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Free Maus? Digital access to banned books is important but writers still need to eat!

Jonny Diamond

February 14, 2022, 11:46am

In another case of unbridled tech utopianism, the director of the Internet Archive—a non-profit website that makes ebooks freely available to anyone with the internet—is complaining that Penguin Random House wants them to remove Art Spiegelman’s Maus from their collection, suggesting the request is tantamount to “digital book burning.” Dude, c’mon. Maus, of course, has shot back up the bestseller lists because of a Tennessee school board’s decision to ban it.

I’m all for open-source, anarchist culture-hacking, but not at the expense of individual artists, all of whom I am certain still need to eat and pay rent and buy paper. And while it’s very easy to make a villain out of a billion-dollar company like Penguin Random House, the fact remains that Art Spiegelman also loses when someone “borrows” Maus from the Internet Archive.

Are American copyright laws a little intense? Are they often in aid of a steroidal contemporary capitalism that seeks to commodify and monetize every last moment of the human experience? Just because the answer to both of those questions is YES doesn’t mean you can give away an artist’s work without asking them.

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