24 February 2010

Why isn't the WTO cracking down on the US for Google piracy?

WASHINGTON — Copyright piracy in the United States remains at "unacceptably high levels," causing "serious harm" to creators around the world, the top US trade official failed to say today, in a report to the US Congress that has not been made. In an expanded effort to stop this harm, the Justice Department was granted, just before Christmas, a cheer package of $30 million from Congress to fight piracy.

The US Trade Representative didn't say, in the nonexistent report on US compliance with its World Trade Organization obligations, that Washington is taking no steps to meet its commitments as part of the WTO. His department didn't report that the United States is protecting and using even the State Department to advocate for a major pirate, as that pirate surpasses all others in infringing intellectual property rights laws in the US homeland and abroad, and fraudulently claiming permission granted for its thefts.
— Plagiarized and mauled version of US says copyright piracy in China still 'unacceptably high' By P. Parameswaran (AFP) – Dec 22, 2009

See the US State Department's site: Intellectual Property Violations Expanding Globally, U.S. Says: 12 nations lacking adequate copyright, patent protections

Opt in? Opt out?
The wholesale theft by Google has caused much consternation, as authors waste time having to nut out the implications of opting in and out of a settlement that shouldn't have to be contemplated.

Ursula Le Guin was entirely right when she wrote in her online petition,
"The free and open dissemination of information and of literature, as it exists in our public libraries, can and should exist in the electronic media. All authors hope for that. But we cannot have free and open dissemination of information and literature unless the use of written material continues to be controlled by those who write it or own legitimate right in it," her petition continued. "We urge our government and our courts to allow no corporation to circumvent copyright law or dictate the terms of that control."
Her petition and the issues around it are well covered in this article in the Guardian, "Ursula Le Guin leads revolt against Google digital book settlement: As opt-out deadline approaches, writer launches petition asking for US to be exempt from controversial agreement

Ironically, if US authors are exempted from the agreement, this would mean that the US becomes an even more transparently egregious hypocrite about trade — a rogue state that aids (subsidizing in the multi-billion $s) and abets (in pay-by-the-word lawyereze), this pirate that is changing the meaning of piracy, if the WTO doesn't step in or the US government doesn't wake up.

Google theft is international
Google is ripping off Australians, but like many other countries, Australia isn't going to take the US to the WTO. Our government is too craven to do anything about any major trading partner, even when it's as brazen and disgusting as Japan's illegal whaling in the name of research.

Google "permission" takes permission to a new height of theft as business
If you, too have the experience of finding your books in Google Books, and see Google's statement explaining its "Limited Preview":
Pages displayed by permission of [linked publisher]. Copyright [linked to page in book]
you might also compare this permission to having money in the bank, and finding someone has taken it "by permission of [linked bank]". It's the same thing. The publisher doesn't hold the copyright. The author does.

Limited Preview also means something else to Google than to anyone else—in the case of a novel, the only page that I could find that wasn't available was the last page. In the case of a collection, I didn't come across any missing pages. I have since asked the publisher to get Google to remove these fake Limiteds that I never gave permission for, nor was any asked. By all means, if you would like to read my books, I am happy for them to be available online, making a decision to do so as the author, as all authors should have the ability to control. I'm happy to post the entire pdf of both on my site.

Note to future anthologists: just steal it!
In the case of anthologies, what Google has just done makes the permission to reprint laughable. In the case of two I've just looked at, most stories are printed in full. What Google is doing makes a mockery of the problems of, say, Alasdair Gray in compiling The Book of Prefaces. This is a masterpiece of a life's work not to mention a wellspring of fun (the glosses by Gray and others are a hoot—opinionated and intelligent) that I personally think belongs in every library, but Gray had to leave many prefaces out because he couldn't obtain permission. Despite the publicity about the copying of old books, Google knows its power lies in the modern world—fiction and non-fiction alike, all covered by copyright (will this word and concept become archaic as the wax tablet?) now.

What bothers me the most about this Google piracy is that it is part of a growing mentality in successful businesses (even ones that aren't baled out openly by government) that goes: honesty in business and human relationships is worthless, if you're big enough. Deceit and government connections are the way to prosper.

The use of permissions that the company knows are false is as dishonest as Enron's balance sheet. Google's spying is downright creepy, yet it looks like it will get away with it as smoothly as it has, its warrentless wiretapping and its pragmatically unturnoffable "personalized results", which like the opt-in, opt-out dilemma for authors, is an illegal activity that at least one government not only doesn't prosecute, but loves, undermining all that fine cant of the very government that prides itself on the rule of law—and hurting international standards everywhere.

In the absence of the US government being hauled before the WTO for protecting this pirate, I look forward to Google's making available free for the world's benefit: movies and music and prescription drugs.

23 February 2010

Pre-order Polyphony 7, and keep a unique series alive

Wheatland Press is a small press of the highest quality—and by that, I don't mean ponderous sludge, but fiction that excites, intrigues, surprises.

And yikes. I haven't been paying attention. Their Polyphony anthology series is in danger of going under, and that would make it even harder for readers who are looking for something different.

In this case, There's only a short time left means something, as the financial crisis has bit hard. There really only is a short time left, just to the end of this month, as Wheatland Press explains here.

See the Table of Contents and Pre-order Polyphony 7 (edited by two terrific editors, Deborah Layne and Forrest Aguirre) here.

15 February 2010

Charcoal and fungi

Many species of Australia's pyrophilic plants, particularly the eucalypts, wear their histories as suits that look like they made of charcoal. And so they are. You can draw with the stuff, and it certainly draws on you, if you brush past. When rain finally falls, as it has lately here, charred bark makes a perfect backdrop for explosions of fungi.

Three sites I recommend:

14 February 2010

Valentine man

He has watched over me for so many years that I forgot to notice his particular charms, some of which he collects as unfashionableness festoons him.
  • He's always had just one arm.
  • He never tells me his mood, what music he is listening to, what he is doing now.
  • He doesn't have a novel in him. I don't mind. Perhaps he thinks he is lucky that I don't pester him about it, unlike people do to Kuzhali Manickavel who says, "Some of us keep getting molested because we aren't writing a novel or aren't married. I think this is very notnice. I mean, I don't go around molesting people because they ARE married or ARE doing the novel thing."
She's packaged up some bonbon responses to these rude people in "Why Aren't You Writing a Novel? Why Aren't You Married? Why Why Why?

Since her posts can be addictive, they are so perceptive but funny (today's Conversations –The Man with the Pipe is typical), a person could miss that Manickavel can also cause the reader to look funny. She can be so dry, she's astringent as an unripe quince. Perhaps the only well-travelled people who don't wince as they see themselves in How to Wear an Indian Village are too delicate to see themselves at all.

Blaft (that splendid confectioner of bonbons made of pulp and paper) has published Manickavel's collection,

Valentine man doesn't even have a collection in him (to my knowledge) but I haven't ever bugged him about it. I imagine that he loves me, which is good enough — and how couldn't he be irresistible? He's so lovably wordless and full of mystery.

Speaking of wordlessness and men with pipes, about a year after my father died, when I was in university, I grew an irresistible desire to privately smoke a pipe like his, with his brand of tobacco even though the smell of regular tobacco always makes me feel like I've just eaten a tub of engine grease. Anyway, I bought a pipe that was like his (plain boffin style) and the same tobacco that has that fruity wet leather tempering that mediocre pipe tobaccos do. I lit up and it wasn't a horrible disappointment, nor did I hear him laughing. It was the kind of disappointment you have when you visit someplace again that only has room for one unforgettable experience. I haven't tried the cigars. But that was all before Valentine man, the flame who abhors lights.

12 February 2010

Predators and mouthfuls

The parrots around here have been very flighty lately, for the raptors have been eating well. A wedge-tailed eagle prefers a king parrot to a lorikeet tidbit, but both will do. Unlike the eagles that fly back into the treetops, a little Nankeen kestrel uses the top of a power pole as its perch, and makes repeated swoops down to the open paddock, for grasshoppers that are flourishing now after some rain, and the day-flying dung beetles. At night, the owls enjoy a flush of giant hawk moths.

Although only sometimes we hear a short garbled cry or longer scream, we often find the remains of prey and can only imagine diner, prey, and dinner when we come upon the plucked out clumps of feathers, an unmeaty wing with the feathers all intact, cicada and moth wings. Our balcony has been chosen as a sanctuary by a number of traumatised parrots and on three occasions, mauled racing pigeons who somehow slipped a raptor's grip. The parrots come and then flee back to the more bushy trees, and then fly back here, undecided as to the safest place, but the racing pigeons hunker in the eaves.

Different prey
These leaves didn't get away from other predators who also have quite a discriminating taste.

The fish that didn't get away
All this is leading to a different mouthful, Queensland Museum's latest fascinating Question of the Month: "One jumped up, one pumped up, both dumped up"

11 February 2010

Library discards can be treasured

Books are culled from libraries all the time. One Australian university library chooses and destroys books "by stealth", according to a librarian friend who works there. The management doesn't want to deal with librarians' knowledge, grief and rage.

Some libraries sell their discards to the trade, and that's how just last week my newest addition to the family arrived: Everyman's Library edition of Raymond Chandler's Collected Stories (a discard from the Houston Public Library, purchased by them in 2002, but still in perfect condition).

6 for $2
The four-book picture above is the latest haul from our local library. These wonderful classics have lived downstairs in stacks for years, so would only have been checked out if found on the computer. At the library, the discard table seems to waft some irresistible perfume. Readers leave it laden with books that for the first time in years, soon feel fresh air on their pages, and dropped into their cleavages, fresh crumbs.

08 February 2010

The campaign against men selling women's underwear

The relativity of embarrassment displays all its flesh when one compares the kind of situations (usually involved with buying and fitting) in "Embarrassing Bra Stories""You’ll have to search pretty hard to find a woman who doesn’t have one or two embarrassing bra stories to tell."— with what women have to put up with in Saudi Arabia.

In a campaign now a year old and entering its second phase, women in KSA are trying to get a law that's finally on the books, actually implemented.
"We are supposedly the most conservative nation in the world and yet women here divulge their bra and undie sizes and colors to strange men on a regular basis. The contradiction is in the fact that we are supposedly the most conservative nation in the world and yet women here divulge their bra and undie sizes and colors to strange men on a regular basis. I have been to many countries, European, Arab…etc and I have yet to come across a lingerie shop or even section of a department store where a man is employed to help customers. Why is this? Because common decency and personal comfort dictate that the majority of women would much rather discuss and buy their underwear from another woman. This very simple fact somehow flew over our muttawas’ heads or they just felt that the oppression of women is more important than preserving a woman’s modesty. The minister of Labour, Dr. Al Qusaibi, attempted to tackle this issue by issuing a new law that only women were to be employed at lingerie shops. This was supposed to be effective in 2006. However powerful people behind the scenes have been able to delay its implementation. Why would they do that? Well it’s due to a multiple number of reasons.
Read all about them, and the campaign, on one of the best blogs on the web, Eman Al Nafjan's Saudiwoman's Weblog.

07 February 2010

Amazon and the pipeline

The Amazon/MacMillan stoush about e-books in which Amazon took the Russian solution and cut off supply has more twists than a plate of fusilli bucati, yet it's interesting how one-sided a mainstream news story can be ~ and when it's from a wire service, that's even curiouser. Jay Lake just responded to Amazon reshelves Macmillan titles but not e-books ("Reporting by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Eric Walsh"), a piece from Reuters that reads like an Amazon press release. Lake pointed out that "The writerly blogosphere has done a masterful job of covering this, you could easily find dozens of sources to discuss this, myself included."

There are by now many more posts, but I particularly recommend
Jay Lake's and John Scalzi's.

There are so many aspects to the situation, not the least of which are
  • Amazon trying to command the market of actual reading platforms (their very uncheap Kindle)
  • and to make us think that our lack of ownership of a book that we buy is the normalcy to which we should become accustomed.
Compare Amazon's intrusive and dictatorial attitude to e-reading with Baen's. Amazon comes off like Mad King George (an earlier mad George) while Baen is Thomas Payne. When you buy a book to read electronically from Baen, their attitude is that you own it. Unlike Amazon, they will not pull a book you already purchased off your shelf. Not only that, but Baen not only lets you, but expects you to download your purchased book in multiple formats to be read on multiple platforms, online and offline. If the world were ruled by Amazon, and it's getting to be if we keep de factoing it into our links and thought patterns, Baen is a revolutionary, though it's really only doing what should be supplier—>demand business.

Amazon's e-book "sales" on Kindle twist and break the concept of ownership, and get away with it because they are superficially cheap(er). This is like the superficial generosity of Google's destruction of copyright, while they, not we, control what they've copied (about which Ursula Le Guin has been so eloquent).

Both can cut off the supply whenever they wish.

It's always good to use and build other pipelines.

One thing that all us writers and readers can do when we talk about books is to link to a source of supply other than Amazon. I like to point to the publisher if the publisher has a good purchasing set-up on the site. In the case of books that are not published in the same country as the Amazon site, this makes the book much cheaper, too. One example is buying a book published by Blaft in India, not from Amazon.com, but from Blaft. This way, the publisher is paid a reasonable price—not Amazon's screwed-down price—and is paid in a reasonable period of time. Especially with small publishers, the Amazons of this world do what big companies generally do now with all small suppliers—pay them drips, and even at the small amounts they pay, delaying that, making suppliers into what banks are supposed to be: lenders. It doesn't make economic sense in some ways as it's destructive to the point of breaking many small suppliers—but with large companies like Amazon, there are always new suppliers eager for what they imagine will be a feast because the seller is big.

Another example of a publisher I recommend is Small Beer Press. I see they've also written an important post on this topic that lists independent booksellers, which is the other kind of linking I recommend though I haven't figured out how to properly do it. Which one(s) and how, if it's a simple link? Read their "Amazon rude? Surely not?"

The other advantage with buying from independents (and my favourite is Borderlands Books in San Francisco) is that, as an "international" customer, the good independents don't rip customers off in "postage and handling". We internationals subsidise the freebies, I guess, which makes it more of an insult to us when we get Amazon spam offering us free p&h that is only for the US (they can remember our preferences to spam us, but not where we live). Any "economy" in the "discounted" price from Amazon is wiped away by these extras.

NOTE: I would love to have to state a disclaimer here, but I have no books published by Macmillan (though in a world ruled by some readers, and I don't mean people who read between tweets, Farrar Straus and Giroux belongs on the title page of Crandolin, a novel which will probably only remain a bestseller on Asteroid *—where yes, they have no remainders). Anyway, I get no benefit from dissing Amazon, which might be the easiest place for you to buy my single-author books. But if we don't live for our principles, what is there to live for? Actually, so many things! First, catch your fusilli bucati. Next, see if there is any gas . . .

04 February 2010

The delights of Daylight Robbery from Blaft

Though I'm not much of a social butterfly, I'd love to carry my emailed invitation to this celebration tomorrow (at the Delhi World Book Fair):

Blaft Publications invites you to the launch of Daylight Robbery by Surender Mohan Pathak, INDIA'S #1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR with 25 million books sold in Hindi over the last 40 years. This is a new English translation, by Sudarshan Purohit, of Pathak's classic 1980 crime novel दिन दहाड़े डकैती.

Read Blaft's Inside View
As Mark Schleffer writes in "Meet India's pulp fiction master" in Global Post, "Pathak remains unheralded, simply because his books are, he says, sold as commodities, not as works of literature or art." Like the l and a, I guess, of another tome by Dan Brown or Rowling, both of whom sell well in India, though they're probably unheralded where Pathak is sought out.

The world is a wonderfully larger place than it might seem if the products of the major publishers and booksellers were our sole suppliers of mental food. Blaft illustrates this beautifully with a quote on its site for Daylight Robbery:
"Surender Mohan Pathak was one of the two people I wanted to be as a kid. The other was Amitabh Bachchan." -Anurag Kashyap
Daylight Robbery is much more fun than a Dan Brown tome (which won't even age well as something you can laugh at) and you don't pay for the pretensions of scholarship with this undark unstudy of an anti-hero, Vimal. This is the second Pathak that Blaft has published in English translation, and both are from the hugely popular series featuring Vimal. See The 65 Lakh Heist (also translated from the Hindi by Sudarshan Purohit).

Like Chandler and some of the other authors in that priceless collection of incorrigibles, Hardboiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories edited by Bill Pronzoni and Jack Adrian, Pathak's story and telling both work together to aid your escape. If there is sufficient heralding for these translations to get to Western readers, there are even more thrills in store than mere escape. For instance, the opening scene in Daylight Robbery has a bonus that the original Hindi couldn't have delivered. Its description of Vimal disguised "in hippie getup"will make many memories squirm.

It's criminal
At Rs 195 each from Blaft (about $4.20 US dollars), these are a steal; and the site has so much more including The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction that I recently raved about—so you can be afford to be greedy.

An added mystery
I would like to know the role that translation played when faced with slang, idiom, vernacular, and just plain original style—both in the tone of the narrative and the dialogue. I ask this because of a modestly printed little treasure that's intrigued me for some time—Farewell My Lovely & Stories by Raymond Chandler published by Raduga Publishers, Moscow, 1983. The glossary is a glimpse onto the red scalp of what must have been a violently head-scratching soul. The first item explained for a Russian is "a three-chair barber shop" and the list proceeds like some fantasy thriller, to gems like "The Bible Belt" which takes 5 lines of Russian explanation, "You seem to pick up awful easy" which takes 8, and "Cut out the Pig Latin"—a doozy at 16. "I'll show you my etchings" takes only 5, presumably because the Soviets, of course, had etchings and guys who, as guys do, offered to show them. All of this glossary would be a treat if the Russian translations were translated. Tragically (for ignorant souls like me) the glossary is now a mystery unsolved but pungent. I'm dying to know, for instance, what the 5 lines say for "Hooey Phooey Sing, Long Sing Tung" and the 8 putting Russians right to "Scramola umpchay".