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When Photocopiers Scared Writers
In the 1960s, concerns about the impact of photocopiers on the publishing industry in the United States began to grow. Publishers and authors shuddered at the thought of their work being replicated at will, resulting in empty pockets and a decline in the literary world.
One article on the concern called them ‘poison’ to writers, beginning:
"…the authors and book publishers of America are beginning to suspect that what is meat for the photocopying industry will turn out to be poison for writers."
The piece noted stories circulating in the literary world about a Texas professor crafting custom anthologies for his students, thereby "cheating poets and short story writers of anthology fees."
It warned that "The photocopying threat brings the technological revolution home to writers, who are among the last individualists among us” and in turn “would serve to make the life of the freelancer more hazardous than it is at present."
The authors voiced concerns about scientific publishers as well, saying “it poses a menace to the livelihood of scientists. Publishers of scientific material...stand to lose in the very near future if a few more pennies can be shaved from the cost of photocopying."
Curtis Benjamin, of McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, was quoted in the article saying, "if this basic supporting market should be diminished by as much as 40 per cent or 50 per cent, at least one-third of McGraw-Hill's current lists of scientific and technical books could not be published.” Going on the imply scientific progress could suffer.
The author called for a new Mark Twain to emerge, who lead a movement in the past to “hammer out some universally valid copyright laws against the international pirating of authors' material." The resulting legal battles and laws served as a guiding light for future copyright legislation and definitions of fair-use, ensuring that photocopying, a symbol of openness and knowledge dissemination, could coexist with a thriving literary and creative community.
Today, we can look back on this case and appreciate how it played a vital role in calming the fears of authors and publishers, while demonstrating the importance of adaptability and resilience in the face of technological change. The publishing industry proved resilient, and copyright laws adapted to find a balance between creators' rights and public access to information.