Category Archives: copyright

They are the Napoleon of the Public Domain, Watson!

All but the last 10 or so Sherlock Holmes stories are now out of copyright, so everything up to that point is public domain .. but not in the eyes of the Conan Doyle Estate. Several years ago they fought public domain on the grounds that the characters weren’t completely fleshed out and developed until the very end of the canon. Ergo, all post-Doyle portrayals of Holmes depend on every single story, so if some of them are still in copyright, all of them are. Even one as early as The Final Problem, illustrated below by Sidney Paget.

They lost on appeal. Judge Richard Posner argued that if the early and later Holmes and Watson are distinct from each other (due to the way the final stories fleshed out the characters) then there’s no issue with riffing on the Holmes of the earlier stories. If they’re not distinct, the later stories don’t add anything. QED.

But copyright holders are often a determined bunch. The estate is now suing Netflix for Enola Holmes and also author Nancy Springer for the books the film was based on. The argument is that Holmes in the film is in touch with his emotions in a way he wasn’t in the earlier tales, and also “he began to respect women.”

I strongly disagree about women. Holmes was always respectful towards them: he might not want one in his life besides Mrs. Hudson (fan canon about Irene Adler aside), but when his clients come to him, he’s courteous, respectful and protective of their interests. I don’t recall him ever condescending to them or not taking their concerns seriously. British writer Kit Whitfield once described him as an older brother for hire, taking care of things a young woman’s brother or father would normally handle for her.

That said, I have no idea how this will play out; I’m guessing Netflix wins, but I wouldn’t put money on it. Time will tell (I just came up with that phrase. I anticipate it going viral). And check out the Passive Voice copyright blog for some technical legal points such as the choice of venue (“PG doesn’t know how busy these New Mexico judges are, but expects none of them wished for a complex copyright lawsuit involving parties from all over the place to land on her/his docket.”)

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King Kong copyright and other writing-related links

Once upon a time, Universal sued Nintendo, claiming Donkey Kong violated Universal’s King Kong copyright. As discussed at the link, the rights turned out much more complicated.

Oh, and Nintendo bought the rights to the Hornio Brothers parody of Super Mario Brothers so that they could bury it for all time.

Copyright and blog posts.

TV’s The Good Fight made a specific reference to Alan Dershowitz and his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. Dershowitz says it’s defamatory. This is nowhere as new an issue as the article makes it sound, though.

Back in the late 1940s, the Justice Department banned movies studios from owning theaters because of the monopoly power it gave them (indie films could be squeezed out in favor of their own product). A judge has thrown those rules out. There’s much discussion at the link whether this is a sensible move — a 10-screen multiplex needs so much product, it can’t just get by on the parent studio’s output — or whether the studios will game the system (I’m guessing b).

Camestros Felapton discusses the importance (or non-) of reading the science fiction canon). Which relates to George R.R. Martin and his Hugo speech.

Disney is releasing Mulan (the live-action version) on its streaming service for $30 a pop (which is probably cheaper than a theater if, say, you’re a family of four). As two of the stars have supported China’s current oppression in Hong Kong, there’s a push for a boycott. More here.

Not as productive as you should be? Ask yourself these questions.

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An anthology blows up and other links about books, movies, recipes and reporting

So my friend John Hartness of Falstaff Books posted this week on Facebook about some problems with the anthology Flashing Swords #6 (following up on a series of anthologies published around 50 years ago). It seems the publisher was blindsided by editor Robert M. Price and didn’t realize Price hadn’t signed or sent the authors contracts for the stories included therein, and had credited himself as copyright holder (the publisher admits that was a screw-up on their part). The authors were also upset with Price’s foreword, which veers into undead sexist cliches about how women need to stop crying rape, feminists hate het sex, and participation-trophy cliches (he is hardly the first anthologist to do stuff like this). The publisher, to their credit, says they’re killing the book and paying the writers a kill fee, which is precisely the way to handle a mess like this.

Due to the Trump Virus, it looks like the gap between theatrical release and streaming will narrow a lot.

DAW head Betsy Wolheim thinks Patrick Rothfuss hasn’t written anything on the third Kingkiller Chronicles book. This has led to much speculation by my writing friends why she didn’t keep her opinions in house: is he seriously missing deadlines? How close is he really to getting finished? Does it hurt specfic in general if people assume “maybe it’s better if I wait until all the books are out” and don’t buy into series early. One person linked to an article from a few years ago in which Penguin took very late authors to court.

Fifteen years ago, cable was home entertainment’s big dog. Now cable falters as streaming rises.

“This was a time of “Mean Streets” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” “American Graffiti” and “Last Tango in Paris.” “Airport” sequels and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Edgy political thrillers, socially aware satires and mainstream melodramas managed to coexist with B-movies, porn and Warholian provocations. Regardless of their artistic aspirations, most were enormously entertaining.” — Ann Hornaday on why seventies film rocked. It’s an interesting take but as someone generally skeptical about How We Have Fallen Since Decade X, I’m not sure I agree (it rapidly turns into a standard grumble about all those CGI superhero movies taking up the multiplex).

Who exactly gets credit as a recipe creator?

Who should get immortalized in bird names?

An author pushed his book higher on the bestseller list by buying copies himself.

Years ago, critic Leonard Maltin discussed the problem of rating and reviewing a movie when the original version has been re-edited and is no longer available. A few years ago on Inverse, an article discussed the problem of finding the original Han Shot First Star Wars.

I wrote a while back about how bad management had killed reporting at Deadspin. Most of the staff who quit are back with a new project.

And here’s a Virgil Finlay cover to close with.

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

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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.

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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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