Jade Colbert transcribed my speech from the Canadian National Reading Summit, entitled “How to Destroy the Book.” She did a great job!
There is a group of powerful anti-copyright activists out there who are trying to destroy the book. These pirates would destroy copyright, and they have no respect for our property. They dress up their thievery in high-minded rhetoric about how they are the true defenders and inheritors of creativity, and they have sold this claim around the world to regulators and lawmakers alike. There are members of Parliament and Congress-people who are unduly influenced by them. They say they’re only trying to preserve the way it’s always been. They claim that their radical agenda is somehow conservative. But what they really see is a future in which the electronic culture market grows by leaps and bounds and they get to be at the centre of it. They claim that this is about ethics, but anyone who thinks about it for a minute can see that it’s about profit.
We are the people of the book. We love our books. We fill our houses with books. We treasure books we inherit from our parents, and we cherish the idea of passing those books on to our children. Indeed, how many of us started reading with a beloved book that belonged to one of our parents? We force worthy books on our friends, and we insist that they read them. We even feel a weird kinship for the people we see on buses or airplanes reading our books, the books that we claim. If anyone tries to take away our books—some oppressive government, some censor gone off the rails—we would defend them with everything that we have. We know our tribespeople when we visit their homes because every wall is lined with books. There are teetering piles of books beside the bed and on the floor; there are masses of swollen paperbacks in the bathroom. Our books are us. They are our outboard memory banks and they contain the moral, intellectual, and imaginative influences that make us the people we are today.
Copyright recognizes this. It says that when you buy a book, you own the book. It’s yours to give away, yours to keep, yours to license or to borrow, to inherit or to be included in your safe for your children. For centuries, copyright has acknowledged that sacred connection between readers and their books. We think of copyright as something that regulates things within a bunch of buckets—DVDs, video games, records—but books are more than all of these things. Books are older than copyright. Books are older than publishing. Books are older than printing!