Don’t Listen To The Bear, Conan

I guess what bugs me most about Alan Moore these days is how he’s always popping up in some venue or other calling for a mass boycott.  Clearly interested in nothing but laying his hands on money he’s not really entitled to, he seems to have little more to occupy his time with than pushing his uninvited invective into conversations that really have nothing to do with him.  Stomping up and down the Internet and print media urging people not to buy new work based on his books, heedless of the fact that all his books have in turn been based on somebody else’s work, he comes off like the saddest kind of hypocrite:  one who doesn’t even realize his hypocrisy.  And for years, out of respect for his talent, no one has really spoken any truth to him about it, but now…well, I’m as sorry as anyone to see it, but the intervention had to happen eventually, and I’m just glad his peers have phrased it as delicately as possible but even if they hadn’t it’s still more than about time to say:  Alan Moore, your fifteen minutes are up.

…Oh, what?

Oh, yeah.  I forgot.

NONE OF THAT IS TRUE.

So…

How come the intervention’s still happening, then?

It’s a question that’s bugging me quite a bit, today.  David Brothers has the round-up for you, and he’s just about as right as rain about it, but the one thing he doesn’t mention is how the pre-emptive strikes against Alan Moore’s unwillingness to approve DC’s new Watchmen ripoffs aren’t just coming from jumped-up fanboys (sadly, I kind of expect it from them), but also from supposed professionals in the comics field, in a show of disrespect that frankly I find shocking.  Is it that they’re just so used to the stupid boilerplate PR circle-jerks (“from the beginning I said that if I was going to do this, it had to be done right, and it took a long time for INSERT EIC’S NAME HERE to convince me, in HIS/HER typically brilliant way, that the commitment was there…but I think when fans see what I’ve got planned for INSERT COMIC NAME HERE they’ll appreciate the reverence with which INSERT COLLABORATOR’S NAME HERE and I approached INSERT COMICS CREATOR’S NAME HERE’s work, and understand that we really did it to honour COMICS CREATOR’s contribution to the field…”), is all that shit just so standard now that they can’t even focus on it long enough to realize when it’s actually become offensive?  J. Michael Straczynski should really not be at such pains to point out, apropos of nothing if you really think about it, that since Alan Moore wrote Lost Girls he’s not entitled to have negative feelings about Before Watchmen…much less should he drag in the odious hypothetical wherein we would all be much poorer for Jerry Siegel not being booted off Superman, but somehow, some way, he does

And all the while Alan Moore does not really care, you know.  That’s the really unforgivable thing here, that in all likelihood Alan Moore has no idea who Mr. Straczynski is, and doesn’t specifically care if he cashes his paycheque or not.  So what’s it to JMS?  Does he really think Alan Moore is lobbing grenades at him, grenades carefully labelled “how dare you use my characters without my consent”, does he really feel as though he needs to defend himself against Alan Moore?  David B. hits the mark on this one with his usual accuracy:  Alan Moore’s displeasure is useful to DC Comics, and that’s probably the only reason they care about it.  The comics are coming out anyway, and they’ll sell or they won’t sell, and Alan Moore isn’t calling press conferences about the injustice of it all;  they could ignore Alan Moore, if they wanted to.  Well, really they are ignoring him, because what they have to say about him isn’t directed at him, answers nothing that he’s actually said about them, and far from correcting errors of fact only folds factual errors into a plausible-sounding narrative that enables the marketing machine to do its business more efficiently.  Alan Moore wants nothing to do with any of it, but his name is still something that can be traded on….and thus there must be a controversy, even if it does not actually consist of any genuine controversion.  Look, all momentary hipnesses aside, Watchmen is a magnificent piece of allusive clockwork, a great accomplishment of form.  Is it one of the top 100 literary works of the 20th century?  Certainly not;  but it’s a wonderful piece of work, a very valuable piece of work, and it has a great deal of literary merit.  By contrast, Before Watchmen (and what a stunningly mediocre title that is, I mean REALLY!) unless a miracle occurs will just be a bunch of generic comics product not really deserving of much scrutiny.  Because the very idea that the characters can be revivified, updated to “tell us more about ourselves in the modern world” or whatever the overwrought mission statement du jour is, that idea’s pure garbage as a piece of philosophy.  That’s not how stories work, that’s not how characters work:  that’s just more spin.  A good design is an eternally-productive delight, to be sure, but good design isn’t merely eternal, it’s also effective…and characters, as a result, don’t have any intrinsic storytelling virtues.  They can be interesting characters because of the way they’re designed, but they can’t actually themselves “tell us” anything…only writers and artists can do that, and when push comes to shove it doesn’t matter what characters they use to do it, just so long as the characters’ interesting designs are effective at carrying the artists’ messages.  And it’s perfectly possible to have the wrong character at hand for a given job!  Are there really more great Dr. Manhattan stories to be told?  Maybe there are, but merely having Dr. Manhattan in a story doesn’t mean that story’s one of them.  There are also, no doubt, many more bad Dr. Manhattan stories lurking out there in Ideaspace, so what odds?  How now?  What’s the best way this could work out?

Sorry, trick question:  it doesn’t matter to me how it works out.  Well, I’m not gonna be reading the damn things, am I?  If you want to read them, go ahead;  that’s your business, and I’m happy to say it doesn’t affect me any more than you mean it to.  But I must confess, it does matter to me that the grand PR circle-jerk has expanded to the point where creators are happy to paint other creators as hypocritical malcontents for failing to actively support the cynical exploitation of their creations…where creators unthinkingly adopt and promulgate the company line even to the point where they imply no creator’s contribution is as important as the contribution of the characters they made popular, and that making a living off the work of earlier authors is fine so long as no one rocks that boat, but if someone ever does then it’s still fine, only not for them.  You want to see some hypocrisy, well…there it is, you know?  And it’s of the saddest kind, too.  So I’m kind of pissed at J. Michael Straczynski, if you want to know the truth.  And is that fair?

I think it is.  After all, you don’t see me getting pissy about Darwyn Cooke or Len Wein, do you?  Ha, well, then again all Mr. Cooke said was that he thought it was a dumb thing to do, but then he had an idea.  And I’m not a monster:  if the man had an idea, he had an idea.  Who can prevent ideas from coming?  In the privacy of my own thoughts I may judge it or not judge it, but I’m not going to bother you with all that…because as I said, what I think of Watchmen Reloaded is not the subject of this little rant o’ mine.  Likewise Mr. Wein’s contribution, you know it strikes me as quite funny, because though I truly do love Watchmen I also love the story where Len says, as the editor of said book, “hey waitaminute, you mean the big plan is a rip-off of “The Architects Of Fear”, are you kidding me, NOT COOL ALAN…” and something in me laughs and laughs at the notion that Len Wein, creator of Swamp Thing and disgruntled editor of Watchmen, gets another payday out of it all at this late date.  I mean, honestly…I’m not a monster, you know?  And it’s not my place to interfere with some fannish opinion-or-other, when the professionals are cutting weird ironic circles around one another that I can’t interpret.  Okay, okay, I guess it’s pretty obvious that I think Watchmen Begins is an effort that was quite neatly described by Alan Moore as “shameless”…but I’m not Alan Moore, and he doesn’t need me defending him, and so this isn’t a defence.

Rather, this is an explosion of irritation.

What the fuck is any creator doing, taking potshots at Alan Moore?  Alan Moore doesn’t care about you.  And Alan Moore is not your enemy!  Everybody knows — everybody knows — that this NuWatchmen thing is pretty much what I called it above, i.e. cynical and exploitative…that’s not a secret.

It really isn’t!

My God, it so ISN’T…!

And yet you will try to snow me about it.  It’s good, it’s worthy, it’s been carefully-considered, and it would’ve worked too if it weren’t for you meddling kids and that DAMNED ALAN MOORE…!

But oh, man.  Get real.  Wake up.  Alan lives in a magic cave in Northampton, he doesn’t have the Internet, fuck if I’m not surprised he still has a PHONE.  The only reason you’re acting so pissed at him is that you know damn well that this is a shitty and stupid thing to do…well we all know that!…and because you know he doesn’t know, or anyway at least barely knows…and thus is not gonna give you a concrete target to react against…so…

…You’re yelling at shadows.

And now it’s a rescue mission.

You know something, it really is.

42 responses to “Don’t Listen To The Bear, Conan

  1. It’s like the Watchmen movie, in this sense: one of the whole points of Watchmen was that it was innovative and experimental. You can’t pay tribute to something that’s innovative and experimental by copying it straight, or by beating it to death with a rock. You pay tribute to it by doing something else innovative and experimental.

    Anyway, I’ve already read a Watchmen prequel, and it was great, and now I don’t need to read any more of them:

    It’s gonna be just like this.

  2. Peter David comes off as badly as Straczynski, and I think it all stems from the fact that they all make money off the work-for-hire system and don’t want to think about the broken bodies the successes of both DC and Marvel have left in their wake. After all, it’s better now than it was in Jerry Siegel and Jack Kirby’s day … right?

    Except it isn’t.

  3. Pingback: Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » ‘The Second Coming of Night Owl’, and other stories…·

  4. Oh my, if anyone wanted to dislike J. Michael Straczynski any more than they already do, this article is packed with quotes to raise the bile!

    “I’m really good with the English language, but I’ve turned that sentence over several times and I can’t parse it in any logical way.” – J. Michael Straczynski, on a counter argument he invented moments before.

  5. It’s just about beyond understanding, as well, how JMS can participate in the fanboyish bullshit that asks “why is it more okay to use Dr. Jekyll in a story, just because RLS is dead and can’t fight back?” YES. YES, FANBOY. THAT IS WHAT SOMETHING BEING IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN IS ALL ABOUT. Yeah, if RLS was alive today, he’d say “hey, my work may be in the public domain, but I think what you’re doing with my characters is bullshit, so put up your dukes if you’ve got the guts,” yes that’s clearly a REALISTIC SCENARIO.

    God, it’s just so dumb! Obviously if RLS was ALIVE, then his works wouldn’t be in the bloody public domain…!

    My opinion of JMS is sinking really fast, now. How dare he not know what the fuck he’s talking about? How dare he paint Alan Moore as a might-makes-right graverobber? Just yesterday I was thinking “what a terrible lack of respect for a fellow writer, how uncollegial, how unprofessional”…but today I’m wondering why I’d ever consider JMS a professional anyway, much less a colleague of any creative artist. A colleague of management, yes…

    And a companion to fanboys.

  6. Oh God, Peter David does it too.

    What’s wrong with these guys?

    YES, public domain makes it different. Jesus, who doesn’t know that? David is so arch, so much the Cicero, so much the…the wordsmith about it, it kind of makes me want to puke. This isn’t the bird’s-eye view, no matter how he postures: the bird’s-eye view is the one that says “huh, they’re ripping off Watchmen, how weak is that?” As far as public domain goes — uh, my blood’s boiling a bit now, I gotta say — as far as public domain goes, let’s say that if Alan Moore owned Watchmen completely it would enter the public domain in about a hundred years from now. At that point, if someone wants to tell some new story…yes, sure. Of course. Nothing wrong with it, the worst thing you could say about it would be that maybe it’d flop. But if it flopped, would it matter? I think the survey says no, don’t you?

    People are saying Brian Azzarello has been wise to not say much, but one thing he’s said is (I think) about the dumbest thing anyone has said…though not nearly the most offensive. Something like, “people will say why would you do this, but then when they read the comics they’ll say oh, THAT’S why. Personally I think this is an amazingly full-of-shit thing to say — because though I reserve my full-on Disgusted Face for people who attack Alan Moore because they can’t defend their work, the truth is that the idea Azz woke in the middle of the night with a Before Watchmen idea just so good that it had to be told…

    …Is ludicrous, right?

    I mean what’s the storyline, here? Did he then call up Didio and say “look, hear me out, but I need to do a Watchmen prequel, I swear it’s possible”, and then Didio said “well…as resistant as I am to this, I’ve got to admit that’s a story too good not to be told, but wait, I have Darwyn Cooke on the other line…”? NO. That isn’t what happened. This isn’t the Muse at work, you can’t lay this at the feet of the Muses. And it just smacks so much of Bendis-speak, doesn’t it? Millar-hype. The grand modern myth of “telling good stories”, whose high priests always seems to be EICs. But getting back to the “public domain” crock of precocious Grade Nine creative writing student Peter David…I forget who said it, it was just a few years ago, but some old pro or other said something a lot like “look, these are all corporate characters, everybody knows what the deal is, but there used to be an understanding, there used to be a code…Silver St. Cloud’s a Steve Englehart character, so you don’t use her unless you’re Steve or you’ve got Steve’s blessing…Howard The Duck, no matter what they say, is Steve Gerber’s baby, and it’d be bloody rude to him to write Howard.” I mean, one supposes if management orders a person to write these characters, then it gets a bit trickier…but a Silver St. Cloud pitch, a Howard The Duck pitch…it’s not right, and also if you’ve got the option to say no it’s not right, or whatever happens, even if you end up writing it, it’s just NOT RIGHT, and that’s the nature of the unwritten rule of respect. So maybe there’s no union at the Big Two, and there’s never gonna be…well, that just means the unwritten rule isn’t a fucking frill.

    It really burns me up. Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s Omega The Unknown has been really well-spoken-of, and I don’t automatically exclude the idea that this may be because it was good…however, my gosh, comics professionals of Steve Gerber’s vintage, they have NOTHING, you know? They have nothing except the respect of their colleagues. Sure, Alan Moore’s doing all right for himself, but if you asked him I’m sure he’d say he owes a debt to all the talents who came before him who got fucking NOTHING. There but for the grace of them goes him. So it’s absurd, really. I’d feel a hell of a lot different about Watchmen Begins if it was sending half its profits to The Hero Initiative, you know? Watchmen is such a gold standard, such a notable book, and DC is doing nothing here but beggaring its achievements. Diluting the brand, if you want to say so in so many words. But how different would it be if this were a special-imprint 25th Anniversary Elseworlds, for charity? Everyone knows DC’s real money will always be in Watchmen itself, and never in these blinkered rip-offs for an ever-shrinking circle of crap-addicts…but make it for an appropriate charity and I daresay you wouldn’t have Alan Moore calling it shameless, you might even find yourself with some slightly more ungettable names lining up to do a six-issue mini, you could make it an Event for real, and drive sales of the Watchmen TPB even higher into the bargain. Alternate covers, for charity? I’m not saying it wouldn’t be far too little and far too late, but if you wanted to pretend this was all about honouring the work that would be the way to make that a great deal less of a pretense, and you might even make more money at it too. As to Lethem’s Omega, he was offered a childhood dream and he took it, and they do say it’s good, and I know that eventually he and Steve did have some sort of a conversation about it…but it’ll be a long time before I can bring myself to read that, if indeed I ever do. Comics may be a media-superstar-parachute now, and I don’t think that’s bad…but God, the parachuting superstars, they need to be told what’s what about this jobsite.

    Urrgh, so irritated. I mean, I’d read an Umberto Eco-scripted Aztek, but if it featured Morpheus in it I’d want to know he’d given Neil Gaiman a call, you know?

    Or something.

    So mad now.

    Peter David’s an asshole.

  7. And just a brief comment on David Brothers’ post today on his reaction to the Kirby lawsuit…I said it there, so I might as well say it here, it’s a profoundly stupid miscalculation, in PR terms, for Marvel to essentially say “fuck trying to prove we’ve made amends for past bad business practices, we’re actually not corporately sorry at all and would cheerfully do it again“…

    YEAH. Well, they might have assumed there was not going to be a significant downside to that, but time will tell. Or, perhaps, one can hope…

    Toll.

    Anyway, cripes. How terrible is it of Peter david to act like he’s thought it all out way beforehand and has the measured and reasonable answer? And here I thought there was a difference between him and JMS. Not a really big difference, maybe. But enough of one to count for something, anyway.

  8. YES, public domain makes it different.

    Well, it does and it doesn’t. I don’t know if I’d want to make anything’s public-domain status part of my argument, no matter which side I was on. Because public domain, or its complementary concept, copyright duration, isn’t a natural condition that comes and goes like the tides. It’s a matter of law, and the law is made by people, and it gets revised every now and then.

    Right now there’s a copyright law somewhere–I forget where–that they’re trying to change, and if they do it will take some things that are in the public domain back out of the public domain and into copyright again.

    So just because Dr Jekyll [...] is in the public domain, that doesn’t mean that someone’s waved a magic wand over it. It just means that Stevenson’s lawyers weren’t as influential as Disney’s.

    If I understand it right, there was a time in the U.S. when copyright lasted for seven years, or fourteen years, or something like that, and after that the thing was in the public domain. If that was still the case, Watchmen would be in the public domain right now, and Alan Moore would be alive to see it, and it wouldn’t make a difference what anybody thought about it.

    Although I think Moore’s opinion is worth something! Largely because it happens to agree with mine, I suppose. But it’s still not the issue for me; the issue is, is this worth doing? Is there any chance that DC’s actually going to do a good job of this? And I think it’s going to look real sad.

    The other day on Twitter some comic book professional, I forget which, possibly Jimmy Palmiotti although I may be wrong about that, said something along the lines of, everyone who’s saying that these creators should do something original instead of whoring themselves out on these Watchmen prequels, well, guess what? If they did something original, it wouldn’t sell, and the Watchmen prequels will sell like crazy. I had the urge to respond with, “It must be really comforting for you guys to be able to say that your lack of creativity is my fault.” But I didn’t.

  9. Ah! I know something about this “removal from public domain” thing. It’s to do with the Berne Convention. That’s the international treaty where signatory nations agree to respect and uphold one another’s copyrights — if I write a book in Canada, someone in the U.S. can’t just copy it and sell it and never pay me anything for it, and vice versa. So in the U.S. it used to be that anything was fair game — British authors, e.g., could expect that America was the Wild West: U.S. law only protected U.S. authors. Later, the U.S. entered into several bilateral agreements with other nations in regard to a you-scratch-my-back copyright maintenance deal, and then eventually they too signed onto the Berne Convention.

    BUT.

    Even under Berne, they wanted it to apply only to new works. In other words the estate of H.G. Wells was out of luck: he’d already been ripped-off, so he stayed ripped-off. But eventually the other Berne signatories put enough pressure on the U.S. that they decided to cave — for example, H.G. Wells won’t enter the public domain for another four years, in all signatory countries but the U.S., and eventually this looked like “well, if you want in then you have to be all the way in, America.” So what they’re talking about there is making the baseline Berne copyright protection of life plus fifty years (same as in Canada) retroactive to Berne’s signing by the U.S. Put another way, Shape Of Things To Come can’t be removed from the public domain in the States because it was never really in it: if, as you say, public domainness and copyright protection are complementary concepts, jurisdictional zones established and confirmed by law, then the right of copy of Shape was never brought under the umbrella of U.S. law. A bit like saying Rolex isn’t a trademarked name in Hong Kong? Or at any rate, it may leave the public domain, but it won’t go into copyright again, because it was never there in the first place. Of course it is all up to the States: they don’t have to fulfill their treaty obligations. But my reading of it is, they can’t be in Berne any longer without abiding by Berne, so if they don’t abide by Berne then they abandon Berne’s protection…which they surely do not want to do, since America is no longer such a young country that it has no large IP enterprises of its own to protect internationally.

    So…it’s “the right to copy” that’s the (relatively) new thing in law, and before there was this law conferring ownership on an author, if someone just took your stuff you had no recourse against them. No public domain because no concept of “domain” at all: where there’s nothing but the commons, everything’s in common. The right to copy, on the other hand, while at the same time giving you recourse as the author if someone else decides it’d be fun to profit by your labour without asking you, comes pre-set with the condition that your right is not forever. Eternal copyright has never existed, and probably never will; and to my mind this means that if something’s in the public domain according to the copyright law then it really is different, by virtue of being categorically different.

    Of course that’s just a code thing, a codification of the facts of the world. In fact when there is a communicating culture that admits of things influencing other things, copyright can’t be limitlessly pursued, just as a practical matter. If it could be, RLS’s estate would own the Hulk. Huh, and one of the things perhaps accidentally demonstrated by Moore in LoEG is, that Marvel can’t sue over the Hulk-like Mr. Hyde, without arguing that the Hulk is also too Mr.-Hyde-like for them to own him. So it’s Catch-22…

    But anyway, do I think people in the States should have to wait ’til 2016 to treat Wells as though he was in the public domain, at least if they want to continue to enjoy the protection of Berne internationally? Hell yes, I do.

  10. And the Jimmy Palmiotti quote, I’m surprised at him…Alan Moore’s career, at least, proves that new work can absolutely sell.

    • He probably means that DC won’t buy. Which I guess is a pretty good reason for an artist to stop working for DC, come to think of it…

  11. Uh…everyone knows I was just in a videochat with Alan Moore this morning, right? I believe the technical term is SQUEEE. Anyway, I was really tempted to quote him just there, but I figured that would be just too snotty-sounding. “Well when I was talking to Alan this morning, he said something rather interesting about all this…”

    Be that as it may: had videochat with Alan Moore! So awesome. We sent in questions and he answered some of them, it was exciting.

  12. There are so many people on that Mindless post, as well of course as the references to them in it, that brought this breathtakingly stupid “Alan Moore can’t say nothing ’cause he ripped off X, Y and Z” argument, if it can be dignified with that word, to my attention. Like there’s no difference between not having to prove from scratch that all of your gentlemen are extraordinary, and wanting to sell more Watchmen lunchboxes or whatever.

    When one of the big differences — apart from what’s been argued in those comments and these, about reinvention and copyright and everything is — is that by the time something becomes a proper classic, gets into the public domain, and what have you, a lot of things have been thought and said and written about it. A lot of time has had to go by. And the status of things changes a lot in that time; I remember being literally unable to beileve that their contemporaries had ever gone to a Shakespeare play or read a Dickens story for fun when I was first encountering them as the chores assigned me by really bad English teachers. A lot of time had gone by, and a lot of perceptions had changed. Even the people who like those things now aren’t meant to like them in the same way the groundlings did then; the sex jokes are overlooked in favor of a literary diet solely consisting of good characterization and worthy philosophy enshrined in extended metaphor.

    Whereas, with Watchmen… everything since has been a sequel (as some Mindless or another said). Everything in comics is based on that bad mood Alan Moore was in during the mid-80s, right? Nothing has changed. And this is by design, of course — the Big Two seem to be more and more beholden to the people who want everything to be like it was when they started reading comics, in the 80s coincidentally. So what are we learning here? How is there any chance for reinvention? You can’t look back at, much less reimagine or repurpose or whatthehellever, something until you’ve gone past it in the first place.

  13. Personally I think copyright terms are way too long as it is. Hardly anyone agrees with me, I think; I could see something like ten years which can be renewed once if you want, but after twenty years it’s definitely in the public domain.

    Also, and I can’t stress this enough, it may not have been Jimmy Palmiotti.

  14. But Matthew, writers can’t make a decent living on a copyright term of that length! I don’t know why you would want that: it would change everything about the way such work is done in our society. I would not let one solitary scrap of nuttin’ out the door until I was certain it could bring me back at least what it cost to make it, no one would dare to write a novel (sometimes that takes ten years!), publishing companies wouldn’t be able to give advances, movie money would be nonexistent. Old age for artists would be brutal. In my own songwriting career, the money even now would be going down as the profiles of my collaborators rise…talk about a treadmill! Plus, the whole problem of dating the first creation of the work, oh my God. Heaven help you if you play a gig before you have a recording contract! The clock starts ticking then!

    I don’t know, I see lots of people online complaining that copyright terms are way too long, but they never seem to think of anything but Mickey Mouse. Meanwhile society is fairly well-served by allowing artists the hope of a career, I think…you don’t get the Mouse, but you do get all the other novels and plays and pieces of music and movies and television shows, and just whatever else…much of this would be impossible otherwise. Art colleges would be impossible otherwise: who on earth would drop four years of tuition on such an insanely hit-or-miss proposition? A few years ago, talking to my brother, I figured out that some of his colleagues did not understand me as an owner-operator of my own work, instead looking at my marketplace as though it was their own: where you get a six-figure salary plus stock options plus benefits, in exchange for work-for-hire coding…and then if you don’t like that place, someone else will hire you at a competitive wage instead. But if this were the model for writing, then no one could possibly afford what writing costs: every novelist would need a million-dollar advance from his publisher straight-up.

    Holly has the right perspective on this: when copyright is life plus fifty years, when a thing enters the public domain it is old, it has already become part of history to the point where its currency has been lost at the same time its infliuence has grown…the Before Watchmen creators talk blithely about bringing the Watchmen characters forward into relevance to modern times, but these are still modern times, and they’re still completely relevant as part of those modern times. Copyright ensures that the author can profit from the currency of his/her work…but that its influence belongs to everyone. If there’s a fairer way to do it, I don’t know what it is, but it must be fair — it can’t just be about big corporations being assholes!

    I do find this frustrating. The public domain shouldn’t be code for the state of nature; the writing life is materially unrewarding enough, without taking away the brass ring.

    The point about Jimmy Palmiotti, on the other hand, is noted. Wouldn’t want to libel the poor guy!

  15. But Matthew, writers can’t make a decent living on a copyright term of that length!

    Writers can’t make a decent living on a copyright term of any length. Most of them, anyway. And how long do most things stay “in print”? Less than ten years. Except for the big hits, and even for them, the vast bulk of the revenue is front-loaded, except in unusual circumstances. Isn’t it? If I’m wrong I am eager to know about it.

    You seem to be saying that the copyright date of a work is when you start working on it and not when you finish it. Is that really true? If so, it’s counterintuitive.

    I don’t know why you would want that

    I’m not attached to any particular numbers. 10/20 isn’t enough time? Fair enough. How about 20/40? 25/50? 10/life? I’m not trying to mess anybody up. I just think that the Mickey Mouse example is a shame and that orphaned works are a stupid problem to have.

  16. Copyright inheres in the act of creation: what you make = stuff you have the copyright on. An unfinished story, a completed song, random notes on butcher’s paper. “When you finish it” is in the mind of the creator, not the consumer.

    On whether or not you’re wrong: you’re a bit wrong, but I’m really glad you’re eager to know it! Look at me for example, I make money when a song I wrote gets played on the radio. As my writing partner does the hard work of building his career, as he gets more popular, radio play goes up, and more money comes in. It started as a trickle, just about enough money for fries and gravy four times a year; now it’s getting to be money you could repair a window with, buy groceries with, and still have enough left over to maintain a bank account. But it takes a couple of years to produce an album, so if copyright only lasted ten years then as his popularity gets built that radio-royalty money would actually be shrinking for me as time goes on, since out of the last five albums I’d now only be a rightsholder for three, with the earliest-issued of those three set to drop out next year. So for a mid-list kind of guy like me (and maybe I even flatter myself there) fifty songs means a life hovering around the poverty line, but with prospects, however ten songs means unless my name’s Paul McCartney I’d make more money panhandling. The grand effect of copyright isn’t that it protects the very rich and very famous, even if it does occasionally make a person very rich and very famous…the grand effect of copyright is that it gives a lot of little fish a financial asset in their work, rather than just something to sell one time for whatever you can get for it at a flea market.

    “Writers can’t make a decent living on a copyright term of any length”…that’s not true, because there are lots of writers who make a decent living, but it’s only because the copyrights they hold are copyrights they get to keep. In publishing, the publisher takes more up front in the first print run because they need that greater share to cover their keeping-the-lights-on costs…whereas the writer’s biggest share is on the back end, on what sells after the first bright blush has gone off the rose. And sure, a smaller piece of a bigger pie is better, but that doesn’t mean a bigger piece of a longer pie isn’t an inducement to bake the pie in the first place. We’re not necessarily talking about multi-millionaires here either, we’re talking about someone making money from their writing that’s about equivalent to what an accountant makes over a lifetime, only their starting salary is way lower. Ownership of house and car, the odd vacation: middle-class living, not Stephen King in a private jet. Though Stephen King would certainly have no private jets if everything he’d written before 1992 was in the public domain…though publishers would still make their money off printing copies of “The Shining”? A risk-less business for them, in 2012! Also — and I am honestly not ranting at you, Matthew, I am just trying to explain effectively — if you want to talk about “orphan works”, what about “A Confederacy Of Dunces”? It was published posthumously, and then after it became a well-regarded work “The Neon Bible” was also published. But who would ever have published either of these at all, if it meant as soon as they did then a larger publisher could’ve just taken it, and the original publisher might as well have pulped their run? So the thing is, what exactly is wrong with life plus 50? Who is injured by it? Mickey Mouse aside, all it means is that the writer gets a cut of monies made from his/her work. To throw this baby out with that bathwater seems very harsh to me. Maybe it’s true that there are young turks waiting in the wings with brilliant ideas for things other people made, but…I mean, what’s so much more respectable about that, than is respectable about “we made money off your idea, so we owe you a cut of what we made”? The Mickey Mouse/Superman thing is different, it’s a strange case, because “corporate properties” are a really secondary thing where the philosophical basis of copyright is concerned. Copyright is there to protect artists, and under Berne that includes the moral rights that can’t be contracted away. Copyright, in fact, as it currently stands in the U.S. puts a limit on the corporatization of properties — that’s what the Siegel and Kirby cases are all about, about saying “okay, you big corporations want to keep making copyright-protected money, but you don’t get to just keep the copyrights you contracted for forever if you do that…it’s not just free money for you, because you’re not who this legislation is for.”

    Uh…

    Does that do anything to help clear things up?

    • On reflection, I probably shoulda used the example of a painter: the painting is the only one of its kind, but he can sell prints of it. And this print-selling could go on for a long time, but as soon as copyright expires the financial benefit is over, someone else can simply churn out a million prints. Okay, so, but artists gotta exhibit, and it takes a long time for them to get their name out there…it may be a long time before anyone wants reproductions, and a long time before whoever bought the painting is lucky enough to see it rise in value. But when it does, then the artist is happy, the gallery is happy, the guy who bought the original is happy…who’s losing? This is probably a better example because there’s no one out there saying “I’ve got a great new kind of merchandise to plaster Guernica across, if only copyright wasn’t standing in my way!” Or, maybe a Joan Miro? “I’ve got a much better idea for what these colours should be, but darn that copyright!” So I don’t think anyone really respects the hell out of either of these positions: Merchant #1 can bloody well pay for the right to copy Guernica, and Merchant #2 must just take his lumps…but in neither case are they really being hurt, and we don’t really care if they make their money or not, because they probably don’t care if we make ours. But the artist needs time for his work to be appreciated…okay, well Picasso and Miro didn’t, but most artists do, so the question is: how much time do they need? Well, it depends on how you want art to be valued, I guess.

      Better, maybe?

  17. Copyright inheres in the act of creation: what you make = stuff you have the copyright on. An unfinished story, a completed song, random notes on butcher’s paper. “When you finish it” is in the mind of the creator, not the consumer.

    Right, but how do you pin that to one single date? Taking the start date doesn’t make a lot of sense to me; if it takes me fifty years to write something, then, depending on just what the copyright duration is, the thing could be in the public domain before I finish it. The end date makes much more sense to me. I mean, you’ve had to deal with this and I haven’t, so I’m not disputing you, but it seems like a heck of a way to run a railroad.

    In publishing, the publisher takes more up front in the first print run because they need that greater share to cover their keeping-the-lights-on costs…whereas the writer’s biggest share is on the back end, on what sells after the first bright blush has gone off the rose.

    Yeah, but in the vast majority of cases, almost nothing sells after the first bright et cetera. No? I mean, I know it doesn’t look like it, but all we ever see are the exceptions, you know? Everything I’ve ever read about the book-writing life suggests that either a) you’re a bestselling writer, b) you have a spouse who pulls in a decent amount, c) you live an unusually frugal lifestyle, or d) you have a day job. Maybe the pattern is different for music than it is for prose.

    I mean, look: I have some ambitions of making money as an author myself. I’m not out to destroy copyright. I like copyright. But in this area I take Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig and Michael Geist as my primary influences, and as such I don’t want to see copyright abused by those who want to own all culture. Now, most of those efforts have to do with control of the internet and digital locks and fair use/fair dealing and none of that is what we’re talking about. But some of it also has to do with how long copyright asks, and all I’m saying is that there is a competing interest, and the competing interest is that the public at large can benefit from a vital public domain. Which shouldn’t have to be restricted to stuff that’s so old that everyone’s forgotten about it or why it was ever interesting to anybody. So where do we draw the line? Twenty, forty, sixty years? I don’t know. Should songs be treated differently from movies be treated differently from books; I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m not arguing against you and Stephen King so much as I’m arguing against Mark Helprin, who in his books and articles on copyright has said that the term of copyright should be extended indefinitely. (And then pretended that what that means is not what that means and anyway he didn’t say it.) There’s a balance to be struck and I don’t think we’ve struck it yet.

  18. Basically, you own everything you write. Right? If I write “abraxas” on a piece of butcher’s paper, I could conceivably frame that and put it in a gallery — you own everything that you make. If you’re writing a story, you own each sentence. It starts with the first word. Of course no one necessarily knows it exists except for you, but it’s still yours. Note that when copyright lasts at least for the lifetime of the author, you then need nothing else: you don’t need a legalistic official start date, when you can’t outlive your right of copy. It’s actually a great way to run a railroad: when the law reflects the facts (i.e. if you have just made something and no one else knows about it yet, you do in fact at that moment have the only ability to copy it that can possibly exist) then the ticking clock and the beating heart are the same thing. But once you can outlive your ownership of what you’ve made, then you need a whole bunch more law, and you need to be a lot more careful about when you let the world know you’ve got something. When the word of your hands becomes alienable from you, you need rules about when and where and why, and you need to play it pretty smart if you ever plan to make money from it…

    And the back end matters, obviously, because even though we only see the exceptions you could still be that exception…so to remove the long tail means that because most people don’t make any money after a couple of years there’s no point allowing that anybody could? As I say, these things work differently in different media, but there’s not a lt of reasons I can see to distinguish between one kind of artistic endeavour and another, as far as how much you get to own it goes…why can’t you simply own it if you make it?

    The only reason this relatively simple arrangement would need to become complicated is if there was indeed some other interest that needed to be accounted for. Right now you enter the marketplace with your own right to copy your work, and it’s up to that marketplace to set the value of the copyright…but fashions change, and word-of-mouth is slow, and you never know how or when your work may find a bigger audience. Sometimes it takes years for people to discover your existence, and it isn’t a big bright flash in the first ten years, but eventually you’re rewarded for your otherwise-thankless effort back when your spouse was squinting at you and wondering if he/she’s hitched his/her wagon to an albatross. It can happen, and that’s not nothing.

    But: other interests. I don’t like it when large corporations try to own all culture either, obviously. I also don’t like patents being used as de facto injunctions by software companies, when the rationale behind patents is “this is how you get rewarded for letting the rest of the world in on the secret of your brilliant invention.” I feel the public interest is harmed by this even though it’s technically somebody’s private business. So I think IP law needs to be looked at, hard, and taken back to first philosophic principles and redrafted for the beautiful 21st century. I think if copyright was extended to life plus forever then the only art left would soon be the art of litigation…but I also think that if copyright was significantly shortened then the only art left would soon be the art done as work for hire. Both of these are serious science fiction scenarios: it doesn’t have to be about rocket ships or mind-control technology…we can change our world dramatically by fiddling with that dial, in a way that affects everyone. I mean, as it happens, I have a couple of stories about this on the go…what would a world look like where copyright law was like this, what would it look like if it was like that, sort of like Einstein’s Dreams only with law taking the place of time. The social changes are profound. Even Time Warner and Disney are not prepared for the ramifications of a world where copyright is eternal, just as we wouldn’t be prepared for a world where every person was immortal or telepathic, or even just slightly smarter than they are now.

    We’re also not ready for a world — at least, a modern world — where the ownership of IP runs out fast. But to get back to what you’re saying there, you know we actually do have a vital public domain at the moment? Things aren’t boring because they’re a hundred years old. For heaven’s sake, people are causing a fuss in the States over no longer being able to get free access to H.G. Wells and Prokofiev! Even though, as I mentioned, it will only be four years until Wells hits the public domain everywhere. There was just a War Of The Worlds movie with Tom Cruise in it…for the studio to have to pay Wells’ estate some fragment of Tom Cruise’s salary wouldn’t have acted as a chill on artistic expression in any meaningful way I can think of. Large corporations would like to own all culture, but don’t forget that whatever they can’t own they’d prefer to be free for the picking…the shortening of copyright terms also serves their desire, in that big economies of scale can always clobber smaller ones. Either way, it’s a step along the road to corporate monoculture…

    Sorry, ranting. But seriously, what evidence is there that the public interest is harmed by having to wait a mere hundred years for something to fall into the public domain? Not to mention that much of remix culture is formed by people innovating their way around copyright barriers (“in the future, many races will become friends because of the Daleks”), and that it just isn’t that bloody difficult to do…I’m not saying I side with U2 over Negativland, I’m only saying that it isn’t copyright duration that does the damage-to-culture there. And what about that guy, so shameful that I can’t remember his name, James Brown’s old drummer…the most sampled man in hip hop, and he says he’d be happy just to be acknowledged

    To my mind, it’s a bit like that guy from Wired magazine who told the CIOs that in the 21st century a big security risk will be cyber-thieves, unauthorized people who get their hands on personal information…which seems like a ludicrously staledated thought to me, because surely the biggest cyber-security threat at the moment is the authorized people who get their hands on personal information? To whom the cyberthieves are pretty much small fry. It isn’t copyright terms that threaten our culture’s vitality, it’s the corporate leveraging of copyright no matter the terms, that we have to worry about. Cultural products don’t get irrelevant just because a hundred years has passed. Sherlock Holmes is doing fine, and for that matter so is Superman. You don’t even have to go back to Shakespeare or Homer. Or Bach or Beethoven! Or Robert Johnson. A hundred years or so is just the skin of the bubble, and it’s just for paying people who are still alive. Why make a law that punishes artists for contributing to the commons, when you could make a law that punishes corporate predation of the commons instead? I agree with you that we need to strike a balance, but I think we also need to seriously figure out just what it is that needs balancing. What is it, precisely, that is impoverishing the commons?

    I can’t believe it’s just “copyright lasts too long”. Too long for what?

  19. Yes, yes, yes to Plok and Matthew E!!!

    It reminds me of Gerber’s similar reaction to Lethem’s Omega the Unknown. Which I might add was much more derivative when you consider it blatantly used disability as narrative prosthesis when Steve was attempting to break different ground to what Lee had established for most of Marvel’s early characters, including Donald Blake, Matt Murdock, etc.

    But what’s most interesting about all this is that when Alan Moore protests to decisions like this, he does so in one extremely succinct sentence or paragraph which goes on to generate detractors within the comics industry who take countless paragraphs or small theses to reject his claims, thus proving his point. It happened previous to this most recent incursion concerning his Blackest Night prophecy, a few pages which went on to generate ninety comic issues that failed to break new ground for the industry that a twelve issue series with non-mainstream DC characters managed to twenty-five years ago.

    I totally agree with Alan the industry is still failing to learn this many years later is that when a series such as his or Frank’s gains wider cultural recognition the lesson to be learned is to create new original work, not keep stripping the skin from the corpses bones.

  20. plok: Okay, well, here are the best arguments I can come up with in favour of more public domain.

    First, Elizabeth Enright. Elizabeth Enright wrote children’s books from the ’30s through the ’60s, including some of my favourites ever. She also wrote some books for adults, that I’d like to read, but I never have. Can’t find ‘em. There are a very few used copies of some of them for sale online, very very expensive. And Project Gutenberg doesn’t have ‘em either because they’re still under copyright. (Would they have them if they were in the public domain? Very possible that they might not.) I put it to you that those books being under copyright is doing nobody any good and me just a very little bit of harm.

    Second, Mickey Mouse. I don’t really want to make my own Mickey Mouse cartoon. Then again, Robin Hood is certainly in the public domain and I don’t want to do my own Robin Hood story either. But someone might want to, and why shouldn’t they?

    Third, your H.G. Wells. So H.G. Wells is still under copyright? That’s fine. That means I can’t do an adaptation of The Time Machine. Didn’t want to anyway. So I guess it means that nobody can do an adaptation of The Time Machine? No, it doesn’t mean that at all; there have been lots of adaptations. By large corporations. Who can afford to deal with the copyright. Not an option available to me. The Time Machine was written more than a hundred and fifteen years ago, but there’s still a gate in front of it that Tom Cruise can pass through and I can’t.

    Fourth. If I really want to copy somebody’s book, I can. Physically, I can. I don’t even need advanced technology to do it. I can just take a pad of paper and transcribe it, and nobody can stop me. This is a fact. Copyright law tries to mitigate this fact by saying when I am and am not allowed to do this, but the point is that my ability to copy out a book is a lot more real than the author’s ownership of it, once it’s out in the world. Creative ownership is a story we tell to try to make things work out in a way that we all like. And I have no problem with that. But The Time Machine was written before my grandparents were born. They all lived tolerably long lives, but none of them lived long enough to legally be able to sit down with a pad, a pencil, and The Time Machine, and go to town on it. Probably they didn’t want to, so that‘s fine. But copyright law is not so much a positive statement about creators as it is a restriction of something I can do, and if the term of it is going to keep getting longer, I am being restricted for longer, and I would like to know what I am getting in return.

    I don’t know what the world would be like if the time it took creative works to enter the public domain was, I don’t know, let’s say cut in half. Maybe it would be worse. And then again maybe it would be better. I have a hunch that it would overall be better. Of course, that’s just a hunch, and I would never recommend that anyone act based on a hunch when the stakes are at all important.

  21. Nate, you’ll pardon me for just dashing off a quick reply to Matthew before I hit the hay…

    Let us examine Three and Four. What I am saying in this example is that Wells has not enjoyed copyright in America. Did not get paid. Someone did your Fourth thing to him, copied things out. There were books. There were movies. There was money. But none of it was for Wells. Don’t blame the high cost of his royalties for you not being able to make a Tom Cruise movie, Tom Cruise movies don’t pay those!

    And if the whole world was like the States, Wells might not have written at all. Maybe he might’ve written a book, maybe even two, but he would not have been able to make a living at it! Thus copyright, and the legal enforcement thereof, is what put Wells’ books in your hands instead of into his fireplace. So you can certainly copy out my latest greatest novel, except you can’t do it if I never choose to publish it, and damned if I’m going to publish it if I don’t get paid when it sells well. Wells’ books have sold incredibly well for over a hundred years; how much of their success should he have been excluded from sharing in, do you think?

    What amount would be fair?

    And weren’t you just saying that you think copyright’s too long because by the time something enters the public domain it’s old and tired and irrelevant? The estate of H.G. Wells does not appear to be particularly litigious; riffs on Wells are still perfectly possible. More than that, they’re easy to do. This is not what the copyright is about, the ideas. It’s about the republishing and the reappropriating. It’s about the Tom Cruise movie. Man, that movie could’ve been called anything, but they called it by Wells’ name…and did not pay him. If copyright were eternal, Wells’ estate could probably expect to make a ton of money every year until the end of time, but it isn’t eternal, and even though Wells wrote things of fantastically enduring profitability we are still calling it a day for his paycheques in 2016, except in the States where they’ve never had to pay a red cent for the privilege of cashing in on his popularity. So if you haven’t thought about it before, think about it now: what is a fair limit to set on the ability of Wells’ work to make him money?

    That’s what the law needs to be built around. Fairness to the artist, first.

    Oh, and by the way: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=Elizabeth+Enright&sts=t&x=43&y=8

    I hope that’s the woman you’re talking about?

  22. a quick reply to Matthew before I hit the hay…

    I appreciate it, but you know it can wait until the next day or whatever. I sure didn’t stay up late to post mine.

    What I am saying in this example is that Wells has not enjoyed copyright in America. Did not get paid.

    Then I read it too fast, and I apologize. I imagine we could come up with other examples about which I could make the same, or at least some similar, arguments.

    Wells’ books have sold incredibly well for over a hundred years; how much of their success should he have been excluded from sharing in, do you think?

    and

    So if you haven’t thought about it before, think about it now: what is a fair limit to set on the ability of Wells’ work to make him money?

    I don’t know. Maybe none! How about a system where you can keep renewing copyright every ten years, if you care to, and so can your heirs… but maybe not their heirs. Or even if it renews automatically every ten years if it fits some reasonable criteria for being “in print”, and even if it doesn’t you can do it yourself if you think it’s worth it to you. We can come up with lots of combinations (but we may want to put something in there to control corporately owned stuff, what with corporations not having actual lifespans). Or maybe there’s a point at which we say, look, HG, you’ve had a good run but it belongs to everybody now. It has become part of the culture. Now a) this shouldn’t happen until after he’s had a real good chance to cash in, and b) I’m sure there’s a way that a rule like that could be abused, could lead to a law-of-unintended-consequences kind of thing, and we’d want to close that off. But I think we need a better plan than “nobody’s getting their hands on this for a long long time no matter what happens.”

    And weren’t you just saying that you think copyright’s too long because by the time something enters the public domain it’s old and tired and irrelevant?

    For some things, yeah. Obviously not all.

    That’s what the law needs to be built around. Fairness to the artist, first.

    That is a natural and reasonable position for you to take. It is not the only position, though; one could just as naturally and reasonably say that the law needs to be built around fairness to the general public, first. I tend to identify with both of these and don’t know how I would choose one over the other. Except to note that we’ve got the word “fair” in there, so there shouldn’t be any big conflict between the two.

    damned if I’m going to publish it if I don’t get paid when it sells well

    I consider the following a digression, because I don’t count what I’m about to say as an argument for or against anything; just a fact worth noting. And that is that a lot of artists and writers and so on don’t have that in common with you; they do it because they want to and the money, while important, isn’t really a factor in whether they’d do it or not. I’m sure you’ve come across the same idea. Which may be a reason why writers and artists have not historically been paid well, but of course it’s no reason why they shouldn’t and may even count for some as a reason why they should.

    I hope that’s the woman you’re talking about?

    Yeah, that’s her. Before I posted my comment I was actually looking at her listings on either abebooks.com or alibris.com, so I’d have some idea of the current availability of her grown-up stuff and not claim that it was any rarer than it really is. (Her stuff for kids is much easier to find, and composes the vast majority of the listings at that link.) Most of it.) Of the titles I searched for, one had a single copy available for about $30 plus shipping from South Africa, one I couldn’t find at all, and one had a few copies available if I was willing to shell out about a hundred bucks for it. If I recall right. So I guess it’s not accurate to say that these books can’t be found at all, but then, it’s also true that if I did pay all that money for stuff I have no idea whether I’d like it or not, not one cent would go to Enright’s heirs.

  23. May I just say that I am really really enjoying this spirited debate about copyright? Copyright is a thing I don’t know much about beyond the basics, but I SHOULD (as a person also hoping to make some money off writing, although what I made off creative writing in 2011 would be “beer money” only if I was being quite GENEROUS). So it’s extremely valuable to me to be able to sit in on this. I’m in fact a little hesitant to weigh in and muddy this back-and-forth, buuuuut…

    To me (and keep in mind I have admitted to being ill informed for the most part about this, as well as being an extreme small-timer), it seems that copyright is in place primarily to protect me from corporate exploitation. This is why I am inclined to disagree with “look, HG, you’ve had a good run but it belongs to everybody now [...] this shouldn’t happen until after he’s had a real good chance to cash in”. Because I might not be able to control that “real good chance”. If I’m not able to sell a story now, I’d like to be able to sell it later if at all possible. If copyright was only X number of years not exceeding my death, why would any corporate entity bother to pay me at all when they could just wait out the copyright? It’s not about limiting the general public good, because a clever individual soul will always find a way to appropriate and innovate; to me, this is about preventing entities more powerful than myself from just TAKING stuff without regard.

    I also disagree with the suggestion that artists should have to formally renew copyright after X number of years. One of the wonderful things about copyright law is that it is THEORETICALLY simple — “You create something, you own it.” I am not a savvy legal dude, and I don’t wish to be punished for that. What if I just totally forgot to renew it? I’ve read that Night of the Living Dead was technically NEVER copyrighted because of an oversight. Which is why, incidentally, the argument of “Alan Moore should’ve negotiated himself a better contract” is particularly loathsome to me (not to suggest, Matthew, that you are espousing this view — it’s simply one I’ve seen bandied about lately). LAWYERS have a tough time navigating this stuff — what chance did Young Alan Moore have?

    That said, I’m not quite ready to commit to “damned if I’m going to publish it if I don’t get paid when it sells well” at this point. But that’s a matter of compulsion rather than sense, so it’s good that the law is there to save me from myself.

    Anyway, Watchmen prequels? I suppose DC is legally entitled to print AS MANY COMICS AS THEY WANT that I am not going to buy, you know?

  24. Matthew, You’re not really describing anything better — or even that different! — from life plus fifty years, though. What’s the matter with life plus fifty years, the Berne baseline? For the sake of argument I leave aside the fact that we’re pretty well obligated to uphold that anyway, but even if we weren’t…why not skip the business of making the artist go down to the courthouse every ten years like Uncle Billy with the deposit in It’s A Wonderful Life, and avoid the problem of how to properly date the beginning of copyright, by just saying that at the least, the artist gets to hold copyright until death? That’s probably about fifty years on average, from the date of creation…fifty years to build a career and capitalize on assets, without having the assets erode before your eyes as you enter your old age. And add another fifty for all the people named in your will when you die? I still don’t see this as too unreasonable, since I can’t really sympathize with anyone who wants to use a given property but it has to be right now while it’s still cool…you can’t expand the public domain especially well by just filling it full of fashionable ephemera, I think! And as for the matter of what’s fair to the general public…well, in one sense, what would be most beneficial for the general public is for artists to produce work that enters the public domain pretty well immediately, and so copyright can’t be “fair” to the public, when the public’s doing just fine without it…

    But on the other hand, what’s beneficial to the public is also encouraging artists to produce more work and not less…you point out that people do it for love more than they do it for money, which is a fair point because there are much better ways of making a living if money’s all you want, however there are still lots of people who would choose to produce much less, if they couldn’t own it. Justin also points out he’d write stuff anyway, but the key thing in my formula to me is that I’m not gonna sweat out a labour of love that I don’t get paid for if it sells WELL…if it sells kinda lousy then maybe it doesn’t matter so much, then yeah, I’d probably be inclined to slog along anyhow, but if it makes a ton for somebody else and not for me, then…what’s the point? Why not just write stuff that’s no good, then? Or why not just write for myself, and never publish stuff out in the marketplace at all. I can’t be the only person for whom that would rankle, in fact I think there’s probably a lot more like me; so I think we must at least balance the people who would cheerfully produce work for publication even if they couldn’t own it! And add in people who simply couldn’t afford to write very much if they could never hope to do it full-time, and I think my side’s got a majority. All very well to say “honey, I’m quitting my job, I’m gonna take five years and give this novelist business a real shot” when you can hope to own your work for a lifetime: that’s a gamble with a potential jackpot in it somewhere. But I think it’s less supportable overall to say “this rat needs to find a tougher race”. So, it seems clear to me that copyright is beneficial to society in that it encourages more people to make more art, thus ensuring the public domain grows larger over about a hundred years than it would otherwise, even though over about fifty years its expansion is slower than it would be without copyright…the only question, then, is where those two lines cross. And then I don’t know if legislation can have much more to say about it? Grant the copyright, make it for a term that rewards the artist sufficiently that he or she is encouraged to produce work. After the term is done, it enters the public domain. So, cover the artist and cover his heirs…that’s all the artist wants, to commit to this kind of work. Why not just give it to him? What’s going on in the U.S. is easily fixed by Congress just saying “no” to the Sonny Bono principle of eternal extensions…I’d venture a guess that most artists don’t agree with the idea that copyright should be eternal, because basically they don’t care…and also there is the whole “well hell, I didn’t sell it up for all eternity, if I’d known it could be owned for so long I would’ve charged a much higher price…” Essentially what the Siegels and the Kirbys are saying with the attempt to claim back copyrights, the code that goes into the system is “you didn’t buy this from me to own until the end of time”. So the law recognizes, on some level, that copyright can’t just be infinitely extended…that there is a balance that needs to be struck even when it’s extended. But the thing is…

    I’m always puzzled by this, people do say it all the time that copyrights last too long, and I always wonder how exactly they come by that conviction. It’s as though by saying life plus a hundred is too long, you’re automatically committed to the idea that life plus fifty must also be too long? That because copyright is being overextended, the remedy is to shorten what was there before? But Nate‘s got his finger on it: like I was saying before, the problem isn’t the copyright, the problem is the companies who contract it. Having done everything possible to drive out artists with different ideas, all they’ve got left are the copyrights, and as soon as those go so do they…they can’t make much even out of the wonderful material in the public domain. So, naturally they’ve got a death-grip on them! That’s what’s so tragic for the general public in the Kirby case, even if they didn’t love Jack himself: reclamation of the Kirby material’s copyrights wouldn’t have to end Marvel Comics, but it would end their business culture. And that’s sort of what I said to Noah Berlatzky a while ago, that I like copyright terms being long because if they were shorter then the opportunity to force change on the exploiting culture (that we have right now!) wouldn’t exist. If DC and Marvel had kept Moore and Gerber happy, then they would’ve had lots of new ideas to run with, and letting old copyrights lapse would’ve been no big deal…and just look at how DC followed Alan Moore around with ABC, trapping him into a relationship with them!…but that isn’t the choice they made, and so this extended copyright thing I would argue is in this sense good, in that I’m much happier to see them hoisted on their own petard, than just withering away without anyone learning the lesson and getting the message, that the creators really do matter and you can’t get along without them.

    Even if the Kirbys don’t win their appeal, you know…even if DC can’t be stopped from cranking out Moore-derivative works…and even were the Siegel’s victory to collapse, this can still be DC and Marvel’s corporate culture Waterloo, if it makes enough of us sufficiently mad. Because the Big Two may not want me for a reader anymore, but they sure as hell still want me as a moviegoer, you know? And they absolutely do not want me as a person who’s out there spending energy calling attention to the fact of their shitty practices. If I went away disgusted from the comics, that’d be okay with them…if I went away from the movies that’d be a blow…but if I stood on a soapbox all day long saying they suck, that’s nothing they’ve prepared for. We’re supposed to not really care, we’re supposed to be apathetic…the Avengers movie is still supposed to have a great opening weekend, right?

    But maybe it won’t. I dunno, but that’s the silver lining of endless copyright extensions, to me: the opportunity to say “you can keep the brand by hook or by crook, but you can’t control the brand’s value — if we think you suck for how you’ve treated Siegel and Shuster and Kirby and Ditko and Moore and a million others, if you piss us off about that enough, then you’ll harvest ashes anyway.” Obviously they are not even considering that as a real possibility, or they wouldn’t have delivered such a triple-dipper of loathsome behaviour…perhaps they can’t even see the possibility anymore, perhaps they’re just in that much denial! But this is Occupy Comics, right? So it could happen, and personally I’d love to see it happen.

    And then we can move on to Occupy The Music Industry, and just keep going until they don’t see the benefit in lobbying Congress to extend copyrights any longer. By the way, that’s why Wells and Prokofiev are finally going under copyright, so as much as I think it’s fair that they should, I really shouldn’t imply that no one ought to be concerned about what it means…as far as I can see, the reason the U.S. is caving on the previous “grandfathering” of PD content is because if it’s successful in keeping the copyright train going it will for the first time really need the protection of the other Berne signatories…otherwise as they push copyright further and further forward past the limits other countries have adopted they will see a shitstorm of copying outside U.S. borders. Without Berne, someone in Canada or the UK or anywhere else could at some point say “well, fuck it, by every other country’s laws Material X has been in the public domain for twenty years already, and hey didn’t the U.S. steal a whole shitload of other countries’ works back in the 19th century? TURNABOUT TIME”, and that’d be it for the “copyright is eternal” game. But Berne requires its signatories to all respect one another’s copyright laws, like in Canada it’s life plus fifty, but in the UK it’s life plus seventy…so Canada doesn’t poach copyrighted material from the UK in those last twenty years that make the difference. So obviously life plus a hundred million or whatever Sonny Bono wanted…that’s just a non-starter if the U.S. isn’t in real good standing with their Berne partners, France will nationalize Batman in 2021 and that’ll be that.

    Hmm…so actually maybe it would be better, if Wells’ estate didn’t get their last four years out of the Americans? Because if America looked like a bad treaty partner, then eternal copyright would FAIL

    Something to think about, maybe!

    • Thanks plok. So glad I’m on the right track:)

      But you’re right and the further evidence for from my previous point relates back to the Marvel Universe of the late 80s and how editors began preventing writers from letting the characters age in real-time.

      Never was this more obvious at the time than when Steve Englehart’s efforts to move the Fantastic Four forward as a team were forcibly altered to become a dream sequence and he was eventually forced off the title, the original team restored directly after (Claremont forced off the X-titles not long after for similar reasons).

      So what we end up with is the unrealistic/ immature presentation of characters from fifty years ago still being the same as they were then.

      No wonder they’re considered infantile by much of the population, instead of risking the vistas/ opportunities great writers may open up.

      And so we end up with comics/ characters that are bound to become evolutionary dead-ends (much like Kirby’s Eternals – the genetic instability of the Deviants is where the future lay).

  25. It’s like Chris Tolworthy’s argument:

    Make the publisher (Goodman, Buckley, etc.) take a much longer term view of brand value: i.e. see the long term value in hot creators, even if their titles are not top sellers at the time.

    Measure a title’s long term worth by the letters you get from two groups: first time readers and critics.

    And I don’t mean critics who read only comics and watch only Star Trek :)

    Not fans’ letters either.

    Fans provide the raw short term sales figures, and those are already listened to.

    Read their letters for continuity – they are the experts – but long term brand value is based on those values that appeal to non-fans.

    It is those values that CREATE fans.

    Measuring the value of first time readers and experienced critics would mean paying Kirby more in 1968, being more patient with Steranko’s inability to meet deadlines, and not angering Gerber, Alan Moore, etc.

    Of course, once the critics and new readers both lose interest then judge a writer on short term sales like everyone else.

    But while they are hot, recognise it and let them do their magic.

  26. Matthew, You’re not really describing anything better — or even that different! — from life plus fifty years, though. What’s the matter with life plus fifty years, the Berne baseline?

    Well, then, maybe we don’t disagree by too much. The big problems with copyright aren’t related to the length of the term, anyway; I suppose what I want is more flexibility built in. Still, though, life plus fifty… that can be a really long time. P.G. Wodehouse wrote some stuff in 1912, and with life plus fifty that means it won’t be coming into the public domain until 2026. It’s just a really long time.

    you can’t expand the public domain especially well by just filling it full of fashionable ephemera, I think!

    On the other hand, it may be the only thing that the fashionable ephemera are good for.*

    I think it’s less supportable overall to say “this rat needs to find a tougher race”.

    Well, the whole time I’ve been trying to make it clear that my position is not to make it harder for creators so much as it is to say that stuff that isn’t making creators any money any more anyway might as well belong to all of us. Although I suppose I never came right out and said that. Why would I want to make things tougher for creators? Tough enough as it is.

    * Wisecrack. Not serious argument.

  27. I should say, though, that I of course see some issues with copyright that do affect the public good (defined as “People have fair access to Art”). The two geek-friendly examples off the top of my head are:

    >the Adam West Batman TV show, which I am given to understand is unvailable on DVD because Fox owns the copyright to the actual filmed show, but WB owns the trademark on the Batman brand, and this is causing a hangup.
    >the 1970s live-action Spider-Man show, which is not commercially available except on old VHS. Probably not a rights issue, but more likely because demand is so low (even my own demand for it is pretty damn idle) that there’s very little incentive to produce it. So it’s quite possible this will never be re-released, and yet if spideydude789 uploads complete episodes onto YouTube, YouTube will shut down his account for violating the copyright that whoever owns that show is just sitting on.

    These are, of course, both issues where it’s mostly corporate interests at stake, so there’s the temptation to say those corporations shouldn’t have the right to keep me from being able to watch either of these shows — copyright should be different for corporate entities than it should for individual artists. But then I can see the argument that if there’s nothing in this for the corporation, why would they bother? Who would start a TV studio or a publishing house when you’d be better served running a business that produces products you can just own without hassle?

    I am not sure what the solution to that is (again, largely ignorant). It’s possible there is a totally simple one I just haven’t considered (plok, man, do you know how can we can all get our Adam West on at last?), but for the moment I am willing to accept that there are exceptions like this that are unfortunate, but not worth severely curtailing copyright for. To me, no Adam West Batman ever again would be an acceptable loss. Even in the example of an individual author who owns a copyright on a work that isn’t going to be released, to me this is an issue of “I wish this were not the case, but the greater long-term value of enforcing copyright outweights the short-term value of I Can Get My Hands on This Book at an Affordable Price.”

  28. Matthew, we wrote those last two comments at the same time, so I didn’t see that last one before posting. Two immediate reactions:

    “stuff that isn’t making creators any money any more anyway might as well belong to all of us”

    But that doesn’t mean it might NOT make the creator any more money in the future. Let’s say I write a novel this year that tanks, and then X number of years, after the copyright expires but I am still alive, I write a novel that is a runaway bestseller. If this successful novel creates a demand for my earlier work, I would be hosed that I gave up my right to make money off that first novel. Maybe that first novel didn’t sell because it was no good, and that’s on me, but maybe there were any number of external factors contributing to that novel never finding an audience. True, I don’t know that this is a terribly common occurrance, but it’s out there.

    “Still, though, life plus fifty… that can be a really long time.”

    On the other hand, it might not be. What if I wrote a bestseller tomorrow and then got hit by a bus? I’d still want that fifty years so my family at least could get some benefit out of what I wrote.

  29. Justin: All true. Probably whatever rule is in place, somebody’s going to be able to point to some kind of example and say, “the rule doesn’t handle this case very well”.

    I thought of one situation yesterday. What if you’re poking through the attic and you find a manuscript written by your great-grandfather when he was young? And it’s fantastic? Off the top of my head I can’t figure out a sensible approach to copyright duration that would handle that. Or, really, what the right outcome would be.

  30. “P.G. Wodehouse wrote some stuff in 1912, and with life plus fifty that means it won’t be coming into the public domain until 2026. It’s just a really long time.”

    Hah! We’ll be waiting a long time past 2021 to get somebody else’s brilliant continuation of Blandings stories, I think! Maybe that’s why Wodehouse’s estate doesn’t seem to be very litigious about Jeeves pastiches? Alan Moore did his Wodehouse/Lovecraft bit in Black Dossier, and as much as I love Alan, absolutely no one in the world is clamouring for more of that! So there’s a case where the benefit of something no longer being under copyright is pretty much just that a publisher doesn’t have to pay the Wodehouse estate to print Mike And Psmith…a good thing, a very good thing, for the publishing world, but…

    Not that important to you and me? Also the period 1912-2021 is only a long time for us; to Society At Large it’s no time at all. If we’d all been born in the twenties, we wouldn’t live to see Wodehouse go into the public domain anyway, right?

    I think most of the more pressing problems could be solved, or at least significantly relieved, if copyright was just made less alienable from creators. If DC couldn’t own copyrights, but had to periodically go back and re-license them (as would’ve been the case with Watchmen if it had ever fallen out of print), then their interest would be in getting properties into the public domain faster, and this whole issue would be a lot simpler. And that’s a law that could actually be made, though no doubt Disney and Time Warner would lobby against it…similarly, with the YouTube thing, it’d give the DMCA and PIPA and SOPA and ACTA fewer teeth to bite with, although clearly the best solution is to just not have those laws in the first place. I’m not saying, of course, that this would mean companies would no longer hold copyrights of their own: they would, since the making of TV shows and movies (and comic books and records, for that matter) is a corporate enterprise. And work for hire would still exist…well, it’s hard to imagine the software industry existing without it, for one example. But it would pull a lot of fangs, if artists were simply unable to sell up their rights lock stock and barrel for as close to “perpetuity” as they currently can. Let the big media companies carry the paperwork over to the artists’ houses every ten years, since it’s what they’re good at! Though in a larger sense, the answer for all of this is probably the same answer that every thorny question has in the United States these days…

    I.e. get campaign finance reform. The more plutocratic a system is, the more everything that’s worth anything gets hoovered up to the top, and the more protectionist the ownership class becomes…awfully hard to balance the idea of the public good with the idea that money bestows virtue. To my eyes, the Big Two are poised for a catastrophic collapse, just as they’ve been poised for a catastrophic collapse in ever year since they opened up shop, only it was getting the good talent that kept their doors open. Every year, year after year…

    Hmm, I’m interested in this example of the grandfather’s novel, actually…wouldn’t that be great? But actually, you know, there are loads of people who’ve written their extremely fascinating memoirs (for example), that we’ve just never seen out in the marketplace, and so this isn’t just a hypothetical but something that happens all the time. We’ve been simplifying a bunch of stuff for the sake of argument here, but there are provisions for that kind of thing in the law: if you found your grandfather’s novel you could absolutely publish it and hold the copyright. But…I’m not a lawyer, right? So what you’re getting here is partly informed bluster, and partly uninformed bluster…

    Huh, probably shoulda said that before…

  31. Alan Moore did his Wodehouse/Lovecraft bit in Black Dossier, and as much as I love Alan, absolutely no one in the world is clamouring for more of that!

    But have you seen Neil Gaiman’s Wodehouse/Lovecraft short story? It’s in one of his collections, and it’s awesome in its subtlety; it’s not at all obvious just what’s going on. I gave it to my wife to read, and she’s as big a Wodehouse fan as you could ask for, but even then she didn’t clue in until I told her that’s what it was.

  32. That’s messed up.

    I mean, the legalities of the thing are quite beyond me, but I can’t imagine Disney/Marvel actually cares about the $17K, and I’d be surprised if it was ever collected. I fully expect to read, in the next couple of days, that the payment part of the decision has been waived, simply because Disney/Marvel will never notice if they have it or not, and therefore it’s not worth having people mad at them.

    Which doesn’t make it any better. It’s just what I expect to happen.

    The Gaiman story is in Fragile Things but I forget the name of the story itself.

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