06 April 2008

Fifty-Seven Communists

Just catching up for the moment.

  • First, an annoyance: Will cookbook editors please do some shopping outside of the New York City metropolitan area, or better yet outside of Boswash/LA, before approving descriptions of recipes? The next time I see a recipe for something that should be simple — such as a rack of lamb — beginning with "Have the butcher…" I'm going to take a field trip to the office of Conde Nast and burn the damned place down. The NYT "test kitchens" will be next. And I'll squirt onion juice on the next recipe writer who claims that the perfect barbecue sauce requires a dram of Pernod!

    Here's a possible dissertation topic for sociology/cultural studies PhD candidates: The class implications of recipe writing in early twenty-first century America. (Although, to tell you the truth, they aren't "implications" so much as they are "blatant assertions.")

  • Speaking of annoyances, Amazon is doing something I've been predicting for about two years now: Demanding that POD works with full order capacity be published through its own subsidiary. International Salt, anyone? Of course, this may not be entirely a bad thing, as Lee Goldberg noted. However, collateral consequences that are good antifraud measures in one part of the market probably don't pass the Sherman and Clayton Act smell test for the purposes of those statutes…
  • Or, I suppose, one could just establish another "new" practice: We won't pay authors an advance, but we'll split the "profits" with them. At least, that's what Harper Collins says is its "new," "non-traditional" model for its new imprint. For some value of "new" and "non-traditional": Because this reflects exactly what publishing looked like in England during the dominance of the Company of Stationers, from its incorporation in 1566 until shortly after the final judicial rejection of copyright as a natural right in 1789. This time, though, thanks to joint ownership with Fox, Harper Collins has much greater in-house expertise at ensuring there are no profits to share. I do not think it a coincidence that there has been significant movement of counsel and executives from film/TV units in Hollywood to publishing units in New York among the conglomerates at the same time that these proposals have come forth. Again.
  • With this kind of cynicism, I shouldn't be surprised that the last date I had was dried and pitted. After all, I've got some pretty bizarre books in my library (I read Göthe for fun), which is apparently a recipe for romantic disaster. I suppose that beats the criticism of intolerance, the concept of a national epic in the Information Age, and the conflict and interplay between art and science in literary analysis as explanations… but not by much.
  • No catch-up post would be complete without some glances (as usual, filled with disbelief) toward the world of music. On the classical side of the house, we've got more bewildered questions about why filmed opera is so rare and generally unsuccessful (two initial hints: film usually has multiple camera angles, and opera is not pointed in multiple directions; most opera really does not stand up to actual examination, as it's filled with dramatic crap and musical exercises). We've also got amazement at Slatkin's approach as Music Director… which wouldn't actually amaze anyone who went to college in St. Louis in the late 1970s through the 1980s.

    Finally, though, there's the copyrightish news, and I don't even have to smack the RIAA or pirates about the head for it. The Court of Appeals in England rightly reverse the trial court's authorship decision for Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Although this was done on technical grounds, there's a much-more compelling doctrinal reason related to it. If one actually looks at the claims, the organist was claiming that his importation of Bach's "Air on a G-string" — a work long out of copyright — to a recording was sufficient to give him a claim on the copyright in the composition of the final work. The difficulty with this claim is that it falls below the level of originality necessary to sustain copyright. Importing a preexisting fugal structure (with virtually no changes, at least at the outset) to illustrate a fugal set of lyrics? As long as we continue to distinguish between the performance and the composition, this was always going to be fundamentally flawed.