Category Archives: copyright

The illegal download is coming from inside the house! (#SFWApro)

Some copyright and media related links for Thursday (title refers to a line from 1979’s When a Stranger Calls).

•Warner Brothers recently demanded Google take down dozens of allegedly infringing websites … including Warner Brothers’ own websites.

•Last year a German company with some aggressive views on copyright demanded a list of takedowns including Skype, Dropbox and Whatsapp.

•Another reminder that archiving online doesn’t guarantee permanence.

•Pirate Joe’s is a Canadian company that buys Trader Joe’s merchandise and sells it at markup north of the border. Trader Joe’s has some issues.

•Mark Zuckerberg insists Facebook is not a media company. Consumerist suggests he’s mistaken.

•A proposed change in European copyright law could require news aggregators such as Google News to pay the media for using their material.

•You may recall the “monkey selfie” dispute over whether a human photographer could claim copyright to pictures a macaque shot with his camera. Another aspect to the dispute is whether the monkey can hold copyright.

•The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups have asked the FTC to require labeling locked digital content.

•”He couldn’t see a belt without hitting beneath it” and other classic political insults.


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Free or Not Free, and other writing and copyright topics (#SFWApro)

Ebooks cost authors time and money to publish. The Fussy Librarians site offers free ebooks as a promotion for authors, but points out that if you only read for free, that’s bad news for the writers. Shannon A. Thompson argues that nevertheless free readers are a net gain.

I’m not sure this is even a new issue. For years I lived off what I could buy in used-book stores, which accounts for some of the randomness in my collection. That changes when I have more money to spare than at the moment, but even then spend a lot on discount books—the more expensive it is, the more I want to buy used—and library books. Actual new purchases tend to be few and far between.

•A good article on the problems of writing Y/A bisexuals (hat tip Shannon A. Thompson). For example, if a character ends up with a same-sex or opposite-sex partner, readers often conclude the bi character “really” gay or straight. I’m pretty sure a lot of the issues are applicable to non-Y/A writing.

•Like women, male characters in comics often have absurdly idealized bodies (and more so than they used to—the Hulk in the early Silver Age was much more ordinary physically than he is today). But no, it’s not the same sort of sexual objectification. Hulk, for example, isn’t drawn anywhere near as sex-fantasy as She-Hulk. The link identifies Namor’s lean swimmer’s physique as the only male hero who’s really what women would consider sexy but I think Dick Grayson counts too (I’ll get into that when I review the Grayson series TPBs).

•Now that Charter has merged with Time Warner it thinks it should get some content (Fox News specifically) at Time Warner’s lower rate. Fox disagrees.

•With Matt Damon set to star in the Chinese epic The Great Wall, actor Constance Wu asks why China needs a white guy to save it.

•So the World Fantasy Con has displeased some writers this year with its programming slate: very white male-focused. Foz Meadows puts in historical context as well: Robert Aiken and Arthur Machen got a lot more programming in their anniversary years than horror writer Shirley Jackson is this year (her centennary). She also argues some of the panel descriptions seem clueless about current fantasy.

•A list of bad habits for characters.

•Rebekkah Niles on jewelry-making as a model for writing.

•In a case involving a YouTube video, the poster claims fair use of some incidental background music. Universal, which had it taken down on copyright grounds, argues it shouldn’t have to consider fair use before issuing a warning.

•Citi argues AT&T using “thanks” in a loyalty program catchphrase violates Citi’s own trademarked catchphrase.

•Capitol Records and others are suing Vimeo, charging among other things that Vimeo employees turned a blind eye to pirated material in video postings. A court has ruled that just because employees see a video, that doesn’t mean they must have realized it was pirated.

•Gawker has sold its affiliates sites to Univision in the wake of a lawsuit that broke the camel’s back. A lot of people are discomfited even if they dislike Gawker because businessman Peter Thiel (whom Gawker outed) poured millions of his own money into the lawsuit (by Hulk Hogan)—what’s to stop the same thing from happening to any media site that crosses someone with serious money? LGM points out Thiel’s list of Gawker’s sins focuses on stories involving rich people. The Atlantic looks at the issues.

•Speaking of crappy reporting, don’t tell someone you’re reporting on that their adoptive parents are not really their parents. Outing gay athletes from homophobic nations is even worse.

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Do spoilers violate copyright? And other copywright/trademark links (#SFWApro)

AMC argues that if one fan group goes ahead and releases a big spoiler for The Walking Dead, it violates copyright.

•The Navy allegedly broke copyright by installing a German company’s software on hundreds of computers without paying for it.

•Park City residents are concerned about a local resort’s proposal to trademark the name “Park City” — even though the resort denies it, what if it someday decides to ban other businesses from using the name?

•If Amazon loses the right to stream a video, even a video you’ve bought might disappear.

•A record company sued Vimeo, claiming Vimeo employees saw copyrighted music content on the site and did nothing. A judge has ruled that even if the employees watched the video, that doesn’t mean they could or should recognize the music so the plaintiffs lose.

•Google argues that by restricting search results to exclude “torrent” or “piracy”-named sites, it reduces digital piracy.

•The creator of the Iron Man theme song from the 1960s ‘toon will get his day in court: his suit charging Sony and Ghostface Killah violated his copyright on the song is moving forward.

•The Electronic Freedom Foundation is suing to challenge the legal restrictions on circumventing DRM protections that block copying DVDs and such. The gist of the lawsuit, if I’m following correctly, is that the law unfairly and irrationally restricts copyings that would qualify as fair use.

•Some recording artists aren’t happy versions of their songs were used at the Republican National Convention, but it’s legal.

•Some years back, photographer Carol Highsmith donated thousands of photographs to the Library of Congress to be freely used by the public. According to a lawsuit filed by Highsmith, Getty (one of those pay-for-photo-use websites, which offers some of her photos to customers) allegedly threatened legal action against her for using her own photos without their permission. And Zuma Press is also suing, saying Getty has posted 47,000 images it had no right to.

•McDonalds has been accused of ripping off someone’s animation work.

•In the same vein: what to do if a magazine or website swipes your work, altering it just enough to avoid copyright infringement.

•Stephen Colbert discovered recently that his on-screen personality is the intellectual property of Comedy Network. His response: create the character’s twin brother for a new gig.

•Whole Foods wanted to patent the slogan “world’s healthiest grocery store” but the Patent Office says it won’t fly.

•Proposed changes to copyright law would, for example, require that once a website receives a takedown order for alleged copyright infringement, it would have to see to it nobody reposts the material. Internet Archive says bad idea.

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Journalism, copyright and other writing links (#SFWApro)

The LA Times and Chicago Tribune have been struggling ever since Sam Zell bought them a decade ago (which is a long story). The new bright idea to fix thing: more video reporting.

Layoffs at the International Business Times. Apparently it’s hoping to outsource some of the jobs to India.

•A Ford dealership explains it’s new ad art can’t possibly have violated copyright because it took it from a DMCA-compliant website. As noted at the link, this does not mean “everything on the site is free for use.”

•Mike Huckabee used “eye of the tiger” in a campaign rally. Survivor sued. Huckabee settled for $25,000.

•Xbox fitness users will lose the right to stream fitness videos when Microsoft phases the program out — even videos they’ve paid to own.

•Gail Z. Martin on PTSD in fantasy, and why we should probably see it more often.

•At LGM, Steven Attewell looks at Marvel’s X-men and the mutant as metaphor. As he points out, while mutants are usually interpreted as a race/gay metaphor, Lee and Kirby in the early years seem to treat them as a kind of Red Menace, an enemy lurking among us and plotting to take over (a topic I tackle, though not in relation to the X-Men, in Screen Enemies of the American Way). And in a later Sentinels plotline by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, the anti-mutant forces are equated with McCarthyism. At the same time, the metaphor is flexible enough that it can bend without breaking to include more explicit racial analogies. Another variation on the theme in a later Attewell column. As Kurt Busiek says, superhumans are an extremely flexible metaphor.

•Here’s an example of er, creative use of history: Nazis invoked Sherman’s march as a warning to occupied Europe what to expect when the Allies landed.

•As it becomes easier for media and social media to follow explorers and adventurers in real-time does that short-change adventurers who are poor with social media?

•Goodreads offers lessons from a romance-writers convention.

•I’m not really bothered if legal dramas don’t get every point accurate. But when a major part of your storyline is a big trial, as in this season’s Daredevil, it’s worth getting your facts right—which the story doesn’t.

Regency-era insults.

•I frequently don’t ask questions like what my female characters carry in their purses.

•Never try to sound hip in your writing when you’re uncool.

•Just a reminder that my collection Philosophy and Fairytales is now on sale for 99 cents! The Earth may crumble into ruin before you see a price this low again (please note that this phrasing is purely for poetry and not a legally binding statement that I will not, in fact, offer another price cut prior to Earth’s ruin).

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Copyright and privacy: assorted links (#SFWApro)

Wired reports how easily findable guys using the Grindr gay-dating app were, even if they turned off the location features. It’s unlikely this is the only app this is true for.

•Fox makes use of one YouTuber’s clip of a videogame glitch for an episode of Family Guy. The network’s copyright bots then demand YouTube take down the clip. As noted at the link neither Fox nor the Tuber have any copyright claim on this.

•Your computer makes noises that would enable someone to track you online by sound.

•The 2012 LinkedIn data breach may have been bigger than people thought.

• was a site where supposedly members would vent about people they disliked—but if you bought a membership, you could contest negative postings. The FTC says that it was actually the site’s data-mining that provided most of the postings, and the owner didn’t actually let people contest statements. At the link, an appeals court sides with the government.

•Paramount’s lawsuit against an allegedly copyright-infringing fan film is moving forward. This is the same lawsuit that involves Paramount claiming a copyright on Klingon.

•Some courts say that if your phone is fingerprint-locked rather than passworded, law enforcement can legally order you to unlock it.

•A secret court reviews government requests for national security-related surveillance. Apparently it never says no. Which is not actually news—I’d heard the same thing before 9/11—but it’s still noteworthy.

•Even something as simple as how you hit the brakes can identify you as a driver.

•As I mentioned in a previous post (can’t find the link), there’s a lawsuit in Illinois charging that Facebook’s tagging feature violates Illinois data-gathering laws. By an amazing coincidence, lawmakers have introduced a bill that completely protects Facebook.

•In trying to refute negative online reviews, some healthcare providers divulge patient information.

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Dubious arguments for killing copyright (#SFWApro)

So in the aftermath of Prince’s death it seems a lot of people went looking for YouTube clips and other free sources to share, and didn’t find them: Prince was aggressive about protecting his copyright and getting paid for his work. At the WaPo, Sonny Bunch criticizes the view that the music should be available free, so what Prince was doing is wrong.

When Scott Lemieux linked approvingly to the article at Lawyers, Guns and Money, he got a lot of comments with a lot of disagreement. None of the counter-arguments were good, and several of them were old. Breaking it down:

•I don’t get paid for work I did twenty years ago, why should writers or musicians?

Because their work is actually earning someone money.

•Yeah, it’s fine if the writer gets copyright, but the heirs are just greedy and grasping to want royalties!

As someone else put it in the comments thread, if the family inherits a rental house, they’re still entitled to collect the rent. Why is this different?

•The ownership of tangible property is natural. “Intellectual property” is an artificial law created by the state!

But a lot of law is artificial and arbitrary. Shoplift under $500, you commit a misdemeanor; shoplift a penny over that amount, it’s a felony (the specific figures are made up, the principle isn’t). Forty hours a week is regular work, over that is overtime. And even ownership of land includes artificial elements, like the right to keep trespassers off.

•Copyright and royalties supposedly provide artists an incentive to create more—but people will create even without earning a living. Therefore the need for copyright is nonexistent.

True for a lot of creators, not all. And a number of creators, even if they aren’t earning money, are lured by the dream of someday doing so. And of course, if you can make a living at writing (or art, or music), you can get a lot more creating done than if you have to rely on a day job (I speak from experience). I’m pretty sure there are bootleg copies of my film books circulating online—if 100 people download bootleg, that’s like $300 out of my pocket, which is a considerable amount for me.

And while some commenters think it’s “artificial,” to be forbidden to stream or copy someone’s work free, I think “create the work get paid for the work” seems perfectly natural. With obvious “fair use” and similar exceptions of course.

•Prince was rich. He doesn’t need money. Copyright shouldn’t apply.

I’ve heard this argument before, and I think it’s unworkable. Just what is the level at which copyright stops working? What if Prince loses all his money, does copyright kick back in? And could you even set up a system where poorer writers wouldn’t be affected?

•Writers should just make a living off personal appearances and release the work for free.

As I’ve noted before, that’s just a bad, bad idea.

•Why should the writer’s desire to control copyright outweigh my desire to listen to his music/read his books?

Again, I think “access the work, pay for the work” is self-evident —but I know many people don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are huge problems with copyright law and the degree to which copyright is now endlessly extended (as has often been said, it’s the “Mickey Mouse” law—any time it looks like Mickey’s early works will be out of copyright, Disney starts screaming). The degree to which big corporations aggressively pursue anything even vaguely infringing is alarming. But I don’t want to ditch the whole thing without a good substitute in place, and we don’t have one (I’ve heard some ideas, though). And I think that’s a valid position despite having a dog in the hunt.

I agree with Lemieux a lot of this is just people feeling they’re entitled to get it free because they want it free (case in point) or because they think the price is too high so they’re entitled to get it free (as John Scalzi points out, that’s like justifying shoplifting a paperback because the hardback price didn’t come down enough).

Rant over. Go about your business.


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Traditional publishing (and other) problems (#SFWApro)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is writing a series on publishing contracts (hat tip to Walk of Words), so far posting Parts One, Two, Three and Four. The big takeaway is that you should read any contract carefully and get a legal explanation of whatever you don’t understand. And that includes things like contest rules and nondisclosure agreements: Rusch says in Part Four that one contest she’s entered in the past now has fine print requiring entrants — not just winners — give the contest group a large share of copyright.

Which leads to the other takeaway, that publishers and even agents are increasingly aggressive in sinking their fangs into your rights: even some agents demand a share of copyright now. Rusch makes the point that intellectual property is an asset: even if the publisher has no interest in reissuing an old book, keeping it makes the balance sheet look much more profitable. And while most of the publisher’s staff can move on if, say, a hedge fun buys up the company, we’re stuck with the contract and its obligations (this is not hypothetical. A writing acquaintance has told me of bankrupt publishers whose intellectual property wound up in the hands of banks or landlords, who, of course, have no interest in publishing it).

•On the other hand, writer Ros Barber explains that given the added responsibilities involved in self-publishing — editing, getting a cover, marketing your book — she’ll stick with traditional, despite the limited income. While I wouldn’t rule out self-publishing at some point (something novel length, that is, rather than a collection such as Philosophy and Fairytales), I admit that marketing is not my strength, and the necessity is a huge disincentive.

•And then we have Mallory Ortberg writing on The Toast about publishers’ apparent interest in writers who are good-looking. : “Herr, for her part, acknowledges that an author’s appearance can affect an advance — ‘We look at all of that stuff’ — but insists, ‘We would have paid her the same money if she weighed 500 pounds and was really hard to look at.’ In other words, appearance doesn’t affect advances and contracts, except when it does. Ditto contacts (one interviewee says a writer being able to get a cover blurb from Amy Poehler was a big plus) and social media skills.

Which is not news, really. I remember back in the 1990s one editor at Daw saying one of the things he looked for in submitting writers was whether they’d networked enough they could promise a few big names would provide blurbs for the books. But it’s still disturbing for all of us who are not, shall we say, avatars of physical perfection, to know we might be judged on our looks as much as our craft.

It’s also one of the problems I have with arguments that we should kill copyright and let writers make their living off personal appearances and readings. Writers are not actors or musicians; public performance isn’t part of the skill set. A lot of people are too nervous (public speaking is one of the commonest phobias); a lot of people are just poor public speakers. Huge numbers of people don’t have the kind of presence or appearance that draws a crowd, or the kind of fame that will put butts in seats: I’ve made probably over a thousand on short stories over the years, but I seriously doubt I could earn that much by reading them in public. It’s a really good idea unless you think writers should be fine not making money. Which some people are.

•And here’s a depressing report that Ace and Roc are being merged in with their parent companies, and in the process not only are editors going but upper management will make “title cuts” — which Rusch in another article says some books simply won’t come out. It was depressing enough when Barbarian Books closed its doors before publishing Questionable Minds; I think having the title “cut” would be even more painful.

•To end on an upbeat note, here’s an unusual cover (don’t know the artist, all rights reside with current holder) I rather like.




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Dr. Strange, copyright and other writing issues (#SFWApro)

So a while back I ripped into a description of Dr. Strange as phony mysticism. I didn’t do more than touch upon the Asian stereotyping (white guy learns mystic arts by apprenticing under Asian guy in Tibet). Mighty God King takes a look at the stereotypes, the problems and how Marvel failed to avoid them (it’s still learning mysticism in the East, but under a white person).

I’ll add I’m not happy that the trailer refers to pre-initiation Strange as “a man who saves lives” rather than an arrogant jerk who saves lives if he’s paid lots of money. Because for me the redemption aspect is a huge part of what makes the stories compelling.

Now, copyright:

•Can conlangs (artificial languages like Klingon or Esperanto) be coyprighted? Paramount is currently fighting to assert a copyright to Klingon in response to a proposed indie Star Trek flick.

•A digital comic book explaning copyright.

•The Recording Industry Association of Industry says it can’t get a fair price for music played on YouTube because copyright law makes it too hard to take down infringing videos (so why bother to pay the fee if it’ll go up anyway?). Of course RIAA has a different idea of fair prices (in this case relating to bootleg recordings) than most people. And no, the money doesn’t flow to the musicians.

•Using geolocation isn’t a legal method for finding Internet pirate downloaders. Here are some horrible examples of how current mapping systems can make innocent people look like pirates or child-porn fans.

•Spotify has put up a pool of $21 million to settle suits over unpaid royalties.

•Consumerist argues that if schools teach kids about the dangers of violating copyright, they should teach fair use as well.

•Speaking of fair use, the Supreme Court has rejected an appeal in the Google Books scanning case. So the lower court ruling that scanning is fair use stands.

•Led Zeppelin has been sued for plagiarizing another songwriter. Paul Campos looks at the case and the legal rules.

Now, other things:

•If the red herring in your mystery is more interesting than the real explanation, you did it wrong.

•Jim Hines discusses trigger warnings and the idea they’re only for wimps.

•I bet you’ve been wondering about the legal requirements for importing kryptonite, haven’t you?

•Glenn Greenwald discusses the future of investigative journalism in the freelance Internet age.

•Sources for period-appropriate names for historical fiction.

•I’m not sure I entirely agree with this Chekhov’s gun-type argument that you should only include characters and scenes in your first act that pay off later. Sometimes I think there’s an advantage just to showing the normal life your protagonist starts with to dramatize the total change when she’s yanked into 1776 or Valhalla or wherever.

•If you’re doing a nonfiction piece and the client asks for more than you agreed to, what next? Some suggestions. Scope creep is definitely something to be wary of. I did a ghost-writing gig some years back for a very low rate and ran into this problem; eventually I just had to say no to added work.

•Alison McKenzie suggests how to revise mid-draft without doing it over and over and over.

•Advice on a good Goodreads author profile.

•Clean Reads defines its line of “wholesome reading” — as no erotica, no BDSM, no homosexual characters. (hat/tip Shannon A. Thompson)

•Scammers have found a way to make money of Kindle Unlimited by deliberately writing drivel.

Now an illustration, Powers again (all rights to current holder):


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Digital content woes, JK Rowling on North America and other writing/publishing links (#SFWApro)

The digital age was supposed to be when everything would became available to us at any time we wanted it. Except (astonishingly) it’s not so simple. Barnes & Noble is trying to stop red ink on the Nook, so downloaded video must be switched to other providers. And in the UK, customers will have to open an account with another provider (Sainsbury’s) and transfer books to that platform or they’re lost. As I’ve mentioned before, this was not the way ebooks were supposed to work.

Mighty God King meanwhile laments how much video is not on DVD or only available at exorbitant prices, but also not available for streaming. I agree with him completely: it’s astonishing, working on Time Travel in Screen, how many movies weren’t available or weren’t available in English or American-compatible DVDs (I was willing to spend a lot on my book, but I don’t really think it was worth getting an all-regions DVD player). But I do disagree that people reading this “grew up in a world where there was a basic assumption that any movie or TV you wanted to watch would be reasonably available to you, thanks to the dual waves of VHS and then DVD meaning massive releases of decades’ worth of film and TV.” Okay, it was probably a basic assumption but it was wrong: as long as VHS and DVD have been coming out, Good Movies That Aren’t Available has been an issue (copyright issues or simply lack of interest). Which doesn’t make it any less of a problem for preserving good stuff. And makes me glad I kept a lot of stuff I recorded off the air (The Nasty Girl, for instance, is a great German movie but last time I checked, it wasn’t available at all in DVD).

•On the plus side, Barnes & Noble is closing fewer stores than expected and opening some new ones.

•As a run-up to her new Harry Potter story, J.K. Rowling has been writing about magic in North America. Some Native Americans think it sounds like a disaster. For example, Rowling explains the myth of the Navajo skinwalker as distorted stories about native animagi. While I think her point is to show stereotypes and bias leveled against Americans, the criticism is that skinwalkers are part of a complex tradition, so it’s like declaring Christian saints are actually Hogwarts graduates using magic.

•What constitutes a conflict of interest when you’re a freelancer with multiple clients?

•Twenty-two years ago this month, 2Live Crew won a major “fair use” copyright case over parodying the song “Pretty Woman.”

•If you’re writing about a convicted serial rapist, discussing how he was once a nice white high school athlete and none of his friends can believe he’s guilty is not the way to go. More commentary here.

•Shannon Thompson on not letting writing consume her life. This is very much a YMMV topic—J. Michael Straczynski once wrote that when he was starting out either he was going to become a writer or “the abyss would take me”—but it’s worth thinking about for that reason. Is writing a job, a hobby, a passion, and how much are you willing to cut back on other things to find writing time and energy? And if there’s a limit to what you’ll give up, that’s okay (I certainly prioritize TYG over getting work done).

•Below, another Powers cover, from one of Jack Vance’s Demon Princes stories.


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Imposter syndrome and other writing links (#SFWApro)

Imposter Syndrome is the fear that no matter what your achievements, you’re a phony. You don’t deserve your success, it’s all due to luck, you’re not as good as people think and they’ll soon realize it. John Scalzi says he’s never suffered from it and suggest it’s because he’s never doubted he was a writer, never had the people he cares about dismiss his dream, and because he’s been so successful. Writing at Fraggmented, John Seavey says (and I think he’s right) that this is bullshit: imposter syndrome hits people regardless of their success (which is true at noted at the first link). Saying “my success protected me from impostor syndrome” makes no more sense than “I’m too brave to have phobias” or “I have too many wonderful things in my life to be depressed”—it just doesn’t work like that.

•Sequential Crush look at fashion imagery from romance comics, and how much it looks like classic fashion illustrations.

•Contrary to Steven Moffat, a psychologist says, Sherlock Holmes is not a sociopath. While I agree completely on Doyle’s original character, I wish the shrink had covered the BBC Sherlock too, because he is obviously not the same person.

•Copywriting a book or short story is one thing, copywriting a character (or trademarking them) is different, and tougher.

•Happy Birthday is not only in the public domain now, Warners—which had the now invalid copyright—will pay several million dollars to the people it hit with copyright fees.


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