Category: copyright

What would you agree to for a writer’s residency?

Image of Denver Platform and Amtrak  Train

Denver Platform View, copyright Kathleen Crislip

There is a lot of chatter around the Amtrak Residency Program for writers. Free long-distance train ride with a sleeper car equipped with a bed, a desk and outlets. Countryside views unattainable from any other type of trip. Inspiration.

Writers flooded Amtrak with applications—8,500 in just the first week. Twitter is ablaze with the hashtag, #AmtrakResidency. This tells me that for many this opportunity is worth the cost. By cost, I don’t mean an application fee because there is none. The cost is giving up all rights to application materials, which includes a writing sample of up to 10 pages.

In legal-speak, the Official Terms of the program include provision 6, “Grant of Rights,” as quoted below.

In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. . . . Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.)

Critics have come out against the program for this reason. Dan Zak calls it a sham in his Washington Post article. Mr. Zak points out the media coup this is for Amtrak, now getting crazy publicity for their long-distance trips, which are reportedly operating in the red by millions. Ben Cosman, writing for The Wire, shares parts of an email from Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s Social Media Director, written to The Wire, clarifying Amtrak’s intentions: Read more »

Publishing in the Fast Lane

Jonah with flare. Picture: Canongate

As if by August, you weren’t already humming “fact policing, you make my heart sing” every time you saw something innovative McSweeneys was publishing. As if you weren’t already thinking about fact checkers as a subset of superhero with amazing research powers, and you weren’t already considering how the “villains” (i.e. literary fabricators) steal the public imagination and memory more than those who caught them Epson-inked in the act. By now you’ve probably seen Lee Gutkind’s Hall of Fame of Literary Fabricators and Fakers, which was posted shortly after Houghton Mifflin pulled Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works from the shelves. Gutkind asks, “Why lie—especially about an American icon—information that can be easily verified or questioned?”

Granted misquoting Bob Dylan could be an excellent dinner party game (“Oh, the wily Buffalo knows,” Dylan, 1967), but the part of the question I got stuck on was “Why lie?”

I decided to look at Lehrer’s various slips. Read more »

Getting Your Kicks for Free

In the latest installment of People Shouting About Things Online, this blog post on NPR last week caused quite the hullabaloo (so much so, in fact, that I posted about this on my Facebook too. I’m not recycling material, I am integrating my social media. It’s different). The gist: an intern at NPR admitted that in her entire life, she has bought maybe 15 CDs, yet her MP3 collection reaches nearly 11,000. She doesn’t miss liner notes. She borrows, downloads, rips and takes. To paraphrase, she wants what she wants when she wants it, and then takes it.

Holy moly, was there a backlash. NPR even wrote a defense/explanation of Ms. White after the initial comment blow-out. One of the most visible examples is this response from musician David Lowery, which at its peak challenges to Emily to repay all the money she took from downloading. Quite a chunk of change.  The comments on all these posts  are a combination of vitriolic ad hominem attacks (apparently, if you are a young woman going to a decent college who scored an internship at NPR, you better not have an opinion on anything ever, because your life is clearly too charmed) and lamentations on the state of the artist’s life today.

I have to say, I’m surprised at the negative reaction — for two reasons.

Read more »

Apply for your self-publishing patent today!

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman sounds like an interesting book:

“Drawing on decades of research in psychology that resulted in a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, Daniel Kahneman takes readers on an exploration of what influences thought example by example, sometimes with unlikely word pairs like “vomit and banana.” […}Thinking, Fast and Slow gives deep—and sometimes frightening—insight about what goes on inside our heads: the psychological basis for reactions, judgments, recognition, choices, conclusions, and much more.  –JoVon Sotak

Thinking, Fast and Slow received some good press (selected as one of the best books of 2011 by New York Times Book Review, Globe and Mail, The EconomistThe Wall Street Journal), which means more people searching Amazon for the book. Except they might find something else by accident.


Thinking, Fast and Slow was published on October 24th, 2011, the same day that Fast and Slow Thinking by Karl Daniels became available on Amazon. Read more »

Steal This Post

I popped into a coffee shop a few nights ago while waiting for my husband to pick me up from rehearsal, and it happened that one of my former creative writing students was leading a writing group. I didn’t recognize him right away. I didn’t notice him at all until, over the general chatter, I heard his deep, distinctive voice. He and his group were discussing the best way to get their stories to each other. Gmail, one group member said, was notorious for stealing content, and email in general lacked security. Someone suggested Facebook, and a discussion about the thieving Mark Zuckerberg ensued. Another suggested exchanging pieces via flash drive, which was quickly vetoed because flash drives could have viruses. They discussed exchanging addresses and using the postal service, but again, there was the concern that their stories might be stolen, plus there was the cost and environmental impact. This led to a general discussion of the problems with paper, and how the chemicals used to treat it are a much greater problem than deforestation, etc (we live near a paper mill here–the smell alone could make one want to go paperless).

Maybe this makes me a jerk, but I chuckled a little at their concerns. They had worried the small issue of exchanging stories into a major problem. And while some of their concerns were valid, I was struck by their copyright paranoia and the fear that their work might be stolen, especially because when their group leader was in my class, every piece he turned in had a giant copyright notice at the top of the page, even after I told him that it was not only unnecessary, but slightly insulting, as it insinuated that he thought his classmates or I might steal his work. I told him, if he was concerned, that he should put his name in the header or footer, by the page number, and that that would suffice. Apparently that didn’t ease his concerns. Read more »

Christmas is the Season for Roadtrips and TV

This post goes out to KEXP, TuneIn, and YouTube. Many of you probably knew this, but during my first week in Germany I discovered that Pandora, Spotify, NetFlix, and Hulu don’t work here. The limitations have to do with licenses and copyrights and other fascinating particulars.

When you want to watch a little something while eating dinner and you don’t want it to be Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock, or Amy Poehler films dubbed in German, that’s when you turn to Joan Rivers for comfort.

Read more »

Win for Author Sued By Texas Department of Transportation

Actually, You Can Mess With Texas

At least according to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, who ruled against the Texas Department of Transportation’s request for restraining the sale of a book it says infringes on its trademarked slogan “Don’t Mess With Texas.”

The Houston Business Journal reports that Federal Judge Sparks cited First Amendment rights in his ruling and concluded that TxDOT’s trademark registration does not apply to books. He also considered the amount of revenue the defendants (Hachette Book Group, Barnes & Noble, and author Christie Craig) would lose if prevented from selling the book.

According to the Houston Press blog Hair Balls, TxDOT initiated the suit because the novel “contains numerous graphic references to sexual acts, states of sexual arousal, etc.” The agency was also worried that selling the book at Barnes & Noble would call “irreparable harm” since the store also sells many TxDOT materials.

Running through my head right now are all kinds of scenarios of people confusing a romance novel with a department of transportation book. It would make defensive driving courses much more interesting. Being bad a spotting cop cars while I speed, I’ve had to take that twice. One of those times was in Texas and the curriculum was uninspiring. Judging from Ms. Craig’s cover, I’d much rather have read her book during the eight hour class.

I’m psyched over how much free publicity this book is getting because a state department of transportation decided morality falls under its jurisdiction. And I’m happy authors can still exercise freedom of speech, even if it involves a governmental slogan.

Maybe you can’t literally mess with that big state down south, but you can do so literarily.

My Mimeograph has a Uniform Resource Locator

A few weeks ago, I was applying to jobs the way some people send out submissions for publication: making a day of sorting, tweaking, e-mailing cover letters. I got a hit on a minimum wage temp position writing web copy for a university hospital. The hiring staff wanted to see writing samples, so I sent them links to several websites I’ve populated with content, all of which used the hippest jargon (capacity-building, deliverables, etc.), and for kicks, I included a link to my Bark posts. The top post would have shown a graph and discussed the ancient Greeks’ influence on pop songs. The response? “Unless you have professional writing samples, you shouldn’t apply to copywriter positions.” Really?

I’m not trying to kill myself for some low wage that wouldn’t even cover the gas to go to work, so instead of forming a rebuttal, I’ve been thinking about this response for a while. It had to be the blog that counted against me (though I doubt they read any more than the top post, and I was kind of surprised that something with a reference to an academic journal, a chart, and clearly-defined argument would have seemed unprofessional: I probably didn’t even cuss).  That people still don’t take blogs seriously seems a little weird to me, justified in some cases and unjustified in others. I’ve often thought of blogging as a modern-day form of pamphleteering. They vary in size, are controlled by the author, contribute to modern characteristics of American writing, are pretty damn cheap to publish, and often have a polemic chain-reaction of responses and rebuttals. But they tend to spread ideas, not necessarily great writing/literature. Here’s what George Orwell said about pamphleteering (replace pamphlet with blog): Read more »

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