There is a lively conversation underway across the Web regarding Google Print. I posted some thoughts a few days ago here, and now (among many others) Larry Lessig and Jim DeLong have joined in, with the conversation continuing in the comments section of Lessig's post and in a second post from Jim.
All that has led me to a question to which I do not yet have a well-formed answer: how should we decide when a copyright holder is entitled to earn revenue from a new technology? Consider, for example, movies. If I make a movie based on your book, and my movie hurts sales of your book, I take it that it is easy to agree that I should have to share some of my movie revenue with you. The new technology in that case displaced sales of the old one, and the law likely should help to dampen that blow, in this case by requiring movie producers to license the work. But what if it were the case that movie sales did not at all diminish book sales?
Would the claim for revenue be less compelling? What if books sales were dropping just because old revenue streams gradually die off? That is, movies aren't directly causing financial harm to book copyright holders, but society is just following the inevitable path where (1) old revenue streams, like books, drop in value and (2) new revenue streams, here movies, gain in value over time. What if book revenue was fully intact, but movies were also earning large financial rewards? Would copryight holders have a good policy argument in favor of sharing in that extra revenue that their work made possible?
As those of you who are reading the various posts surely know, I think Larry Lessig would say that copyright holders should only get a share of revenue in cases where the new technology directly harms the old ones. Somewhat surprisingly, Jim DeLong seems to have adopted the same view. But is that right?
I will say more about this in due course, but first I would love to hear what other folks think. Comments are open.