Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Amazon Sells Books That Are Free On Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg, the subject of yesterday's post, offers the largest collection of copyright-free digitized books available for no charge. A PG volunteer points out that Amazon, the world's largest Internet book retailer, has been selling books that are free on PG.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Project Gutenberg Comes Under Fire From Major Authors

Renowned science fiction author Greg Bear and Astrid Anderson Bear, his wife and daughter of another great science fiction author, Poul Anderson, have issued a statement claiming that Project Gutenberg may have infringed on the rights of some authors by improperly putting their protected works in the public domain after committing what they feel is a misreading of copyright law.

Here is their full public statement:

The online site Project Gutenberg (PG) is systematically declaring copyrights void in many literary works published in the 1940s, 1950s, and later, with a special focus on stories published in science fiction pulp magazines. Project Gutenberg then makes these works freely available on the internet though their website, where the scanned texts are further disseminated by manybooks.net and other online text outlets.

After conducting legal research on the LEXIS database of legal cases, decisions, and precedents, we have demonstrated conclusively that PG was making incorrect determinations regarding public domain status in many, many works that originally appeared in magazine form. The Poul Anderson estate has been able to get one work, "The Escape", that PG had firmly declared to be public domain, removed from their site. PG’s original reasoning was that since the magazine it appeared in had never actually filed for copyright, the work was unprotected. "The Escape", printed in 1953, was the first half of Anderson’s well-known novel BRAINWAVE, which was published and properly copyrighted the following year.

However, even if "The Escape" had not been published as a novel, it would have remained under copyright protection until 1981 (28 years) and been eligible for copyright renewal. Authors of that era, and Anderson in particular, were very aware of the need to renew copyrights, and typically meticulously kept their copyright protections up to date. Copyright law for works created more recently is much easier: life plus 70 years. (Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, 1998).

Why is a work that appeared in a magazine that did not file proper copyright paperwork protected by copyright law? The opinion in a major case in the US 2nd Circuit Court, Goodis v. United Artists Television, explains: ". . .We unanimously conclude that where a magazine has purchased the right of first publication under circumstances which show that the author has no intention to donate his work to the public, copyright notice in the magazine’s name is sufficient to obtain a valid copyright on behalf of the beneficial owner, the author or proprietor." The opinion goes on at length regarding the creation of copyright at the time of publication. The full text of Goodis is available here.

A second major case in copyright law, Abend v. MCA, Inc., Universal Film Exchange, James Stewart, estate of Alfred Hitchcock, et al, in the 9th Circuit, upholds this ruling and references Goodis lavishly. The full text of Abend is available here.

According to an email from Project Gutenberg’s CEO, Dr. Greg Newby, PG has changed their procedures for research of copyright non-renewal following the takedown of the Anderson work, although as of this writing (11/21/10) they have not posted these changes on their website. Dr. Newby says PG has also put a hold on public domain determinations for non-renewals. They do not seem to be reviewing the status of works already posted.

Authors and estates with works that are listed as public domain on PG’s site need to check out the true copyright status of those works, If they are posted on PG in error, PG needs to be notified via a DMCA notice. This is a powerful tool, created by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. A DMCA notice is a legal document that states the rights of the copyright holder and demands that illegally posted material be taken down. For a summary of the DMCA in general, go here. There are many online forms for the DMCA notices, such as this one.

DMCA notices also need to be filed with other sites such as manybooks.net, demanding removal of the texts from the sites. The DMCAs may not be honored until PG has pulled a title, as PG is considered the "gold standard" of copyright determination - all titles available there are thought (wrongly) to be free and clear for exploitation by anyone. Small, independent publishers are taking advantage of these treasures and making physical copies, usually with print-on-demand technology, and selling them through Amazon and other sites. Estates and authors should search out these publishers and make their rights known. Estates and authors can demand that publication stop immediately, and that all proceeds be turned over to them as the rightful copyright holder. It should be noted that these publishers don't feel they are pirates, they feel they are merely taking advantage of opportunities that are perfectly legal. They are wrong, and need to be put in the right of it.

In general, Project Gutenberg is doing a tremendous service by making available texts that have truly long since fallen out of copyright, but they are clearly overstepping their original mandate. They are not merely exploiting orphan works, but practicing a wholesale kidnapping of works that are under copyright protection. Authors and estates need to aggressively take back what belongs to them.

- Astrid Anderson Bear
Greg Bear

Project Gutenberg was founded in 1971 and is the first and oldest aggregator of digital publications that have fallen into the public domain because their copyright protections (under U.S. Copyright Laws) have lapsed. Project Gutenberg currently claims over 33,000 items in its collection, which are available in multiple digital formats and without charge. I've read several of their available texts through the Stanza application on my iPhone, Kindle and laptop and have appreciated the ability to do so.

It will be interesting to see how this situation shakes out. Some people feel that the Bears are "whining" (their critics' term, not mine) without cause while others feel that Project Gutenberg may be, intentionally or not, moving beyond their founding philosophy. This may be a simple case of a difference of legal interpretation or opinion that will be decided by the courts, or it may be more than that. I'm inclined to think that the Bears would not have issued a public statement such as the one above without having their concerns previously rebuffed by PG, but then I don't know the Bears by anything other than Mr. Bear's writing and Mrs. Bear's paternal ancestry, so my inclinations count for less than nothing.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Weakness In Me

In addition to being the title of one of my favorite Joan Armatrading songs, my post title today will explore a little bit of my "Kryptonite", so to speak.

I was reading my brother-in-law's blog the other day in which he discussed a conversation he had with a friend about those interview questions we're all asked at some point. Typically you're asked what you would say are your strengths and then what are your weaknesses. If you've been in a position to do a lot of interviewing you've heard them and perhaps you've even prepared yourself ahead of time for them, as most job coaches advise.

By the way, my stock answer was one that was recommended by job coaches; you take one of your strengths and turn it around into a weakness. Thus, my strength of being detail-oriented becomes a weakness of being too easily drawn into missing the big picture. Most interviewers today are familiar with the tactic, but "back in the day" they were awed by your insight and impressed that, "Hey, this guy really doesn't have any BAD weaknesses."

But, truth be told, I DO have a bad weakness. I know, I know it's hard to believe, but I really do.

cc licensed flickr photo by Rennett Stowe
Now, if you ask my wife, she'll have a whole list of weaknesses she sees in me, with the biggest being that she thinks I'm a procrastinator. However, I turn that around into one of my strengths (see, it works both ways); that I'm cautious and deliberate. I do not run blindly into things without feeling that I have equipped myself with all the information possible to make the right decision. Here's an easy analogy; if we walk into a store together, my wife will make impulse buys and I will not.

No, the weakness in me is much more insidious. At least with Kryptonite, Superman can do his best to avoid it, construct lead shielding for it or even have friends remove it safely away from him. But the weakness in me is truly in me, and that makes overcoming it all the more difficult and more of a never-ending battle.

Because the weakness in me is a lack of self-confidence. No matter how much praise and accolades my wife, family or friends may heap upon me for my writing (and I love hearing every morsel of it) my inner demon tells me they're only saying that because they have to. Objectively, I don't believe that, but subjectively, my lack of self-confidence takes over and rises up larger than the praise. Even when the big media conglomerate picked my posts out of a hyperlocal blog and asked me to write for them, I thought it was a joke someone was playing or that a mistake had been made and they really meant to contact the person who posted above or below me.

cc licensed flickr photo by Brooke Raymond
But where this weakness really does the most damage is in causing me to not submit my writing to possible outlets. I know every writer (ok, most of them) have this issue to some degree and the advice is always the same; just grow a tougher skin and get used to rejection slips, but I can't even seem to get to the point of sending something out. Whether it's samples for other online outlets or blogs or sending a travel story to a magazine or a short story to  a contest or anthology, my lack of self-confidence holds me back from even taking the first step.

So, that's the weakness in me. But I've been fighting it a lot lately and I'll keep fighting it. One day you'll see my work in places other than this blog, of that I'm confident.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The World's Greatest Bookshops

cc licensed flickr photo by foto.bulle: http://flickr.com/photos/bulle_de/368274103/
Lonely Planet posted their list of the World's Greatest Bookshops a couple of days ago. Obviously, their choices would be subjective and may not always be what you or I would designate as a great bookshop, but their qualifier, "...here are our picks for the best spots to browse, buy, hang out, find sanctuary among the shelves, rave about your favourite writers and meet book-loving characters." helps ease our sense of disagreement.

I have never visited any of the bookshops they choose and have been physically close to only one of their 10 choices. Two of my largest regrets in visiting Paris, France were not visiting The Catacombs and not stopping in to at least browse through Shakespeare & Company. But at least I always have a valid reason to return, right?

Have you been to any of the 10 bookshops listed by Lonely Planet? Are there any bookshops not on the list you have visited that you believe should be included?

Friday, November 12, 2010

New York Times Adds E-books To Best Sellers Lists

Beginning in early 2011, The New York Times will publish e-book best seller lists in fiction and nonfiction, alongside its existing 14 lists for hardcovers, paperbacks, children's books, and graphic books.

"We've had our eye on e-book sales since e-books began," said Janet Elder, the editor of news surveys and election analysis for The Times. "It was clear that e-books were taking a greater and greater share of total sales, and we wanted to be able to tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales."

As little as three years ago e-books were still viewed as "experimental" and only acknowledged as being in the realm of self-published authors, which therefore made them beneath the notice of "reputable" publishers and reviewers. Now, with the explosion in popularity of e-readers and the convenience of carrying hundreds of books with you in a space the size of a small notebook, e-books have taken another large step toward legitimacy with The Times announcement.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Pedophile's Guide" Ignites Controversy For Amazon

An author who availed himself of Amazon's Self-Publishing Program has written an ebook entitled "The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure" and the result has been a firestorm of controversy for the giant online retailer/publisher.

Is this a freedom of speech issue or does a book about this kind of reprehensible behavior deserve censorship?

When I checked at 6:45pm today there were 1,085 1 star ratings (Amazon does not have any lower rating, so people use the 1 star rating to make a point of disapproval) and 517 comments that appear to all be calling for the book to be removed from Amazon, with many promising to boycott Amazon until such time as it is removed.

As a writer myself, I naturally chafe at the thought of anyone censoring my words, but I can also understand the passion this subject engenders. For some people this is a clear-cut issue, for others it may not be. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Conference Call with Author Kevin J. Anderson

I've read many of Kevin J. Anderson's books and enjoyed each one. This should be an educational and enlightening conference call.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Week Inside Demand Studios

Here's a well-written inside look at the experience of a professional journalist attempting to work for online content provider Demand Studios for a week. As with all personal experiences, your mileage may vary. In the interest of full disclosure, I submitted a sample of my writing to them a couple of weeks ago and received a "No thank you" response.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Want To Write, Produce and Market an Ebook?

Here's a link to an excellent live chat on Twitter last Wednesday hosted by WordCount's Michelle Rafter with guest freelance writer Susan Johnston, who blogs at The Urban Muse. Lots of great  information from Ms. Johnston on how she successfully wrote, produced and marketed her first ebook, The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets earlier this year.

You can read the transcript of the chat here.
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