27 November 2013

The Appetizer Course

The turkey bird is brining for Thanksgivungkkah (which actually sounds more like a Klingon feast), so there will be Turkey Awards this year. This, however, is just the keep-the-cook-from-starving appetizer. So to speak.

  • One of the more annoyingly ignorant exegeses on literary fashions that I've seen lately has a headline that claims that fan fiction (as we know it, anyway) began in the 1960s... instead of several hundred years ago. By not later than the late fifteenth century, there was considerable fan fiction (some of which was just as salacious as "modern" slash fiction) floating around, most notably the "continuations" of Amadis of Gaul that were later plagiarized and cobbled together in continuation volumes; these were rather famously satirized by the episode in Don Quixote's library. It's difficult to blame Ms Miller for the inaccurate headline on the article (unless she had a hand in it, which is not disclosed), which skips into the middle of her piece and ignores her nod to the ninetheenth century, but the rest of the article isn't that much better, if only because it ignore the early-Renaissance tradition of reading aloud from letters at a time when there weren't any mimeograph machines (or cheap paper, or cheap postal systems). When one considers that context, fan fiction has already at least inspired great literature — Don Quixote itself. It's just a sloppy article.
  • Sigh. Perhaps I'm too much of a book-fondler, but I cringed a bit at several aspects of this view of the printing-and-binding process of a doorstop series novel. In particular, the nineteenth photo and its accompanying caption jumped out at me (for that matter, so did the reference to 50" rolls of paper, but that's a different issue); rather unintentionally, the comparison to "a messy paperback" goes to both the physical product and the nature of the underlying series. Dammit, if I'm paying for a casebound edition, I want a bloody sewn spine so that it will hold up to repeated readings/reference over the years, instead of falling apart during the second reading (e.g., HP and the Goblet of Fire). Otherwise, that eight-to-ten-dollar price differential between a trade paperback and a casebound-with-dust-jacket edition makes no sense at all, except as a non-Ricardian rent... especially given that the per-copy cost charged by the bindery to the publisher doesn't come anywhere near justifying the retail price differential.
  • Charlie Stross ruminates on what scared H.P. Lovecraft: A radical, science-based-as-scientific-understandings-and-breakthroughs-occurred change in cosmology, epitomized by the potential age of the solar system. Leaving aside that Lovecraft probably knew very little of this himself, it has some disturbing resemblances to the ideology of the Teabaggers — that things really were better in the old days before all this inconvenient science stuff came along and undermined popular mythology... and, worse yet, changed again so that the new mythology of the dominance of mechanical advantage (see: reaper, locomotive, et al.) over everything else was further undermined. One lifetime change in worldview is too much for most people to remain rational through; two (or, once one factors in the life sciences, a dozen)...
  • Carrie Vaughn offers some thoughts on turning one's brain off at the movies, just to be entertained. She's too nice to say it, but there's a serious critique of H'wood (and, for that matter, far too much popular fiction regardless of category) in there. Whether the audience should be able to turn its brain off or not is irrelevant; the writers can't. The writers simply cannot succumb to "bigger explosions and more kewl stuff" as anything more than mere expository tools. When they do, we end up with dreck — even dreck that nobody likes, such as a film with a 2% Tomatometer rating that was better-written and -conceived than the "novel" it was based upon. When they pay attention and don't turn their brains off, though, we can have the first Iron Man film; it's not going to be compared to Citizen Kane or Vertigo any time soon, but neither will it be compared to that earlier example that I can't make myself name... despite its origin in comics during an era in which the default "scripting" really was to turn the brain off and get to the next fight scene.
  • Over at the esteemed Madisonian, Megan Carpenter ponders the European invocation of a new version of "poor man's copyright" that exposes what "poor man's copyright" really was all along: An attempt to comply with the rules of evidence that had nothing whatsoever to do with the substantive rights.

    Once upon a time, business records were not admissible evidence for the statements contained in those business records. (By "once upon a time," I mean "early twentieth century"... in the US, in the UK, and in continental Europe, although for different reasons in and even within each legal framework.) Thus, if one wanted to enter a business's accounting records as evidence in a tax-fraud trial, one needed to have the company accountant testify concerning them... with knowledge, meaning that one frequent attack involved demonstrating that the person who prepared those records was not the person testifying. Over time, the rules of evidence evolved, and — long after the courts essentially adopted it — became the "business records rule." Although the exact parameters vary a lot, this pretty universal rule of evidence boils down to "if you keep a set of records as part of running your business, those records can be admitted directly as evidence; we're not talking about your scribblings at lunch meetings, but about systematic records."

    Thus was indirectly born the concept of the carbon-paged lab notebook, with signed and dated observations and data. This proved useful in the US and the UK (less so in Europe for other reasons) until it became a codified practice in the 1940s and 1950s, to the point that it's legal malpractice by the company lawyers to not train employees on lab notebooks and audit compliance, and use of those notebooks is taught to undergraduates starting with sophomore-level courses in the US at research institutions (and not later than the junior year elsewhere). The problem, though, is that date of conception matters for patent law... but only the date of final expression matters for copyright law. This distinction escaped those who advocated "poor man's copyright" — which, frankly, was an entirely understandable and rational reaction to the irrational registration requirements and system in the US — and resulted in the "mail it to yourself" system of "poor man's copyright" that utterly failed to provide any protection whatsoever for anything.

    The i-Depot seems to be optimized for "first to conceive" regimes. The irony that "first to conceive" is being steamrolled by "first to file" patent-registration systems seems to have escaped just about everyone... except, perhaps, in the sense of demonstrating that a later patent applicant was not the true inventor, and thereby denying the patent and/or invalidating it at trial.

    The law is not a seamless web; it is very seamy indeed. But different areas of law do inform each other, and this is a good example.