The process of digitizing a printed book involves much more than the conversion of ink on paper to bits in a file. Functional aspects of the book must be mapped to digital equivalents. Thus we have tables of contents and indices that turn into hyperlinks and spine files, and page numbers that turn into location anchors and progress indicators. One aspect of the printed book that has not received careful study is the copyright page. A cursory review of copyright pages reveals that almost nothing has been done to make them functional in the digital environment. The ink turns into text, but it’s dead text that quickly rots and may produce a stink.
In a printed book, the copyright page serves a number of purposes. Mostly, it presents metadata about the book. There is descriptive metadata—the title, the author’s name, the publisher’s name, the date, and the place of publication. There is cataloguing metadata, intended to help libraries process the book into their collection. There are ISBNs and call numbers. There is even an odd set of numbers denoting the printing history, laid out in a format designed around the limitations of movable metal type. And there is a copyright statement.
This essay will focus on the copyright statement, but it is hard to pass by the somewhat comical observation that digital books being published and sold today kowtow to the requirements of metal type!
The traditional copyright statement is thoroughly and fundamentally broken. Consider the simplest possible case of a single copyright holder:
© Eric S. Hellman, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
This is broken in the following ways: