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The story also had a happy financial ending for everyone concerned—including the US taxpayer. The publisher invested about $700,000 in editorial and production costs, which took the place of a large investment by the Government. In addition, by the end of ten years the publisher had paid the Government royalties of $270,000; while the estimated Federal income tax on the profits from the series came to about $125,000. Thus was generated a total of almost $400,000 of direct revenue to the Government.
To most observers the publication of the Radiation Laboratory Series was a model of beneficial collaboration between the Government and private enterprise. But, again, there were those who strongly felt that it was really a legally questionable grab of public property by private interests.
Often, such critics naïvely fail to distinguish between publishing and printing. The chief contribution of a commercial publishing house is the know-how of its staff-the editors, art directors, production managers, promotion managers, and salesmen. These people are experts who shape ideas and raw manuscript into sophisticated books, who advertise and sell them vigorously throughout the world. The publisher is a professional who invests his experience and facilities to produce a book, and risks his capital to print and sell it. He usually makes a substantial contribution to the quality of the final product. Further, he not only puts the published book in all available trade channels but also sees that it is properly placed for notice and review in the literature of its subject. These are the reasons why commercial publication enhances the basic purpose of publishing—the widest possible dissemination of a new work among all interested readers in the world. And these are, of course, the reasons why so many authors of Government-financed scientific and technical works prefer commercial publication over GPO printing.
In passing, it seems proper to note another naïve failure of the advocates of public-domain status for all Government-financed works. This is their failure to realize that, in most cases, what everyone can publish, no one actually will publish. This is especially so of a scientific or technical work of specialized interest._For such a work its limited market will support only one edition. Two editions by different publishers would be profitless for both, and three or four editions would be ruinous for everyone. Once in a blue moon a Warren Commission Report will come along and four or five commercial firms will reprint it, each adding its own distinctive (and copyrightable) notes and interpretations. But for every such report, there are produced for Federal agencies 200 to 300 works of which only one edition can be published profitably. It is truly a pity that so many people choose to disregard this fact of publishing economics.
But we publishers have demonstrated that we, too, can overlook important matters. For only recently has the book industry as a whole become concerned over the question of copyright in Government-sponsored works. Now suddenly this concern has mounted to a feeling near alarm. In the last five years, the Federal expenditure on scientific and technical information grew from about $70 million to $223 million. Some publishers fear the Government may eventually preempt large and important areas of scientific and technical information,
and thereby severely damage the private sector technical information industry.
One serious concern involves the large, mechanized information systems, which the Government will surely spend millions of dollars to develop in the next decade. It now seems probable that Federallyfinanced information centers will widely replace conventional information media, including several kinds of technical and reference books. One does not have to be especially bright to foresee how this can devastate important areas of commercial publishing. This threat is not remote-to many of us it seems to be just around the corner.
A good example of this particular complex of Government-related problems is the newly projected computer-based Chemical Information System that is being developed by the Chemical Abstracts Service under Government grants to the American Chemical Society. ACS officials estimate that it will cost more than $40 million to make the proposed system fully operative. The research and development phases, costing about $15 million, will be financed by three Federal agencies. After that, the start-up operational costs of $25 million will presumably be financed by the sale of services and publications produced by the system.
This completely mechanized system will produce computer files of the names and structures of compounds, their physical properties, biochemical properties, and so on. If successfully developed, it is sure to give the Chemical Abstracts Service a virtual monopoly of basic chemical information, including print-outs of handbooks of scientific data and technical practice. These will be constantly updated volumes which will replace similar works in chemistry and chemical engineering that are now produced by commercial publishers. In effect, this Government activity may put an entire discipline of scientific information into the hands of a nonprofit publishing monopoly.
But the prospects for the new chemical information system may not be so bright, even to a nonprofit organization, if copyright of the products of the system is prohibited by the new law. If its printed products can be copied by anyone and everyone, and if its computer tapes can be freely used in any manner, then the Chemical Abstracts Service will not be able to obtain sufficient revenue to support operational costs. In short, the system's economic viability will be destroyed. In which case—if the system is to survive—the US taxpayers will have to support indefinitely a project that certainly could and should be self-supporting beyond the initial research and development stage. And what can happen here can happen in many other discipline areas where only Federal "seed money" should be required to establish comparable information systems.
So much for the copyright problems facing technical publishers. The vagaries of copyrights in Government-sponsored works also pose bewildering difficulties for textbook houses. Faced with the problems that emerged from Federally-financed curriculum reform programs in school science, textbook publishers were so stunned that they blinked and ran one way, then blinked again and ran the other, reversing their field and ending up taking a stand that seemed exactly opposite from that of the technical publishers. All this was so confusing as to justify a rueful remark that publishers appeared to be making a two-faced
approach to a two-sided problem. But actually there was good reason for the textbook publishers' perplexed behavior.
In the 1950's, when the first curriculum-reform programs began to produce new textbooks in science, many textbook publishers urged that these should be published by commercial firms under competitive bidding. This was agreed to, but not without some argument, by officials in the Government agencies that supplied the money, and by the nonprofit organizations that contracted to fashion the courses and prepare manuscripts. Several high school texts were published by commercial houses that came forward with low bids and high persuasion. In each case, either the contractor or the publisher was allowed to secure a private copyright. For a while everyone concerned seemed to be reasonably happy with this arrangement. The publishers were particularly pleased that the Government agencies had chosen to cooperate, rather than compete, with existing textbook houses.
But several of the textbooks became thundering bestsellers, and the unsuccessful bidders began to panic. They had not foreseen that, regardless of comparative merit, the Government-sponsored texts received publicity and immediate prestige, plus much priceless promotion through Government-financed symposia, workshops, and summer courses for teachers—all devastating to competitors. As a result, many textbook publishers reversed their stand and demanded that Government agencies henceforth place in the public domain all new courses and instructional materials produced with Federal funds.
The US Office of Education, either irked or not fully understanding the consequences, responded by declaring an official policy under which all publications of whatever kind produced under USOE grants or contracts would henceforth be in the public domain. Two other Federal agencies immediately followed suit, specifying that their policy also covered research reports and other scientific and technical works. Naturally this sent the technical publishers hot-footing to Washington crying, "No, no! Our colleagues meant only textbooks!" Confusion followed, both in Washington and, indeed, within the book industry itself.
Though the static within the industry keeps the signal from coming through clearly, publishers who see the problem as a whole are now seeking a flexible middle way: a policy that would allow each Federal agency to decide for or against private publication as each case arises under a grant or contract.
The US Copyright Office also prefers this middle course. In his report to Congress on the new copyright bill last May, Mr. Kaminstein stated, “Under the definition in section 105b (United States Government works) there would be nothing to prohibit an independent contractor or grantee from securing copyright in works prepared by him under a Government contract or grant, as long as the contract or grant permits it. We believe that it is important to preserve the basic right of private authors to secure copyright in these situations, and that any cases in which it is considered desirable to deny or limit protection should be dealt with by agency regulations or contract provisions, or by separate legislation."
The book industry's joint copyright committee has endorsed this viewpoint; in fact, many publishers would like to see it written into
the new law. But the Register, perhaps rightly, deems this unnecessary. In any case, the eventual legislative
report on the bill should make this position clear, to ensure that courts will know the intent of Congress when they have later to interpret this section.
Most publishers also accept the Copyright Office's position on the writings of a Government official or employee, but would prefer a narrower definition of an official work. Referring to his definition of Government works in the new bill, Mr. Kaminstein said. “A Government official or employee would not be prohibited from obtaining copyright protection for any work he produces in his private capacity outside the scope of his official duties” (italics mine). Publishers would prefer the wording of the 1964 draft of the new Act; as noted earlier, that draft used the words “as part of his official duties.”
Our objection, of course, is to the word "scope." By both definition and connotation it has a primary meaning of range and expansion, not of limitation and compass. It leaves more room for controversy in any effort to decide the limits of the public employment of, say, an Ådmiral Rickover or a J. Edgar Hoover. This little word can spell a lot of uncertainty and trouble in the future. Would it not be wise to eliminate it now? A half-century may pass before there is another chance.
COPYRIGHT OR PUBLIC DOMAIN ?
A BOOK PUBLISHER'S VIEW OF A QUESTION OF PUBLIC POLICY
(By Curtis G. Benjamin, Chairman of the Board, McGraw-Hill Book
Company) This statement represents the view and the position of the McGrawHill Book Company on the troublesome question of allowing private copyright of works financed either wholly or in part, either directly or indirectly, by Federal funds. It is presented in response to a statement of policy announced by the U.S. Oflice of Education in the Federal Register, July 28, 1965:
Material produced as a result of any research activity undertaken with any financial assistance through contract with or project grant from the Office of Education will be placed in the public domain. Materials so released will be available to conventional outlets of the private sector for their use.
We recognize that this fiat in its purpose and rationale is directed to the desirable objective of obtaining the maximum public benefit from expenditures of public funds. We believe, however, that it fails an understanding of either the practical economics of publishing or the urges and satisfactions of creative authorship. It is, we believe, mistaken in its assumption that several firms will publish what any firm can publish and that thus more and cheaper books will be provided for all. By opening the way to unauthorized changes in noncopyrighted versions, it unwisely discounts the unspoken pride of topflight authors and their devotion to the integrity of their works. And finally, it mistakenly assumes that one flat and arbitrary rule can be applied beneficially to a wide variety of publications produced under dissimilar circumstances.
Feeling that this USOT policy is needlessly absolute and restrictive and that its observance will be hurtful to governmental, public, and publishing interests, we respectfully suggest that it be carefully reconsidered. At the same time we implore other Federal departments and agencies to take a broad and flexible view of the matter, with due regard for precedents and practices under which hundreds of Government-financed works have been commercially published with benefit to every one involved.
Our statement and plea reflect many years of experience in publishing a large number of Government-sponsored publications. Our list of such publications in its size and variety attests the width and depth of this experience. It also suggests a record of continuing success and of continuing satisfaction to the many Government departments and agencies with whom we have worked. In view of our extensive experience-certainly the widest in the industry--we trust that our statement represents the broadest and the most balanced and positive view that can be offered by a book publisher.