Do we really own our digital possessions?


File 20190405 180052 1xszr3j.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

tommaso79/Shutterstock

Rebecca Mardon, Cardiff University

Microsoft has announced that it will close the books category of its digital store. While other software and apps will still be available via the virtual shop front, and on purchasers’ consoles and devices, the closure of the eBook store takes with it customers’ eBook libraries. Any digital books bought through the service – even those bought many years ago – will no longer be readable after July 2019. While the company has promised to provide a full refund for all eBook purchases, this decision raises important questions of ownership.

Digital products such as eBooks and digital music are often seen to liberate consumers from the burdens of ownership. Some academics have heralded the “age of access”, where ownership is no longer important to consumers and will soon become irrelevant.

Recent years have seen the emergence of an array of access-based models in the digital realm. For Spotify and Netflix users, owning films and music has become unimportant as these subscription based services provide greater convenience and increased choice. But while these platforms present themselves clearly as services, with the consumer under no illusion of ownership, for many digital goods this is not the case. So to what extent do we own the digital possessions that we “buy”?

Fragmented ownership rights

The popularity of access-based consumption has obscured the rise of a range of fragmented ownership configurations in the digital realm. These provide the customer with an illusion of ownership while restricting their ownership rights. Companies such as Microsoft and Apple present consumers with the option to “buy” digital products such as eBooks. Consumers often make the understandable assumption that they will have full ownership rights over the products that they pay for, just as they have full ownership rights over the physical books that they buy from their local bookstore.

We buy eBooks just as we do paperbacks, and yet the former are subject to very different terms of ownership.
Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock

However, many of these products are subject to end user licence agreements which set out a more complex distribution of ownership rights. These long legal agreements are rarely read by consumers when it comes to products and services online. And even if they do read them, they are unlikely to fully understand the terms.

When purchasing eBooks, the consumer often actually purchases a non-transferable licence to consume the eBook in restricted ways. For instance, they may not be permitted to pass the eBook on to a friend once they have finished reading, as they might do with a physical book. In addition, as we have seen in the case of Microsoft, the company retains the right to revoke access at a later date. These restrictions on consumer ownership are often encoded into digital goods themselves as automated forms of enforcement, meaning that access can be easily withdrawn or modified by the company.

This is not a one-off occurrence. There have been many similar instances that raise questions of ownership. Just last month, social media site MySpace admitted to losing all content uploaded before 2016. Blaming a faulty server migration, the loss includes many years’ worth of music, photos and videos created by consumers.

Last year, after customers complained of films disappearing from Apple iTunes, the company revealed that the only way to guarantee continued access was to download a local copy – which, some opined, goes against the convenience of streaming. Amazon hit the headlines way back in 2009 for remotely erasing “illegally uploaded” copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from consumers’ Kindle e-reading devices, much to consumers’ dismay and anger.

Illusions of ownership

Once you purchase a physical book, you own it entirely.
LStockStudio/Shutterstock

My research has found that many consumers do not consider these possibilities, because they make sense of their digital possessions based on their previous experiences of possessing tangible, physical objects. If our local bookstore closed down, the owner wouldn’t knock on our door demanding to remove previously purchased books from our shelves. So we do not anticipate this scenario in the context of our eBooks. Yet the digital realm presents new threats to ownership that our physical possessions haven’t prepared us for.

Consumers need to become more sensitised to the restrictions on digital ownership. They must be made aware that the “full ownership” they have experienced over most of their physical possessions cannot be taken for granted when purchasing digital products. However, companies also have a responsibility to make these fragmented ownership forms more transparent.

Often there is a logical business reason for such restrictions. For instance, since digital objects are infinitely reproducible – they can be duplicated quickly and easily at negligible costs – restrictions on sharing are a means to protect the profits of both distribution companies (Microsoft or Apple, for example) and media producers (including the authors and publishers of an eBook). However, these restrictions must be stated clearly and in simple terms at the point of purchase, rather than hidden away in the complex legal jargon of end user licence agreements, obscured by the familiar terminology of “buying”.The Conversation

Rebecca Mardon, Lecturer in Marketing, Cardiff University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Friedrich Ulfers Prize


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2019 Friedrich Ulfers Prize, Susan Bernofsky.

For more visit”
https://publishingperspectives.com/2019/03/festivan-neue-literatur-ulfers-prize-susan-bernofsky-gifted-attentive-exceptional-rivka-galchen/

Tribute to biggest collection of artists’ books in the southern hemisphere



File 20190416 147518 9qwwua.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
‘Witkrans’ by Ena Carsten (1998), on exhibition at Wits Art Museum, 2019.
Charles Leonard

David Paton, University of Johannesburg

There is a very special section of artworks known as artists’ books. These are artworks in the form of books rather than books about art. South African art collector and philanthropist Jack Ginsberg began collecting in this field in the early 1970s. He recently donated this world-renowned collection – and the biggest in the southern hemisphere – to Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg. Part of the collection, which includes more than 3 000 artworks plus thousands of additional items related to the field of book arts, is on exhibition. The Conversation Africa’s Charles Leonard spoke to David Paton, co-curator of the exhibition.


How would you describe artists’ books?

Artists’ books are artworks in the form of books that explore and unpack their own material being; their bookness. In other words, artists’ books are self-conscious about their function, drawing attention to, as book artist and scholar Johanna Drucker states in The Century of Artists’ Books, the very conventions by which books normally efface their identity.

This reflexive awareness includes a book’s material, shape, structure and navigability. Thus, artists’ books are not sketchbooks, journals or portfolios and certainly not books about, or on, artists. Conventional notions of artists’ books usually include only objects that function as books and exclude sculptural objects, book-like objects, digital books and ephemera.

Give us a brief history of artists’ books.

The rise of artists’ books is a phenomenon of the 1960s and ‘70s in the US. It began with the democratic photographic multiples of Ed Ruscha such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962) and Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966).

Another maker of artists’ books at this time in Europe was German-Swiss conceptual artist Dieter Roth.

Before this, however, is a rich history of book arts which includes Livres d’Artistes which are fine, limited-edition books incorporating illustrations of famous texts or poems. An example is Henri Matisse’s etchings which accompany Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé and published in 1932.

Before this are the Futurist and Russian Constructivist books by, for example, El Lissitzky and Ilia Zdanevich (Iliazd). Perhaps the most famous early artists’ book is Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars’s Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913) considered by many to be the first example of simultaneity in art.

In South Africa, perhaps the earliest exemplars are Phil du Plessis’s Hulde Uit 1970, an irreverent addendum to the journal Wurm 12 (1970) and Walter Battiss’s Male Fook Book (begun in 1973).

Who is Jack Ginsberg?

Jack is an accountant by profession but is known for his philanthropic work and support of the arts in South Africa. His collection of artworks by Walter Battiss formed the majority of the 700 pieces on the exhibition “Walter Battiss: I Invented Myself” held at the Wits Art Museum in 2016.

Jack then donated the works to Wits Art Museum’s permanent holdings which now forms the nucleus of a major Battiss Archive. In 2017, a small portion of Jack’s internationally renowned collection of artists’ books was showcased at the “Booknesses: Artists’ Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection
exhibition at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Despite this being only a small proportion of his collection, they constituted one of the largest exhibitions of artists’ books held globally. Jack is the director of The Ampersand Foundation a non-profit charitable trust. It supports residencies by South African artists and others working in the arts at the foundation’s apartment in New York.

The Foundation also supports local artists by buying their artworks and donating them to museums and galleries.

Describe the works he donated to Wits Art Museum?

Jack has been collecting artists’ books as well as books on the field, what he calls “the archive on artists’ books” since the 1970s. In 2014 he was one of 10 international collectors of artists’ books (and one of only three from outside of the US) invited to participate in Behind the Personal Library: Collectors Creating the Canon at the Centre for Book Art, New York.

The Wits Art Museum collection is the envy of private collectors, scholars, museums and academic collections globally. It consists of some of the cannon of international exemplars as well as contemporary work from North and South America, Europe, Russia and Asia, Australasia and Africa.

It is also the only collection of South African artists’ books anywhere in the world as Jack has, single-handedly, promoted and supported the book arts in this country. Books that Jack has donated to the Wits Art Museum include most of those mentioned in the “history of artists’ books”. It includes Kara Walker’s remarkable paper engineered Freedom, a Fable as well as books by African artists such as Atta Kwami and Marc Wonga Mancoba.

Jack’s extensive collection also comprises fascinating categories such as popular culture; fine bindings; presses and publishers; ephemera, theses and catalogues along with books with unusual materials (such as glass, cork and metal) and structures (such as pop-up and down and tunnel books).

What’s the significance of the donation?

Jack’s collection of artists’ books and, importantly, his archive, is considered by many to be one of the most comprehensive and accessible collections of materials devoted to the field of the book arts anywhere in the world. Together they constitute some 8 500 items donated to the university.

Making these items publicly available at Wits Art Museum as well as the opportunities for artists, designers and scholars to view and access these bookworks, objects and archival materials is an exciting, unique and timely gift to the South African art world.The Conversation

David Paton, Senior Lecturer in Visual Art, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Finished Reading: Throne of Glass (Book 7) – Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas


Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, #7)Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me and the thorny issue of robot rights


File 20190416 147483 ccs9ce.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

shutterstock

Joshua Jowitt, Newcastle University

Ian McEwan’s latest book, Machines Like Me: A Novel offers an alternative history: Britain has lost the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher is waging an election campaign against Tony Benn and Alan Turing survived homophobic persecution to achieve breakthroughs in artificial intelligence.

The novel paints a picture of 1980s London that is at once familiar, but at the same time very different – and in doing so it raises some pressing questions. Central to the plot are the world’s first synthetic humans, put on sale for the public to buy. With this device, McEwan questions what it means to be human – if these machines are just like me, does that mean they have rights, like me?

It’s tempting to dismiss this as a ridiculous notion. When the question comes up with friends in the pub (usually after a few drinks), a common response is that we have human rights because we’re human. Robots aren’t human, so they can’t have the same rights as us. But if you think about this, it’s a circular argument. The same logic was used against women’s suffrage – they can’t have the vote, because they’re women. Slaves can’t have freedom, because they’re slaves. Machines can’t have rights, because they’re machines.

Being human

But before this can be dismissed as whimsical science fiction, we need to think more about why humans have rights and what it means to be human in the first place. Some might highlight the importance of our births – the fact that we are naturally procreated, whereas machines are made by humans. But if this is true, where does this leave the eight million people who have been born as a result of IVF treatment?

You could highlight our organic nature to sidestep this problem – we are biological beings, whereas machines are made of component parts. But this would mean that people with prosthetic limbs are “less human” – which is clearly not the case. Nor are people “less human” who have commonplace hip and knee replacements. Scientists at my own university have 3D printed the first artificial cornea, and this week Israeli scientists 3D printed an entire human heart. Nobody is suggesting that patients receiving these artificial organs are less human – even though they are no longer 100% organic.

Consciousness may also be a place to look – as humans are able to act on reasons beyond natural impulse or programming. But we are not alone in this ability – other animals can also engage in sophisticated planning and tool usage. And this argument would mean that babies and late-stage dementia patients are in effect “less human” because they lack this feature – which is clearly not the case.

Ultimately, all of these lines of argument have problems that only lead to deeper levels of abstraction. Maybe then what’s required is the ability to be open to a change in how we see the world and ourselves.

Conflict and consciousness

Although the level of machine consciousness portrayed by McEwan is, for the time being, still fiction – many believe that it will be a reality by the end of the century. And as technology develops and machines become more like us, then they may also need to be recognised as having rights like us.

Alan Gewirth
was a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago. He claimed that the reasons humans have rights is because we are prospective agents, able to choose what to do beyond natural impulse or reflex. So if this autonomous agency is the foundation of our rights, and robots are also autonomous agents, consistency requires us to recognise that they too have the same basic rights to freedom and well-being that we claim for ourselves.

This is not to say that robot rights cannot be overridden – all rights conflicts lead to the rights of one party being prioritised over the other. It merely requires us to see that robots are equal parties in any rights dispute. Mistreating a robot agent would not be the same as mistreating a printer for example, it would be more similar to mistreating another human.

Granting legal rights to robots clearly remains a complicated subject, but experiences from other fields shows how the problem is only practical and that it can be overcome. Legal systems have recognised that things as diverse as idols, orangutans and even rivers can have rights – so why not robots? It’s clear then that, like McEwan, the law should start thinking about these questions now instead of playing catch-up once the robots have arrived.The Conversation

Joshua Jowitt, Teaching Fellow in Law, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2019 Stella Prize Shortlist & Winner


The links below are to articles that takes a look at the shortlist for the 2019 Stella Prize, and finally the winner of the prize, ‘The Erratics’ by Vicki Laveau-Harvie.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/apr/07/stella-prize-2019-your-guide-to-the-shortlist
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/apr/09/stella-prize-vicki-laveau-harvies-the-erratics-wins-best-book-by-female-australian-writer
https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2019/04/09/2019-stella-prize-winner/

Books Written By 2020 US Presidential Candidates


The link below is to an article that takes a look at 20 books written by 2020 US Presidential Candidates.

For more visit:
https://www.bustle.com/p/20-books-written-by-2020-presidential-candidates-because-you-can-judge-a-candidate-by-their-book-17219838

Why nonfiction books dominate bestseller lists in South Africa



File 20190423 175510 1w4md7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s “Gangster State” is one of South Africa’s top sellers.
Charles Leonard

Beth le Roux, University of Pretoria

Books in South Africa don’t often make headline news. But a controversial subject, protests and disruptions at a book launch, and threats of book burning are sufficient to get South Africans talking about the place of books in society once again.

This is exactly what has happened with investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s latest book “Gangster State”.

“Gangster State” is an exposé of current African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General Ace Magashule’s alleged murky dealings as premier of the Free State province, and his rise to one of the governing party’s most influential positions. The book has stirred up passionate reactions, both for and against its contents.

This last happened in late 2017 when another investigative reporter Jacques Pauw published a similar book, “The President’s Keepers”. That book dealt with South Africa’s previous head of state, Jacob Zuma, who’s been closely linked to massive corruption. Zuma denies the allegations.




Read more:
Two books that tell the unsettling tale of South Africa’s descent


Clearly, this kind of book touches a certain chord in South African society. A quick glance through the top-selling books in the past few years shows that non-fiction, and particularly political non-fiction dealing with very topical events, is the most popular genre.

The trend can be traced back through a number of years, with nonfiction consistently dominating the Nielsen’s BookScan sales charts – the most comprehensive figures collected on book sales through commercial booksellers. This raises the question: why do political books do so well in South Africa?

Celebrities

This isn’t a uniquely South Africa phenomenon. Nonfiction is popular around the world. Celebrities’ memoirs or biographies, as well as history titles, are more likely to become bestsellers than any other kinds of nonfiction. Indeed, Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” caused a paper shortage in the US towards the end of 2018, as it was reprinted in such large quantities and at short notice to keep up with audience demand. This title has now sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

Where South Africa differs is in the balance of sales between nonfiction and fiction. In most of the largest publishing markets, fiction is bought at much higher rates than nonfiction. In the US, for instance, average sales for fiction titles are between 4 000 and 8 000 copies, while the nonfiction average is lower, at 2 000 to 6 000 copies.

In South Africa, it’s the reverse. Nonfiction outsells fiction. This is not a new trend, either: political books found a ready audience throughout the apartheid period.

There are a few categories of nonfiction that do particularly well: political nonfiction, South African history (especially political history), religious books – and the ubiquitous cookbooks. The authors that have the edge tend to be journalists rather than academics, probably because their writing is so much more accessible.

Statistically, too, men write more nonfiction than women in South Africa, and so are more likely to produce top-selling titles, as was found by one of my post-graduate students, Kelly Ansara, in her Master’s study of the gender balance in SA publishing.

South African trends

In analysing the publishing lists and sales figures of the local nonfiction publishers – Pan Macmillan, Jonathan Ball, Penguin SA, Tafelberg and Jacana, on the whole – another difference becomes apparent. Books by and about celebrities are not as popular in South Africa as in the US and UK. Their sales are thus less predictable.

For instance, while former Springbok rugby coach Jake White’s “In Black and White” sold more than 60 000 copies in a week in 2008, star rugby player Joost van der Westhuizen’s “Man in the Mirror” was less successful. Comedian Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime”, has been extremely successful, but titles by local musicians and actors such as Bonang Matheba and Somizi Mhlongo have sold comparatively few copies.

The raft of competing titles that hit the shelves after the murder conviction of former Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius did not take off as well as expected. Excellent titles on topics as diverse as climate change and South African art sell a respectable number, but don’t make the bestseller list.

Many of the country’s nonfiction titles sell several thousand copies very quickly, but few of them have staying power. Current interest is intense in topics like state capture and corruption scandals. But it fades quickly, leading to a short shelf-life for a number of political books. Only a few gain the perennial interest and staying power of a title like “I Write What I Like” by Steve Biko or Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”.

Making sense

Many commentators suggest that the interest in political and current affairs titles reflects a nation trying to make sense of its tumultuous political environment. The huge political and social shifts of the past 20 to 30 years are still influencing South Africans’ daily lives. With one corruption scandal following another, trust in the authorities is low. But citizens still seek authoritative overviews and answers – in the nonfiction titles that line our shelves.

There is little reason to predict that the trend will change. However, if the threats mount, then we may see authors and publishers shifting to less controversial topics. For now, it’s great to see books in the news again.The Conversation

Beth le Roux, Associate Professor, Publishing, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.