10 April 2007

Compare and Contrast

Remember all of those awful "compare and contrast" essays that you had to write in high school? Sure you do — if you're reading this blawg, you must have some sense of cynicism and the ridiculous! Well, today, you'll have two more opportunities to relive those halcyon (or Haldol) high-school days, courtesy of Variety.

First up, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the US has filed a complaint against China with the WTO over China's lax (nay, virtually nonexistent) enforcement of copyright law against manufacturers of disk-based media, both audiovisual and audio only. Whether the complaint will eventually concern computer software is a bit hazy at the moment, but that's really beside the point. Compare and contrast the approach to this dispute taken by The Times, which quite properly puts it in the context of China's overall trade relationship with the US, and that taken by Variety, which... does not. I'm suspending the bonus points for explicating all of the "hip" language in Variety that inhibits communication that I ordinarily award for this essay, because there isn't enough of a challenge.

Then, there's a dispute of very little brain. Why is it that every children's book series of lasting popularity seems to have at least one central character who is dumber than a box of rocks? Well, this time around another of the main actors in the US-China copyright dispute is refusing to negotiate with what it sees as extortionists (never mind the tactics used to obtain all of those "extensions" in the first place). Compare and contrast Variety's description of Disney's refusal to participate in mediation in front of a federal Magistrate Judge — which doesn't even state what's at issue until the tenth fake paragraph — with this much shorter, but more informative, article in WaPo. Again, bonus points must be suspended.

Now that we've got that out of our system, today's Times again provides a window on some of the dubious practices in the publishing world:

When readers see a famous name on a book jacket, it does not tell them that the author has written every word in the book, but that someone has ensured that they will get the product they are expecting. Rather than waiting a year for a book genuinely written by the author, the sales figures show that readers are only too grateful to the co-authors for giving them their fix of thrills and spills several times a year.

Alice Fordham, "You Write It — We'll Fill in the Words" (10 Apr 2007). Contrast this with recent attempts by the same publisher's US affiliate to force redirects of authors' own publicity efforts and websites back to the publisher. And, for a bonus point, ask yourself these questions:

  • Presuming that authorial identity is a "brand," is that "brand" controlled by copyright law; by trademark law; by the law of consumer deception, including but not limited to false advertising; by some combination of these three; or by another legal rubric entirely?
  • If copyright law controls, under what legal theory does the creative process described properly ascribe copyright to the named author only? Are there any statutory defects in this theory? (Hint: Read the second clause of 17 U.S.C. § 101 carefully.)
  • If trademark law controls, who owns the mark — the named author, the publisher, or a joint venture between the two? Does the contract between the named author and the publisher, with its inevitable disclaimer of any "partnership" or other joint venture, influence your answer?
  • If consumer deception law controls, describe the outcome for the following definitions of "least sophisticated consumer":
    • Fans of that "author"'s work who already know how those works are written;
    • Fans of that "author"'s work, regardless of knowledge;
    • Fans of the commercial category in which that "author"'s work falls;
    • The bookbuying public;
    • The general public.
  • If another legal rubric controls this conundrum, name it and describe its applicability, both internally to the US and internationally.