How to poison a franchise

3-6-banthaThis isn’t about squicking anybody’s squee. Well, it is, but not in the way you might expect. With that being said, fuck Star Wars Legends.

I hate, HATE Legends. I have read a grand total of 0.5 Legends books, and that some decades ago. Usually I don’t hold passionate opinions about sprawling franchises that I’ve no investment in. So why the hate for Legends?

Because of the fans who won’t let that shit go.

These are the fans who are so convinced that their manic pixie dream villain Thrawn would be better than Hux, Snoke and Kyllo Ren for Reasons.

These are the fans who heap insults upon Chuck Wendig books that haven’t been released yet, up to and including one who said he hoped Wendig had an accident that permanently ended his writing career.

These are the fans who whined that there were two Star Wars movies, (In A Row!) with a woman as the main protagonist.

I am generalizing a group a bit here. I don’t think every one of the misogynistic SW fans is also a Legends EU fan, but the venn diagram kind of looks like this:

venn

Mostly overlap.

And here’s the thing: When, every time I hear, “but it should have been THRAAAAAAAAAAAAWN!” it’s accompanied by, “eeew, girls and gays all over my Star Wars!” I am less likely to want to read about Thrawn ever again.

I bounced off the EU books because they were crap.

Sorry fans.

They started off as bland corporate tie-in fiction, and they turned into a dog’s breakfast of bad plot decisions and shocking twists that failed to shock or twist much.

So, no, the Heir to Empire books should NOT be movies 7, 8 and 9. But what’s more, I’ve been re-examining a lot of Star Wars media because of how wildly successful the film was. I might have considered revisiting the Legends books. Except that fans who aren’t happy because the story they like isn’t the annointed official narrative for some reason that I’ve never been fully clear on have poisoned that well.

So congratulations Sad Banthas. You’re so worried about Disney taking Star Wars Legends off life support that you’ve killed the franchise yourself.

Meanwhile I still don’t understand why the fuck canon status matters.

Oh wait, it doesn’t.

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I’m reading Star Wars: Aftermath

This is the first Star Wars book I’ve read. I don’t give a pair of dingo’s kidneys for Admiral Thrawn. I’ve only dug a small way into Part 2 so I can’t properly review it, but here’s what I can say with certainty:

  1. It is very Wendig. If you like him you will like this book.
  2. The jagoffs giving it one star for any reason other than they don’t like Wendig’s highly distinctive prose style are full of shit.

This is all.

Trolls Never Sleep

a-close-friend-1499922I’ve had it up to here with the culture wars.

This was going to be a post about what happened to Chuck Wendig. Jim C. Hines has a decent write-up on that up, and while I disagree with him ever so slightly on one point it’s a good general writeup.

Wendig himself also has some stuff to say on the topic.

And this would have been enough for a full blog post right here. The issue with Wendig’s books, and the response both of the culture warriors who I’ve taken to calling antisocial injustice warriors (after all, if they oppose what SJWs stand for…) and of the EU fans who will lash out at any change to the Star Wars canon dovetails so perfectly with Gamergate and the Sad Puppies on so many levels that it’d certainly be in keeping with some of my usual topics.

But then New Zealand went and banned a YA novel on the grounds that it upset vocal Christians. When I say they banned it I’m being literal. Give the book to a friend and you’re facing a $3,000 NZD fine. Sell it in a store and your store gets a $10,000 NZD fine.

So here’s a link to Amazon.com for anybody who wants to buy it. Because with state censorship that’s basically the only response I can make.

I just can’t with all this today. I want to talk more about how parts of fandom have become toxic with what Wendig poetically calls, “weaponized nostalgia.” This vile habit of longing for an imagined better time, and attacking creatives in the present for not adhering to the standard of this fantasy land has actually soured me on the very idea of nostalgia at all. If Michael Bay’s TMNT ruined your childhood, YOU HAD AN AWFUL FUCKING CHILDHOOD ALREADY.

But it’s not just the weaponized nostalgia. It’s the regressive taint-stains who can’t tolerate the idea that the world has moved on without them: that the average person under the age of 25 is so comfortable with the idea of the Kinsey Scale that only a quarter of respondents age 14 to 24 in a recent British survey self-identified as exclusively heterosexual; that books for teens should address the anxieties, conflicts and dangers faced by modern teenagers, rather than trying to sugar-coat the world; that marginalized people have gotten enough of a platform to point out institutional biases and try to do something about them.

But these trolls, these nihilistic dinosaurs so wedded to a past that never was, are just so relentless. I go away for a weekend and they’re attacking Scalzi, I get back they’re already on to the next raid, attacking Wendig. And then another group go after this Ted Dawe author. And that’s even ignoring perennial targets like K. Tempest Bradford, who puts up with more bullshit from these trolls in a week than most people should have to in a lifetime.

And I’m like: don’t these assholes have lives to live?

So I’m tired.

I’m tired of shouting into the void that life is changing and you can either learn to live with it or get out of the way.

I’m tired of bigots being given platforms because they’re good old boys who remember when men were men and rayguns were chrome.

I’m tired of backward religious fanatics trying to cram their holy books down the world’s throat.

I’m sick of all this shit.

Hi, I’m Simon. And here’s what I pledge: if you say don’t read women or people of colour I’m going to. I will because there are some amazing people in those groups writing amazing books.

If you one-star Wendig for putting gay characters in Star Wars, or even if you do it just because you’re angry his books aren’t about Admiral Thrawn, I’m going to buy his book, read it and then give it the fucking rating it deserves on Amazon (which, considering how much I liked every other Wendig book will probably be 4-5 stars).

If you ban a book because it hurts conservative feels I’m going to bloody well put a link directly to its sales page on my blog.

These fucking trolls may never sleep. But at the very least we can make sure all they’re doing is ramming their thick skulls into the wall of historical inevitability.

No, actually I just really liked that book.

There’s a situation unfolding right now that has me pretty steamed. But I’m not convinced that I can really add much to the conversation that hasn’t already been said by people who are both more affected and more involved.

In light of that a quick suggested reading list:

A storify to bring you up to speed on the key argument

A link to the comments which precipitated the situation

An extract on File 770 quoting the comment

Alyssa Wong’s blog (she hasn’t written about this situation there as of posting, but it’s still worth adding to your reading list).

A backgrounder on fail_fandmanon

I’m happy to add to this list if anybody knows of other places its being discussed. Priority will be given to Chinese voices.

Again, I’m pretty outraged about the comments, but the worst of them (certainly the actually slurry part) were pointed firmly at Chinese people, so for the most part I’d rather just shut up and let the affected people speak for themselves.

There is one thing I do want to mention: I voted for the Three Body Problem. I’ve publicly said that it not only deserved the Hugo but also deserves some serious consideration in the big literary fiction prizes. And I don’t say this hyperbolically. When I reviewed the book long before it was on the Hugo ballot, I mentioned how it incorporated themes regarding chaos and stability in multiple levels and ways, creating a wonderful thesis about the shape of history with a deft touch that belied a depth of introspection and of reading.

I’m jumping the gun a bit since I haven’t finished, but I see similar signs in The Dark Forest despite this book having a rather different central thesis. What’s more, one of the first parallels that stood out to me is with Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain, which won the Nobel Prize. Gao’s assessment of how we construct ideas of the identities of the people in our lives is a brilliant part of what makes that book special, and the same key questions are explored with Liu’s book as part of a multi-leveled question regarding the boundaries of communication.

When you combine Liu’s deftness with thesis construction and exploration with the evident depth of his reading you already have something worthy of serious academic recognition. Adding in the exceptional translation artistry of Ken Liu in the first volume just is icing on the cake.

So, no, I didn’t vote for the Three Body Problem to support communism. And anyone who would default to that suggestion is an asshole. That being said, the suggestion that one must either A) repudiate all communism or B) love the cultural revolution, is such an obvious example of both Black or White fallacies and Loaded Question fallacies that this construction alone is kind of insulting.

I am an anarcho-communist. Being communist is a big part of that. So is a large anarchist streak. This is an admittedly utopian view, which is why I generally default to positions not THAT far off of social democracy for practical discussion, BUT, it is one that is antithetical to the authoritarian excesses of the stalinist and maoist states.

Look at it this way: if I said you must either repudiate Capitalism entirely or love Augusto Pinochet, you’d say I wasn’t being fair. But that’s what this construction is proposing!

Furthermore there’s a lot of arrogance in the assumption somebody knows what Liu’s thoughts are about the Chinese state entirely from his writing on the Cultural Revolution in one book. Spoiler alert: plenty of people in China are both patriotic and think that MUCH of what happened between the ’50s and the ’70s was wrong. And some don’t. And others aren’t patriotic. Because China is a huge, massively diverse place. And for the most part people are able to form opinions about stuff there subject to no more propagandist control than the average American. And history is inherently complex, which lends nuanced and complex perspectives on nationhood strength, not just in China but pretty much anywhere people actually spend the time and effort to think about the question in more complex terms than, “how many tea bags can I staple to a tri-corn hat?”

Ok, so that went on longer than I intended. Basically, short form: if somebody says, “that’s a slur, don’t call my people that,” then apologize and find different ways of describing those people in the future. It’s a fucking slur. And if you’re only doing this to try to score a weak rhetorical point by proposing that readers of an exceptional novel that is very worthy of awards on literary merit alone, notwithstanding politics, only awarded the book because of what you view as their misreading of that book’s author’s politics, perhaps you should get your head out of your own ass.

Fandom is not a family

happy-family-1316701-639x797Ok, I know this one will probably get me some flack but it needs saying, because it’s an idea which has impacted the frames of reference for our current conversations: Famdom is not a family. What this means is that it’s a cop-out to say, “I put up with homophobe uncle John and besides he doesn’t know any better,” as a justification for why we should just accept that our sub-culture will always include bigots.

But what is Fandom if not a family?

Fandom is a loose-knit collection of communities

Seriously, even calling Fandom one community, let alone one family, is a misnomer. There is a professional organization called SFWA, another called the HWA, there are various convention boards and membership lists, and each of these things could be called a community. And some people cross between these groups, some people might be in dozens of these groups, but that doesn’t mean the groups are all one polyglot community.

And this is important, because people can choose who they want in their communities. Part of the core of all this year’s kerfuffle was when, a while back, a certain individual was invited to leave one community (SFWA) after a public meltdown.

Fandom is a sub-culture

With specialized language (mention a SMOF to one of your non-fannish colleagues and see the look of complete unrecognition), dress (not just cosplay either, the ribbons, the pins, they’re dress markers), and interests (obviously) fandom is almost the textbook definition of a sub-culture. And, looked at in this sense we don’t have much choice about who adopts those cultural markers. Anybody can like genre fiction if they want. Anybody can learn the Turkey City Lexicon and the acronyms that get tossed around at cons. Anybody can learn what the in-jokes are and what those damn ribbons mean.

But here’s another example of a sub-culture: punk rock. Now both Jello Biafra and Michale Graves are very much part of the punk rock sub-culture but they probably have almost entirely different takes on politics, philosophy and well… everything. There’s probably nobody who would suggest that the former lead singers of the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits are not real punks; and yet Biafra is a left-anarchist, while Graves is a staunch conservative.

And yet, I doubt anybody would try to talk those two into touring together either.

Fandom is a workplace

Not for everybody, but for lots of people: writers and actors, makers and booksellers. For these people Fandom is where they work. It’s simultaneously built of their suppliers, colleagues and customers, sometimes all in one body.

Now here’s where we can make some progress between the wide-open, anybody can sign on nature of a sub-culture and the much more exclusive nature of specific communities. Because we have a pretty strong understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable reasons to invite somebody to leave a workplace. And it’s not because you don’t like their politics. But when it crosses a line from, “I disagree with this person,” to, “this person is harassing their co-workers,” then we’ve got a pretty good reason to exclude them.

And this is a pretty good litmus for how to decide what people we want in the Fandom tent. We want the people who don’t:

  • Touch inappropriately, stalk and sexually harass people
  • Threaten people with violence or incite other people to violence
  • Advocating for the extermination of a sub-set of people or for discrimination against people on the basis of inherent traits
  • etc.

And I’m going to say right now that there’s plenty of conservatives who don’t do any of these things. And there are leftists and centerists who do some or all of these things. And how we treat them should not be dependent on their position on a political spectrum but on their actions.

And besides, why do you tolerate bigotry from your relatives?

My relatives are pretty cool so I don’t have much experience with this, though I have to remind certain relatives on occasion that Conservative does not equal stupid or evil; and the thing is I do that even though I disagree entirely with everything Conservativism stands for, because I understand that it’s possible for decent people to disagree wildly.

But if a relative told a racist joke at Thanksgiving dinner, I’d say, “that’s racist. Why would you say that?” Progress depends on us, personally, having the courage of conviction to confront outmoded and harmful discourse.

If you say, “Oh, that’s just Aunt Jane, she’s from another time / some specific place / this or that faith; she doesn’t know any better, bless her heart,” you’re letting that particular thread continue unchallenged. And bigotry should be confronted by all decent people wherever it’s found.

Fandom is my workplace. I come there to network, to sell and to buy. I come there to learn and to teach. Many of my friends are members of the communities that compose fandom, and I’m happy to use the elements of material culture that signify membership in the sub-culture. But it’s not my family. So while I’m happy for the big tent to include communists, anarchists, socialists, liberals, centerists, conservatives and libertarians, I won’t tolerate harassers and unrepentant bigots. A big tent is great, but we can choose what is acceptable behaviour in our group. And if somebody violates that behaviour we can invite them to leave.

Post Hugo Roundup

Another roundup of links related to the fallout of the Hugos. Again, sharing link doesn’t imply either endorsement or chastisement of the contents.

Let’s start with the absolute craziest as John C. Wright produces an absolutely unhinged screed claiming that us not awarding him, the greatest gift to writing since clay tablets, lets Patrick Nielsen Hayden (also the gays?) win.

Brad Torgersen says he’s afraid he’ll never be allowed to forget his leadership of the Sad Puppy campaign and also that the Hugos really aren’t that big a deal anyway.

Larry Correia claims that Fandom is both monolithic enough to require Sad Puppy slate voting and so fractuous that the slate voting isn’t really needed to push names onto the ballot.

Vox Day probably said something too but I don’t care what he thinks.

John Scalzi suggests that acting like a jerk doesn’t pay.

This tumblr thread discusses why the Alfies were not the secret SJW Hugos.

Black Gate suggests that the failure of the Puppy slate might have to do more with the quality of the work than any political consideration.

Nick Mamatas also invites Sad Puppy partisans to defend the quality of the nominated works.

The Guardian reports on GRRM’s reaction to the Hugo results.

Tobias Buckell mocked up an alternate world ballot for the Hugos in which the Puppy campaigns hadn’t overrun the nominations.

Wired provided a moderately measured piece on the entire affair. Which was justifiably criticized for striking a tone as if women and people of colour were new to SFF (which they certainly aren’t).

Flavorwire attempted a brief summary of the whole mess.

Asia Times (and the China Daily) mostly just concentrated on the Best Novel win for Liu Cixin, entirely ignoring the puppy kerfuffle in their coverage.

NPR warns that this may not be a loss for the puppies, depending on how their goals are defined.

The Nielsen Haydens hosted a discussion thread on their blog which is mostly interesting for some otherwise quiet big names who popped in to leave their five cents.

Aliette De Bodard saw the Hugos as a win for a global vision of SF/F between the Liu Cixin / Ken Liu and Thomas Olde Heuvelt wins.

This is from before the awards but it is still relevant so I’ll include it: Kelly Robson suggested mediation between Puppy and other interest groups would be more productive than fighting.

Mike Selinker proposed a suggested fix for the Hugos based on video game testing methodology.

Abigail Nussbaum argues against the Hugos being seen as elitist or progressive to begin with, suggesting they tend to be populist and middle of the road.

Adam Shaftoe seconds Kelly Robson’s proposal for mediation and discourse.

Frank Wu suggests puppies abandon block voting in exchange for some big-name authors providing exposure to some Puppy-favourite work.

File 770 published a thorough collection of quotes from all sides.

An exceptional analysis from Eric Flint.

Arthur Chu suggests that the Sad Puppies really only exist online, thanks to the ability of the internet to favour those willing to burn the most time on an issue, and are effectively absent from physical spaces.

I may add to this as I see new things of interest. I moderate comments with a light hand but I too have a copy of Scalzi’s mallet of loving correction which I will use as I see fit. Please feel free to share links to either side of this discussion, except for Vox Day. No link to his blog will get out of moderation.

There Was Never A Conspiracy

Sad dogThe Hugo awards are over and it was, as many anticipated, a banner year for that amazing content creator: No Award.

So, of course, this has led to the usual round of recriminations and accusations, with many of the central puppy figures proclaiming that their failure to receive awards in the categories they so thoroughly gamed is proof of a conspiracy. Some accuse specific individuals in the publishing industry of being the insidious masterminds of this terrible anti-christian (apparently) plot. Others claim that they were actually the masterminds of a cunning plot wherein they couldn’t possibly lose, because all they really wanted was to smash as much as possible.

Brad Torgersen, who sadly represents the most reasonable reaches of official puppydom simply cherry-picked his examples to make the big take-away that “organized” fandom “threw women under the bus.” But, of course, this implies by its formulation that there was an organized response to the puppy slate.

This is simply and fundamentally untrue. There was no conspiracy to overthrow the puppies, hell the vast swath of people who were blogging regarding the whole puppy mess couldn’t even agree on the best way to respond.

What really happened, at its most simple, is that fandom, as a whole came together and pushed the sad puppies collective noses in the wet spot they’d left on our kitchen floor. We saw a broad, thorough and entirely grassroots repudiation of the slate stacking that the puppies got up to.

And yes, that meant a few deserving people didn’t get awards. I voted “no award” for most of the puppy categories, but I voted for Sheila Gilbert in #1 for editor, the only editor I put above “no award.” I also ranked Abyss and Apex highly on my ballot – it was a very tight category and while I ultimately ranked Lightspeed first I kind of questioned them being listed as semi-pro rather than professional.

Had they not withdrawn I would have voted for Black Gate highly and the same of Marko Kloos, Kevin Anderson (edit: I know he didn’t withdraw, I put him above No Award) and Annie Bellet (I haven’t read Kloos’ book yet though I intend to but from what I understand of it I’d likely have placed it just below Ancillary Sword on my ballot which, prior to the Three Body Problem entering the ballot with Kloos’ departure was my first pick).

As you can see, despite voting “no award” for almost all the short fiction categories, I was not one of the, “if they’re on a puppy slate vote ’em below no award unread” types. I’m not saying nobody was, obviously many people took that position. But I think they did so for a variety of reasons, and not out of some sort of unified political objective.

Frankly there were probably quite a few people who voted “no award” because the quality of the selected work was poor. I mean, I have been a long-time Jim Butcher fan, but Skin Game was possibly his worst novel, and was definitely his worst offering in the Dresden Files series. As much as I have enjoyed his past work, that was the book that almost made me stop buying his books, and that’s not something that’s really Hugo worthy. (I still ranked it above no award.)

And frankly, the novel category is where the Puppy slate was at their most reasonable. The cranks and would-be Ayn Rands who comprised the majority of the short fiction articles deserved to be ranked below No Award. I can’t even get through one of John C. Wright’s unhinged blog posts without fighting the urge to wretch, let alone his fiction.

I’m an openly marxist, politically active, bisexual author who frequently calls himself an anarcho-communist. I am effectively a living, breathing avatar for the SJWs that the puppies seem to believe rule fandom in secret. And yet I seem to have missed a memo. Because my influence extends, at most, to a small group of small press affiliated genre writers in Toronto. That’s if I’m being generous. I met the Nielsen-Haydens once. They seemed like nice people. I met John Scalzi a few times. He gave me some writing advice which later benefited me. If these people are masters of some fell conspiracy you’d think they’d give me a shout-out to act as a foot soldier for them. But… nothing. Not even a dog whistle.

There is no conspiracy. There is just a diverse collection of fans who rejected the Puppy’s vision of the genre. So let’s lay this tired beast to bed and get back to building the future.

Hollywood and Fan Creator culture – copyright isn’t as simple as pirates and police

sad youtubeI’ve always been a fan of the Addams Family, as such it isn’t surprising that I found Melissa Hunter‘s fanseries, “Adult Wednesday Addams” to be absolutely adorable.

So I was sad a few days ago when I found out it had been pulled. Speculation on the internet was  that it was brought down because of backlash over the cat-calling episode (which I really wish I could link to because it was absolutely brilliant, sadly, it is now gone).

This does not actually appear to be the case. Rather the issue is an entirely different one, and one which is much more complex than yet another blow in the ongoing culture war would have been.

When I heard about the copyright strike against Adult Wednesday Addams I immediately visited the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation, the rights-holder for the Addams Family, and the organization which had brought the copyright strike against Hunter’s series.

I located the contact information and wrote the following letter to them:

I’ve always been a fan of the Addams Family in pretty much every one of its iterations. And I was a huge fan of the Adult Wednesday Addams webseries, which was funny, intelligent and tonally in keeping with the character. As such, I’m distraught over the news that your foundation has forced its removal from Youtube.

While I understand that you are the copyright holder, and legally you are acting within your rights, I think in this case you are sorely mistaken to have taken this action.

I ask, as a fan, please do not obstruct this wonderful little webseries.


sincerely,

Simon McNeil

I didn’t expect any response, but I figured letter writing campaigns have been successful in the past, and the best way for them to be successful is for somebody to start writing letters.

However I was mistaken. A mere four hours after I wrote to the foundation, I received a response from Kevin Miserocchi, the Executive Director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

Here is what he said to me:

Dear Simon McNeil,

Thank you for your comments concerning Charles Addams and his Family and the suspension of Melissa Hunter’s on line series titled The Adult Wednesday Addams. Perhaps this will help to enlighten you about the situation that has caused this to happen rather than assuming we don’t care. Unfortunately for all involved it is not as simple as you may be thinking it is: The Moneyed Establishment versus The Artist – on the contrary.

We have a contract with MGM to produce a full-length animated feature film of The Addams Family® to look exactly as Charles Addams originally painted them. That contract prohibits anyone from portraying those characters in any media during the life of the contract.

Regardless of her talent or the breadth of her audience or the entertainment it gave you, the online series is a violation of that contract, something for which both Melissa Hunter and this Foundation could have been sued heavily. You can thank Melissa Hunter for not having understood the need to contact us so as to obtain a license to protect her show. Now it is too late and she will have to wait to resume her career as the Adult Wednesday Addams© until a year after the film has been released. Hopefully, she realizes that she already has an audience and merely needs to change the title of her show and her appearance.

With best regards,
H. Kevin Miserocchi, Executive Director

So what we have is instead what appears to be a pretty awful contract. Apparently, MGM has purchased an exclusive license to the Addams Family in all media. Furthermore, according to Mr. Miserocchi, the foundation is liable for enforcing copyright on behalf of the license holder (MGM) at risk of lawsuit.

That’s all rather odious.

Now I will note that the substantial snark in the last paragraph is not very nice; and comes off a bit disingenuous. If the contract is as strict as Miserocchi describes previously, it wouldn’t have mattered if Hunter had come to the Foundation first, they would have been required to say, “no.” And I rather doubt her webseries could provide sufficient revenue to beat out MGM if it came to a competitive bid. Whatever MGM paid the foundation for this license I’d suggest they invest some of that money into a PR coordinator because there would have been much more diplomatic ways to communicate the message above.

And here’s where things get complicated. Adult Wednesday Addams is a perfect example of a fanseries. It was created by a single person (or a very small team), it has a very limited cast, episodes are based on a straightforward simple premise, riffing on something the creator / star / director / writer obviously loves.

But videos on Youtube are monetized, and the Adult Wednesday Addams videos, based on the number of views they had before being taken down and the average payout for ad-views on Youtube, might have made as much as $13,770.

Now that’s not much money, but it’s not nothing. And it’s money made through the unlicensed use of a copyrighted piece of IP.

There are two main camps on this issue. On one hand, some people will say that copyright in this case is just established industry players cutting out small-scale creatives. Considering it’s posthumous IP (Charles Addams died in 1988) they’d probably argue for some flexibility. And besides, Adult Wednesday Addams wasn’t hurting anybody and certainly wasn’t stealing any bank from MGM.

The other camp would argue that what Hunter did was technically illegal, and that the Foundation acted both within their rights but also within their own best interest pulling the plug.

I come down somewhere in the middle. My personal opinion about copyright terms would, if it were magically converted into law, put the Addams Family in the public domain – just barely (I’m a proponent of lifetime + 20 years). And 13 grand (or less) is really not that much money. And honestly the Adult Wednesday Addams webseries wouldn’t be likely to impact MGM’s revenue in the slightest – the enforcement of such strict contract terms on the foundation by MGM seems a bit overreaching.

On the other hand, the state of the law in the United States is (very loosely speaking) lifetime + 70 years, and Adult Wednesday Addams was a potentially revenue-generating product making use of that IP. And there’s a reason that Fan Fiction writers don’t sell their stories.

So I do see both sides of the argument, and both have some merit. I think, ultimately, our current copyright climate is poorly designed to handle technologies like Youtube, which can automatically take a piece of fan fiction and convert it into a profit-generating product. This isn’t even the first time this year that we’ve seen this problem.

I think we need to reexamine copyright law within the bounds of new technology. Doubling down on penalties through things like the Digital Milennium Copyright Act hasn’t worked; the vast grey area between fan product and professional product demonstrates that clearly. But copyright is also important; as much as I might like creative commons licensing and as much as I might call for a shorter than average copyright period, I’m not against copyright as a concept.

But studios and rights-holders suing or threatening to sue fans for their enthusiasm over IP isn’t cool either.

I don’t think I have an answer for this one guys. But if you do, please let me know.

You probably shouldn’t sue somebody for stealing your idea

One of these days I’ll get around to reviewing Haxan (which I really want to write a review about) but it won’t be today sadly, because today somebody named Peter Joseph Gallagher sued Joss Whedon and basically everybody Whedon works with over The Cabin in the Woods.

Now let’s start by making sure to draw some goalposts. I’m an advocate for a robust public domain, I’ve come on record calling for shorter copyright periods before. I’ve also said privately that if anybody ever cared enough about anything I wrote to make fanfic / other stories in the world I built / etc. I wouldn’t likely care as long as they A) were not profiting from my IP and B) gave credit where credit was due.

However I’m not an advocate for unrestricted copyright violation. And this isn’t going to be a screed on the evils of copyright. As far as I’m concerned a content creator has every right to expect that other people won’t start profiting off their work.

Now copyright is a prickly subject, especially when you’re dealing with something so deliberately tropey as Cabin in the Woods (which is in the host of various media that probably, quite legitimately, owes Sam Raimi $10.) So before we descend into an issue as laden with satire / fair use wiggle room and overtly archetypal elements as The Cabin in the Woods let’s examine a much more straightforward example.

The Life of Pi and Max and the Cats

With thanks to Heather Emme for bringing this example to my attention.

In 1981 Moacyr Scliar wrote a novella called Max and the Cats about a boy who finds himself trapped on a lifeboat with a jaguar after his ship sinks.

In 2002 Yann Martel wrote a novel called Life of Pi, about a boy who ends up trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger after his ship sinks. Martel’s book went on to win the Booker Prize. In Life of Pi, Martel thanked Scliar, calling his earlier story the “spark of life,” for the latter.

Martel later said some very douchey comments, claiming not to have read the book and saying, “I didn’t really want to read it. Why put up with the gall? Why put up with a brilliant premise ruined by a lesser writer?”

Scliar and his publisher originally considered pursuing legal action but the authors were eventually able to settle their dispute without intervention from the courts.

There’s SO much going on in this example. We have an author who openly admits the influence of the previous work and then back-pedals in the nastiest way possible when he’s called on it. We have premises that are effectively identical. We have similar executions (lit-fic novella vs lit-fic novel) and in both cases we have widely respected authors. Scliar was one of Brazil’s most respected authors. Martel is widely regarded as a powerful writer (they don’t give away Bookers to just anybody).

And yet…

And yet…

Ultimately this wasn’t settled in the courts. And as much as I think how Martel responded to the initial complaints was awful. Despite Martel’s straight up lie that he read an Updike review of the book (such a review does not exist), despite how similar these stories were in both premise and execution, ultimately what they really shared was an idea: a boy, on a boat, with a predator cat.

And that’s not really what copyright is there to protect. The ability of ideas to cross-pollinate, of Tolkien to be influenced by Wagner who was influenced by Germanic myth, is a fundamentally important one. And yes, it can be abused. No system is immune to abuse. But when we strike out at the fact of literary inspiration and cross-fertilization in the name of copyright protection it is ultimately more harmful to the arts as a whole than not doing so would be.

I’m not saying Yann Martel was justified ripping off a respected Brazilian author and expecting nobody would notice. I’m not saying he was right to double-down by insulting the author when he was caught out. But there’s a difference between doing something worthy of social censure and something worthy of legal censure. Ultimately I think Martel earned scorn, but not a judgment of the courts.

Complicate a Situation: Just add tropes, parody, and Hollywood money

So here’s what we know about Peter Joseph Gallagher’s book:

  1. He self-published a run in 2007 of 2,500 which he claims in his court statement nearly sold out, leading him to print a second run of 5,000 copies.
  2. He was selling books on the street in a neighborhood that Joss Whedon has lived in.
  3. The book describes a group of five highly archetypical horror movie type protagonists going to a cabin in the woods, encountering a weird artifact room (a-la evil dead) and then are attacked by a killer. The twist is that they’re being manipulated into reliving horror movie tropes for the amusement of a viewing audience.
  4. There are other cosmetic similarities described between the book and the film, but they mostly boil down to tropes will be tropey.

So ultimately what this boils down to is Gallagher saying that Whedon used the idea of a trope-aware horror story in which an in-universe audience is secretly controlling the protagonists.

Most of the other elements of the stories boil down to the fact that Whedon deliberately used tropes. Heck, the archetypes that each character represented are carved on giant walls below the secret base. There are conversations in the book about the role that the characters, as archetypal avatars fulfill in stories. Whedon et. al weren’t going for “original idea” so much as “deconstruction of very well-worn ideas.”

I haven’t read Gallagher’s book. And since copies of it on Amazon are currently selling at over $1000 a copy thanks to opportunistic bookjackers (and the one and only copy at the Barnes and Noble website is going for almost $90) I’m not going to read his book. However, even if we assume that he was also doing a deliberately self-aware deconstruction of the horror genre based on an examination of well-worn ideas, that still doesn’t make this copyright violation. Because you can’t copyright a concept. And that’s all that this is, a concept.

But there’s more. Because Whedon’s work is largely considered a satire. And fair use gives extra leniency to works of satire and parody to play fast and loose with copyright. So even if Whedon was lampooning Gallagher rather than Raimi he’d still have a strong defense for these alleged violations.

What we have here is unfortunately a common dispute: person has idea, writes book, makes no money. Later, somebody in Hollywood has similar idea. Writes script. Makes movie. Makes much money. Book writer says, “but I was first,” and sues for a chunk of the money for “their” idea. Except you can’t copyright an idea. That’s why Sophia Stewart will probably never get any money from the Wachowskis.

And unlike in the case between Scliar and Martel, the execution between Gallagher and Whedon is vastly different. Gallagher framed his story, according to the reports I’ve read, around issues surrounding reality television and the ways in which reality TV producers deploy fiction tropes against unscripted participants to create conflict and ratings. Whedon deconstructed the genre by suggesting a shadowy cabal trying to keep down a world-ending menace by committing lesser evils to keep it placated. In one execution, entertainment is evil. In the other, entertainment placates evil. These are different riffs on  theme.

And of course, one is a book, the other a film and they have vastly diverging plots, trope use notwithstanding.

I imagine it can be very frustrating to see a product succeed when it’s so similar to something you worked on in relative obscurity. However, even when there is a very clear link between two very similar pieces of media, resolving out of court may be the better option. When all the two stories share is the kernel of an idea, it’s not theft. There’s an old adage, I think I read it in Writer magazine back in the day: Ideas are cheap. And they are. Artists, for the most part, get ideas like most people get cups of coffee. Sometimes an idea sticks, and you do something noteworthy with it. Other times it doesn’t.

If two people happen to have the same idea it might be because one inspired the other, in which case they should own up to that (I’ve never hidden the influence of Jin Yong on my work) in other cases it might just be random chance. Regardless, suing over an idea probably isn’t the best way to handle it.

Hugo roundup

There’s been a pretty big book worth of ink spilled over the Hugo ballots. Here’s what some people are saying:

This is what I’ve read so far, and could remember how to find. A note, I don’t agree with all of what’s been said on this list, and unless my comments include a specific endorsement (such as calling something “on of the most detailed and thoughtful analyses of the Sad Puppies) inclusion on the roundup should not be construed as overt endorsement of the comments therein. Furthermore, unless I include specifically incendiary language (ex: “rants about SMOFs and SJWs”) inclusion should not be considered criticism of the comments. My criteria is literally, “I read it and thought it mentioned something unique regarding the debate.” Please share links of interest in the comments and I’ll update the roundup periodically with additional links.