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Saturday, March 10, 2012

US Publishing Industry Had Strong Pirating Habits

Giant publishers complaining about piracy are also guilty of the same crime: many of them have built their empires by pirating books themselves, for instance – HarperCollins.

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The article appeared recently in the media, casting a different light on the intricate relationship between American publishing industry and the country’s government, underlining the latter’s “tolerance” towards pirating intellectual property.

Prior to the start of this whole war-rage against piracy, there has been a silent agreement for decades between the American authorities and pirates, which helped many publishers make a fortune.

An example is described in Edwin Burrows’ and Mike Wallace’s book titled “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898”, in which the authors describe the birth of the American publishing sector in the 1830s along with the government’s attitude to copyright, which gave a significant boost to the publishers. It turned out that one of the most reliable revenue sources for American publishers in the 19th century was mass-producing illegal copies of English books, whose authors didn’t get any credit. In their turn, British publishers have done the same to French authors.

The scheme was the following: the agents of publishers were sent to Britain with orders to grab books from the shops and ship them to US by fast packet. Then the copy was rushed from the dock to the composing room, while presses ran around the clock, and books were sold at the stores next day or hawked in the streets like hot corn.

In addition, the authors mentioned that one of the most successful pirates was the venture which later became HarperCollins, today owned by News Corp. Although copyright legislation aimed at protecting publishers has existed since 1787 in the country, it only covered US works, while the government refused to recognize foreign copyrights. For example, Charles Dickens visited New York in 1842. He was most beloved by the city for his stories, and Dickens came in a fruitless attempt to promote international copyright legislation that would have required the Americans to pay for the pleasure of reading him. However, this didn’t help: after he wrote about his trip, the story was immediately pirated by American publishers, and this went on for forty years without any involvement from the US government.

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