31 May 2004

Still more publishing and entertainment industry weirdness. And it's not even a "business day" today.

If anyone needs any proof that John Updike is viewed by too many people as the lion of American letters—most of whom seem not to have read about half of his works, nor for that matter much of his "competition"—consider this fluff piece from today's Guardian. Presuming that he was accurately and completely quoted, it's the names he did not mention that demonstrate just how far off Updike is. Whether one likes his work or not, one cannot discuss the rise of "ethnic" UK novelists in the last quarter-century without at least acknowledging Salman Rushdie's influence. Similarly, one cannot discuss the influence of UK novelists in general in the last quarter-century without acknowledging Martin Amis, David Lodge, and Kazuo Ishiguro. So, is the problem that Updike screwed up in substance, or that he didn't make himself sufficiently clear for a reporter to report accurately? Given the reporter's reputation, I tend toward the former.

If anybody needs any proof that the IP folks at Fox/Newscorp are a couple of cans short of a sixpack, consider the controversy over Miss Cast Away. First we had Dastar, which showed that the administrative recordkeeping at Fox hasn't been good for a long time—and that the legal decisionmaking is no better, because that case was a slam dunk. Then we had Al Franken/Bill O'Reilly—another egregious misinterpretation of trademark rights and law. Now this—in which there are both recent examples of using the common term "Cast Away" in a "dilutive" manner (ignoring temporal sequence for this purpose) and yet another attempt to appropriate a preexisting colloquial term as an inviolable mark for a specific product. One would expect Bob Denver (Gilligan) to object, too. Wait a minute… he has a part in the film… so maybe if Tom Hanks had done a thirty-second cameo this wouldn't have happened?

This whole argument demonstrates why the "free marketing" justification for music and video piracy simultaneously is invalid and demonstrates the idiocy of the entertainment industry. In this instance, it's pretty clear that Fox has decided that a parody of its several-years-old film would not help DVD and rebroadcasting sales. That should be enough, from a strictly piracy perspective, when one considers that there isn't a tenable "creativity" element to the pirates' position. However, it also reflects considerable ignorance of the marketplace, at least outside of Los Angeles County and New York County. If I'm reading the census map correctly, those two locations comprise about five percent of the potential market—and that's generously including the entire SMSAs. Bluntly, the kinds of people who are not actually in the entertainment industry who would refuse to purchase (or rent) Cast Away on the basis of Miss Cast Away are those who would not purchase (or rent) Cast Away because it's a "chick flick." There's almost no overlap in the potentially influenced audience—not to mention that if you mention "cast away" in Peoria, or St. Louis, or Cincinnati, people will think you're referring to Gilligan's Island. Yes, the one with the boat.

On the other hand, since this involves Fox/Newscorp, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the childish petulance it displays.