Judge Richard Posner and Scott Turow in "Conversation"

July 2012

More than 200 people earlier this year came to the Newberry to hear Scott Turow and Judge Richard Posner discuss the future of books, authors, and libraries in the digital age as part of the library’s new public program, “Conversations at the Newberry.” Designed to generate thought-provoking discourse about enduring issues that are timely today, each evening features a pair of authors speaking about topics on which they have expertise and with which they are enthusiastically engaged, followed by give and take with the audience. The series is made possible by the generosity of Newberry Trustee Sue Gray and her husband, Mel, through their gift to the Campaign for Tomorrow’s Newberry.

A partner at SNR Denton, author of nine best-selling works of fiction, and President of The Author’s Guild, Scott Turow has written and spoken often about the impact the digitization of books is having on the publishing industry, libraries, and books in general. Jurist, legal theorist, and economist Richard Posner is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, as well as Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. The author of more than 2,500 published judicial opinions and 30 books, Posner’s academic work has focused on the application of economics to law.

Discussing the role of books in a digital age, Turow acknowledged that “e-books are here to stay.” While praising their ease of use and accessibility, Turow warned that the availability of digital materials raises concerns over book piracy and copyright violation and threatens the viability of book stores and libraries. Citing a lawsuit The Authors Guild filed against Google after the company made the contents of seven university libraries available online, Turow said, “It’s a fight over who is going to make money. All of these issues revolve around the concept of copyright,” explaining that a copyright grants authors a limited monopoly over their work, providing an incentive to share their intellectual property.

Judge Posner offered a different opinion, admitting he is “not a fan” of copyright laws which, in his view, block access to material. “I think it’s a scandal that Google has been frustrated in its effort to digitize all works. It ought to be all digitized and accessible, otherwise you’re just withholding access to the great body of human thought. Digital distribution is simply immensely more efficient than libraries or book stores.”

Turow conceded the need to strike a balance between copyright protection and access and explained that, traditionally, libraries have filled that role by providing the public “free access to the intellectual property created by authors,” a role Judge Posner believes libraries are moving away from in a digital age.

Thanking Turow and Judge Posner for their insights, Newberry President David Spadafora said, “Obviously, the issues involved are important to us here at the Newberry and we think they should be important to everyone.”

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