28 December 2011

Remora in the Sea of Marmara

By this time tomorrow, anyway. The preparations for that little reconnaissance mission have eaten up a lot of time this past month!

  • The Economist offers an off-the-wall vision of Martin Luther as a precursor to the Arab Spring... which makes sense if, and only if, one can distinguish between "church" and "state" in the Islamic world. On the other hand, the thus-far-successful movements have done precisely that, in states that had been struggling to do so for decades, so maybe it's not such a bad analogy after all. I seriously doubt that anyone will be nailing 93 objections to abuses of theocracy — like this one — to any door anywhere in the Islamic world in the near future, though!
  • Much as I hate to even acknowledge THR's current "journalistic standards," here's an interesting piece on the dispute over the origins of The Last Samurai that only hints at a couple of things that I know a lot more about than does Mr Gardner. Let's just say that he's understating the endemic disrespect for intellectual property at That Studio... which is, after all, related to this former opponent of mine (in fact, they had common ownership at the time) and is a really sore loser.
  • My colleague Professor Phillips offers some historical context for IP (and copyright in particular) through his unusually accessible academic writing. Authors, in particular, should consider the issue of common-law copyright (PDF) and how it relates to publisher overreaching on electronic rights in older books (note to Harper's PR flacks — you should consider talking to competent litigation counsel before you state legal conclusions like "grants us the exclusive digital rights to the book" that seem inconsistent with the actual wording in the contract... and with the result of previous litigation over similar language). But perhaps that's just me noting that we're fighting the same centuries-old battle again...
  • John Scalzi tries to engage with a blogger about whether publishers treat readers as "customers" and falls into the Warden's trap when dealing with Luke (and damned near everyone else): A failure to communicate. The problem is not with publisher failures or successess; it is not with idiosyncratic views by segments of the readership or profound common beliefs; it is with the definition of "customer"... and whether readers view the publisher or the author as the vendor. This is not an easy question for anyone, but it is perhaps clearest in a certain subspecies of reader: The professoriate seeking textbooks. Without naming any names, I recall a law-school class for which the professor chose a book for a class he was teaching for the first time based solely upon his respect for the author's academic work... and swore to never again read anything longer than a law journal article from that author because the publisher screwed up the order so that the book wasn't available until two weeks into the class and edited and printed it incompetently on top of the lateness (admittedly, I have no idea whether the author's possible lateness/noncooperation might have contributed to this). He blamed the author, not the publisher... and ordered a different book from the same publisher the next time he taught that class (at another school).

    This is actually closely related to the publisher-overreaching in the last link of the preceding item. Publishers — particularly for category fiction — are becoming increasingly hostile to authors' control of the author's own name, primarily through noncompetition clauses that are becoming broader and less negotiable. Returning to the issue of "customer," recognizing that there's a competing concept of "vendor" illuminates most of the disagreement between Mr Scalzi and that other (semipseudonymous) blogger. The logical antecedent of "customer" is "of what" — and there's a considerable difference between the fulfillment aspects of being a publisher and the editorial aspects of being a publisher. If you can't agree on who/what the vendor is, you can't agree on what responsibilities that vendor has to a customer, let alone who the customer is (and is not). Then there's the monopoly/monopsony problem on top of that!