Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Back when I was very young and ignorant, I thought I wanted to be a commercial artist. On the back of a comic book, I came across an ad for the Famous Artists Correspondence School. There was a test -- a pencil sketch. Can you draw the pirate? It asked. Do so, and send it to us, and if we think you have talent, why, we'll accept you as a student and teach you what you need to know ...

I drew the pirate. Applied. And, to my amazement, was accepted. Being more cynical these days, I expect that if I put my dog's paw on an ink pad and then had him step onto a sheet of paper, that would more than qualify him to become a student, too ...

Six hundred dollars later -- a fair amount of money for a kid who was earning $1.25 an hour as a lifeguard --I realized I wasn't going to be a commercial artist, and while it was an expensive lesson at the time, cheap in the long run. For years, I kept the books around, eventually lending them out or giving them away until I had but one left, and that one was moth-eaten and roach-nibbled to the point I finally threw it out.

So, pirates ...

Most of us who blog, least the folks I know, have "borrowed" material for our posts. We've Googled the web, found pictures or cartoons we thought appropriate, downloaded them, and stuck them atop our columns. I have, and while I give attribution when I use stuff when I can find it -- who shot the picture or drew it -- that still is, in some cases, technically, a violation of copyright.

While I would never plagiarize written material and claim it as my own, I have used images, and while it is not quite the same thing, it teeters on an ethical edge.

Some images are valid, and permitted -- stuff in the public domain, such as the pirates dueling picture above; book covers, for reviews, and thus fair use; original cartoons, pix, or art offered freely on the web. Any pictures I shot, or got from somebody who doesn't mind if I use them.

Some of the images have been copyrighted material, and just because I can download and use them easily, I shouldn't do so. No, I'm not making any money on them, but that's not the point. If you break into a bank and steal a great wad of cash, then go out and give it away like Robin Hood, that doesn't absolve you of the crime. And while using a picture that is on the web isn't exactly grand theft, and probably more akin to shoplifting a pack of gum, wrong is wrong. It is a slippery slope.

Henceforth, unless I link a picture to the creator of it in some way that will offer him or her benefit -- here's an artist's image, and here is where you go to buy the work -- I'm going to try and avoid posting stuff that isn't fair use under the copyright laws.

This is brought about because somebody pointed me to a website wherein the owner has posted a slew of books he has scanned. This is quite illegal, and pretty quick, he won't be there, because a bunch of writers I know have already contacted lawyers and publishers who will insist that the e-book scanner stop -- or be sued into the ground. If you put up a Star Wars novel in copyright and it comes to Lucasfilm's attention, your lawyer probably won't want to take on the Imperial Legal Corps ...

(Can I get a musical sting of Vader's March here?)

Several of my books are -- maybe by now, were -- on this site, and places like this cut into sales. Why buy the book if you can download it to your reader or laptop for free?

However, since I have swiped material from others on the web and used it without or permission, then I don't get to scream too loud, do I? Pot calling the kettle black, sauce for the goose and gander, like that.

I am ambivalent about YouTube vids or other embeds -- I am merely linking to those, and what they allow posted is their problem. Fine hair-splitting, but I can live with that. If copyright owners don't want to see it on YouTube, all they have to do is say so, and it gets taken down.

Yes, this will limit what I can use to illustrate my rantings, but it is the right thing to do.

Dammit all ...


Bobbe Edmonds said...

I don't know if I would say it's in the same vein as outright stealing yours or anyone else's WRITTEN material, because posting a photo or graphic art belonging to another website isn't the same as taking someone's livelihood and reducing the income. Grabbing an screen cap from Rogue Squadron's run on the Death Star trench to that ill-designed exhaust tube? It doesn't hurt Lucas, even if he was suffering from poor sales and Star Wars wasn't a hit at all. Using the photo to hawk my stuff? Yes, wrong. Using it to illustrate my points in a rant?

...I don't think so. The Incom T-65 Spacefighter can't defend anything unless you lock the S-Foils in attack position. Everyone knows that. Me using it to illustrate what I desire to be the fate of the current head of our Presidential administration is simply taking a metaphor too far.

So some say. ;-))

Ripping copies of Star Wars DVD's and selling them for myself, or even simply giving them away? Yes, that is intellectual theft.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I'd much rather read a book than a soft copy. But I'd also much rather not fork out my hard earned cash on a piece of crap. I think what you really need is something in between. Have a look at the baen free library. Probably if you put up some of your work like spindoc, digital effect, etc. you'd get a whole new bunch of people hooked on your writing. I'd love to read Stellar Ranger. But no way am I going to pay shipping fee's from the states to read it without at least getting a few sample chapters to look at (I'm in Oz.). So to summarize, I'd always buy a new book written by you but why would I muck around trying to get second hand editions of your back catalog unless I know I'm going to enjoy it.

Steve Perry said...

I'm not suggesting that I, or anybody else who does this, ought to be hauled off to copyright jail; only that where the line gets drawn ought to be a conscious choice. What is legal and what is moral sometimes coincides, but not necessarily. If I put up a scan of a Frazetta painting, but also a link to the official Frazetta site where you can buy a print, then I feel as if I might be doing the artists more good than harm.

A vidcap from a movie doesn't detract from the gate or DVD rentals, no harm, no foul.

You can use a page of a book for a review, that's considered fair use, as is using it to teach. So if I am teaching a how-to-write class, I can copy a page from somebody's book to illustrate a point, and ditto musical compositions and art work. I could make the case that my postings about writing or martial arts are efforts to teach and maybe make the case, especially if what I use doesn't impact the copyright owner's income adversely. If I can show it adds to that, not likely any jury would do much about it.

I've had guys name things after my books -- games, schools, even a couple of martal arts tournaments, and that doesn't bother me, but if somebody started selling books using my characters without my leave, that would be different.

Gets tricky with long-out-of-print stuff and things like music that isn't commercially available -- Stairway to Heaven sung to the tune of Gilligan's Island, say, hard to find that one for sale.

It is, I think, a matter of intent, at least on the moral end. We all pick places to stand, and there are lines we don't cross.

Steve Perry said...

Anon in Oz -- will post pages, if the publisher agrees, as sample reading. Some of my books are in that category.. That's fine and it does help sales to let people peek. Lot of novels in series these days will have the first chapter of the next book at the end of the current one, and it is good marketing.

In a bookstore, you can pick the book up, read a couple of pages and decide, and, agreed if you can't find a copy, then it is indeed a crapshoot. Though you could look at reviews if you find them and maybe get an idea. If they are all one-stars, maybe you should skip it. Five stars, maybe worth the risk ...

Of course, as the writer, if the book is used, I don't get any royalty on resales anyway. No fees for library use, like they do in the U.K. either.

But if the whole book is available for free in a form that can be read on a laptop or one of the new e-readers?

Not everybody acts according to their better angels.

If a musician puts up a cut of a new song and everybody and his kid brother can download it to their iPod for free, how many people will then pony up a buck to pay for it out of those who collect it thus?

Research has shown that many won't.

It's a brave new world, and the notion of intellectual rights is getting smacked around pretty good. I just don't want to be on the wrong side of that one.

Edwin Voskamp said...

I spent roughly the last 26 1/2 years of my life making a living off of creating intellectual property, any and all kinds of software, and related materials. I don't use copyrighted material without permission: software, songs, movies, TV, books, you name it.

For me it is simple. On the one hand, if I take something that the owner didn't intend to give away and don't pay for it, it is still stealing. Just because it is easy and your chance of getting caught is very small to non-existent does not make it anything else. And just because you can justify it as just trying out, offsetting excessive profits by whomever, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, still does not make it anything else.

Oh, and the second reason? Simple: I think it is unreasonable and hypocritical to expect others to treat me and my intellectual property different from the way I treat others'.

Oh, and Steve, it shouldn't limit your ability to illustrate your rantings: people have used English to good effect to do that for quite a while now. There's even people that make a living doing just that.

Steve Perry said...

Really? People can make a living at writing without using pictures?

No way.

Dave Huss said...

One thing that I have to agree with Oz here is that unlike the MP3's which give the product to you in the exact same format as the original, books are a little different. I linked over to Dan Moran's site one night and burned my eyeballs out for about four hours on one of his e-books. Even on my laptop, taking an e-book to bed to read sucks. Oz there mentioned Baen, those guys send a whole library on CD with some of there novels. Just causes me to by more books. I wasn't just being weird when I printed the .doc of "The Dreadnought" to read, that e-book thing just kills me.

Steve Perry said...

Of course, there are laws and then there are laws. Used to be illegal to drink booze in the USA, by and large, save for religious sacraments. If you did it and got caught, you could get dinged, but the law was not malum in se, but malum prohibitum, and that's not the same as theft.

Half the sex laws on the books simply aren't valid, nor moral, and nobody has the right to say who gets on top -- least not as far as the government is concerned ...

Ditto running the stop sign out on a county road at three a.m. when you can see for four miles in all directions and nobody is coming. The intent of the law is to protect, and if nobody is being protected, the law is pointless. (One could argue that a guy in dark clothes might be walking by and you'd see him if you stopped and maybe hit him if you didn't, and that's why the application is 24/7, and have a good point. But a law that says you can't have a beer because Jesus wouldn't approve? Sorry, no.)

Because everybody does it doesn't make it right to swipe stuff from the net. It just means there are a lot of thieves ...

Knowledge wants to be free. Entertainment wants to be paid for.

I agree that reading a book on a computer screen compared to paper is not such a pleasant experience. Hard to curl up in bed with a flattop compared to a paperback. But with the advent of dedicated readers, such as Kindle and the Sony, it isn't nearly as unpleasant as on the computer -- e-paper has gotten very sharp. A guy with a good reader and translator can swipe half the Library of Congress online and read to his heart's content.

My cut-off for such things isn't as absolute as Edwin's, viz the legal versus the moral -- if I'm not costing somebody anything, which is the biggest test for me, I'm not going to worry about it in the same way as if am taking money out of somebody's pocket.

If I'm sitting out in my front courtyard playing the guitar and singing Beatle songs and a neighbor passes by and hears me, I don't expect I've caused Sir Paul any harm.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Except to his ears. And dignity.

JTHeyman said...

What is your opinion, then, of the ever-lengthening copyright period? I call it the Disney law, since they seem to have been responsible for the last extension from (I think) death+50 years to death+75, just to protect Walt's mouse for their corporate empire.

At what point do you think a work should be fair game and open to reinterpretation by a new generation? To give you a sense of scale, I have a brother who likes the idea of corporate copyrights in perpetuity while I tend to favor reducing it to death plus 25 (enough for the artist's kids to reach adulthood with a college degree but not enough for them to retire on daddy's artistic talent).

Steve Perry said...

If you build a house, you can leave it to your kids, and if they take care of it, they can leave to your grandkids, and so on. It's property.

If the government could come in and take the house twenty five years after you died, would that be okay?

Walt created The Mouse, and I don't begrudge his heirs keeping it as long as they can.

I understand the notion that drugs will fall into the generic realm after their companies have time to make a nice profit from them, and that can be justified by the public health -- in some instances.
But works of art or literature are property or they aren't, and if they are, treating them like other property doesn't bother me.

JTHeyman said...

Okay, I understand your point about real estate (tangible property). I'm not sure it holds true for ideas but let's assume it does.

Let me ask you this. Had these rules been in effect a hundred years ago, we might have been denied your very funny tale which mixed Holmesian detectives with Lovecraftian horror. Should all of our pop culture icons be forever sealed in lucite (pictures available for a fee)?

At some point, shouldn't ideas re-enter the public domain?

Mike said...

I believe the pirate drawing is by Howard Pyle; probably one of his illustrations for Treasure Island. And I'm guessing the cartooning scam guys didn't pay him or his estate any royalties, either.

Steve Perry said...

As far as I know, the pastiches in the Doyle/Lovecraft anthology had to be cleared -- licensed -- from both estates.

I'm not sure when I'd draw the line, but life of the artists plus fifty or seventy years is probably a reasonable compromise between owning it forever or not at all.

The law is not perfect. But it is an attempt to recognize that ideas manifested can be of value.

The Famous Writers' pirate was a different image -- I didn't use it, but used the Pyle because it is in the public domain. Here's the wiki:

"This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

This applies to the United States, Canada, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Note that a few countries have copyright terms longer than 70 years: Mexico has 100 years, Colombia has 80 years, and Guatemala and Samoa have 75 years. This image may not be in the public domain in these countries, which moreover do not implement the rule of the shorter term. Côte d'Ivoire has a general copyright term of 99 years and Honduras has 75 years, but they do implement that rule of the shorter term."

Steve Perry said...

I don't expect Sir Paul is gonna be able to hear me with his rock-star ears from London. If he happens to be walking down the street in Beaverton and knocks on my front gate to complain, why, I'll happily stop.

Last time he and I sang together, he didn't complain. We did "Hey, Jude," Paul and I.


(At the Rose Garden. Paul, me, and twenty thousand other people, sure, but hey ...)

Michael Bourgon said...

Two comments:
1) Talk to Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, etc - and they'll tell you having the books available on line _helps_ their sales, not hurt it. Baen's recognized it too - give a free taste and people will frequently buy the whole meal. If they're committed enough to download and print a book without paying, you weren't going to get their money anyway. They would have borrowed a copy, or checked it out from the library. I own an iPhone, but reading on it is a pain. Ditto with my portrait 17" monitor - yes, it can double as the page of a book. But it's easier to lay on the couch and read a physical book.

2) The purpose of copyright, as envisioned in the US, is: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Some people believe this encourages innovation and the betterment of culture - are you more or less likely to rest on your laurels if you know the clock is ticking? If Edison had become Bill-Gates-rich based off of one invention, would he have done others, knowing that he could ride that gravy train forever?

Heck, look at medicine patents - 7 years, IIRC. That means that the makers of Claritin had to come up with a better version (Clarinex) - something that almost assuredly wouldn't have happened if they didn't have a "limited times" to worry about.

One other point - I first found "Man Who Never Missed" in a used bookstore 20 years ago. You made bupkis off of that. I've shared the book to tons of people over the years - and most of them wind up buying at least a copy of that book, if not many more books of yours. And I eagerly await your non-licensed books - I believe I have a full set, and intend to keep it that way.

Steve Perry said...

I think the intent here was to promote the progress and betterment and like that by rewarding folks who came up with Art and Science. Not to force Edison to put down the light bulb and go work on the Victrola, but to show other inventors, writers, and artists that if they did something the public found worthy, that they could reap some benefit from it.

This is why communism doesn't work -- if somebody is twice as smart and works twice as hard why would they do so if they were doing to make the same amount of money as a lazy dullard.

Should a neurosurgeon be paid the same as a 7-Eleven clerk? Not in my mind.

I don't believe a ticking clock was intended to force those who had created something to go out and create more. Edison didn't quit because that's who he was and what he did -- it wasn't about the money.

Salinger wrote one book. While Bobbe is not a big fan, there are folks for whom Catcher in the Rye was THE book of their youth. Maybe ole Jerome would have written another masterpiece, but one is more than most folks get, so I'm good with that. Let him run out the clock, and any relatives who benefit for seventy years, too.

The purpose of any good law is to protect people. If I buy a car and somebody steals it, that's wrong, morally and legally. Copyright recognizes that an idea I had and then made tangible by writing it down to entertain folks can have value, and defines it as my property. (Different than a pure idea with no expression. That's why inventions that are patented need working models. You can't copyright an idea -- or even a title -- you have to have the tale. Trademarks are a different can of worms, and too ugly to open for this discussion.)

Generic drugs that save lives serve the public interest, Taking Tarzan or Mickey away from their creators? Not the same, is it? The public's right to be entertained is not equal to the treatment of a debilitating or fatal disease ...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

This is off-subject, but...

I've come around to Catcher lately, but not in the enjoyable reading sense. What you said about it being the book of your youth was put to me in much the same way about books that meant alot to me when I was younger. Given the era (Mesozoic?) that you come from, the view of the age, I can understand why it still stands today.

Doesn't change my opinion of the guts.

But I'm not as acerbic towards it.

Jordan said...

I tend to get all rabid and drooly when copyright gets brought up, so I'll try to restrain myself. Short summary, 50-70 years plus life is economically bad. At least according to most smart economists (would provide a link--supporting evidence in most recent court challenge to CTEA--if it weren't so darn late/early and I wasn't in bed on my phone)

Which studies are you referring to about downloading hurting sales? The ones put out by the RIAA that have been so repeatedly debunked and discredited?

To answer your hypothetical question, /I/ buy books both before and after downloading illicit ebook versions online. It always annoys me when a book isn't available in the usual warez locations. My process is: buy book in store (usually hardback--I'm impatient), go home, download ebook and read on iPhone with book stored on shelf. Very occasionally the process is reversed, usually with a new author whose entire back-catalog must then be purchased.

Steve Perry said...

Rabid and drooly? Over copyright?

And for whom is that five to seven decade span bad? The writers? Publishers? Readers?

I am somewhat skeptical of anything economists have to say these days, given how many of them are walking around befuddled over what has happened to our economy, even in hindsight.

Foresight? Not much of that in evidence so that it mattered enough to stop the tsunami that swamped my IRA.

If you download a book and then always buy the hardcopy, you are in a small minority. If somebody not as ethical as you downloads the book and doesn't do that, s/he is a thief, period.

Jordan said...

Indeed -- I know it seems a silly thing to be passionate over, but there you have it.

I suppose economists might not be my first choice for a reputable class of scientist these days given the current situation, but I think these particular folks tend to know what they're talking about (17 prominent economists, five nobel laureates among them). I finally remembered to dig up the link and come back here to post it:

Seventeen Famous Economists Weigh In On Copyright: The Role Of Theory, Empirics, And Network Effects

The harm comes in multiple ways:

"Orphan Works" -- One way to help this problem is to re-establish the registration requirement for copyright. Making it automatic (and apparently permanent the way congress has extended it, even to the point of retroactive extensions) does nobody any good. Those still making money are welcome to pony up the very minor costs associated with registration. There are a number of specific instances of harm as a result of this situation, just google orphan works.

The cost of actually licensing something is sometimes not as high as the cost of actually finding who to license it from or even if it needs to be licensed at all. Adding back in the registration requirement in the original law helps address this problem neatly.

So one cost is in the current ambiguity (partly due to the retroactive nature of the previously alluded to Mickey-Mouse-Protetion Act, or "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act" as it is often mistakenly called).

Another cost of copyright being the way it is now is that we're doing the youngest generation a terrible disservice. We're teaching them to ignore copyright since it appears to be irrelevant to large portions of their online activities, except to say that almost all of them are forbidden.

This harm isn't caused by term lengths or ambiguity in who a copyright owner is for an older piece of work, merely the current law's lack of foresight or flexibility when dealing with a very different, relatively new, online world.

Copyright is not about property in the least. Ask pro-lifers about how being able to define the terms of the debate helps your position. Whomever coined the phrase "intellectual property" did an excellent job defining the debate for their side.

"Intellectual Property" is simply a misnomer. The constitution talks about a balance. A trade. And it's not about property at all, but about the right to copy. That's it.

Incidentally, that's also why the word "theft" isn't legally nor technically accurate when talking about copyright infringement, but I realize that "infringement" doesn't have the emotional bang that theft does.

Content producers need incentive to create, then the public gets to benefit. That benefit is primarily by allowing other content producers to be able to build upon that or re-use it in a new way with the minimal encumberment. With today's computers and the internet, /everybody/ is a content producer. Of course, whether they're actually good at it is a different issue.

Oh yeah -- also, I'm apparently not at all alone in my habit of purchasing then downloading (or vice-versa):

Steve Perry said...

With all due respect to the experts -- and I'm not convinced that arguments from expertise are always the best, given the history of people who thought the world was circled by the sun, was flat, and that the housing market was sound -- it depends on whose ox is being gored.

As a writer who makes this stuff up, my talent is small, but even so, not so common that most folks can do it. I'm looking for all the protection I can get, and the more copyright offers, the happier I'll be.

That kids today don't get it is no surprise. Kids today have never gotten it, no matter which today we are talking about. Doing the right thing is usually not at the top of their list. But because a lot of people do the wrong thing doesn't make it right.

Sorry. We disagree on this one.

Jordan said...

I'm not suggesting kids today are right by any means. Just that the current situation is making it harder for them to do the right thing as they grow up into mature adults. My peers, as you pointed out, are generally less likely to pay for something if they've downloaded it than I am. Unfortunately, I'm getting old enough that these days my peers have kids of their own and their downloading habits remain. That's not a trend that's good for society should it continue.

I'd suggest that even as a content producer, there are disadvantages to you with ever-extending copyright terms.

If you received 98% of all the profits you're ever going to realize on a book in the first 20 years of it's life* and reducing the copyright term lengths to 20 years allows you to more easily incorporate and build on other concepts/works without securing royalties (to the tune of saving more than you'd lost on potential future sales), then that actually makes your life easier and makes you more money in the long run.

Additionally, it means you might hook many more lifetime readers because of easy access to your back-catalog and then they're going to snap up everything you've written, including the last 20 years worth of books you'll get the paycheck for. The older books are likely out of print anyway, so why bother worrying about the copyright? Or, again, require re-registration so if you want to hold out for a movie some 40 years from when you wrote it, you can do so, but the vast majority of stuff just defaults back to the public domain.

*I'm admittedly making up these numbers totally out of the blue, but the concept holds.

As someone else already referenced, Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, and Baen Books have had good success fighting /against/ the trend of locking books up in copyright, and it seems to me anyway that we're past the novelty stage of the alternate licensing schemes they're using and their success is real not temporary.

That said, I'm perfectly content to agree to disagree. I promise to still buy all your books anyway. Well, the ones in your own universes anyway.

Though maybe it's time I got back into the Net-Force series. I still remember when I read the first book and realized from the writing alone that you'd written it despite your name being only a thank-you on the inside cover.

I buy everything L.E. M. puts out even though I--well, "detest" might not be too strong a word--most of his personal philosophies and couldn't stand reading his blog after a few posts.

You keep spinning good yarns, and I'll be lined up at the register. Or, more accurately, on amazon, and then immediately scouring the net for illicit copies I can read on my phone once the legal nicety of buying the bookshelf filler is done.

Steve Perry said...

"If you received 98% of all the profits you're ever going to realize on a book in the first 20 years of it's life* and reducing the copyright term lengths to 20 years allows you to more easily incorporate and build on other concepts/works without securing royalties (to the tune of saving more than you'd lost on potential future sales), then that actually makes your life easier and makes you more money in the long run."

It's a theory, and maybe valid most of the time. But, just in the same possible theory category, if, thirty years after I write a book somebody thinks it would make a peachy TV series? If i own the rights, that brings in more money than the book did, and even if you discount the option/rights money, chances are the series would create new printings of the novel.

It only takes just the one time to make a huge difference in someone's lifestyle.

All of Charlaine Harris's Sooky books are in print again, due to the HBO series based on them.

As I recall, Anthony Burgess made a foolish decision to sell the movie rights to A Clockwork Orange for something like six hundred bucks. I am certain he came to regret that. Just as I am certain that if copyright ran out after twenty years and somebody elected to turn one of my books into some kind of media project that made everybody connected to it rich except the guy who created it, I'd be real unhappy.

This is a complicated issue, to be sure, but if we are going to err, I'd prefer that it be on the side of protecting the creator of art than on the consumer. Readers can always find other books to entertain themselves; a writer might have only a few, or even one, in him. At the very least, he should own that right until he shuffles off, and a few years to make sure the kids get through college seems fair to me.

You can't copyright a title, nor an idea, you have to have a realized story. That doesn't hamstring other writers from creating their own stories.