One downside of the lower cost of publishing that computer technology has made possible is the proliferation of sloppy publishing houses. Now don’t get me wrong – the benefits definitely outweigh the costs. But the costs are real, and I’m entitled to gripe about them. Kessinger Reprints comes to mind – their productions range from the good (Isabel Paterson’s Never Ask the End, a perfectly fine facsimile edition) to the bad (Jules Verne’s Children of Captain Grant, filled with scanning errors) to the ugly (Lysander Spooner’s Vices Are Not Crimes, which includes the footnote markers but omits all the actual footnotes, in addition to mangling the subtitle).
But what I’m griping about today is the Quiet Vision Press edition of George MacDonald’s fantasy classic The Princess and the Goblin.
The text itself is pretty much okay – just a few typos (mostly capitalisation and hyphenation errors). But …
First, on the back of the book it says:
The Princess Irene has been kidnapped by Goblins. And it is up to an unlikely hero, Curdie the Miner Boy, to save the day.
It’s admittedly true that throughout the book the reader is continually led to expect that Irene will be kidnapped by the goblins and that Curdie will have to rescue her. But it never happens; MacDonald is too clever a writer to be that predictable. Instead it’s Curdie who gets kidnapped, and it’s Irene who has to rescue him. So, strike one.
Next, the back of the book continues:
An amazing tale from one of the founders of modern fantasy, George MacDonald. Including illustrations from a late 1900th century edition.
Wow, that’s really old. Or else from far in the future – one or the other. Strike two.
Finally, on the first page of the book there’s a place for the owner to write his or her name, and here, in fancy Gothic font, we see printed:
This Books Belongs To ____________________
And then, to add insult to injury (or perhaps injury to insult – or at least threat to incompetence), the copyright page sternly informs us that “No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted,” blah blah blah, “without permission of the publisher.” This in a book where both text and pictures date from the 19th (or 1900th?) century and so are in the public domain! I wonder if there are any legal penalties for claiming copyright protection when you don’t actually have it?
Actual changes to the content can be copyrighted, (including the copyright notice!) so maybe the mistakes were a deliberate attempt at creating a new copyrightable derivative work. 😉
Gary North in one of his e-mail newsletters discussed Google’s blocking access to copyright-expired classical works on their Google Books service, even though the only true copyright-protection was due to the re-publisher’s bookcover and copyright notices. Private interests always find a way to play the State’s malleable Law.
That sort of thing happened in the old days, though. An author has always been lucky if the guy who writes the cover copy did more than skim through the book. For example, I’ve got a fairly early (1970s) printing of The Dispossessed, with a back cover description involving an anarchist from the libertarian world of Urras who travels to the authoritarian world of Anarres. And while no specific examples come to mind, my general recollection is that that sort of thing is fairly common.
I certainly remember various misdescriptions on the backs of books. “1900th century” and “This Books Belongs To” are a bit unusual, though.
Actually I’ve heard it argued that you have to keep the notice when transferring to digital media because the copyright notice is within the publishing and printing information, which might still be relevant. Would you say the entire page should be left out entirely, parts of it blanked out, or a new page made with the same information minus the big C?
Well, the copyright notice said 2002, so it’s not the original copyright notice (which would have been to the 19th — or 1900th — century).