India Uncut

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Monday, June 19, 2006

John Updike takes on the technorati

Kevin Kelly had recently written an essay in the New York Times, "Scan This Book!," on how all books will one day be digitised to be part of a "universal library," which "should include a copy of every painting, photograph, film and piece of music produced by all artists, present and past." Kelly described a future in which "the universal library becomes one very, very, very large single text: the world's only book."

Well, some people are horrified by the implications of the future Kelly sets out, and John Updike is one of them. At a recent event, Updike made a scathing speech against Kelly's vision, and you can listen to a podcast of it here. Immense fun, these duels between big guns. Listen in.

My take on it: I'm delighted about the increased access to books that a "universal library" would provide, but I care deeply about the sanctity of copyright, which is threatened by some of what Kelly speaks of. Property rights provide the biggest incentive for progress, and should be inviolable.

Having said that, the print-v-pixels battle hardly interests me. People should be able to read books in whatever format they want, provided they acquire them legally, and I'm sure there'll always be enough lovers of "[p]hysical, handsome, nice-smelling books," as Updike puts it, for bookshops to flourish well after every book is available online.

Two other accounts of the drama: The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post.
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