I’ll be doing a rare afternoon tour appearance tomorrow in Madison because at 6pm, A Room of One’s Own welcomes the Guests of Honor at Wiscon, the (completely fantastic) science fiction and fantasy convention. So if you’re coming at 4 o’clock to Room of One’s Own to see me, stick around afterward for the GoHs, which include last year’s Nebula and Hugo Award winner, Jo Walton. And if you’re coming at 6pm to see the guests of honor, why not come out a little bit early to see me? It’ll be more speculative fiction writers than you can shake the proverbial stick at.
So remember, Madison: Tomorrow (Thursday, May 23), A Room Of One’s Own, 4pm. Don’t be late! See you there.
The Twitters are abuzz today about Amazon’s new “Kindle Worlds” program, in which people are allowed to write and then sell through Amazon their fan fiction for certain properties owned by Alloy Entertainment, including Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, with more licenses expected soon. I’ve had a quick look at the program on Amazon’s site, and I have a couple of immediate thoughts on it. Be aware that these thoughts are very preliminary, i.e., I reserve the right to have possibly contradictory thoughts about the program later, when I think (and read) about it more. Also note that these are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the positions or policies of SFWA, of which I am (still but not for much longer) president.
1. The main knock on fan fiction from the rights-holders point of view — i.e., people are using their characters and situations in ways that probably violate copyright — is apparently not at all a problem here, since Alloy Entertainment is on board for allowing people to write what they want (within specific guidelines — more on that in a bit). Since that’s the case, there’s probably a technical argument here about whether this is precisely “fan fiction” or if it’s actually media tie-in writing done with intentionally low bars to participation (the true answer, I suspect, is that it’s both). Either way, if Alloy Entertainment’s on board, everything’s on the level, so why not.
2. So, on one hand it offers people who write fan fiction a chance to get paid for their writing in a way that doesn’t make the rightsholders angry, which is nice for the fan ficcers. On the other hand, as a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit:
“We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”
i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of money, even, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.
Essentially, this means that all the work in the Kindle Worlds arena is a work for hire that Alloy (and whomever else signs on) can mine with impunity. This is a very good deal for Alloy, et al — they’re getting story ideas! Free! — and less of a good deal for the actual writers themselves. I mean, the official media tie-in writers and script writers are doing work for hire, too, but they get advances and\or at least WGA minimum scale for their work.
Another red flag:
“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”
Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.
Note that on its page Amazon makes a show of saying that the writer owns the copyright on the original things that are copyrightable, but inasmuch as Amazon also acquires all rights for the length of the copyright and Alloy is given the right to exploit the new elements without further compensation, this show about you keeping your copyright appears to be just that: show.
The argument here could be, well, you know, people who were writing fan fiction weren’t getting paid or had rights to these characters and worlds anyway, so only getting paid for their work once is still better than what they would have gotten before. And that’s not an entirely bad argument on one level. But on another level, there’s a difference between writing fan fiction because you love the world and the characters on a personal level, and Amazon and Alloy actively exploiting that love for their corporate gain and throwing you a few coins for your trouble. So this should be an interesting argument for people to have in the real world.
3. If this sort of thing takes off, I’m interested to see what effect it will have on the media tie-in market, and on the professional writers who work in it. Obviously it has the potential to greatly shift how things are done. If you are a corporate rights holder, for example, would you bother with seeking out pro writers any more, and paying them advances and royalties and all of that business? Or would you just open up the gates to paid fan fiction, which you don’t have to pay anything for and yet still have total control over the commercial exploitation thereof? Again, this is interesting stuff to consider, and if I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets, I would have some real concerns.
4. This won’t spell the end of unauthorized fan fic, and I’m very sure of that. For one thing, the Kindle Worlds program says it won’t accept “pornography” which means all that slash out there will still be on the outside of the program (Edit: to note not all slash is porn, although I wonder if Amazon won’t simply default it as such); likewise crossover fan fic, so those “Vampire Diaries meet Dr Who” stories will be left out in the cold. And besides that, there will be people who a) have no interest in making money and/or b) don’t write well enough to be accepted into the Kindle Worlds program (there does seem that there will be some attempt at quality control, or at least, someone has to go through the stuff to make sure there’s nothing that’s contractually forbidden). So if this was an attempt to squash fan fic through other means, it’s doomed to failure. But I don’t suspect that’s the point.
5. Speaking as a writer, I wouldn’t do something like this; I don’t generally like writing in other people’s worlds in any event (and when I do, I go public domain — see Fuzzy Nation) and I don’t like the terms that are on offer here. And of course I have my own things to write. Likewise, I would caution anyone looking at this to be aware that overall this is not anywhere close to what I would call a good deal. Finally, on a philosophical level, I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer. This will have far-reaching consequences that none of us really understand yet.
The thing that can be said for it is that it’s a better deal than you would otherwise get for writing fan fiction, i.e., no deal at all and possibly having to deal with a cranky rightsholder angry that you kids are playing in their yard. Is that enough for you? That’s on you to decide.
Readers often have default expectations when it comes to their reading — default expectations that we call “tropes.” But where do you go as a writer when the tropes don’t take you where your characters need to be? It’s a question that Rhiannon Held explores today as she writes about her new novel, Tarnished.
Tarnished is the second book in my series, and if I had to articulate an over-arcing big idea for the whole series, it’s that I love to explore emotional truths tied to situations that don’t come up in typical urban fantasy tropes. In the first book, Silver, those non-trope situations were born from the religion and culture that I created for my werewolves. In Tarnished, I decided I wanted to find the emotional resonance in non-trope leadership strategies, and romantic relationships.
At the end of Silver my two main characters, Andrew and Silver, were poised to challenge for leadership of the largest werewolf pack in North America. In the typical urban fantasy trope as I’ve encountered it, usually the protagonist’s resistance to being Grand Supernatural Poobah begins as internal: she wouldn’t be any good at it! No one would accept her! Then, when she agrees, the resistance switches to being external: the rock golems won’t listen to a meat bag! The shapeshifters won’t listen to anyone banging a golem!
But once they’ve set aside their initial internal objections, would protagonists really automatically be totally committed to leading? Obviously they have to learn how to win everyone over, but would the protagonists really be completely awesome at leading once everyone’s behind them? Book 1 ended with Andrew and Silver’s decision to try to lead, and I decided that Book 2 needed to explore exactly what it would take to get there. Do they have the self-confidence to do it? Is that self-confidence strong enough to withstand everyone else’s doubt? Can they make hard decisions and keep their cool when people question those decisions? Can they admit they were wrong when they make mistakes? Can they delegate and trust others to get things done?
And can they lead, as opposed to just shouting louder than everyone else? Often werewolf alphas are portrayed as being all about physical strength, or if not physical strength, at least strength of emotional bullying. Andrew is somewhat slight in stature and slow from previous injuries; Silver can’t shift and can’t use her left arm. If they want to win the alphaship, they have do something other than shout loudest and punch hardest: they have to court allies, they have to coax people, they have to lead by example. I really wanted to showcase different leadership strategies, because while stories are often about the underdog beating the muscle-bound alpha, the underdog too often uses mystical punching powers that beat the alpha’s physical punching abilities. Why does punching have to be the measure of success?
Tarnished also introduces a new POV: Susan. She’s human and has a child with John, the Seattle alpha. She also has her moments of going toe-to-toe in fights with stronger, faster werewolves, but with her I also wanted to explore a different kind of romantic relationship. In Book 1, Andrew and Silver were somewhat typical of urban fantasies: they met, they were attracted to each other, obstacles kept them apart, but they got together in the end. In Book 2, I show them working as a functioning, loving team, so the romantic tension switches over to Susan and John.
Whether in books, movies, or television, I’ve always wanted more opportunities to cheer a couple on to working out their problems. That’s what gets you through life, after all—not giving up after the first big fight. Work through the fight and the relationship often ends up stronger on the other side. Of course, that’s not to say that life isn’t also filled with truly irreconcilable differences or people who are assholes. Staying to try desperately to change things in those situations can make everyone miserable. The way I think of it is that you want to preserve and care for a precious connection between two people, rather than upholding some ideal of not splitting up for moral reasons even if you have no connection left at all.
The trouble is that in fiction, the relationships being “worked on” are usually only based on irreconcilable differences or assholery. In that case, of course you’re cheering for the couple to break up! That way, one can get with the other hot, passionate love interest introduced in this book who is clearly so much better for him or her. Or else you’re rolling your eyes while waiting for the couple who’s off-again every book to provide cheap romantic tension to get their laughable miscommunication straightened out so they can be on-again.
Susan and John are already together. They have a child. They love each other, but their relationship is on the rocks because John lets himself be ashamed of her and misguidedly tries to protect her by keeping her out of the werewolf world. That’s something that can be worked out—I hope it’s something the readers want to see worked out!—because why should love be sacrificed to social expectations? But reconciliation is something they both have to work hard to achieve.
Hopefully playing with non-trope situations can help knock aside a few of the most annoying tropes as well. If my characters can remind readers that natural charisma doesn’t mean you’re born knowing exactly how to lead; people who aren’t hot, single twenty-somethings fall in love; and protecting your love by keeping them in ignorance of the supernatural world is forgetting they’re a consenting adult… so much the better!
When I gave my Mary Sue talk, it was at a quasi-academic conference in a session on fans and gender. One of my co-panelists was Olivia Mendoza, a student at Ithaca College; she gave a great presentation on genderswapping fanfic, focusing on the Rule 63 variant in Avengers fandom.
She's kindly put her slides up on Dropbox; take a look! And feel free to leave recommendations for your favorite fics on the topic as well as any comments. (I'll be dropping her a link to this post.)
I already recommended one of my favorites here, which swaps both the Sherlock versions of Holmes and Watson:
Boston Marriage (75193 words) by pendrecarc
Fandom: Sherlock (BBC) - Fandom
Warnings: Author Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Sherlock Holmes/expensive violins, John Watson/OC
Characters: Ensemble Cast - Character
Additional Tags: Genderswap, Case Fic, Big Bang Challenge, Women Being Awesome, Bechdel Test Pass
Series: Part 1 of Suite for Strings and Steel
Summary: (see notes for warnings)
In which Jo Watson tries to take this therapy business into her own hands, London produces enough crimes of interest to satisfy even Sherlock Holmes, and the Bechdel test doesn't know what hit it. Game on.
No word metrics today. I slept badly and woke up late, ending up with just barely enough time to walk the dog before spending the middle of the day getting my hair done. Then I came home and did some housework, took a short nap, managed some email and some business stuff, and made a phone call about getting more work done on the house.
Long story short, when all the extra layers of shingles were pulled away for the roof work, rotting trim and siding were revealed around the attic windows. No water is getting inside or anything, and really, it’s to be expected; the house is over a hundred years old, and this looks like original material. It wasn’t managed well over the years, and it should’ve been removed/restored with the rest of the exterior restoration before we moved in, but I will save that rant.
I resolve instead to quit being aggravated at the half-ass repairs and dumbass remodeling performed on this place over the years, and instead I shall be pleased that THIS MUCH, at least, will be done correctly – and by professionals this time, goddammit.
Anyway. Dude will be here tomorrow to give us a quote. Let’s knock this out while we can afford to, and then not worry about it anymore – that’s what I say.
In other news, this afternoon a freaked-out skittering noise gave me a heart attack, for it was coming from our living room fireplace. At first I figured, “Squirrel.” Then maybe, when I thought I heard feathers … “Baby bird.” We have had chimney swifts in the past, and ’tis the season, eh? Maybe some tiny not-quite-a-fledgling fell from a nest.
I summoned the husband. We conferred. We booted the dog out into the back yard, made sure the cat was secure in the back room, found a stray pillowcase, and counted to three before removing the cast-iron summer cover.
At first we saw nothing but darkness and old soot. Then a pair of small, panicky eyes looked up from the gloom beneath the old coal basket.* I almost had time to get, “Awwwww!” out of my mouth, but then the tiny jerk made a beeline for my forehead.
It was indeed a chimney swift. Juvenile, and fledged – barely. Freaked out of its wee birdie mind. It bypassed the pillowcase entirely and bolted for the nearest window, where it left a sooty bird-print. Unharmed and undaunted, it set off around the house, leaving bird-prints all over the ceiling and walls until we finally managed to get the front door open and usher it back outside.
Godspeed, you fluffy little bastard.
(Last I saw, it was sitting on roof across the street, so I choose to believe that all is well, and our brief guest will live happily ever after.)
And that’s all I’ve got today.
Tomorrow: Laundry, packing, printing up useful documents and instructions, and running last-minute errands. (I mean, in addition to the construction dude’s visit.) I’ll be gone from Thursday morning to Monday evening, and while I’m there you can find me at the following locations and times.
All the usual rules apply – come up and introduce yourself, say hello, hand me stuff to sign … I’m happy to be of service! Just as long as I’m not eating, drinking, or in the bathroom. If you catch me running to or from a panel, you may have to run alongside me – but you’re welcome to do so.
And now. Deep breath. Maybe a drink. Must settle in and let my heart calm down from the Surprise! baby bird incident. Good evening, everyone. Thanks for reading, and be well.
What kind of tiger?
|Tigers on Vaseline|
|Eye of the Tiger|
|Cats Eat Birds|
|The Mouse Police Never Sleeps|
|Cece n'est pas une tiki.|
Somehow WisCon is this weekend. Who approved that?
I am scheduled to get in around 3:30 Friday and to leave around 4:00 Monday. I will be in the dealer's room some of the time—Con or Bust T-shirts!—and at the Carl Brandon Society party Friday night, assuming travel permits, plus the previously-mentioned panels. I have zero social plans right now, and am totally open to actual plans with people!
Me last night at the venue for my reading, which was the Methodist church right across the street from the University Bookstore in Seattle. Here I am looking at the patron of the establishment, hoping he would not strike me down, in my naughtiness.
He did not.
Thanks to Daniel Christensen for the photo.
Seattle was lovely. On to Portland now — or more accurately Beaverton, where I am at Powells, tonight, 7pm. If you’re in the Portland area, I hope to see you there.
It always amazes me how getting a couple of big, mentally taxing projects (like, say, a major novelette commission and the Very Important Third Book Of A Trilogy) squared away opens out the horizons. There are suddenly more hours in the day, and more energy to get stuff done in those hours.
Creative work is really emotionally taxing. The more ambitious it is, the more taxing. I've been struggling, the past couple of months, to get the basics done--dishes washed, bills paid, exercise exercised. Now that the book and one of May's two novelettes are done, suddenly my head is full of room.
Case in point: after yesterday's marathon work session, I'm achy and exhausted and this morning's run was kinda brutal (and truncated by two families of geese, who I was unwilling to disturb in order to run along the trail they were hanging out on) but I still got All The Procrastinated Errands Done this morning, and more will happen this afternoon.And I've reread what I have on the month's other novelette, which is actually probably going to be a short novella, and I like it! It's good!
Here’s recent progress on my fin de siecle gothic epistolary about Lizzie Borden fighting Cthulhu with her trusty axe, now with Bonus! ghosts, guilt, arcane science, and an accidental villain who’s losing his mind and his humanity in tandem:
Things accomplished in fiction: Probably best if I leave off with these, at this point. Even the vague stuff could point to spoilers.
Next up: More cryptic shenanigans.
Things accomplished in real life: Daily jaunts around the neighborhood with the dog; did some pre-travel shopping; went to an anti-fracking fundraising concert at Rhythm and Brews; went to a friend’s birthday party at the Honest Pint; left the birthday party with a bruised up butt and back from the wood stools and the banister I leaned against all evening; returned a loose dog to its owner (for the second time – same dog); got caught in two thunderstorms and spent most of Sunday soaking wet but not in a good way.
Other: If you haven’t checked out The Button Man and the Murder Tree at Tor.com, what are you waiting for?
Bonus! other: This coming weekend I’ll be at Phoenix Comic Con! And I, for one, cannot wait – but I also (probably) will not be able to wrap up a draft of Maplecroft before that occurs. I wanted to, but…I suspect that’s not in the cards. That’s okay. I have plenty of time, and when I get back … THAT WEEK. That week I shall cough up the Draft Zero I so dearly want. I bet.
Number of fiction words so far this year: 99,169
Yes, Portland! I am returning on Tuesday, May 21st! To feast upon your Voodoo Donuts and other local comestibles! And to read, answer questions and sign books! Largely in that order!
You will find me at Powell’s Beaverton branch at 7pm! Please come and bring everyone you have ever met in your life. Because if I don’t get a good crowd, I’m not allowed to have any Voodoo Donuts. Voodoo Donuts are for closers, you see.
Tell me you’ll come. The donuts, they are calling.
That’s right, Seattleites — as you read this I am lurking about your town, preparing for my event tonight, May 20, at 7pm at the University Temple United Methodist Church — which, in case you don’t know, is located at 1415 NE 43rd St in Seattle.
What will I do there? Read! And talk! And sign books! And maybe play a ukulele if someone brings one! Who knows! What I do know is that it will be fun fun fun. And also, fun.
Please note: This is a ticketed event, and you can get tickets one of two ways:
1. Buy tickets for $5 at the door (cheap!)
2. Buy The Human Division from University Bookstore and get the ticket free with your purchase. Since I will be signing books at the event, this is probably the best possible way to go for this particular (I will sign your other books of course).
I always have an insanely good time in Seattle and I’m looking forward to more of the same tonight. Hope to see you there!
Anyone who reads fairy tales knows that things happen in the tales for seemingly no reason at all. But just because there’s no reason in then doesn’t mean something interesting can’t happen when reason is added to them. Just ask Madeleine Robins, who mined a classic fairy tale when imagining Sold for Endless Rue.
It started with a conversation. Or rather, an idea about a conversation.
When my kids were small we read a picture book of Rapunzel, gorgeously illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. You know: pregnant wife craves rampion, sends husband out to get it; he steals it from the garden of a witch, who catches him and demands his unborn child in return. The witch locks the child in a tower, where the girl grows her hair long enough for a passing prince to climb up. Merriment ensues.
Zelinsky’s art sets the story in an early Renaissance could-be-Italy, and the central spread, chock full of drama, is of the witch taking the baby. There’s a rumpled bed with the mother, post-partum, lying exhausted among the sheets. There’s the young husband, sitting with his head in his hands, horrified at what he’s given away. And there’s the black clad sorceress, a classic old hag, stealing from the room with the newborn babe in her arms.
Well, that musta been a hell of a conversation. Imagine the husband coming home: Honey, I got you your vegetables, but there’s a catch: the witch gets the kid. What would his wife say to him? And why does the witch want the baby? In fairy tales motivations don’t matter: the witch wants the baby because she’s a witch. But I am contrary and difficult and I want a real motive for taking that child. Sold for Endless Rue is, among other things, my attempt to do that.
As happens with these sorts of bolt-from-the blue notions, it sat around gathering dust-bunnies and stray factoids while I wrote other things. I began cursorily reading up on daily life in the Renaissance, thinking of ways to rehabilitate the witch. Maybe she’s a midwife? At least that would give her a reason to be in the room when the baby was born. But why take the kid?
I had nuthin.
And then I stumbled across a factoid that rewrote my whole idea of the middle ages and, by the way, this story. The first medical school in Europe, the Scuola Medicina Salernitana, not only had women as students, but women instructors. One of the most famous, Trotula di Ruggiero (immortalized in the Jack and Jill rhyme as “old Dame Trot”), specialized in women’s medicine–what we’d call OB/GYN. Her texts on the subject were in use for centuries. Dame Trot was not a damsel or a peasant. She was a professional woman. How cool is that?
One of my secret vices: I love medical history, medical mysteries, medical technology. Now I had an excuse to research the Scuola and dig deeper into medical theory of the time. Boy, did they have theories. Most of them are scary-laughable, but some of them were solidly sensible (for instance, the Scuola recommended a moderate diet, clean living, and lots of sleep). Pretty quickly it was clear to me my witch wasn’t a witch but a doctor, and that her reason for taking the baby was rooted somehow in her ambition.
I hate the sort of historical fiction where the heroine is a 21st century soul in a 13th century houppelande. Unless you show me why that character is an outlier from her own culture, you lose me. How would a peasant girl even think of becoming a physician, a profession overwhelmingly male, occupied by those wealthy enough to have the education required to enter the Scuola? Where would she get, for lack of a better word, the balls?
Then, among the dust-bunnies and factoids I’d been collecting, I got this image of a child running up a hill, trying to escape someone very scary who is as determined to catch her and beat her to death as she is to escape. She reaches the top of the hill and is stopped cold by her first sight of the sea, stretching out from the bay of Salerno. It overwhelms her with its vastness and strangeness, the sight of the city spilling down into the harbor, the newness of things she’d never imagined. And then she hears the sound of her pursuer and runs again.
That’s where Laura’s story begins. Everything she is comes from one moment when even terror can’t stop her curiosity, and when determination is all that keeps her alive. That’s how she can go against the grain of her time and place.
There are things Laura loses in gaining what she wants. There are people she loses. Just like now, devoting yourself to your profession can have very personal cost. Taking that baby, in Laura’s mind, evens old scores.
But of course, taking the baby is only half the story. Babies, even babies raised in the towers of academe, grow up, and make plans of their own…
One is near the end of his term! One’s term has yet to begin! Can you guess which is which?
Photo by Catherine Shaffer.
For here there be SPOILERS!
The winners are in bold. Also noted: The Norton and Bradbury awards, as well as the Solstice and the Kevin J. O’Donnell Service to SFWA Award.
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book
Solstice Awards were awarded to editor Ginjer Buchanan and astronomer and entertainer Carl Sagan, the latter of which was accepted by his son Nick Sagan.
The Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service Award was awarded to Michael Payne.
Also, of course, we formally invested Gene Wolfe with the title of Grand Master. He was gracious and touching in his speech, which is of course no surprise at all.
I am delighted to say that my final Nebula Award ceremony as president went along swimmingly, with Robert Silverberg as our emcee. I got to introduced Bob and give him some good-natured ribbing; he got up and dropped a house on me, which may go down as one of the highlights of my time as SFWA President. If you ever get a chance to get zinged by Grand Master Silverberg, I highly recommend it.
Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the other most worthy nominees, and many thanks to the volunteers and other who made the Nebula Ceremony, and indeed the entire Nebula Weekend, possible. It was a great time. As a fan, I was thrilled. As the President of SFWA, I was relieved.
Me and Jay Lake at the Nebula Mass Signing yesterday. I taste of executive power. For another few weeks, anyway.
Picture borrowed from jay’s site, here.
Welcome to Saturday.
First: Look! A video interview with me from RT Book Reviews, taken during the Booklover’s Convention a couple of weeks ago in Kansas City. I talk about The Human Division, the RT convention and some SFWA matters:
Second: Jamie Todd Rubin reviews The Human Division in Intergalactic Medicine Show, and has nice things to say about the book. For example:
The Human Division is not just John Scalzi at its best, it is science fiction at its best.
Yup, that’s a jacket blurb right there.
Third: Nebula Weekend fabulous so far. Wish you were here.
As Andrew asks: if this has been going on, with (up until today) no consequences to its perpetrator, what else don't we know about?
Urban light rail -- and a construction site that's been allowed to eliminate a whole block's sidewalk, not even building a protected detour for pedestrians.
And to answer the age-old question, no, I don’t know the way to San Jose, on account that for the last two days I was driven around by other people and have no idea, navigationally, how I got here. Thank God for GPS.
Nevertheless I am here, in San Jose, and about to formally embark on my last ever Nebula Weekend as president of SFWA. It’ll be fun. Those of you who are in or near San Jose, remember that there is the mass signing today at 5:30, with me and dozens of your favorite science fiction and fantasy writers; here are the details. See you there!
Just over a year ago, I wrote about a new French law that, under the guise of dealing with the pressing issue of orphan works, implements a truly massive rights transfer.
The law empowers the Bibliothèque Nationale de France to create an online database of works published in France before 2001 that are currently out of print (this includes not just works by French writers, but foreign works translated into French). Once a work has been listed in the database for more than six months, the right to digitize it transfers to a collective management organization, which thereafter has near-unlimited power to exploit that right–including granting it to publishers without the author’s permission. The collective management organization will also be responsible for distributing (an unspecified portion of) the proceeds from such grants to rightsholders.
There’s a six-month waiting period between a book’s appearance in the database and the transfer of rights to the collective management organization. To be removed from the database, rightsholders–who are not currently being notified if their works are included–must opt out in writing before the six-month waiting period expires. If they miss that deadline, they lose control of the digital display and sale of their work, and can only demand removal by proving that that they are the sole holder of digital rights.
The database, known as ReLIRE, is now online,with an initial list of 60,000 books. According to a comprehensive post on the program by writer Gillian Spraggs, numerous problems have been noted, including data errors, inclusion of books published after the 2001 cutoff date, and inclusion of books still in print or already available in digital form. Also included are many translated works by foreign authors that are clearly not orphans.
Digital-hungry publishers are already taking advantage of the database. Spraggs writes,
‘You will have the possibility of having an exclusive publishing licence for 10 years, implicitly renewable, to exploit the book in digital form, without having to sign a contract with the author or the author’s successors in title for the digital rights.
Sofia [the collecting society] will contact the authors or the successors in title to pay them, in accordance with the terms set out in the publishing contracts’…
Two points that the FAQ discreetly avoids spelling out are:
1. The legislation specifically charges the collecting society with developing contractual relationships that will ensure the greatest possible availability of the works…This puts prospective publishers in a very strong negotiating position and more or less guarantees that the contracts agreed will be bargain-basement deals with very low royalty rates, regardless of the market value of the work.
2. Certain administration costs that in a normal publishing arrangement would be borne by the publisher will instead be borne by the collecting society, which will take them out of royalties (so all or part of them will be taken from the authors’ share of any income). These include the cost of contacting authors and estates.
For authors, Spraggs says, it is “a ripoff deal.”
Writers’ groups in the US are taking notice of this threat to copyright. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has sent the letter below (reproduced with permission) to members, a number of whom have already found their works included in ReLIRE.
Dear SFWA Members,
As many of you already know, the ReLire program currently underway in France has scanned many books it considers to be “orphan works” in order to make them available through a public database. This database has already been found to contain many titles that are clearly not orphan works or in the public domain, including a number by prominent SF and fantasy authors. A more detailed explanation of the program is available here.
As this is a program of the Bibliotheque Nationale Francaise (French National Library), the Board is currently discussing options for applying pressure to the French government to prevent further works by SFWA members from being scanned and made available through this program, and we invite any members who have connections with the United States Trade Representative or any relevant branch of the U.S. Government to contact us. For the moment, however, we are informing all members of the issue and making them aware of the process involved in finding out whether a work is included and how to request that it be removed from the database.
All parts of the ReLire website and database are available only in French. The Society of Authors has produced translations of four key pages:
Here is a direct link to the advanced search page. The search fields are Titre( Title), Auteur (Author), Editeur (Editor) and Date d’edition (Publication date). If you are aware of any works of yours that have ever been published in French, you are strongly advised to search under all of the first three fields, as the entries in the database have been found to have many typos. Please notify SFWA of any of your works that are found in the database, as that will be valuable information in our efforts to protest the program.
If you do find any novels, stories or any other works belonging to you in the database you may request to have them removed. Please note that at this time it appears as though you will need either a French identification card (only available to residents of France) or a valid passport to make the application. We are awaiting clarification on the question of whether any other forms of identification will be accepted.
Thanks to Aliette de Bodard, Lawrence Schimel, Michael Capobianco and Jim Fiscus for their help in researching and co-ordinating SFWA’s response.
If any of your works have been published in French, and you find them included in ReLIRE, see this step-by-step manual for applying to have the work removed. For many other helpful resources and links, as well as some of the writing/publishing community’s reaction to ReLIRE, see Gillian Spraggs’s blog post, French Copyright Grab: the Machine Creaks into Action.
Spraggs writes that a group of French authors are planning to challenge the new law on constitutional grounds. She concludes by urging all writers to protest ReLIRE:
Whether or not you find that any of the books on the list are by you, or contain works by you, make a complaint to your government about the ReLIRE project, and talk to any author societies to which you belong.
The Berne Convention says: ‘Authors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall have the exclusive right of authorizing the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form.’ (9.1) This can only be overriden ‘in certain special cases’ and ‘provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author’. (9.2) The Convention says of all the rights that are guaranteed under it: ‘The enjoyment and the exercise of these rights shall not be subject to any formality‘. (5.2)
By compelling foreign authors, in order to prevent their works’ being co-opted into collective management, to search for them on a database and request their removal, the French government has imposed an illegal formality on their exclusive exercise of the right of reproduction.
The ReLIRE scheme is in no sense a ‘special case’ within the meaning of Article 9.2. By intervening in such an outrageous manner in the fast-developing market for digital rights it interferes with the normal exploitation of the works and most unreasonably prejudices the legitimate interests of the authors.
Spoilers for last week's Elementary ("Risk Management") and tonight's two-part season finale (which Wikipedia tells me is "The Woman" and "Heroine", but which Twitter tells me was shot as one thing).
And now, SPOILERS for tonight:comment(s) | add comment (how-to) | link
I have spoiler thoughts about last week's Elementary, but I'm just going to combine them with a reaction to tonight's season finale, so in the meantime:
Con or Bust generally runs a bracket-style challenge at Wiscon's Gathering, thanks to the heroic efforts of popelizbet, which pits characters of color from SFF against each other in a light-hearted "who's more awesome" way. Nominations for this year are open, and anyone can nominate online.
Anyway, in a fit of absent-mindedness I nominated Joan Watson, forgetting that Elementary cannot really be considered SFF. Later, in one of the nominations for Wendy Watson of The Middleman, the nominator left a note saying, "Can we do Wendy Watson vs. Joan Watson?"
Well, sadly we cannot, because like I said, Joan is not eligible. But now I desperately crave a crossover fic in which they are cousins of some degree, meet up at a family reunion, compare notes about their situations, and kick some butt.