Category Archives: copyright

Orphan works and other copyright links

Orphan works are potentially covered by copyright but with no obvious rights holder. As a result, even if you want to publish/show/play them, you’ve no way to request permission but doing so without permission risks copyright infringement. Back in 2005, Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain discussed the problems this creates for preserving films: thousands of yards of film are decaying but who’s going to spend money preserving something you have no right to show?

Over in the European Union, you can get past this by making a diligent search for the copyright holder. Unfortunately the law is unclear on when you’ve been diligent enough, and even meeting the minimum standard can be difficult.

All but the last 10 Sherlock Holmes stories are public domain. However the Doyle estate argues Netflix’s new Enola Holmes series about Holmes’ brilliant sister infringes on the final 10 by showing Holmes as a complex emotional human being instead of just a thinking machine.

Some companies have tried using trademark as a way to control material that’s now out of copyright. One Supreme Court decision from 2003 says that’s not going to fly.

Self-published authors and fanfic-turned-pro authors are increasingly using copyright law against their competition in dubious ways.

For an unrelated illustration, here’s TYG comparing the size of the onion we got last week to Trixie’s head.

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Assorted writing and media-related links

Even if Marvel wanted to stop cops wearing Punisher insignia, there’s not much they can do.

How a l0w-budget indie horror film became the hit of the summer.

Foz Meadows recounts some really unpleasant interactions with the Red Sofa literary agency.

Publishers filed suit to stop Internet Archive lending out unlimited copies of digital books. The Archive stopped, while spouting bullshit about how this is an attack on the very concept of library lending (nope. Libraries actually pay for digital books).

Vice calls out an author for arguing pirating creative works is cool. Don Henley, meanwhile, has asked Congress to do more to fight digital piracy.

Wonder where President Tiny-Brain got the idea that old man police knocked down in Baltimore was a false-flag operator? From One America Network, which makes Fox News look like Walter Cronkite.

When blogs became a thing, a lot of right-wingers prophesied the end of the “lamestream media.” They’re still prophesying it.

Spotify now rules the podcasting world.

John Scalzi signed a record-breaking multimillion-dollar publishing deal with Tor a few years back. Here he reviews the first five years.

If you need sound effects, the BBC has your back.

Scalzi, again, this time on creatives who aren’t talking about politics.


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Black comedy and the Trump Virus

A number of political bloggers have described our current situation — idiot authoritarian putting his useless son-in-law in charge of a medical crisis — is a banana-republic kind of thing. Me, I’ve come to see it as a kind of black comedy about the British aristocracy at its worst. Only very black, and not very funny.

In this view of things, Trump is a duke from some hideously inbred line of aristocrats. He’s stupid and feckless, but with his distinguished pedigree and his vicious willingness to lash out at anyone who questions him, lots of people are perfectly willing to treat him as if he were worthy of respect. Jared is the equivalent of an airheaded fop, the kind of nitwit who populates so many P.G. Wodehouse stories. Except Wodehouse’s protagonists are invariably decent; in a pandemic they might have no idea what to do, but if it were pointed out, they’d do the right thing. Kushner not so much. Whoever’s behind seizing state Trump Virus supplies, for instance, they’re not doing the right thing.

And this article about Trump’s endorsement of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment has Trump, Giulani and an economic adviser admitting they don’t know nothin’ ’bout medicine, but they did stay in a Holiday Inn last night — well about that level of rationality.

And we have the Republicans horrified, like countless earlier generations of aristocrats, that doing anything to help the peasantry will give them ideas they have rights. That they can get better treatment! They might realize Medicare for all is affordable! BBut I’m sure right wingers will be happier with new proposals such as “pitching a payroll-tax cut, a capital-gains tax cut, creating 50-year Treasury bonds to lock in low interest rates, and a waiver that would clear businesses of liability from employees who contract the coronavirus on the job.” Yes, the poor and small business owners suffering from the Trump Virus will certainly be able to survive on their 50-year-treasury bonds!

But looking at the effects on the ground, it’s not funny. It’s true all governments struggle with the unexpected, but Trump’s White House has been exceptionally bad. “It took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.” Doctors are going above and beyond — why isn’t Trump? Okay, the question’s rhetorical, it’s because he cares far more about avoiding any blame than actually solving the crisis. See, easy?

And does Trump’s support for using a malarial drug to treat the Trump Virus have anything to do with the manufacturer paying for access to him? (or, as noted in that hydroxychloroquine article, that he and a lot of people in his orbit have investments that would benefit). I’ve heard similar points made about our government scooping up N95 masks — privatized contractors will get to distribute them and profit thereby. More on the science here.

In other Trump Virus news:

Sean Hannity now insists he took the virus seriously from day one. He lies. And lies some more.

With Diamond, the only remaining comics distributor, shutting down for now, comics companies are searching for solutions.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is streaming his musical on YouTube for free.

More on the Internet Archive undermining copyright during the crisis. And the incredibly intrusive proctoring/data gathering checking on college students taking tests online.


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Money for nothing and my books for free? It depends

So as I think I’ve already mentioned, I made my Smashwords short-story collection, Philosophy and Fairytales free as part of a promotion running through April 20. I’m quite happy that two people have already downloaded the book.I was much less happy to discover the Internet Archive had an ebook of Screen Enemies of the American Way available on its website for free reading. Camestros Felapton’s post alerted me that IA, in addition to storing old web pages, digitizes print books and lends them out, just like any other library — except, as Slate says, regular libraries don’t just digitize books under copyright and make them available (with exceptions such as services for the blind). Libraries actually pay for ebooks; IA doesn’t. So I asked the IA to take my book down (it appears to be the only one of mine up there) and they did. First time I’ve tackled a pirate site (and in my not-a-lawyer opinion, this does seem to be piracy) and it felt good.

My work on Leaf wrapped up Monday — one of their regular breaks in the work flow — which is good as Leaf articles seem to suffer from the distractions of TYG and pups in the current quarantine more than anything else I do. That’s probably because I try to keep to sharp deadlines writing them and there’s just enough distraction these days to slow them down. So maybe it’s simply more noticeable with Leaf than other work? But hopefully by the time they start up again, I’ll have a smoother process for the new normal.

I got plenty done this week. Two chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Final draft (subject to one more beta reader weighing in) of Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates. A good deal of work done on Undead Sexist Cliches. Finishing the second draft of Laughter in the Dark. And I participated in a Zoom-meeting of my Tuesday writer’s group. Damn, but it felt really good to see everyone’s faces.

As I woke up early this morning, I am now done. Bring on the weekend.

#SFWApro. Cover image by Lisa Wildman, all rights remain with current holders.


Filed under copyright, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Short story authors Patricia McKillip and Jesus, plus more books!

I was pleased to discover Patricia McKillip’s short-story collection DREAMS OF DISTANT SHORES includes her short novel Something Rich and Strange, (though without the original Brian Froud illustrations) as getting it used would have been pricey. Unfortunately, while the story of two lovers captivated by male and female sea deities is vividly written, it ends on a Western Union (give a hoot! Don’t pollute) I could have done without, even though I have the same view. In other stories Medusa becomes an artist’s muse, a witch’s spirit inhabits a wooden mermaid and two lovers discuss the impossible while hiding in a bathroom. Overall very good.

SHORT STORIES BY JESUS: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine is an interesting enough look at Jesus’ parables it makes me want to go back and reread the Gospels (and I will, though I may look for something other than my old KJV first). Levine argues that the allegorical interpretations of the parables — the shepherd with the missing sheep is God yearning for the sinner to repent — don’t make sense: the straying sheep doesn’t repent, the shepherd has to drag it back to the flock, and isn’t it the shepherd’s fault if his charges wander off (ditto the parable of the lost coin, as coins are completely unable to repent going astray). Some interpretations, Levine argues, get downright antisemitic by arguing the message is Christian compassion vs. Jewish intolerance (a Jewish scholar herself, she goes into some depth on how these theories misread the law). Levine is less effective at offering a “real” interpretation, but as her point is that we should push beyond the obvious and comfortable readings, handing me an interpretation might be counter-productive. Thought provoking.

LIBRARIES IN THE ANCIENT WORLD by Lionel Casson shows that libraries go back at least to the Assyrian king Asshurbanipal, who built his own personal royal library (which provides the source for much of the Sumerian literature still extant, but had very little effect on later library developments (like the inventions in The Ancient Engineers, his library was a personal project nobody else followed up on). As a result, library history really doesn’t get started until the Greeks, who founded the Library of Alexandria (during the Ptolemy dynasty’s reign over Egypt) and multiple others, and introduced a novel idea of alphabetization to order the books. One thing that surprised me was that ancient libraries weren’t purely scholastic: literacy was high enough that there was a serious demand for popular literature in Greece and Rome, and later Byzantium.

I’ve read a lot of books filled with dense academese, but in writing THE CULTURAL LIFE OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES: Authorship, Appropriation and the Law Rosemary Coombe takes it to new heights with phrases such as “Despite the epistemological bankruptcy of the metaphors of possessive individualism” so I had no qualms skipping large chunks of this and skimming the rest. That’s unfortunate, as I like reading about copyright and intellectual property law and Coombe does have some interesting points about how this sector of law increasingly favors the corporation over the public. If Coca-Cola licensing its logo to T-shirt or towel manufacturers doesn’t hurt the trademark, for instance, why does an unauthorized use of the trademark the same way “dilute” the mark (it’s not as if Coke is endorsing the quality of the shirts). Why is it that the International Olympics Committee’s trademark on “Olympics” isn’t harmed by countless groups and organizations using the word but has to be protected from a Gay Olympics? Why do stars get to trademark their public image when it’s often based on countless other performers (though Coombe gets the facts about one lawsuit involving the Marx Brothers’ image wrong). Despite those gems, Coombe’s opaque writing made it impossible to care about whatever insights into post-modern individualism and its relation to this topic might be.


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Controversial golden agers and other writing links

SF editorial legend John W. Campbell has become controversial in recent years. Cory Doctorow explains why. A friend of mine who showed this post to me added that it’s not just a matter of being bad personally: as the editor supreme, Campbell shaped and influenced what hundreds of writer got published. His ideas matter.

And then there’s Isaac Asimov. I’d heard about his fondness for grabbing or slapping women’s butts, but it was worse than I realized, At the link a good argument Asimov was not just “the product of his times.”

Several famous guitar riffs in classic songs are not in the sheet music used to register copyright. That could make them public domain. And lots of stuff made in 1924, such as Tarzan and the Ant Men and Rhapsody in Blue is now public domain. And if not for Congress extending copyright duration in 1978, material from 1963 would be available now, including Where the Wild Things Are and Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

Mystery novelist Sherry Harris says don’t write what you know, write what you suspect.

John Rogers of the TV show Leverage suggests “don’t write crime. Write sin.”

Male–male friendships are valued onscreen because, in addition to fleshing out male characters, they establish that men aren’t solely emotionally dependent on women, that they have lives and interests of their own. Female–female friendships are devalued for precisely the same reason, particularly in genre shows: they encourage the radical notion that a man, even a romantically suitable one, might not be the most important thing in a woman’s life. ” — Foz Meadows on representation and also how diversity in fiction favors white women.

Meadows also reminds us that while women and minority protagonists may be labeled as unrealistic, mediocre white protagonists get a pass.

The Mako Mori test: is there at least one woman in the story who has her own narrative arc, independent of supporting the man’s story?

The struggles to have a functional journalism in the 21st century.

“I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable in a neighborhood full of Mr. Rogerses than I would in one patrolled continually by John Wayne wannabes with assault rifles.”

Another article on the question of whether we can separate the art from the artist.

“It was basically an early colonial version of Footloose.Atlas Obscura on America’s first banned book.


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Chaos at the Romance Writers Association (and other links)

Romance novelist Courtney Milan criticized a book as racist. The author filed an ethics complaint against Milan with Romance Writers of America, which sided with the author. At the link, Camestros Felapton details a fairly complicated mess in which the RWA seems to be digging itself in deeper every day. Plus a from Camestros here about the challenges for RWA and similar groups as what’s acceptable regarding racism/gender/homophobia shifts.

“The opinions of critics and reviewers should be used as guidelines for where to spend our time and money, not as a means of completely outsourcing all the work of critical judgement to other people.” Foz Meadows on accepting stories don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile.

“If you can’t afford $4 to rent a movie, or $10 a month for a streaming service, or whatever it is you’re trying to watch or listen to, then you don’t get to do it.” — Creative Future cracking down on pro-piracy arguments.

Subsidy presses lie to make themselves look like legitimate publishers, for example claiming traditional publishers also require you buy a ton of books. Given how many aspiring writers I know who were clueless about legitimate publishing, I don’t doubt it’s effective.

How to write satire in the age of Trump.

John Scalzi on the possibility of becoming “problematic.”

How not to write a Hanukkah movie.

What Scooby-Doo teaches us about writing.

An answer to the perennial question why do ebooks cost so much?

There are trolls posting fake reviews on Goodreads. Because some people suck.

Laurie Penny on what she learned from fanfiction.

Joker director Todd Phillips says “woke culture” killed comedy. Joker actor Marc Maron counters that the only thing you can’t get away with is “shamelessly punching down for the sheer joy of hurting people, …For the sheer excitement and laughter that some people get from causing people pain, from making people uncomfortable, from making people feel excluded.”


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A friend’s Kickstarter and other writing/creative links

My friend Michele Berger has been asked to contribute to a Kickstarter-funded anthology, so I’m boosting the signal. Details on Michele’s blog.

Here’s how Donald Trump Junior got to be a best-selling author. Unfortunately it’s not a technique most of us writers can afford.

Physical books still outsell ebooks. And small bookstores are doing better than they used to.

Why provide prison libraries when prisons and private businesses can screw inmates over by forcing them to use tablets?

The seismic shift in the streaming services boom. Disney’s streaming service may be why they’re now yanking Fox movies from playing in revival and art houses — which is bad news for the theaters in question.

John Scalzi on outgrowing things you used to love.

An author’s account of her experiences dealing with ChiZine.

SF editorial legend John W. Campbell has become controversial in recent years. Cory Doctorow explains why. Someone else (I’m not sure who said it) pointed out that it’s not just a matter of Campbell having, as Doctorow notes, some really horrible racist beliefs. As the field’s top editor back in the day, he wielded immense influence: even writers who published elsewhere frequently tried his magazines first, so they wrote to suit his taste. Which was not always good (I’ll be coming back to the Doctorow piece in a later post).

A quick guide to copyright laws for art.

A guide to the role of the comma in contract law.

Digital piracy is hurting indie comics.  Which by coincidence was also a topic at Atomic Junkshop.

Jazz pianist Errol Garner was the first musical artist to sue his record label and win.

Showing how successful characters are often due to chance, here’s how Sabrina the Teenage Witch only came to TV when Filmation couldn’t do a Bewitched cartoon.

Preparing for a new opera role.

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A cautionary tale and other writing links

“If just one person had sat me down when I signed my first book contract and explained how publishing works, how nothing is guaranteed, and how it often feels like playing Russian Roulette with words, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions,” author Heather Demetrius says, recounting how she squandered the big advances on her early novels in the assumption they’d always be that big. They weren’t.

I have a lot of sympathy for Demetrios, as I was a pretty ghastly money-manager in my early adulting (and I understand very well about not making headway as a writer — though she’s certainly gone way further than me). If I’d gotten a large advance, I probably wouldn’t have spent it well either. And while I was careful about counting on freelance income, my first attempt at full-time freelancing, back in the 1990s, did assume my stringer gig for a local paper would be steady income, as it had been for the previous three years. Oops; recession hit, cutbacks ensued.

That said, I agree with author KJ Charles on Twitter that “Did anyone in the publishing house take me under their wing and explain to me how the company made decisions about future book deals? No. Did the publisher tap a more seasoned author on their list to mentor me, as many major corporations encourage within their companies? No.” is not a complaint to sympathize with. We’re freelancers; it’s our responsibility to be aware how the system works (or doesn’t). There’s no shortage of writing magazines, writing websites and finance/budget books and websites that can explain this stuff for anyone who wants to find out. And mentors at major corporations are on staff, so they get paid while they educate. Not so for novelists.

In other links:

KJ Charles vents on unreasonably critical editors.

Amazon is tweaking its search feature to prioritize results that make money for Amazon.

Golden Age mystery fiction is enjoying a renaissance.

Mike Pesca argues at Slate that we have more comedy and better than 40 or 50 years ago, but a lot more of it tends to play it safe. I’m not sure I’d agree with Pesca’s thoughts (or that I wouldn’t) but it’s worth perusing.

An Advocate General for the European Court of Justice says unlike physical books, there’s no right of resale for e-copies we buy. Will the court agree? Will US courts decide the same in similar cases?



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Mars, monsters, black hair and copyright: books read

Leigh Brackett’s THE NEMESIS FROM TERRA reads like a mash-up of Brackett’s Martian adventures with her hardboiled movie scripts (she worked on both The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye). It’s set in an era when a powerful Earth corporation has taken over Mars, press ganging lower-class Martians and Earthers to work in the mines (reminding me of Diana Wynn Jones’ joke about how miners in fantasy novels are always slaves, never actual miners). Tough-as-nails protagonist Rick is on the run from the press gang when a Martian seer tells him he’s destined to rule. To succeed, though, he’s got to defeat the corporation, it’s ruthless leader and deal with their mutual interest in an attractive revolutionary (the Bacall to Rick’s Bogart). Plus, of course, a lost city.

This is a grimmer, tougher yarn than most of Brackett’s Mars stories (people smoke a lot more than they do in her other stories too), but it also fits what Edmond Hamilton (Brackett’s husband) saw as the theme of her work: a man who pursues a great dream only to find it hollow. A good story, in any case.

HAIR STORY: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps does an excellent job tracing the history of African-American hair and hairstyles from Africa (where elaborate hairstyles were as much a status marker as a bespoke suit today) through slavery to post-Civil War segregation. In both freedom and slavery, straight “white” style hair became the marker of a superior person (and also more acceptable to the white world); later in the 20th century, the popularity of the Afro (and later dredlocks) led to debate whether this represented True Blackness, meaningless fashion or was just tacky. There’s a lot more stuff covered in the book; while I know some of these issues exist, the authors did a great job making me understand them.

TwoMorrows Publishing’s MONSTER MASH: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America, 1957-1972 by Mark Voger looks back to the late 1950s when Universal released its Shock Theater package to TV, containing its classic monster films (and a lot that weren’t so classic), introducing Frankenstein, Dracula and others to a generation of kids who’d never seen them (the last film in the cycle was 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Kids were blown away (so was I when I encountered the films in syndication a dozen years later), leading to an explosion of marketing (sweat shirts, Aurora models, Count Chocula cereal, board games) and TV spinoffs such as The Munsters (surprisingly Voger never mentions the film version, Munsters Go Home), The Addams Family and Dark Shadows. Voger argues that while the classic horrors and their spinoffs are still around this era of film horror ended in 1972 as The Exorcist took the genre in another direction. A good job.

HOLLYWOOD’S COPYRIGHT WARS: From Edison to the Internet by Peter Decherney, shows how copyright struggles were part of the movie industry from the early days, when it wasn’t clear if copyright applied to photography (if you just photographed real life, what creativity was there to protect?), let alone to films, which were seen as collections of photographs. Following that debate would come battles over pirating other studios’ films (a common problem in the early years), adapting books and plays for the screen, whether TV editing movies violated creator rights (the Monty Python were one of the few who won that fight, when they sued ABC for butchering their skits for a late-night showing), then into the age of the VCR, DVD and Internet (while I’m more familiar with the issues of this period, Decherney still told me a lot I didn’t know). An excellent job.

#SFWApro. Brackett cover art is uncredited; all rights to images remain with current holders.


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