The Interest Factor

There are two phases in the life span of a creative work, namely when the author has an interest in the work, and when he has lost interest in the work. There is more to it than that: there are different types of interest, interest may be rekindled, and one interest may be worth more to an author than the other. However, I do not think it is a stretch to state that interest is high near the creation of a work, and gets less as time progresses: the author, eventually, loses interest, and then he dies.

Copyright law is there for several reasons. Actually, if you are American, you believe it is only there for one reason: to protect the interest of the public. The author’s interests do not enter into it. At least, that’s the theory, modern US copyright law very much aims to protect the interests of authors, and especially those of publishers. (Don’t ask me how they got to be in the picture.)

In Europe, we believe that copyright, apart from incentivizing authors, is mainly there to reward authors, and because they gain a natural right by creating a work.

The interesting thing about copyright law, is that it more or less presumes the interests of the author to be unchangeable. Not only that, but it tries to protect these interests as if they are at their strongest.

Of course, the public loses out big time in this scenario. When an author has lost all interest in a work, the public is still not allowed to mix, rip and burn it.

Photos of the Netherlands in 1906

There is, now and again, and I must admit this, a certain stuffiness to the public domain texts I help save at Project Gutenberg. Luckily, we have started making illustrated HTML versions since recently, which helps alleviate the stuffiness.

And sometimes, the pictures alone are worth it. If you look past the fact that the photos portray the Dutch in full blast sentimentalist touristy view, the kick-ass portraits in Door Holland met pen en camera (choose the HTML,None version) make the ebook well worth checking out.

(Surgeon General’s health warning: hair dressers are advised not to follow the above link, lest they die laughing.)

Kliper space craft commences

With all the talk about suborbital space ships, it’s easy to forget that the Russians were thinking of building a Soyuz replacement, but lacked the money. Projected costs were around 300 million US$, IIRC, which is still said to be cheaper than a single space shuttle launch. (A Soyuz launch is rumoured to cost around 20 million US$, but only seats three–the Kliper can take six or seven people into orbit and beyond.)

Well, it seems that money has been found, and the building is underway. A press release from the Russian space agency has pictures. I did not realize this thing actually has a door!

The Kliper builders are not the only ones short of cash. Wired Magazine discusses how American builders of sub-orbital space planes and rockets have to angle for money, and how they look to filthy rich sugar daddies like Paul Allen and Richard Branson to hand it over. This got me thinking; in the Middle East, there are plenty of wealthy oil sheiks who have no idea what to do with their money. Why don’t they invest it in the Kliper? After the Space Shuttle has been phased out, the Kliper will for a time be the only ship capable of bringing people into orbit, so that would seem a sound investment. Also, it would give them a chance to build their own space port–Dubai is a fair bit closer to the equator than Kazakhstan.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 30 Seconds, Bunnies

(Link now dead) (Now alive again) The http://www.starz.com/se/features/hareraising/texaschainsaw.htmlTexas Chainsaw Massacre in 30 Seconds, Re-enacted by Bunnies.

VBDK: Cool clocks

Cool clocks made of found objects.

Via BoingBoing.

(Or perhaps I have understood this VBDK thing; should it only be NSFW?)

Oldie: poems of mass destruction

Apparently, this has been around for awhile, but I liked it, so will repeat it: after hearing that the White House cancelled a tea for poets, because some of them were going to (gasp! shock! horror!) protest the war in Iraq, Julia Alvarez wrote “The White House Has Disinvited the Poets”.

The White House has disinvited the poets
to a cultural tea in honor of poetry
after the Secret Service got wind of a plot
to fill Mrs. Bush’s ears with anti-war verse.
Were they afraid the poets might persuade
a sensitive girl who always loved to read,
a librarian who stocked the shelves with Poe
and Dickinson? Or was she herself afraid
to be swayed by the cooing doves, and live at odds
with the screaming hawks in her family?

(More at Culture Cat)

Nice picturebook

OK, go to http://www.livejournal.com/users/skiv/330081.html and look at the pretty pictures without looking at the text (which shouldn’t be hard if you cannot read Cyrillic).

Cyrillic rhymes with idyllic, so what do think these nice pictures are about?

It is a book for children about the ecessity-nay of axes-tay!

SciFi: Master of his Fate

Neil Barron’s bibliography Horror Literature describes it as follows: “Mystery story about a man who must continually renew his health and vitality by draining the vital energy of others. Often compared to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but it is more closely related to stories of psychic vampirism, and in allowing the psychic vampire to give his own side of the story it anticipates such modern exercises in vampire existentialism as Charnas’s The Vampire Tapestry.

That sounds like a description of every third or fourth Star Trek episode to me, but Master of his Fate by J. Maclaren Cobban was written long before Gene Roddenberry was a glint in the eyes of his parents.

(I helped re-produce this book for Project Gutenberg for Distributed Proofreader’s Halloween proofathon. Available as ‘plain vanilla text’ and HTML.)

Want to change copyright?

Want to change copyright? Here’s your chance!

The European Commission has, er, pardon the pun, commissioned a report on how the different copyright directives in the E.U. can be aligned so that the rules can be further harmonized.

Harmonization, that is: true harmonization, would be good news for Project Gutenberg, of which I am a volunteer. For a while now, a group of volunteers has been contemplating a Dutch or even a E.U. Project Gutenberg.

However, as it is, even with a much more clear-cut copyright regime, the American Project Gutenberg gets threatened with law-suits often enough. The morass of European copyright laws is a much larger threat for a European Project Gutenberg.

If you want to comment on the Commission’s proposals for harmonization, you can do so before October 31.

All interested parties are invited to do so.

“What!”, you cry, “that means I have only got two days.”

Well, that is true. But if something is hindering you in the current E.U. copyright regime, two days should be sufficient to write that down. Remember, those civil servants are excellent at comparing stuffy rules to spot what’s wrong with them on a theoretical level, but they can very well use your real-word examples to back them up.

For instance, I love text adventures. Most text adventures, even though perhaps dozens (if not hundreds) still get created every year, are abandoned. They are games from the heyday of adventuring, and their copyright holders are often hard to find, and finding them does not always guarantee that you will be allowed to play or distribute their games. (My experience is that this is mainly because the rights holders do not want the hassle!)

These games were an important factor in my growing up, yet they are disappearing from this world at an alarming rate. If there had not been thousands of people willing to infringe copyrights, most of these games might not even exist anymore.

So this is what I am going to write the commission: that there should be a system to deal with abandoned works. That letting libraries and/or museums take care of this has proven inefficient, because they are slow to respond to new types of works. That stowing away works in stuffy museums is not going to help; in order to relive them, we should be able to replay them.

My note is going to be a bit longer, but mostly along those lines.

Minister Donners welcomes CC licenses

He seems to be one of the few who think that copyright as it is, is quite all right and need not be changed: Minister of Justice Piet Hein Donner (christian conservatives) recently wrote a letter to Dutch parliament (Dutch PDF) saying as much.

However, he did note a favourable change in the copyright landscape. About Creative Commons he wrote:

“Tegen deze achtergrond verwelkom ik uiteraard initiatieven zoals Creative Commons, waarmee de verspreiding van auteursrechtelijk beschermde werken via Internet op basis van een stelsel van standaardlicenties wordt gestimuleerd zonder dat inbreuk op het auteursrecht wordt gemaakt (vgl. www.creativecommons.nl).”

(Against this background [that of free access to information–Branko] I welcome intiatives like that of Creative Commons, with which distribution of copyrighted works via internet on the basis of a set of standard licenses is being encouraged without infringing on copyrights (cp. www.creativecommons.nl).)

Actually, he wrote ‘copyright protected works’, but I am not going to follow him in that use of entertainment industry propaganda jargon: works are rarely protected by copyright, and commonly destroyed by it.