22 September 2003

Back to the salt mines. The converse of the "forced name change" problem can be equally disturbing. Consider, for example, the case of Virginia Andrews.

   Under the brand "V.C. Andrews"®, in the "horror" section of the bookstore, one can find a truly abominable series of pseudo-Gothic "family members in danger" horror novels, such as Flowers in the Attic. The problem is that the publisher has chosen to present the books and their covers as if Virginia Andrews is the actual author. (It would help if she was still alive.) Instead, with no cover credit (and often no title-page credit), the books are sharecropped—written as works-for-hire by other authors, most probably for a one-time fee instead of on the traditional advance-and-royalty basis. Even media fiction is not this egregious; if one looks at, say, a Star Wars® or Star Trek® book, the author's name is just as prominent on the front cover and title page as it would be on a non-media-fiction work. (That these are works for hire will come into consideration a little bit later on.) All of this leads to the following non-rhetorical question:

Does stating a brand name that the purveyor knows is false constitute a deceptive trade practice?

Well, not always, but in this instance, probably so. Under the law as it stands, a purveyor of goods or services is free to call his or her product anything he or she wants, so long as the name itself is not deceptive. That's how we end up with seventeen brands of laundry detergent from Proctor & Gamble, most of which one would be hard-pressed to identify with P&G. However, books are not laundry detergent; the reading public has come to expect that a designation of author is more like the designation of origin on a bottle of wine than the name on a detergent box. That is, just like a bottle of sparkling wine that says "AOC Champagne" on it, I am entitled to expect that the wine actually originated in the Champagne region of France, and is not just the synthetic attempt to create a likeness to that "style" of wine originating in a basement in Champaign, Illinois. In other words, under the law as it stands, the actual origin of wine matters to the consumer, and thus may not be labelled deceptively. This also includes fanciful statements of origin, such as "AOC Ernie's Vineyard" if Ernie's Vineyard is not an AOC.

   In turn, this leads to the following postulate:

{author | detergent brand} ≤ {author | AOC}

That is, the relationship between "author" and "detergent brand" is less similar than that between "author" and "AOC." And usually not as much fun, unless one really enjoys Mad Dog and similar abominations. I, however, have some taste—and it is not a taste for Tide® laundry detergent. In theory, any wine that follows the AOC rules is of decent quality; preference is a matter of taste. Some non-AOC wine is, at least to my taste, of higher quality than some AOC wine. I am not, however, deceived in my expectations; I know what I am getting in each case. The cavalier treatment of authorship and authorship credits by the publishing industry (let alone in Hollywood), however, is designed to deceive the reader (or viewer) into purchasing a product that does not meet the reader's specifications by making the reader think that it does. As a mild example, were I a Tom Clancy fan (I am definitely not), I would probably be distressed to find out that Mr. Clancy has so little input into the "Netforce" books that he probably would not qualify for credit under WGA rules for a screenplay—yet I had purchased a "Netforce" book in the expectation that I would be getting something substantially written by Mr. Clancy.