Category Archives: copyright

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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Competing with the dead (and other writing links)

I don’t really buy Ernest Hemingway’s statement that success as a writer requires being better than the dead writers who proceed you. Author Fonda Lee has another take: in terms of bookstore shelf space, she and similar rising writers are squeezed out of shelf space by dead guys such as Robert Jordan and JRR Tolkien (the comments on Jim Hines’ post are good too). Which ties into this post too.

Vellum and Vinyl suggests that manic pixie dream girls are fine, the boyfriends are the problem.

Rick Riordan on how Hollywood mishandled the Percy Jackson series.

A solution for getting unstuck: five more (pages/minutes/chapters/whatever)

The Houston Chronicle investigated veteran reporter Mike Ward’s work for possible false quotes. They searched for 275 people quoted in his work and 122 could not be found.

I haven’t seen Alita: Battle Angel, but this review still seems to make good points about writing to set up a franchise vs. writing a movie.

Just how much did the late Stan Lee co-create for Marvel? Spoiler: lots.

Author Amber Royer discusses action scenes and SF worldbuilding

How filmmakers used to fake newsreel footage.

Some years back, undercover TV reporters went to work for Food Lion and filmed staff changing expiration-date labeling. There was a huge hue and cry declaring that the reporters had acted unethically and reporters must never be allowed to expose corporate misdeeds again (okay, not how they phrased it). This discussion of Al Jazeera posing as a gun rights group to expose both Australian politicians and the NRA argues there are times subterfuge is justified. I’m in agreement.

Deadspin argues that Netflix isn’t changing the world of broadcast TV, it’s become interchangeable with it.

A history of Harvey Comics, speculating about its effect on child readers. Below, the map of Harveyland.

A short history of the word retcon.

Positive and negative goals for characters

Oracle claims its Java API is copyrighted, and Google’s been violating copyright. Google says it’s fair use. The tech industry sides with Google.

Copyright issues are among the reason a French court has invalidated Google’s terms of service for Google+.

The U.S., China and intellectual property.

An Irish sandwich chain, Supermac, convinced an EU court to invalidate McDonald’s Big Mac trademark in the European Union.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Assorted writing and reading links

So a writer declared on Twitter that if you’re writing while keeping your day job, you’re doing it wrong. John Scalzi disagrees.

Five red flags to look for in contracts.

A look at law and freelancing. It includes links to a 2018 California court case making it harder to classify employees as contractors and a proposed change to Texas rules that would benefit employers.

Atomic Junkshop on the excitement of reading comics and paperbacks in the 1970s. From the same site, a post of mine about the myth that successful creators are good from the start.

Why Marvel got sexier as the Silver Age moved along. Look at John Romita’s Mary Jane below for an example.

You can’t trademark a generic word like “booking” for a travel site. Unless, a court ruling says, you make it a domain name first.

A Q&A with comics veteran Roy Thomas.

For years, Disney’s comic books didn’t divulge the names of the people who worked on them (the company preferred the illusion that Walt did it all). Here’s the story of how Carl Barks, the creator of Uncle Scrooge, finally got some attention.

Captain America, horror comics host?

Hybrid authors publish traditionally and indie both. Hybrid publishing isn’t the same thing.

Brian Cronin rips into the assumption that white male leads are a natural choice, whereas anything else is suspect.

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

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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.

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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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