Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I shake my fists of rage in your direction, Sonny Bono

A few years ago at work our research group put together business cards. We went with a superhero theme, and the cards were really pretty cool.

We were told to pick, among other things, our superpower and our 'arch-nemesis', and this information was placed on our cards. The arch nemesis I chose was the 'Sony-Bono Copyright Term Extension Act'.

I got a lot of strange comments over this, but an article that hit Slashdot today brings sweet vindication. From the article:

"It's nearly the end of 2009. If the 1790 copyright maximum term of 28 years was still in effect, everything that had been published by 1981 would be now be in the public domain — so the original Ultima and God Emperor of Dune and would be available for remixing and mashing up. If the 1909 copyright maximum term of 56 years (if renewed) were still in force, everything published by 1953 would now be in the public domain, freeing The City and the Stars and Forbidden Planet. If the 1976 copyright act term of 75* years (* it's complicated) still applied, everything published by 1934 would now be in the public domain, including Murder on the Orient Express. But thanks to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, nothing in the US will go free until 2018, when 1923 works expire."

How cool would it be to see Steven King do a mashup of Murder on the Orient Express? Many people have enjoyed Pride & Prejudice & Zombies; what if we had a wider variety of books available from which authors could do this kind of mashup?

The Sony-Bono copyright terms extension act (I use the acronym CRAP, even though the letters don't line up, or even relate), the CRAP Act was really put into place because Mickey Mouse was headed for the public domain. Disney lobbied, Sonny Bono delivered, and Mickey stays safely 'protected', as do hundreds of thousands of other works that can't be touched now, thank you very much. All of that creative potential, locked away until 2017.

If an opt-in scheme makes sense anywhere, it’s here. You want to protect Mickey until 3009? Fine, pay a $20 fee every 10 years and renew your copyright/trademark. Don't care if your work makes it into the public domain? Don't do anything.

The CRAP Act protects all of these works until 2017. All of those books, articles, and art locked away from mashups, remixing, and reuse.

I think the founding fathers had it right. They limited copyright to 28 yearsIf you take the total amount of money my publishers and I have made off my books, I’ll bet 75% of it was made in the first three months of the books' release. But if you liked my book, and liked my characters, and thought it would be fun to write some fan fiction, you’d technically be violating the copyright laws (owned by my publisher). If you wanted to do it legally, you’d have to wait until 70 years after I died. Which is too bad; because if you wrote it, I’d like to read it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It is a fine line, but it is a line nonetheless

I was talking to a friend who mentioned that a company is paying her a certain amount of money each month to say good things about that company. This friend uses some social software as a medium to say these good things. It wasn’t much money, and this friend isn’t being dishonest in what they say, but thinking about this arrangement brought up several issues in my mind.

Things get sticky when it comes to endorsing products. There is a fine line between me giving you my opinion of something, and me being paid to sell you something. You, the reader, should always know the difference. Let’s say I go to a restaurant and I write a review on my blog. That is me giving you an opinion; nothing wrong with that.

Now let’s say the restaurant pays me to place an advertisement on my site. Nothing wrong with that, either.

What is wrong is if the restaurant pays me to say nice things about their food, and I don’t disclose the fact that I’m being paid. Even if my review is honest, it is vital that I disclose that I’m being paid to review the restaurant. Why is this so important? Well, it comes down to trust.

If I don’t disclose that I’m being paid for a review, and you the reader finds out, then there is a loss of trust. This loss is a huge deal. Trust is something that you don’t gain back. If I didn’t disclose advertising dollars, then my readers would forever more wonder if what I was saying was really my opinion, or just something for which I was being paid. My opinions would be worthless, and I would likely lose many, many readers. Why read a site when you don’t know if you’re getting an honest review, or a paid-for pitch?

Even worse are the problems for the restaurant. Every time you hear a review of that restaurant, you will wonder if what is being said is true, or just another sneaky pitch. The restaurant would lose all credibility. There is nothing wrong with advertising, but you can’t do it behind people’s back. They will never forgive you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What should I be when I grow up?

I need to decide what I want to be when I grow up. I need to focus.

The way I see it, if you want to do something well, you need to devote a lot of time to it. I've spent the last 37 years messing around with all sorts of things. I like being a Jack-of-all trades; my interests tend to wander. But if I want to be good at something, I feel like I should focus. The good news is that after all these years, I've got it narrowed down to five professions.

Instructional Designer

I have a master’s degree, and hope to have a doctorate, in this field., so being an instructional designer is definitely a front runner. I love this kind of work. I wouldn't mind teaching in this area (hence the doctorate), but if I want to continue to excel in this field, I need to work at it. I haven't done any doctoral work for over 2 years. I don't read up on the field like I should. Of all the possible professions, this one has been neglected the most.


I guess technically I am an author, since I've had two books published, but I can't support my family on it. If I want to be a serious author I need to spend more time on this profession as well. I haven't written for over a year. I have a novel complete and I'm shopping it around...ok, who am I kidding--I haven't sent out a query in over 6 months. And I've only sent it to 13 agents total. If I want to get this book published, I need to spend more time on it. And I need to spend WAY more time writing.


So if I haven't been spending time on the two professions above, what have I been spending time on? Well, I have a few business ideas. I think they're pretty good, and I've shared them with a few friends. The friends think they're pretty good ideas as well, so I've been spending a lot of time pursuing this profession. Although actually what I've been doing is spending time on contract work so that I can fund these ideas. What I really need is a business partner who can help out, since all my time is spent coming up with capital. But how does one go about finding a business partner. Any out-of-work MBA graduates out there?


I love teaching. I mean really love it. I’m currently doing some work for the Open High School of Utah, and there is a chance I could teach for them. I would LOVE to be involved with this organization on the long term, but I don’t think I can make it work financially.

Once I get my doctorate, I could also end up at a university. But I’m not sure if that is what I’m cut out for. I don’t like the ‘publish or perish’ side of academia. I would enjoy the teaching side of things, but don’t know if I would enjoy all of the other things that professors have to deal with.

Technological Tinkerer

The rest of my free time has been taken up by my tinkering. Tinkering is important. If you don't want to be left behind, you have to play with the latest technology. To this end, I started a web site on a whim. I called it TwHistory, and the general idea is reenacting historical events via Twitter. The good news is that it has generated a lot of interest. The bad news is that it's generated a lot of interest. You see, there is no real revenue stream tied in with this, but it’s such a cool idea, I can’t seem to give it up. I’m working on a few grant proposals, hoping to make the site what it needs to be to really get off the ground. I’m glad that the idea seems to be resonating with people, but it is taking up a lot of my time.

And then of course there are all the little things in life that need to get done. Shovel the walk, fix dinner, clean up the house, play with the kids, hang out with my wife, etc. It’s no wonder that I’ve been averaging about 6 hours of sleep each night.

You know, in looking over this list, if I could come up with one more possible profession, then my troubles would be solved. I could number them, roll a die, and let chance dictate the rest of my life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's that time of year again...

It's that time of year again. This may end up being a tradition on my blog. Some may see this as blasphemous, and it's very possibly that this is nothing more than a joke. But part of me hopes that this version of the story behind the song is real. That there is some guy out there who 'sang like nobody was listening', threw caution to the wind, and created this Yuletide masterpiece. What it lacks in just about anything, it makes up for in guts and effort. Enjoy.