Category Archives: copyright

John Carter of Trademarked Mars

A Princess of Mars, the story that became the movie John Carter, is public domain. Nevertheless, after the 2012 movie flopped, Disney lost the rights to the character. How do you lose rights to public domain works?

Well the Burroughs estate claims the copyright is still good in some countries, which would restrict overseas sales. Plus the estate has trademarked John Carter and Tarzan. That led to a lawsuit Dynamite Comics over its John Carter series, on the grounds their portrayal of the characters hurt the trademark. Dynamite settled, though the premise is dubious: trademark suits hinge on the plaintiff using the trademark to label goods (e.g., Nike and sneakers) which the estate doesn’t appear to be doing. There are other nebulous issues noted at the last link, such as moral rights (if Dynamite’s stories were too sexy, that would hurt Burroughs’ image). One of the comments in this Scalzi post explains a little more about those.

A great many films and books are entering public domain soon (Mickey Mouse. The Great Gatsby). Surprisingly, copyright holders are not fighting for the usual extensions, which may be because pro-public domain forces are better organized (according to Ars Technica at the link) or it may happen a year or two from now. Oh, Motherboard has a list of sites to download the new public domain stuff.

Another copyright issue: the right to resell a digital copy as you would a used paperback or an art print. The law’s lagging behind the tech.

Does Google benefit from allowing digital piracy?

What happens if the U.S. overreaches in the use of lawfare against international IP piracy?

Does copyright law protect dances and other culture created by black teens? Particularly dance?

An orphan work is one that’s under copyright but the rights holder can’t be found; in that case, in some jurisdictions, it’s legitimate to use the work. However doing a diligent search that will protect the user is tricky.

Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew videogame series was a hit for years (my niece played them) but it ground to a stop a few years ago. A minor thread in the skein of woe was having to pay Simon & Schuster royalties to use Nancy (this wasn’t the biggest issue, but it justifies linking in a copyright post).

The copyright and fair use history of the video of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing to a Breakfast Club mashup.

Contrary to legend, Paul McCartney did not pay a man’s legal fees in return for the rights to “Ob la di, ob la da

And for visuals, here’s a cover with the now public-domain superhero, The Boy King, art by Alan Mandel.

#SFWApro.

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Creation and copyright: a few links

Who owns the copyright to the smiley face icon? According to the article, Harvey Ball, who created it, did not copyright it, but others did.

It’s tougher to protect characters than stories. A look at how copyrighting and trademarking characters works. Brian Cronin looks at how this relates to Marvel’s use of Fu Manchu.

Passive Voice looks at orphan works: the copyright holder can’t be found, so nobody can secure the rights to republish them.

Can you copyright a quilt?

#SFWApro. Cover by Dave Gibbons, all rights remain with current holder.

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Copyright, trademark and writing links

A writer says that Amazon can outsource sales of your book to a third-party seller, which means no Prime shipping and possibly a higher price. Another writer looks at the drawbacks of embedding Amazon links in your blog posts.

Some freelance markets are outsourcing their payroll to companies that offer to advance writers their pay early, in return for a slice.

Writer David Mack talks about balancing realism and spectacle in his magic system (something I discussed here).

Harlan Ellison reminds us that we’re entitled to get paid, and not in exposure.

If the content of a website is illegal, is it covered by copyright? In one Israeli case involving porn piracy, the court said yes, but as the content was illegal, the plaintiff got no damages.

The Wickeds mystery-writing group discuss characters surprising them.

If you’re in a legal matter involving your online comments or posts, taking them down prematurely could get you in trouble.

Will a new law make it easier or harder for musicians to get compensation from streaming-music services?

The alt.right turned Pepe the Frog into a mascot. The creator is using copyright to fight back.

Publishers often don’t fact-check books (gotta say, McFarland does well on that).

Do you ever feel that writing fun, fluffy fiction is a waste of time in this era? It isn’t. Reading it is good too (“I don’t want these books dismissed as silly and trivial, when for many readers they are profoundly emotionally restorative.”)

Roger Ebert: ” “When I think about the kinds of movies that make me cry, that make tears come to my eyes, I usually don’t think about sad films. Sad films, I sort of just look at it. It’s movies that are about selflessness, that are about sacrifice, about humans that believe in the good of the human race that sometimes move me.” Courtesy of Fred Clark.

And here’s a Jim Aparo cover showing us the power of fiction creators to alter lives. Er, something like that.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Peter Pan, Roy Lichtenstein, Samuel Clemens and copyright: links

The stage play Peter Pan has something unique about it: a copyright that never ends.

Judge Richard Posner presided over several noteworthy copyright cases.

Samuel Clemens, advocate for copyright rights.

What can you do if your books are pirated and sold as ibooks? Not much.

A woman criticizes her homebuilder in a blog post. Someone copies and pastes the material, then demands the original post be taken down for violating copyright.

Before the Internet, before DVD and VHS, there was still film piracy.

Roy Lichtenstein became a pop art star by turning images like Irv Novick’s panel above into (supposed) high art that “he” created. How did the original artists feel about this?

A possible breakthrough in a longstanding digital-music rights dispute.

On the merits of registering copyright.

Potential problems with Europe’s new copyright laws.

Speaking of new laws, the CLASSICS Act gives artists who recorded before 1972 a share of digital royalties. Some like the idea, some hate it.

Drawbacks to the right of publicity as currently conceived.

The creator of a Forest of Light exhibit tried and failed to derail an imitator with a trademark claim.

A music professor posted some public domain Beethoven recordings to YouTube. Google’s infringement-spotter insisted they were copyright protected and demanded he take them down.

#SFWApro. Image by Irv Novick, all rights remain with current holder.

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I haven’t done a writing links post in a while so let’s get those bookmarked pages going!

A Dungeons and Dragons designer says the monstrous mind-flayers see themselves as tragic figures because they once ruled a slave empire and they can’t get it back. At the link, a good argument why we shouldn’t think of them as tragic or sympathetic (my own thoughts on how villains see themselves are here).

An author who writes a “Cocky Brothers” series trademarked the word “cocky” and won’t allow other authors to use it in titles. When the issue went to court, she lost. More here.

A T-shirt maker trademarked the 150-year-old Plimsoll line for use on T-shirts. When they threatened to sue another company for using the mark, company B agreed.

Women’s health expert Dr. Drai filed to trademark that name. Dr. Dre sued to stop the mark. What happened next will shock you! (Or maybe not).

How copyright law currently blocks publication of unpublished works by great writers. Given how often I run into flawed arguments why copyright is bad, I had the novel experience of seeing the other extreme — lots of people in comments arguing copyright ought to be forever.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch hates agents. Jim Hines makes the case she’s wrong about them.

This Michelle Wolf skit is hysterical, but I can’t see it as a satire of “strong female characters.” It seems more like a take on the movie version of the career-obsessed women in so many rom-coms (she’s so busy she forgot to fall in love and she’ll die stressed out and alone!).

India loves Archie Comics.

Samantha Field’s response to Avengers: Infinity War: If you kill the one you love for power, you don’t love them.

Sorry, meat eaters enjoying tofu is not cultural appropriation.

#SFWApro

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Createspace hackers, copyright and other writing links

Hackers are now targeting author accounts on Createspace.

Atomic Junk Shop on the way current fiction treats smart people.

How to keep writing when life is hard on you.

Camestros Felapton on quoting people who don’t want to be quoted. I’m solidly on the side of “you say it, it’s quotable” unless “off the record” is attached. But having had one couple that spoke in a public meeting threaten to sue me if I quoted them (I quoted them. They didn’t sue), I’m not surprised this is an issue.

Fred Clark of Slacktivist has been critiquing the Left Behind series of Christian apocalyptic novels (taking place, if you can’t tell, after the Rapture has swept up millions of people) for several years. In this post he looks at how slapdash and illogical the author’s world-building is.

Maggie Maxwell on balancing minority villains with positive portrayals. I’ll make the added observation that if every nonwhite in your book is bad (like the entire population of Little Tokyo, USA in the movie of that name), throwing in one good Japanese-American isn’t balanced.

A recent piece on Clinton voters (the mirror image of those Meet Trump Voters pieces) got lots of flak, after which the author declared it was satire. If that’s the case (I’ve seen other writers pull It’s Humor when it obviously isn’t), as noted at the link, it’s a very poor satire.

The implications of a copyright ruling in a case involving Redbox.

Remember the copyright case over a monkey taking a selfie with a photographer’s camera? An appellate court has ruled that US copyright law gives zero rights to animals.

Olivia deHaviland sued over the TV movie Feud on the grounds her portrayal in the film wasn’t accurate. The judge’s ruling: deHaviland’s “right of publicity” (to control how her likeness and name are used or marketed) doesn’t give someone the right to censor inaccurate portrayals.

Walmart had streaming before Netflix. How come the Vudu service never exploded the same way?

A new bill would get creators paid when streaming services play their music … or would it?

The Mary Sue argues Lara Croft has never been just eye candy for guys.

Several women say Native American author Sherman Alexie harassed them. Other writers say Alexie wielded his status in the white publishing world as a club against the competition.

You want wild ideas? How about plans for a Godzilla vs. Batman movie back when the Adam West show was on the air.

Thanos creator Jim Starlin on his love-hate relationship with Marvel.

 

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How not to write women

A couple of years back I linked to Kate Elliott’s post about omniscient breasts — writing from a woman’s POV but still using the male gaze. For example, the woman is constantly aware of her awesome breasts and how good they look, as if she were a man checking herself out. Well here’s some really bad omniscient breasts. More notable because the dude (unidentified) claimed his book proved men could write women well. Protagonist refers to herself having “a nice set of curves if I do say so myself,” and  “pants so impossibly tight that if I had had a credit card in my back pocket you could read the expiration date.” (I’ll link again to Foz Meadows’ discussion of writing hot women).

Another female author discusses a male author (unnamed) who insists his book has been rejected because of the feminazi conspiracy in publishing.

Molly Ringwald looks back at the sexism of John Hughes films.

In defending the hiring of now-fired Kevin Williamson, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg said he wanted Williamson as “an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don’t yet cover comprehensively.” Take it from a local city government reporter, Mr. Goldberg, covering “parts of the country” means writing about things like new developments, local elections, school events. It does not mean writing conservative articles about the evils of abortion or the horrors of black inner-city areas. Those parts of the country may agree with Williamson, but by no definition is he covering them.

Copyright kept a film about Martin Luther King from using his speeches.

“historical accuracy” is not a good reason for writing about rape. Unless you’re also writing about cholera, dysentery and the like.

Amazon may be stripping rankings from erotic books to avoid legal issues.

 

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Books are too expensive, so it’s okay to pirate them. Oh, really?

While I liked the book Brand Name Bullies, one thing that didn’t go over so well was David Bollier apparently buying into the stock anti-copyright/pro-piracy arguments (some of this is my interpretation so if I’m getting him wrong I apologize). As lots of people will create for free, do we really need copyright to have a thriving culture? If the industry would just make the price more reasonable, or release the album/book/DVD immediately, people would be happy to buy it.

I blogged about some of these arguments a couple of years back, but I’d like to take this post to argue again against the “they’re just too expensive” stance. This is the view that the price of books, or at least ebooks is too high so hey, you shouldn’t have to pay that much, so hey, you’re entitled to steal.

First off, let’s point out the obvious: some people just want their books free. Ditto music.

Second, how exactly are the people who make this argument calculating the “right” price? Are they assuming it’s the labor of putting the book in digital form — laying it out, editing it, creating a digital file? Do they consider the cost of paying for the cover, or publicity? Do they include the value of the actual story itself, because that’s why the book has, you know, words instead of just being a bunch of blank pages. And why, other than I Want It do they assume their assessment of the price is better than the author/publisher? As John Scalzi points out, even physical books of similar size and format don’t cost the same for lots of valid reasons.

To take an obvious example, the price of my self-published books is based on a)a price I think the market will accept; b)a price that gives me an adequate return on my effort. That takes into account that the online bookstores that sell the ebook (or Createspace for physical copies) take a cut; I have to set a price large enough to cover them. Believe me it’s not a substantial return, but what if it was? I’m the one who produced it, I have the right to set a price. If it’s more than the market will bear, people won’t buy it. Except the “you should have made it cheaper” people don’t accept that. They figure they should be able to get the book if they want it and not pay me anything (I’m willing to bet if I had a PayPal or Patreon they wouldn’t be contributing the “fair” price to compensate).

I have no sympathy for this crap. In the many years I did the struggling-writer shtick, I saw lots of books I couldn’t afford. I didn’t steal copies. I wouldn’t do it if I were still struggling. If it was a paper copy, would they shoplift it from Barnes & Noble if they thought it was overpriced? Or how about a restaurant — if the service takes too long (the “they don’t release it fast enough” argument), does that mean they’re entitled to steal food from the salad bar? Soft drinks cost a fraction of what they sell for, does that make it okay to steal them? Or movie tickets — lord knows those are outrageously priced, but does that justify sneaking in without paying?

One argument I see occasionally is that because digital copies are so cheap and easy to replicate, pirating one of them doesn’t hurt the way stealing something physical does. I don’t think that holds up: stealing one copy of Dan Brown’s latest from Barnes & Noble or swiping some breadsticks from Olive Garden certainly won’t cause a massive shortage. Sure, if everyone did that, it would be a problem, but that’s true of ebooks. If 100 people pirate Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, that’s around $100 out of my pocket. That won’t leave me in the poorhouse, but it’s not nothing (and for people who aren’t two-income families, $100 could be very significant indeed).

I realize even if my readers include pro-piracy types, I’m unlikely to change anything. But still, it’s worth saying.

#SFWApro. Image courtesy of Wikimedia, from Charles Elms’ The Pirates’ Own Book.

 

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Assorted writing-related links, mostly about copy (and related) rights issues (#SFWApro)

Not all related to writing though. For example, the Supreme Court has ruled that cheerleader uniforms can be copyrighted, which is a big break from past. Though I admit the difference between “copyright the design elements” and “copyright the uniforms” still isn’t clear to me.

•A bong-maker must pay Starbucks almost a half-million for its use of “Dabbacino.”

•Lucasfilm is none too happy with the operator of the Lightsaber Academy.

•Bob Segar’s albums aren’t staying around physically, there’s no digital versions — will his work fade away?

•No, a printer company’s patents do not give it the right to tell you which toner cartridge you use.

•A National Review writer says the Bechdel test for movies (are there more than two women in the film? Do they talk to each other? About something other than the hero?) is as silly as rating a movie by whether it has cowboys in it.

•A federal court has rejected one patent troll’s claim that they own the rights to podcasting.

•Atari says Nestle ripped off a classic videogame for a TV commercial.

•Has Google become a generic term?

•A racist YouTube video used a Marvel cosplayer’s image without their consent.

•A streaming service that lets you edit out cussing/bare boobs/etc. to your own taste doesn’t have the right to make those cuts.

•I’ve heard of books gaming the bestseller lists before, but this is an extreme case.

•I didn’t realize San Diego Comic-Con claims a trademark on Comic-Con and apparently variations of the name.

•The creator of Pepe the Frog shut down a publisher using Pepe in racist children’s books. Said publisher will have to pay the settlement in the case to the Council on American Islamic Relations.

 

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I haven’t done a writing related link post in a while … (#SFWApro)

So let’s clean out some bookmarks related to writing, copyright, trademarks …. First, a look at Will Eisner splash pages, some great examples of visual storytelling. Case in point, the cover above (art by Eisner, all rights reside with current holder).

•Have a look at the octopus as a visual symbol of evil reaching out.

The wit of Oscar Wilde.

•An appeals court has ruled that despite the use of “Google” as a verb, Google hasn’t become a generic word (which could cancel out Google as a trademark).

Mindfulness and writing.

•Writing tips from Joss Whedon.

•An argument in praise of strong female villains.

•A coffee shop puts up a handwritten sign in its window, “Plainville Now Runs on Mike’s,” a play on Dunkin’ Donuts’ slogan. Dunkin cries trademark infringement. And General Mills has argued a Doughboy bakery violates its Pillsbury trademark.

•Speaking of trademarks, the Supreme Court has struck down a rule against approving offensive trademarks. And some companies are rushing to exploit the opening.

•The Electronic Freedom Foundation is suing the FBI to find out more about using Best Buy’s Geek Squad as informants. Of interest to any of us who work on our computers, I think.

•A photographer has filed suit against apparel companies he says violated his copyright on a Tupac Shakur photo.

•Mystery novelist Sherry Harris on writing thinking scenes.

•Sony is releasing “clean” versions of films designed for airplane viewing to the general public. Some directors object.

•The Supreme Court has declined to hear the Dancing Baby copyright case.

•A look at the women who helped create Dungeons and Dragons. Though it’s really weird the author references Andre Norton as the woman who wrote Quag Keep (a D&D-influenced novel) and doesn’t mention it was only one of well over 100 books she wrote.

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