Proof positive

<p>You may not have heard of Troy Augusto but, like Bosman with football and Kolpak with cricket and rugby, he could become associated with major changes to our industry.</p>
<p>Earlier this month, Augusto was taken to court by Universal Music. He is an eBay trader who specialises in selling promotional CDs online. Universal claimed he was guilty of copyright infringement and that they retained ownership of the discs. Augusto&rsquo;s lawyers defended the case by referring to the &ldquo;first sale&rdquo; doctrine of US copyright law. This states that a CD owner is free to sell it without the permission of the copyright owner.</p>
<p>The court found in favour of Augusto and made it clear that no amount of disclaimers or threats removed the right of the individual to sell, pass on or do whatever they like with the CDs. Universal are lodging an appeal (doesn&rsquo;t everyone these days?), but most observers seem to feel that the findings will stand. This result could have ramifications beyond America and in other industries, including our own.</p>
<p>Proofs or advanced reading copies have been part of publishing for many years. Sure, piles of unread copies line the corridors of every bookshop and retail head office in the land, but they remain our only real tool for getting booksellers to read stuff. Most still carry threatening warnings about the perils of re-selling. Glancing at a few on my bookshelves, I see phrases such as &ldquo;violation of law&rdquo;, &ldquo;strictly prohibited&rdquo; and &ldquo;legal action&rdquo;. But are such threats now rendered toothless? &thinsp;And does it really matter?</p>
<p>As an experiment, I looked at the titles on the Amazon Hot Future Releases chart and cross-checked them against eBay auctions. Of the top 20, only three were up for auction as proofs. They were forthcoming novels by Terry Pratchett, Steven Erikson, and Eoin Colfer. All very successful and highly collectible authors. Does the fact that advance editions are on sale detract from possible earnings or, instead, enhance their standing as popular authors?</p>
<p>In my experience, most of the people who buy proofs are dealers who would never have bought the finished item anyway, or hardcore fans who want every possible edition and will usually get the &ldquo;legitimate&rdquo; one too. It is also not unknown for publishers to draw the attention of retailers to the black market trade on certain proofs as a sign of future success.</p>
<p>Whatever your position on the sale of proofs, it might well be rendered irrelevant in the coming months by the actions of Mr Troy Augusto. Perhaps he will, unwittingly, prove the catalyst that takes proofs from paper to digital formats. We shall wait and see.</p>