Paul J. Heald


On his book Copy This Book! What Data Tells Us about Copyright and the Public Good

Cover Interview of December 02, 2020

In a nutshell

Our earliest attitudes about copyright law are probably formed by elementary school teachers admonishing us not to copy. Seeing little Johnny and Suzy sent to the principal’s office for plagiarism sends a pretty clear message about the consequences of borrowing someone else’s work!

Copy this Book! What Data Tells Us About Copyright and the Public Good hopes to nudge the reader into questioning that ingrained anti-copying instinct. In fact, numerous recent studies show that modern copyright law stifles creativity, raises prices, and diminishes the availability of works to the public.

But mere statistics are pretty dry, so the book goes far beyond graphs and charts and tells the deep story of copyright with numerous illustrative anecdotes and stories. Think Bill Bryson or Neil deGrasse Tyson!

Copy this Book! starts with the alarming results of a random sample of new editions of books being sold on Why are there so many more new books from the 1880s for sale than from the 1980s (and, no, it’s not because the older books are literary “classics”)?

Other chapters discuss (among many topics):

How Lunch atop a Skyscraper, the iconic photo of men perched on a steel beam high above Manhattan, reveals the disastrous law of copyright in images.

How Kurt Vonnegut’s successful battle with Random House opened the door for older authors (and their estates) to publish ebooks for the first time.

How porn parody movies teach us about fair use and the proper length of copyright.

How music ratings studies show a counter-intuitive effect of piracy on the music business.

How a study of images on Wikipedia (which required a valiant effort to reverse engineer the Google search algorithm) can teach us about the value of the public domain photos.

How publishers and firms like Getty Images convince the public to pay for free public domain works.

Sure, charts and graphs and data are presented, but the book is a narrative, a story most happily told through the experiences of authors, artists, musicians, and consumers.