or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Author John Green, Copyright Violator

   February 25th, 2015

I meant to post this last week, but hopefully it's still new to some people - it's definitely still interesting to me.

The Copyfight blog highlighted a story on how author John Green came to the realization that a quote that had been widely attributed to him - which he didn't remember writing but accepted because the entire internet said it was his - wasn't actually his. He explains:

My takeaways from this are:

  • Not fact-checking is one thing. But even if you did fact-check and find every source available attributes something to the same source, you can still be wrong. The internet certainly allows for the wild propagation of sources, but it's nice to know that there still is an objective truth that lies beyond the internet zeitgeist.
  • Fact-checking has become exceeding difficult when the author of a novel has to illegally download a copy of his own book to search it. Maybe this is an indication that there is a problem with our copyright system.
  • John Green is a really nice guy.

Also, if you don't follow the CrashCourse YouTube channel, keep an eye out for their upcoming Intellectual Property episode (here's the preview):

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4 Responses to “Author John Green, Copyright Violator”

  1. Alex Says:

    This is both hilarious and wonderful.

  2. looloolooweez Says:

    OK, first: thanks for linking to that Copyfight blog, that looks super interesting!

    But I’m still not clear on why JG had to download an illegally provided copy of his own book. Does he really not have any electronic files of his own work? Could he not get one from his publisher/editor/agent? Could he not stand to buy an ebook copy (it’s only $4 for Kindle right now)? Or try his local public library, who’d no doubt be ecstatic to help (cool author + copyright questions = librarian catnip)?

    I mean, it’s not like he’s hurting anyone but himself and his own publisher in the immediate sense, but I don’t know why he’d want to encourage people in any way to illegally download books. There are so many “rationalizations” for ebook piracy already, and I don’t think a famous author just casually mentioning he does it too is going to help the problem.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @looloolooweez: in this case, I don’t know. I presume the publisher gave him a final digital copy seven years ago, but who knows what format that would be in or if it would still be readable today, on the device John has and wants to use. It certainly could be readable and useful, but if it were wrapped in DRM, there’s a good chance it just isn’t anymore. Or maybe John has opened that file more than 23 times and is thus out of luck.

    I don’t know why he wouldn’t have access to a new copy, other than a pirated copy is probably the least difficult way to get an ebook just to search the text for something. Maybe he didn’t want to pay for a copy from Amazon or wherever, maybe his local library’s copy was checked out, maybe this happened on a Friday night and his publisher was closed for the weekend and couldn’t get him a copy until Monday (or longer), maybe Hank has a copy on his device but is unable to loan it to John due to DRM…

    I do see your point, but I don’t know that what he did really encourages people to pirate ebooks – any more than those same people would have before seeing this video (except, perhaps, for another author in the same situation). But now that you bring this up, I would love to see him elaborate on the whole situation more – maybe in the upcoming IP video. Cory Doctorow has definitely talked about this in the past, although I can’t find any of his articles at the moment besides what Copyfight links to.

    And yes, Copyfight is one of my must-read blogs. I’ve seen Alex Wexelblat speak at a conference and it was hands-down one of the most interesting talks I’ve seen in years. He not only knows what he’s talking about and is up on current happenings, but he also makes it interesting and entertaining (although, perhaps that’s only if you’re predisposed to find copyright interesting and entertaining).

  4. Link roundup : February 27, 2015 « A Modern Hypatia Says:

    […] John Green on copyright violation, inadvertent plagiarism, and intellectual property. (Link from the Swiss Army Librarian, with additional info and context) […]