumption and not distributed to others.
But bookstores say it is devastating sales.
But cell phone cameras may not be all publishers have to worry about. There are already OCR applications available for the iPhone—and what’s more, a team of Japanese researchers have invented a flip-through rapid laser scanner that they hope to be able to incorporate into cell phones as well. Sooner or later, we might well be able to “rip” books even faster than MP3s.
What are the print stores going to do then?