Posts tagged copyright
Who can resist quoting Yoda?
OK, back to a more serious note. When Dean Wesley Smith commented a couple of months ago that he saw a war in publishing on the way, and sides already forming up, I really wasn’t sure. I mean, I saw folks who didn’t want to believe things were changing as fast as they were. And I saw a lot of folks still stuck in the “Writer’s Digest” myths. But I sorta thought that people would gradually catch on, and writers would settle into a new world of putting their own stuff up as ebooks and print on demand books, and then selling some books to big publishers as a loss leader to get their marketing dollars behind a writer’s name. My gut said that writers, being generally smart people, would do the smart thing.
Oh, was I ever wrong.
I’m convinced, now. Dean was right, is right.
A large chunk of writers are simply not happy with the changes taking place. They don’t want to have to be responsible for their businesses. They want to basically be employees – write a book, get paid. Unfortunately, it’s never really worked like that (despite myths to the contrary), and is less like that today than it’s been in decades. But there’s a big chunk of writers who don’t want those changes. They want their agents taking care of the business stuff. They want the publisher marketing the book. They want to sit back, write, and not have to worry about anything else.
That mindset is doomed.
Dean just wrote a new article about how the latest agent scam is taking off and blossoming. More and more agencies are becoming publishers. They offer to take your book, get it ready to publish, publish the ebook, and split “net receipts” with you after expenses for the book are paid. Dean goes into why this is a horrible deal in a lot of detail here. Short form? Your $4.99 ebook would make you $3.50 a copy if you sell it yourself. With these agents, your $4.99 ebook earns you $1.75 a copy MINUS whatever their operating expenses are – *after* you’ve paid off whatever their production costs were on the book with those $1.75 chunks. So if they decide the “net receipt” is $2 on that $4.99 ebook ($3.50 minus $1.50 for their operating expenses, accounting dept, etc.), and they decide they spent $10,000 getting your book edited, formatted, and uploaded, you will need to sell 10,000 ebooks before you get a red cent from them. And after that you’d get $1 a book.
Not saying those are the numbers any specific agent gone publisher is using. But they could. “Net receipts” is an extremely vague term unless it is absolutely defined in the contract. Basically, these agent deals are very nearly the same thing as the scam subsidy presses out there – the ones who charge writers up front AND charge a percentage of income per book. The difference is, instead of charging up front and laying the fees out on the table, these agents are potentially able to obscure their fees so that a writer might have a very hard time figuring out what they’re actually supposed to be making. Extremely dangerous.
Kris Rusch just wrote an article, too – talking about some of the other grabs going on. Agents not longer work for writers, she asserts. And that seems borne out by the flat-out dangerous and outrageous clauses showing up – not in publishing contracts, but in *agency* contracts! Clauses which give the agency a chunk of any future sale of the work, even if the agency is fired. Clauses that give an agency a chunk of any future sales in that world, or with those characters, and definitely any sequels. Even if the writer has since fired that agency.
It was bad enough that publishers were pulling those sorts of dangerous contract clauses. But now, agencies are as well.
I agree completely with her take on the subject.
- There is no longer any reason for a writer to have an agent. If you want someone to go over a contract, get an IP lawyer, it’s cheaper and they’re actually regulated by the government and actually educated about contract law.
- If a writer does not stand up for him or herself, nobody else is going to do it. It’s up to us.
- Writers now have options. We can say NO to a contract and just publish the book ourselves. If the contract is bad, and the other side won’t budge, say no.
But I’m not really sure that’s sinking in. I spent part of last week over on a writer’s forum that’s well known and pretty well regarded. It’s a very popular hang out and location to get advice. And they had forums for both self publishing and e-publishing, so I popped in. I quickly found myself embattled by a bunch of folks who were passionate in their resistance to the idea of self publishing, to a degree that was almost scary. Even the designated mods of the forums were pretty solid in their negative feedback about self publishing. It didn’t take me too long to catch on. The self publishing forum was in place to collect posts about the subject, so a bunch of folks could trash the idea regularly enough that writers stopping by see that self publishing is clearly still a bad idea, and not a valid route for writers to follow. Maybe OK to dabble in, but not as a career route.
The forum isn’t there for discussion so much as it’s there for maintaining a steady flow of disinformation.
But that, and places like it, are some of the fields where the battle is being fought right now. Writers come in hearing about self publishing taking off, and looking for ways to make it work for them. If they happen across Dean’s blog, or Kris’s blog, or Joe Konrath’s blog, they’ll hear about how to make it work. If they go to some other places…they hear about how it’s all hogwash and overblown and doomed to failure.
The level of Stockholm Syndrome in some of those places is pretty frightening.
But then, so is the alternative to a lot of folks. If self publishing really is now the *best* option for most writers, what does that mean? It means writers must take charge of finding an editor. It means writers must learn to format ebooks. It means writers must trust their work enough to put it up for public sales without the “validation” of sale to an NYC publisher. It means writers need to know good art from bad well enough to hire a good artist. It means writers need to learn some basic accounting. It means writers need to market their books (arguably, that was already true since publishers were no longer doing much marketing on most books, but the myth says otherwise).
It means writers need to step up and take charge of the business they are running.
Which scares the beejeezus out of a lot of writers.
But here’s the thing: one way or another, it’s pretty much over for those writers. The ones too scared, too badly grounded in old myths, too ill-informed about industry changes, and – dare I say it – too lazy to take charge of their business are done for. If the bad contracts don’t kill their careers, simple contraction of the ‘traditional’ publishing industry will do it instead. Only writers willing to learn business are going to survive in the years ahead, via either trade publishers or self publishing. The option to have someone else ‘take care of it’ for you is simply no longer valid anymore.
Stand up. Step up. Take charge. Make it happen for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.
Cook’s Source has taken down their entire website and replaced it with an interesting bit of fiction. You can read all about it here.
So, the short form? The writer starts in by lambasting the “disreputable people” who posted their discontent on Facebook. From there?
Last month an article, “American as Apple Pie — Isn’t,” was placed in error in Cooks Source, without the approval of the writer, Monica Gaudio.
Earth to Cook’s Source. Ms. Gaudio did not submit her piece to you. You STOLE it off the internet and pasted it into your for-profit print magazine. This is not an error. This is a criminal activity. It sounds like it is criminal activity you’ve engaged in repeatedly for quite some time now.
They have made a donation in her name as Ms. Gaudio requested.
It should be noted that Monica was given a clear credit for using her article within the publication, and has been paid in the way that she has requested to be paid.
Giving someone credit is what you do when you are quoting them (such as I did in this article, citing the source of the quotes), not leaving their name on the article after you steal it. And she only got paid because the entire internet dropped on Cook Source’s head because of the way Griggs acted in her email.
Cook’s Source went on to announce that they’ve made changes. They will now require a written consent form from the author or rights holder before publishing anything. This is good; that’s what they should have been doing from day one. What’s bad is that by the way they phrased this, they implied that the entire “error” was that they hadn’t gotten a consent from Ms. Gaudio, and so she used that against them. The implication of this entire apology is that they had permission to print her article, but can’t prove it. This is a rewriting of history.
They finish by talking about the victims: the people who rely on their nice magazine in their local area. I actually feel more sorry for the local advertisers who were sucked in by this magazine and then slammed when Cook’s Source’s illegal activities finally caught up with it. Them, and the writers whose work has been stolen by these people – allegedly dozens of articles over years of print from a large number of internet sources.
John Scalzi gave this apology a D+ for paying out the money as Ms. Gaudio asked. I give this a flat F, sorry. It’s an F because Ms. Gaudio already has a lawyer looking into this for her who will undoubtedly get her quite a bit more in statutory damages, so the payment is more an attempt to appease her before they loose their shirts than it is a real apology. And second, because of the implication that the real thing they did wrong was not having Ms. Gaudio sign a release for her work – phrased to make people think Cook’s Source thought it had permission when it posted her article, when it’s pretty clear from their words and actions elsewhere that they knew they did not.
It’s obvious to me that these people (this person? heard it might be a one person show) have still not learned. Cook’s Source is trying to spin things even now. I’m really not sure what will be required to drive the lesson home, at this point. Maybe if all of the other people whose works were swiped start their own lawsuits, Cook’s Source will get the idea. I don’t think they get it yet.
First off, thought I’d say “hi” to the people coming over here. I had 166 hits yesterday, and already over forty today. I strongly suspect many of those folks are here for the first time. So, “Hello!” Special welcome to the SCAeast-list folks who took the time from their lives to go look into this matter and make their voices heard.
As of this writing, 2767 people have “liked” the Cook’s Source Facebook page – most of them today. I don’t think anyone can count the number of angry posts to their page, or discussions started about the mess on their Discussion tab. One discussion is particularly noteworthy – a list of other allegedly stolen works. To say this is extensive is an understatement; there are reports on that link of articles lifted verbatim from NPR, foodnetwork.com, weightwatchers.com, WebMD, a Martha Stewart site, and numerous others. According to those posts, the theft was not limited to one researcher’s work, but rather roved widely across a variety of internet sites. If true, I suspect the Cook’s Source owner is about to get a sharp lesson in the pointy end of copyright law.
Thanks also to Liam, who I understand got the news spread to the Washington Post. From there, it moved out to more papers and sites than I can count. The matter was Slashdotted, Fox News picked it up, the UK Guardian wrote about it, Time had their say on their live feed, and even Publisher’s Weekly printed something about the story, among countless others. This story is now the hot thing on the internet. Everyone who did anything to pass the word on this did a stellar job.
In the end, this is not about one small run magazine stealing an article, or even many articles. It’s about ownership of what we write. The reaction to this rather small scale abuse was enormous. And trust me, it was noted. The editor was right – this sort of thing does happen far too often. But perhaps now, it will happen a little less for a while. People out there who might have been tempted to grab something will remember this. People feeling secure from a lawsuit because of the expense and difficulty to proffer charges might now be more aware that there are other ways to take action, and that the public simply will not stand for this sort of abuse.
It’s not about one editor, or one magazine. This reaction is a warning that people have power, and are willing to use it to protect the rights of others. It’s a powerful statement, and I’m glad to have been a small part of it.