Presenting at O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing Conference

Portait of Karl Fogel

I'll be giving a talk at the O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York City next week: Beyond Numbers: Gatekeeper Effects and Just-in-Time Publishing, on Tuesday, February 12th, at 2pm; conference details here. The talk is on the commercial potential of on-demand publishing of freely-licensed material, even as a storefront business model, and how it could mean a richer and more participatory experience for readers, authors, and booksellers.

Cease and Desist Censorship

A US court has found that copyright law can cover "cease-and-desist letters", that is, letters sent by copyright holders telling someone to stop distributing copyrighted content.

Cease-and-desist letters are frequently used as tools of censorship (as Chilling Effects has ably documented). A common scenario is that someone gets upset at having something of theirs quoted, and is able to shut down the quotation by claiming copyright over its text and then sending C&D letters to anyone who displays it. The quoted text is not royalty-generating for the copyright holder (not that it would excuse censorship even if it were); rather, the sender of the C&D is simply using copyright law as a tool to prevent the publication of potentially embarrassing information — that is, to censor.

Musicians Censoring Themselves

Ben Collins-Sussman playing the banjo by the water.

Reader Ben Collins-Sussman sent us this letter after watching a group of hobbyist banjo players in an Internet forum shy away from sharing music because they were worried about copyright issues. It's hard to add to Ben's eloquent outrage, but we should step back and ask: how did we get here? When did the inconceivable become everyday? When did musicians start censoring themselves as a matter of course? (Notice how copyright issues actually come up twice, independently, in the forum Ben points to. That's two times in a discussion that's only nineteen posts long. It would be nice if this were somehow exceptional... but sadly, it's not.)

Here's Ben's letter:

I frequent exciting websites like, where banjoists from all over the world (all 12 of us!) talk about banjos, songs we like, how to play things, and so on.


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