04 September 2009

Friday Link Sausage Fry-Up

Rather chunky sausages this morning:

  • As the culmination of an investigation started nearly a decade ago by Writer Beware (the anti-literary-scam watchdog of SFWA, which was recently joined as sponsor by MWA), the Florida Attorney General has sued a scam literary agency/vanity press based in Boca Raton for fraud (for more details, see Jim Macdonald's restrained screed in five parts — the link goes to part five, which in turn links to the predecessors). It's a source of amusement to me that neither of the two purported "general representatives" of the author community — the Authors' Guild and the National Writers' Union — seem to give a rat's ass about this topic. Instead, they're expending their efforts on something they're not competent to do (and the mess created by the incompetent handling of Tasini should be all the proof necessary)...
  • The Google Book Search opt-out deadline remains today, although (due to a glitch at the court itself) the objection deadline has been pushed back to next Tuesday morning (08 September). Once that last deadline has passed, I'll be able to continue my public snark without fear of causing conflict problems. Let's just say I'm not going to be too generous to anyone involved in this mess, which is being driven by who can afford to litigate — not by those who have a coherent set of interests on litigation.
  • Surprise: Google Book Search doesn't meet scholarly standards. Actually, it's no surprise at all. Although I suspect their error rate is somewhat lower, one of the main objections in many of the e-book piracy suits (and, in particular, in Ellison v. Robertson) has been that the errors introduced in the scanning process harm the integrity of the works. This is more of an issue for poets, fiction writers, and data-heavy compilations, I suspect, than for many trade nonfiction writers... but, in a deteriorating library book that may have some long-gone student's doodles and underlining in it, it's not hard to imagine scanning errors changing meaning.
  • First, the oft-misguided MJ Rose actually says something sensible: if publishers expect authors to do publicity, publishers need to pay authors for doing so. Then a publisher fires back with more self-serving drivel that carefully ignores the elephant in the room: the accounting standards and returns system that enables so much fun with numbers on royalty statements. Both sides in this quasidebate are arguing about how many angels fit on the head of a pin, without ever confronting the definition of "angels" or "head of a pin"... as implied in Hachette's chief deploring the pricing pressure caused by e-books. Schade.
  • Nondisclosure agreements are common when the details of a transaction could give a competitor an edge. Sometimes, though, the urge to secrecy goes so far that even the MSM takes notice... such as the recent deal in the UK allowing music videos back on YouTube (a unit of Google). As the Grauniad notes,

    The increased use of [nondisclosure agreements] in pretty much every deal that is struck between music services and record labels (and the [Performers' Rights Society]) has become a huge thorn in the side of artists and songwriters — and their managers. They argue that these deals are being done on their behalf, since it's their product that is on offer, and so they have a right to know the details of any agreement. Many believe record labels are hiding behind NDAs, so as to not pay the artists the correct royalties. It's no surprise that artists and managers have a lack of trust towards labels, as the history of the record industry is littered with examples of artists getting shafted.

  • Noam Chomsky complains that choosing between car brands/types isn't enough — he wants to choose public transportation as an alternative. So, for that matter, do I; but I'd like even more to have a realistic choice in the voting booth. Particularly here in East Central Redneckistan, there's seldom much discernable difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates who actually make it to an election-day ballot; with rare exceptions, it's a choice between right-center and right-wing candidates, both of dubious personal integrity. In Chomsky's terms, that's a choice between a Prius and an Insight, with no sign of either a bus or an all-electric car.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay wonders whether the semifaddish use of famous people as viewpoint characters is a good thing. The answer, as usual, is that it's really all down to execution — but Kay makes some cogent points on the extra barriers this semifad raises.
  • In some Supreme Court news that will definitely escape notice by those who haven't paid attention, Justice Sotomayór has recused herself from Muchnick (aka Post-Tasini, and yes this is a snarky snipe at the NWU for its incompetent handling of the matter the first time around). This makes the specter of a nondecision — a 4–4 division of the Supreme Court, which results in nonprecedential affirmance of the decision below — disturbingly likely. This is actually a civil procedure question that is indirectly related to the long-running battle to limit the workload of the federal courts by throwing out cases for "want of subject-matter jurisdiction" when, in fact, they're being thrown out for failing of proof. The real problem is that I see at least two solid votes for continuing the (incorrect and largely indefensible) reading of § 411 as jurisdictional, and a third vote probably leaning that way, just on that meme alone.

    IMNSHO, Justice Sotomayór was correct to recuse herself; fifteen years ago, she was the trial judge on the original Tasini matter, and bears some responsibility — although not nearly as much as do the lawyers on both sides — for the screwed-up mess that resulted in the Supreme Court's decision in Tasini itself. Further, she also voted to deny en banc (entire court) review of the Second Circuit decision in this iteration on the very issue before the Supreme Court in Muchnick.