A sign in Foyles in 2018

Above: A warning that has recently been placed on prominent display in Foyles bookstore, London. Credit: Oscopic.

Foyles Injunction

Foyles bookstore on Charing Cross Road in London has been in business since 1903. The bookshop is one of the only large bookstores left in The Smoke--Waterstones Piccadilly and Hatchards Piccadilly are the other ones. A caution sign has recently been installed at Foyles: "Photographing the contents of books is strictly prohibited" (see above). The warning sign is intended as a deterrent to persons who might be thinking of doing some impromptu manual digitizing of book pages of interest--so saving themselves the cost of buying the full printed-paper book. ("That is interesting what I have just read while browsing I think I will take a photo of that page/those pages/this article.") Of course, almost anyone entering Foyles or any large bookstore carries with them, in the shape of their smartphone, a digital camera by which copying flat book pages is straightforward.

The warning may be heeded or it may be ignored, either way the Foyles sign is an index to a behaviour that is clearly having a negative impact on book sales. Photo-snaps of book pages made using a smartphone are comparable to (but better quality than and more portable than) the photocopy of yore. There are many who wish to retain certain of the content of a given book but who equally have no interest in the, say, £16.99 or £24.99 price. Just the information will do. And, in fact, such a set of page-snaps saved as a single .PDF are often more accessible and useful than a bulky printed book.

As with many such signs as this one, the admonition is essentially unenforceable and has the legal status of a polite notice--the most the book-seller could really hope to do would be to order an offender off their premises. But, if the page-snapper refused to leave the use of force might not be legal. Not even UK copyright law would normally have been broken by such a snapper assuming the photo-copier just wanted to copy a chapter or an extract for personal non-commercial use. Copying for personal use is excluded from copyright law as "fair dealing." Under fair dealing it is usually acceptable to copy: one complete chapter or extracts of up to 10% of a book; one article from an issue of a journal or a periodical; up to 10 pages of a poem, short story, or other short literary work, taken from a volume of short stories or poems.

Foyles against the machine. I think I know who wins.

(13 July 2018)