03 June 2013

Forthcoming Changes in Corporate Culture

Non Sequitur, 03 Jun 2013

  • I'm not going to say an awful lot in public about the latest SFWA Bulletin kerfluffle — and I'm using "kerfluffle" just because it's a nice, convenient word, and not to imply that either the process or the substance issues are trivial — beyond this: It was if nothing else predictable, thanks to the decades-long dysfunction in the organization. Indeed, it's merely a symptom of the organization's inability to do either of two absolutely necessary things. The procedural problem is that SFWA has been miserly, without much justification for it, for at least 25 years; it has refused to adopt modern governance structures for a thousand-member benefits corporation, and in particular it has refused to separate governance from management. That latter, guys, is the very definition of "corporation." SFWA should have moved to having a relatively strong, paid-employee manager, who manages other paid employees (even if they're freelancers and/or part-timers) doing the basic corporate operations like running corporate communications, by not later than 1988. That's how you empower those employees to say "no!" when they need to; it appears to me, having edited a number of periodicals, that that is the direct cause of this particular piece appearing in print under SFWA's imprimatur. Instead, though, that runs into the substantive problem: The refusal of members who were active before, approximately, the Brooks explosion made book-length fantasies commercially attractive propositions to accept that things have changed, and that the good old days were often the bad old days in which reminiscences of higher quality of crusts of bread should be viewed as gallows humor and not as aspirations for the future. In particular, SFWA isn't your nice little social club any more, and trying to run it like the Ladies' Gardening Society of Upper Lower Middle East Side just will not do (if it ever did, but that's for another time).

    In SFWA, dinosaurs rule the earth. And they're damned cranky (and loud) about how those cute furry little mammals running around their feet are just annoyances that must be shunned... which is more than a little bit ironic for an organization devoted to producers of the literature of change. This is one corporate culture that really does need a change.

  • If you think determining copyright terms is easy, consider this conundrum. G.K. Chesterton died in 1936 as a UK citizen. When do his copyrights expire? Well, in his home nation of England, that's easy: They expired in 2006, seventy years after his death (Copyrights, Patents & Designs Act of 1988, § 12). In the United States, though, if all of the relevant works were timely registered upon publication and properly renewed 28 years later, Chesterton's works published in the US prior to 01 Jan 1923 went into the public domain fifty-six years after publication; those first published in the US after 01 Jan 1923 will expire ninety-five years after publication (17 U.S.C. § 304), although we're in for a good time for any of Chesterton's works that have not yet been published in the US, such as (hypothetically) letters collected for scholarly use (17 U.S.C. § 303). These are completely independent of each other.

    As confusing as that is, it's even more confusing in Spain. Leaving aside for the moment the copyright in a translation — which is measured from the date of translation and upon the life of the translator, thus justifying new editions of The Iliad every so often — what about editions of Chesterton's works in English? A Spanish appeals court has just done something... interesting. Not only did it hold that the older, life-plus-eighty term applies, but more subtly the Spanish court rejected the "rule of the shorter term". In copyright law, if a work's protection has expired in its nation of origin, and that nation is a Berne signatory, some other nations will limit their own protection's duration to that in the work's nation of origin — they select the shorter term. The US has explicitly rejected this rule, but it is the barely-majority rule elsewhere... specifically including almost all of the European Union. Thus, even though protection expired in 2006 in its nation of origin, the Madrid court held that Chesterton's works remain in copyright in Spain until 2016.

  • Remember, spring is only planting time. The Arab world needs to understand that, especially by comparison to Burma (which has had a much easier transition than, say, Egypt). Similarly, the rest of the world needs to understand that, too: Totalitarianism lingers.
  • Here's a different perspective on a different kind of problem with coauthors. At least, I think it's a different kind of problem...
  • Dead trees aren't a problem just for authors; things are strange when musicians have to rely on the USDA's indulgence.
  • I don't always agree with EFF — which has a disturbing tendency to ignore the idea/expression dichotomy, and treat all expression as mere ideas and therefore desirious of emancipation — but this time EFF is absolutely right: DRM enablement has no proper place in the HTML5 standard. If nothing else, it's bad cryptography practice and bad technology practice: It presumes that DRM will "hook" into HTML5 webpages based on mid-2003 technological enablements. (It's bad law, too, but that has never been a major consideration at W3C before, and I don't expect it to start now.)