11 July 2011

It's Only Pain

Slowly accreting over the weekend on top of a migraine...

  • In something that sounds like it's from an actual episode, a Doctor Who LARPer caused a bomb scare in downtown Chicago with a LARP (that is, fake) bomb. On the one hand, in this era of Mystery Security Theater 2001, just how stupid do you have to be to use a semirealistic looking mockup of a bomb as a game prop? On the other hand, it was Mystery Security Theater 2001...
  • The legitimacy (or not) of fan faction has nothing whatsoever to do with pregnancy... that is, in the sense of logic. I am sick to death of both "sides" on the issue failing the part of Philosophy 101 that covers the fallacy of the false dilemma. One of the latest to do so is Lev Grossman:

    You can see both sides of the issue. Do characters belong to the person who created them? Or to the fans who love them so passionately that they spend their nights and weekends laboring to extend those characters' lives, for free? There's a division here, a geological fault line, that looks small on the surface but runs deep into our culture, and the tectonic plates are only moving farther apart. Is art about making up new things or about transforming the raw material that's out there? Cutting, pasting, sampling, remixing and mashing up have become mainstream modes of cultural expression, and fan fiction is part of that. It challenges just about everything we thought we knew about art and creativity.

    "The Boy Who Lived Forever," Time (07 Jul 2011).

    This is a remarkably ignorant piece of bullshit from someone who did graduate work in English at Yale. Leaving aside the logic problems — not just the false dilemma, but the presumption that "ownership" means "inviolable" — doesn't he recall any truly basic literary theory?1 Just because our courts have (mistakenly) conflated so much into "property" as part of the centuries-long trend rejecting equity as a foundational aspect of law doesn't mean that literature and the arts must make the same error! Ultimately, the problem with fan fiction is not "ownership" or "infringement," but "undue interference" — an explicitly equitable concept that requires applying judgment to particular (and changing) factual circumstances. This, however, does not lend itself well to creating bright-line rules... which is precisely why the concept has been rejected by most of the players in this little immorality play. Hint: Easy cases (and rules) make more bad law (and behavior) than do hard ones.

  • Without further comment, consider "Johnson"'s evaluation of the NSA's style guide and what it implies about the miscommunications coming from the appointive parts of the Executive Branch, particularly when trying to deflect attention from mistakes.
  • The IP Finance Blog has carried a number of interesting pieces of late that focus on patent law, but have interesting/disturbing implications for copyright. In particular, authors should read this nontechnical discussion of royalty capping and ponder whether it works based on what has happened with electronic display rights...
  • For those of you who think that any solution to the Google Books problem will necessarily involve a collecting agency, which (in turn) will benefit authors, one need not delve into the dubious accounting at ASCAP, and BMI, and the CCC, and their excessive agency costs; instead, just look at Spain for the most-likely result.

  1. In alphabetical order by author, the following truly basic book-length works each — in their own ways — pretty definitively refute Grossman's glib assertions: Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1953); Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973); Wayne C. Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony (1975). Particularly given the overt (and largely malign) influence of Professor Bloom on the entire graduate literature program at the institution Grossman attended, I find this more than a bit troubling... without even considering all of the much-shorter articles that make the same point(s) even more, well, pointedly.