23 October 2007

A Small Order of Sausages

All of the sausages this evening are, at least, from the same beast: publishing. As is usual with sausages, watch out for the gristle.

  • One of the major concerns that publishers have is getting paid for their publications. The second major concern that they tend to have is to avoid paying authors for their contributions to those publications... but that's a long story going back to the Star Chamber, censorship, Leviathan, the Reformation, and other Renaissance indignities, and that's just in English! Getting paid is harder to do with electronic editions than with paper editions, and it turns out that the equivalent of "sales figures" is just as inaccurate as purported "blockbuster sales" are before considering returns: Nobody can agree on what counts as a page view for purposes of allocating advertising dollars. Of course, perceptive observers have probably already objected that this is just another example of trying to force the Internet to somehow comply with a preexisting nonelectronic metric that is comfortable and familiar to the beancounters.
  • Some libraries are starting to realize that not every way of getting material onto the Internet is consistent with the mission of a library. A significant consortium of libraries has rejected "free" digitization by Google once they understood the price: That they would have to deny other commercial services access to the scanned material. That's akin to getting donations of books that may not be checked out to non-native speakers of English. The libraries made the right decision.
  • Last for the moment, there's the always interesting world of commercial fiction. There's plenty of ire concerning book-length fiction, but Stephen King's recent essay decrying the health of the American short story bears consideration... as does the follow-up on John Scalzi's blog (don't forget to read the comments!).

*  *  *

It's been a while since I've considered what the internet was made for: porn. The Sixth Circuit, in a rather strained opinion — strained as much because I don't think the judges are comfortable with the very subject matter as any other reason — has held that 18 U.S.C. § 2257 is unconstitutional on its face. Section 2257, another part of the egregiously overreaching and misguided Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (several other parts of which have already failed to pass constitutional scrutiny), imposes rather intrusive record-keeping requirements on "producers" of "actual sexually explicit conduct" photographs (and videos) that end up on the 'net. Unfortunately, "producers" means not just photographers, but also includes a wide range of others... including people who post material on the Internet that they have obtained from other sources.

Here's the money shot (so to speak):

The government cannot "turn[] the First Amendment upside down by over-burdening protected speech merely because it resembles [unprotected speech]." Indeed, here the government is burdening speech that, aside from being photographs of sexually explicit conduct, in no way resembles child pornography because the individual depicted may obviously be thirty or forty or fifty or sixty years old. The overbreadth doctrine prohibits the Government from banning unprotected speech if a substantial amount of protected speech is prohibited or chilled in the process. The recordkeeping requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 2257 are, therefore, facially unconstitutional for overbreadth.

Connection Distr. Co. v. Keisler, No. 06–3822 (6th Cir. 23 Oct. 2007), slip op. at 15 (citations omitted).

This particular instance presents another problem that, unfortunately, was not before the court. Consider the person being photographed who wants to maintain some anonymity. Leaving the whole "age" issue aside, § 2257 essentially prevents them from the "expressive conduct" of posing for porn that might end up on the internet. The irony that these are precisely the sort of people who would not wish to sue — because Doe plaintiffs nonetheless must identify themselves in records, which can then be breached at a later date — is worth some pondering, too.