First there was Napster. Remember that? It was a free-download file-sharing music exchange that left the actual creators of that music out in the cold. By the era of Napster, we had all been making cassette recordings of albums for decades, and most of us had the wherewithal to burn CDs. Napster said: we’re doing it anyway, so why not get organized?
Napster is no longer, deemed guilty of copyright infringement, but downloading copyrighted material — music, movies, books — carries on, becoming more sophisticated by the millisecond. So if everybody’s doing it, does that make it okay?
Short answer: no. Because if everybody did it — if nobody bought the CD, rented the movie, or purchased the book — what would happen to those musicians, filmmakers, writers, and all the people in between? They’d all be washing dishes or driving taxis, except that there aren’t that many dishes in the world to wash, or cabs to drive.
And that free music? Those touch-of-a-button no-cost movies and books? Nope. Working double shifts to make ends meet, those creative people won’t be doing much creating. Maybe that YouTube-sensation talking dog will still be around (or its follow-up act), but that’s about it.
Libraries have always been there to bring culture to everyone. They are the great equalizer: you can be millionaire or pauper and enjoy the wealth of the library. So how does a library support creative culture?
Authors in Canada receive royalties through public lending right for books in library collections. And if you download books to read on the new Kobo e-reader you got for Christmas through Library-to-Go, you’re supporting the publishing industry because the library has bought into that database. You actually borrow these books — they’ll disappear like magic from your e-Reader in three weeks time — so if you want to own the book, you still have to buy the print or e-version.
The same is true for the audiobooks you can download to listen to on your computer or MP3 player — three glorious weeks and then — poof! — time to borrow another. New to us, Audiocloud brings classics and other public domain books into your computer via live streaming — nothing to download, and all available through our website.
Fregal Music Service through Sony allows library patrons to download two songs per week, Napster-like, but Napster-not, because the folks who created those toe-tappin’ tunes wind up with some small change tinkling in their pockets. And which all adds up.
There is no free lunch, and there shouldn’t be. Everyone contributes to the library, making it accessible for all; the library in turn purchases materials — hard-copies and digital — for everyone to enjoy. By pooling our resources we make a better community, and by honouring creative enterprise, we ensure the creative community will be there for decades to come.
What comes next? The truth is, it’s changing faster than this columnist can guess. But you can be sure that the future of libraries is secure, whether you’re sitting in our easy chairs reading up on the Next Big Thing, or in your home — library card at hand — downloading it.
Anne DeGrace’s library column is featured every second Friday in the Nelson Star