04 September 2010

Last of the Summer Barbecue Link Sausages

A very strange and busy week kept me from updating things. And the hydrocodone.

  • First, a bit of "local color" amusement from the Department of Cognitive Dissonance. One of the local supermarket chains — a notoriously anti-union one — is advertising a special deal this weekend for M*ller Lite beer, brewed by a conglomerate that has always been anti-union... and is even more so after the merger with C00rs. Some Labor Day special, eh?
  • If any author you know, or you yourself, has ever published a work with Dorchester Publishing (or if you're a librarian who purchases forthcoming works from Dorchester), you're no doubt aware of the financial problems Dorchester has been having. These have included as visible symptoms the "layoff" of its editorial staff, the decision to end its mass-market print program in favor of e-books, and royalty statements and payments even later than industry norms (and even more rife with errors in the publisher's favor).

    Well, it gets better. Dorchester is now, according to its counsel at a large New York law firm, operating as if it declared bankruptcy on or about 09 August 2010. It became increasingly clear at the "meeting of vendors" on Tuesday that — for undisclosed reasons — the principal(s) at Dorchester don't want to actually declare bankruptcy. There are both good and bad (and legitimate and illegitimate) reasons for this; they're not really relevant. What is relevant, though, is that management at Dorchester wants everyone to sign ridiculous nondisclosure agreements. Do not sign that agreement without seeking independent advice from your lawyer or agent, because — as part of the audit process — you're entitled to about 90% of the information that management claims is going to be provided to you as a matter of right under your contracts, even without that NDA.

    Further, you shouldn't assume that a reversion of rights in the past (or near future) has been fully effective or will be acknowledged. There are multiple layers of apparent conflicts of interest in this one, combined with publishing industry ignorance and intransigience on rights, that combine to make this an unclear situation. Again, get advice from your agent/lawyer now.

  • Eminem stuck it to Da Man; or at least to the metrosexual record-company executives in charge of allocating royalties at Univeral Music Group, one of the big RIAA labels; or at least his management company/sponsor did. In any event, the Ninth Circuit decided that digital downloads via iTunes qualify as the transfer of "masters", which pursuant to that contract qualify for a vastly more-favorable 50% royalty on net proceeds (as opposed to 12-20% for physical-object recordings). See F.B.T. Prods., Inc. v. Universal Music Group, Inc., No. 09–55817 (9th Cir. 03 Sep 2010) (PDF).

    What I find surprising about this matter is not the ridiculous posturing of the parties (that's expected), or the purported ambiguity in a contract being interpreted by the distributor in its favor to screw the content provider (that's expected), but that anyone in the recorded music industry could possibly have failed to anticipate this problem at the time the contract was signed... and make it not just unambiguous to experienced litigators, as the Ninth Circuit found, but unambiguous to RIAA executives. On second thought, that might be an unduly harsh standard; too many of them seem unable to the word "No."

  • Professor Crawford discusses the implications of net neutrality in the Great White North. Although this is heavy going, it's definitely relevant to authors and to anyone else who is concerned about access to works for sale... because one aspect of net nonneutrality that is lurking under/behind the US debate is the ability of ISPs to slow down traffic to vendors who don't pay a "placement fee" of some kind. Think of end caps at grocery stores writ large, but invisibly, across the net...

There'll be more later in the weekend. I don't respect Labor Day all that much, since — as an independent contractor — I'm defined as "management" and therefore cannot unionize.