Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

On this last day of 2006, I wish all of you happiness, success and good health in the New Year.

While I cherish many quotes from Mark Twain, my favorite is appropriate for starting a new year:

Dance as though no one is watching you.
Love as though you have never been hurt.
Sing as though no one can hear you.
Live as though heaven is on earth.

Best wishes,


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saying Goodbye to 2006 and Its Scandals

J.T. LeRoy, James Frey, Nasdijj, Ben Domenech, Kaavya Viswanathan, O.J. Simpson.

Remember those names? Each of those writers was associated with a literary scandal in the year 2006. In fact, 2006 experienced one literary scandal after another. As a writer and a person who likes to seek order in chaos, I found myself wondering if these six had more in common than writing and scandal.

If you do a "search" on this blog or on Wikipedia for the following names, you'll find detailed accounts of the scandals. Below is a thumbnail sketch of each:

J.T. Leroy is the pseudonym of writer Laura Albert. Since 1999, Albert has published four books under the name Leroy. She claimed to be a victim of child abuse, a former prostitute who had once been homeless. She also claimed to be HIV positive and transgendered. Her boyfriend's half sister pretended to be J.T. Leroy in public, but beginning in the fall of 2005, rumors surfaced that Leroy was a fictional invention by Albert. It's probably no coincidence that Leroy's first novel, Sarah, was the story of a 12-year-old boy whose ambition in life was to become a girl lot lizard, or truck stop prostitute. Leroy's phony bio certainly boosted her credibility to write such a novel.

James Frey is the writer who wrote the "memoir" A Million Little Pieces, supposedly chronicling his experiences as a drug and alcohol addict. The book, which was first published in 2003 by Doubleday, became a best-seller after Oprah named it one of her bookclub picks in the fall of 2005. Then The Smoking Gun revealed that Frey had fabricated the more lurid portions of his "memoir," including his arrest and incarceration. In a dramatic television moment, Oprah confronted Frey on air, demanding the truth. He acknowledged that he had greatly exaggerated certain parts of the book.

Nasdijj was the pseudonym of Timothy Barrus who claimed to be a Navajo writer. Between 2000 and 2004, he published three books that he claimed were non-fiction, describing his life as a Native American, including his childhood with abusive parents and his past as a migrant worker. The title of his last book was Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me. In January of this year, the LA Weekly wrote an expose revealing that Nasdijj was really Barrus, who had formerly written gay sado-maschism fiction.

Ben Domenech is a 25-year-old conservative blogger who co-founded the blog RedState. In March, 2006, Washington- hired him to write a blog for them. However, he was forced to resign less than a week later when allegations of his plagiarism during college surfaced. His college newspaper uncovered an article which had been plagiarized from a book by humorist P.J. O'Rourke as well as movie reviews taken from

Kaavya Viswanathan is a 19-year-old Harvard student who received a $500,000 advance from publisher Little, Brown (division of Random House) in a two-book deal. Her first novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, was published in April, 2006. A sharp-eyed fan quickly contacted author Megan McCafferty to point out that large portions of the novel appeared to be taken from two of McCafferty's books. Little, Brown was forced to recall the book while Kaavya made weak excuses, saying she "internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious."

O.J. Simpson was scheduled in November, 2006 to release a non-fiction book titled If I Did It about the murders of his ex-wife and her friend. The public outcry over the book and the television special promoting it was so great that News Corporation cancelled both. Subsequently, Judith Regan, the publisher, was fired by News Corporation.

In looking at the six scandals, we have three writers who faked either their own past or their "memoirs." We have another two who were plagiarists and, finally, we have a man who was willing to capitalize on his ex-wife's death, a death that the public blames on him.

I believe the one thing that connects all six stories is the willingness of the writers involved to lie, cheat or exploit in order to make money--in other words, their greed.

When I was a small child, my mother assured me that, if I lied, those lies would always catch up with me. Any short-term benefit I derived from lying would be quickly followed by major consequences. I accepted Mom at her word and have never regretted it. All writers need to take that advice to heart.

Let's hope that 2007 will see fewer cases of scandal and unethical behavior on the part of writers.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Be Specific!!

I mentioned yesterday that Miss Snark has been critiquing query hooks on her blog here. In reading those hooks, I noticed a trend. Since I was on vacation from blogging, I promptly forgot about it. However, I was reminded of that trend again today while I was critiquing a writer's query letter.

Newbie writers hear agents and editors talk about winning manuscripts that include lots of action. Some writers respond by developing a list of "action events," which they then catalogue in their query letter. Instead of a coherent, compelling narrative, they end up enumerating a bunch of unconnected events.

The query I read today included an unplanned pregnancy, a major theft, murder, kidnapping, drug running, a natural disaster and a miracle. These were listed in no particular order and without a comprehensive narrative to connect them. The characters were also listed with no real explanation of their goals or motivations.

The writer was obviously hard-working and very sincere in her desire for feedback. In responding to her request for a critique, I tried to weave the most important events together while focusing on the main conflict and introducing the lead characters' goals.

When you are writing a query letter, be sure to give the specifics of your plot. Rachel Vater addressed this in her blog of December 19th here:

Vagueness is the kiss of death. This one [submitted query letter] is about a a woman who was labeled a prodigy at age 7. She's now an adult. (What kind of prodigy, you may ask? So did I. Sadly, I don't see an answer.) Apparently it's going to be her destiny to change the world. How, you might ask? So did I. Sadly, that's not covered in the query or synopsis either. So why should I care about whether she can change the world or not when the writer doesn't specify what's wrong with the world and in what way she's going to change it? Well... I can't, because I just don't know what this story is about since the writer doesn't reveal this information.

Avoid adjectives and adverbs and focus on the nouns and verbs. Remember the credo of the newspaper industry: Who, what, when, where and why. For example:

Who: Sally Straight
What: She takes advantage of a tsunami to fake her death
When: December, 2004
Where: Visiting Thailand with her husband on business
Why: Her husband is abusive, and she wants to get away. He suspects the truth and tries to track her down to force her to return to him.

Before an agent can represent a manuscript s/he HAS to know your plot. Instead of describing the manuscript as thrilling or suspenseful, EXPLAIN what the story is about. You don't have to give away the ending, but you DO have to give the conflict and describe the main characters' goals and motivations.

Start by describing the essence of your story in one page (250 words). Once you have that, try to boil it down to 100 words and then 50 words. I went with the 100-word hook, but not before I figured out what a 50-word hook would be. The value of writing a 50-word hook is that it forces you to identify the main conflict and the hero/heroine's goal.

Remember: You're probably not going to get more than eight seconds of an agent or editor's time. These people are busy. They start reading and, the moment they can't tell what is going on, they put the letter down. If you can't write a coherent query letter, why should they believe you can write a coherent novel?

When writing a query, read it, read it and read it again. Get other writers to critique it. One hint to finding if you've done your job is to hand the query to a fellow writer to read and then ask him to describe the plot (not the genre or tone) to you. If he can't do it, you aren't finished yet.

Don't give up. Just keep at it. If you're determined enough, you'll learn; I promise.

Keep on writing.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Writer's Resolution

I'm back! And, boy, did I miss you all. Two or three times in the last three weeks, I read an article or heard a news piece and wanted to run into my study and write about it. Twice I actually powered up my computer before I caught myself.

It was really interesting. Blogging has become so much a part of my life that I actually had symptoms of withdrawal.

So, what's been going on? With the help of my wonderful critique partners, I managed to get my manuscript off to Tracy, my editor
--three days late, but turned in. I was so sick of that manuscript by the time I turned it in, I figured I wouldn't write for the rest of the month. But, the funny thing was, I immediately sat down and started work on the sequel.

Hope your holidays were wonderful. Except for writing, I was pretty much a slug. Read the new Greg Iles thriller and am currently re-reading an old Lee Child thriller. I did manage to gather up a huge stack of books and take them back to the used bookstore for credit. I now have over $1,000 in credit! Told a friend I was leaving her my credit in my will.

One of the times I wanted to blog was after reading Kristen Nelson's post of December 14th. She gave a bunch of statistics about her literary agency. The one that blew me away was this:

20,800 (Estimated number of queries read and responded to in 2006)

54 (Number of full manuscripts requested and read)

8 (Number of new clients taken on this year)

Another way of saying this is that (with two week's vacation a year), she reads 416 queries a week or 59 queries a day (every day of the week) in order to find one client about every six weeks. Think about it. She had to read nearly 21,000 queries in order to find eight new clients. And then we hear writers complaining because they had to send out several dozen query letters to find an agent.

Kind of puts the whole thing into perspective, doesn't it? That means that Kristen reads 99.9% of all queries she receives without ever making an offer of representation.

If you're a writer making your New Year's resolutions this week, resolve to come up with a plot line (or twist) that is truly unique, really different, not the same old/same old in the coming year. If you don't know what I'm talking about, get yourself over to
Miss Snark this week. She's busy reading some 600 plus query hooks. I got bored after reading about thirty of them. Everything seemed so familiar, so been there, done that.

I've got a glimmer of a plot line that I think is different--whether I can pull it off is something else entirely. We'll have to see.

Be back tomorrow.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Truth In Advertising

Update: My neighbor emailed me this photo about four days ago, telling me he'd caught my cat with his camera.
My large black cat, Bobbin, often chases the smaller kitten, Dinah, under the fence into the next yard. Bobbin, being so large, cannot follow her through the space. I've often watched Bob looking under the fence at Dinah--safe on the other side or seen Dinah peeking back through the fence to see where Bob was.

Since his family frequently photographs my cats, I absolutely believed my neighbor's story. However, after I posted this photo, his wife emailed me to say he was pulling my leg.

Sorry. I'm going back on vacation now until December 28. I need it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Going On Vacation

My manuscript for Bad Girl is due to my editor by next Friday. I'm feeling under the gun, and the upcoming holidays aren't helping my anxiety level.

I've blogged every day since I came back on February 21 when my last vacation ended, so it's time for another break. This will be my last post for the next three weeks. I'll plan to be back on December 28.

In the meantime, feel free to browse among my archives. There are a total of 545 posts to choose from.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Warm regards,


Thursday, December 07, 2006

iUniverse Expands Its Universe

Back on November 2, I did a post titled "Not All Publishers Are Created Equal." In it, while talking about self-publishing, I said:

There is no marketing system for self-pubbed books. The vast majority sell less than 100 copies. Yes, you can list them on e-Bay or Amazon, but you still need a mechanism to drive traffic to your book.

Well, the November 29th edition of The Book Standard reports:

Indigo Books & Music, the Canadian retail book chain, will now feature books by self-published Canadian authors. Through an agreement with iUniverse, the U.S.-based self-publishing company, Indigo will prominently feature some books for 60 days, “longer if the book keeps selling,” the company said . . . They will be featured in Indigo Books & Music, Coles and Chapters stores.

In order to qualify to be "featured," a writer must purchase iUniverse's Premier Plus package and be given the iUniverse "Publisher’s Choice label," which the company describes as meeting qualities of a professionally published book and meet key cover design standards. In other words, the writer forks over $1,200 for this Premier Plus package.

Understand, the writer STILL has to pay for the copies to place in the bookstores. I'm willing to bet there's a minimum number of copies iUniverse demands the writer pay for.

iUniverse already has a similar deal with Barnes and Noble in the U.S. I should mention that B&N bought a 49% stake in iUniverse back in 1999 so that deal is a case of one arm scratching the other.

Still, these arrangements give iUniverse a significant boost in its marketing efforts to writers seeking publication. AND it does drive traffic toward the writer's book. It will be interesting to see whether that Publisher's Choice label does indicate a vetting of books for quality in writing or whether it only refers to book where the author paid the extra $1,200 for an attractively packaged book.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Another Copyright Lawsuit

On November 29th, Jay Leno, NBC Studios and a group of other comedians, including Rita Rudner, joined together to sue comedy teacher Judy Brown to stop her from publishing books containing jokes by well-known comedians.

The federal lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, named Brown and three of her publishers--Andrews McMeel Publishing, Sterling Publishing Co. and Rowman & Littlefield, Inc.--for copyright infringement. According to the Los Angeles Times, the suit said that "Brown and her publishers have turned out approximately 19 'joke books' over the past decade that contain 'substantial amounts of published comedic material that is wholly original with [the] plaintiffs.'"

USA Today quoted the lawsuit: Brown's "books credit the comedians who wrote the jokes, which only serves to make the copyright violations more egregious: The books sell precisely because they include jokes by famous comedians . . . Ms. Brown has even sent representatives to comedy clubs to record comedians' routines, so she can then copy the jokes into her books and profit from the original comedic works of others."

Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act is very clear: "Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

According to CBC Arts, Ms. Brown has "even written a Comedy Thesaurus, which arranges more than 3,000 jokes by subject."

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Theodore Boutrous, Jr., says that the plaintiffs contacted Brown and one of the three publishers also named in the suit to ask that they stop infringing on the comedians' work. He said that no one responded to the requests.

Numerous news agencies attempted to contact the defendants, but were unable to obtain a comment.

USA Today quoted Boutrous: "We think there's a very important principle at stake: protecting intellectual property of the comedians . . . These jokes are products of a very careful choice of words."

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Cover Art for "Bad Girl"

I've been blogging for over a year, but have never posted a photo to this site.
It seems fitting somehow that the first photo I post should be the cover art for my upcoming novel.
I don't have the release date yet and the back cover blurb is still in flux, but I have cover art.

Over the years, I've published a ton of short stories, but this is my first full-length novel. You could say I'm excited. In fact, you could say I'm ecstatic.

Martha Ivery Sentenced

Almost exactly a year ago, on December 8, 2005, I did a post titled "Anatomy of a Writing Scam." In that column, I reported that Martha Ivery had admitted scamming hundreds of writers out of almost $700,000.

Ivery defrauded wannabe writers from May, 1995 through September, 2002 by pretending first to be a publisher and, later, to be a literary agent named Kelly O'Donnell.

Martha/Kelly ran ads on the Internet and in Writer's Digest magazine soliciting clients. When wannabe writers approached the Kelly O'Donnell Literary Agency, they were charged a fee for representation. Then the prospective authors were advised that their manuscripts needed editing and, of course, there would be an editing fee. There were additional fees for illustration, marketing and copies of the unpublished manuscript. Eventually, the writers would be referred to the Press-Tige Publishing Company, Martha's operation.

Martha/Kelly had a variety of excuses for the fact that the book remained unpublished years after the fees had been paid. These included: lost manuscripts, printing problems, computer viruses and production backlogs. According to, "in one case, Ivery claimed] that . . . a manuscript had been aboard one of the planes hijacked in the Sept. 11 attacks . . ."

The Writer Beware website here said that, from 1998 to 2003, they received "scores of complaints" about Martha/Kelly. Writer Beware also said that "a criminal investigation into Ivery's activities was launched by the FBI in 2001."

This week, Victoria Strauss and Ann Crispin of Writer Beware both reported that Martha Ivery has finally been sentenced. On November 29, 2006, in a Federal courtroom in upstate New York, a judge sentenced Ivery to 65 months in Federal prison, plus 3 years' probation. She was also ordered to pay $728,248 in restitution to 231 victims--something that is not likely to ever happen.

On December 5, 2005, Ivery had pleaded guilty to a 17-count indictment: 15 felony counts of mail fraud charges for amounts ranging from $1,665 to $10,025. Additionally, she had one count of credit card fraud and one count of lying during her bankruptcy filing.

This is the end of a long, ugly scam by a woman who showed no compassion for her victims nor awareness of her wickedness until she was brought into a Federal courtroom. There she suddenly professed to have found religion.

What's that old saw about there not being any atheists in foxholes?

I applaud the sentence and the people who brought Ivery to justice. I hope she serves every day of her 65 months in jail because it is very unlikely that she will ever reimburse any of those people she defrauded.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A New Look

I woke up this morning in a mood to change SOMETHING. Since I don't have enough time to paint the outside of the house or the energy to redecorate the inside of the house, I opted to redesign my blog.

In doing so, I lost all of the links in the column to the right (neglected to save them first). I replaced them by memory. If you see that I've forgotten a link, please email me so that I can add it back. Thanks.

Hope you like the new design. Because it was dark outside when I was doing the heavy hauling, I chose a brighter, lighter look.

Addendum to Second Life Series

I wrote yesterday's post--the fifth in the series on Second Life--almost a week ago, but posted it last night.

Bobbin and Dinah, two of my three cats, woke me early this morning having an argument. I got up to mediate and decided to stay up. I made a cup of hot tea and sat down to cruise my favorite Internet sites. Almost immediately, I came across an article posted yesterday at CNET News. The article, titled "Who Governs Virtual Worlds," was a report on the fourth annual symposium taking place this weekend at the New York Law School on the "State of Play." The conference was described as "an academic gathering where professors from a slew of top universities come to talk about the intellectual, legal and social issues around virtual worlds."

According to Greg Lastowka, one of the attendees and an assistant professor of law at Rutgers, "The virtual-world governance landscape boils down to two categories: internal and external views of governance . . . Internal governance . . . is that which takes place between players and publishers. External governance is more akin to how any organization handles disputes over bylaws or rules."

The article continues, reiterating the issues we've covered this week:

Perhaps the biggest question is whether the trade in virtual goods--weapons, armor, clothing, buildings and the like, all of which have real-world financial value--is taxable . . . But beyond taxation are plenty of legal issues, which the experts addressed at the event . . . One of the first question was what game designers can do to stop players from defrauding each other.

If you want to read the article yourself, go to here .

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Crown Publishing Contest

Random House has a contest listed on their Crown Publishing site. Enter to win a consultation with a New York literary agent.

The link is here.

Thanks to Samantha Storm for providing the link.

Second Life (Part V)

This is the last in a five-part series on social networks and their increasing impact on the business world. In order to explore some of the issues, I've focused on Second Life, a MMOG created by Linden Lab of San Francisco. Of course, Second Life is not the only MMOG, nor is it even the largest.

The Boston Globe interviewed analyst Bruce Sterling Woodcock in June, 2006. At that time, he estimated that "about 12 million people pay monthly subscription fees" to MMOGs. One game, World of Warcraft, dominates about half that market with 6.5 million players, including more than 3 million Chinese. (

In this post, I'd like to take a look forward at the future of these MMOGs.

Second Life led the way in allowing user-created content. Back on November 14, 2003, five months after it debuted on the Internet, SL surprised the gaming community with an announcement:

Second Life will allow "users to retain the intellectual property rights for anything they create within the game. If users build a house, create a character, program a cool script, or write an adventure, those graphics/concepts/programs will belong to the user and not the service provider--even if they are used for personal profit later on.

The announcement, made today at New York Law School's 'State of Play' conference, is a marked departure from the end-user license agreements of most MMOGs. Most of today's games retain whole ownership and openly combat users attempting to profit in real-world dollars from the service."

Although, at that time, SL's decision flew in the face of the accepted principles of the gaming industry, it proved to be inspired. Since then, Second Life has thrived. Its success has led other MMOGs to follow the same route in permitting players to buy and sell objects from the game in the real world.

This has created a whole new set of issues. reported on July 28, 2006 that "In China . . . hordes of 'gold farmers' earn a living by selling the fruits of their WoW [World of Warcraft] labors to time-strapped players in the United States. Industrywide, the out-of-game MMOG economy has grown to $200 million--from zero just a few years ago . . . In other words, the Metaverse is finally open for business."

And the world is taking notice.

The U.S. Congress certainly has.

The thriving economy created by Second Life has caught the eye of several Congressmen. SL residents are earning income and making profits in the virtual world that can translate into dollars in the real world. Should these be taxed? And, if so, what implications will this have for the casual gamer? Or the international gamer?

On October 15th, the Reuters bureau in Second Life (Yes, Reuters has set up a news bureau inside SL) reported:

Booming virtual economies in online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft have drawn the attention of a U.S. congressional committee, which is investigating how virtual assets and incomes should be taxed.

“Right now we’re at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise — taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth,” said Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee. “You could argue that to a certain degree the law has fallen (behind) because you can have a virtual asset and virtual capital gains, but there’s no mechanism by which you’re taxed on this
stuff,” he said.

Virtual land owners inside SL already pay a monthly land use fee to Linden Lab, which might be likened to property taxes. The cost for purchasing a sim (65,536 meters of land) is US$1,675 while the user fee is US$295 per month to maintain that property.

As I've already explained, real world corporations are taking social networks like Second Life seriously. Dell, Nissan and others are setting up locations in the virtual world in order to market to the residents. Those corporations are going to deduct their business expenses involved in operating in the virtual world. The minute they raise that issue, taxation of income earned and capital gains is sure to follow.

This is not a simple issue. If Congress wants to tax income in the virtual world, virtual employers will have to issue Wage and Tax Statements (W-2 forms). To tax capital gains, a system would have to be set up to provide an annual valuation for a resident's assets in the virtual world.

At the same time, virtual marketing is a trend that anyone with goods or services to sell should be paying attention to. Imagine setting up a storefront in cyberspace to market your goods.

What's next for the future of MMOGs? Philip Rosedale of Second Life made a prediction back in 2003 at the State of Play conference:

"Longer term, I think interface technologies that allow really interacting with others and touching the world you are immersed in, will bring BIG changes in the way we experience these things. The various technologies that can rapidly acquire facial expressions from an inexpensive camera are probably a nearer term example of that future. Imagine how much easier and fun it would be to communicate in a world where, just for example, something as simple as the movement of your character's eyebrows could follow those of your own!"

In the short term, insuring law and order, preventing copyright infringement and policing fraud are sure to be issues MMOG executives will have to address in their virtual worlds.

Last week, I listened to a NPR broadcast in which MMOG executives discussed the difficulties of monitoring players determined to exploit their systems. The gold farmers of China were mentioned as were the people who use automated computer programs to play and earn money/rewards. One anonymous player admitted he had fifty computers running in his apartment, earning him money/rewards 24/7--even while he was busy at work during the day in real life.

One MMOG executive described how his company is trying to trap players who "cheat" the system. They began emailing players whom they suspected of using computer programs. When the system indicated the player was online, the MMOG would send photos of various colors and demand that the "player" identify those colors. Since computers have difficulty with this task, this strategy worked for a while. However, now players are having their computers page them when the MMOG makes contact. The computer responds, "Hold on a minute. I'm on the phone" while paging the player. The player immediately logs on--sometimes from a remote location--and answers the MMOG's questions.

As you can see, this amounts to another game-within-the-game where MMOGs try to stay ahead of their users. There will always be a new ploy, a new hacker or a new scam artist.

I hope you've found this subject as interesting as I did. I look forward to seeing how virtual reality and real life collide in the future.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Second Life (Part IV)

This is the fourth in a five-part series on social networking sites. To examine some of the issues confronting these sites, we've concentrated our attention on Second Life, the virtual reality world created by Linden Lab of San Francisco. In this post, we'll examine some hot button topics that are drawing the attention of non-gamers in the real world.

I'd like to pick up where we left off last: talking about problems being caused in the virtual world by con artists, scammers and hackers. The November 21st issue of BusinessWeek Online discussed this in an article titled "The Dark Side of Second Life." It said:

It would seem the virtual world is facing a very real-world problem: crime. As more people have joined the global virtual community . . . residents are grappling with how to secure property ownership and ensure public well-being. The difficulty of that task was underscored Nov. 19 when a worm attack called "grey goo" forced Second Life to close down for a short time. The worm installed spinning objects in the virtual world that slowed the servers as users tried to interact with them.

Many are now demanding an official system of law and order. "People are clamoring for a solution, they want a solution now," says Josh Eikenberry, a virtual architect who designs homes and buildings for avatars under the name Lordfly Digeridoo. "But what is the solution? . . ."

Every society struggles with how best to protect property. It's especially tricky in a place such as Second Life, where goods are defined by lines of software code. Many citizens make a real-life living selling goods such as clothes and homes for avatars . . .

Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of Second Life, has been very reluctant to aggressively police his virtual world. That reluctance combined with Second Life's affinity for open source software recently created the biggest crisis SL has faced to date.

From its inception in 2003, Second Life embraced the concept of open source software. As a reminder of what open source is, let's turn to a quote from my December 4, 2005 blog:

Adam L. Penenberg, an assistant professor at New York University . . . explains: "The philosophy behind open-source software is simple. Instead of zealously protecting source code--the blood and guts of any computer program--open source encourages any programmer to tear apart the code and build it back up again. The theory is that this collaborative process encourages innovation and decreases bugs by increasing the number of people with a stake in the project."

To this end, Second Life sanctioned the efforts of a group of residents to reverse engineer the system's software in order to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers. The group called themselves libsecondlife. As a part of their efforts, they developed a debugging tool that they called Copybot. The tool was created in order to permit the import/export of files or the backup of material.

Now, remember, Second Life is dedicated to the concept of open source--meaning they make their software code available to programmers in order to further creativity and constant improvements. Copybot was available to programmers to review. Someone outside of the libsecondlife group took the program and made alterations to it to permit people to copy objects within Second Life.

On November 15, Yahoo News described what happened next:

Copybot first surfaced in Second Life on Tuesday in a store owned by someone whose first name was Prim . . . The shopkeeper was selling the tool, which is downloaded and used within the Second Life client, and then started offering it for free.

Once the tool was discovered, and word got out, hundreds of residents started forming discussion groups and headed to Prim's store . . . One resident told Prim, "If this was real life, I'd walk over to you and poke you in your eye."

SL's economy--like most others based on supply and demand--depends heavily on scarcity value. Scarcity value means that an object's price increases according to its relative scarcity. In other words, a low supply increases both the demand and the price.

Suddenly, all over Second Life, copies were being made of proprietary objects, items which were copyrighted the moment the maker put them in a fixed form.

Designers and shopkeepers throughout SL were outraged. They demanded that SL, which had put this train on the track, derail it before the entire economy failed.

True to his hands off philosophy, Philip Rosedale was reluctant to play the role of deus ex machina, solving the problem for Second Life. An official SL blog was released on 11/13/06, saying:

Copying does not always mean theft. There can be legitimate uses for copying, just as there are on the web . . . Merely copying something doesn’t mean that a copyright violation has occurred. The law discusses ‘fair use’, for example, as one type of copying that is not a violation. If you DO think someone has copied something you made and is violating your copyright by profiting from the copying then you do have the option of using the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] process to file a complaint. It’s a difficult process, but it is one that we’re willing to help enable because we agree that copying is a disincentive to creation.

I think the SL post was both touchingly naive and inaccurate (it referred to being able to copyright an idea. Readers of this blog know that ideas cannot be copyrighted). Moreover, residents with large investments in Second Life were not mollified by the suggestion that they take their claims into the real world to sue for copyright infringement. The SL post did little to calm their outrage. Yahoo News reported:

Scores of Second Life shop owners on Wednesday closed their stores in protest against Linden Lab, and threatened the creator of the online fantasy world with a class-action suit, saying the company was responsible for the release of an in-world tool that could be used to copy their virtual wares.

Second Life's execs realized that their laissez-faire approach was not going to work. On November 14th, they released a statement that included the following:

Second Life needs features to provide more information about assets and the results of copying them. Unfortunately, these are not yet in place. Until they are, the use of CopyBot or any other external application to make unauthorized duplicates within Second Life will be treated as a violation of Section 4.2 of the Second Life Terms of Service and may result in your account(s) being banned from Second Life. If you feel that someone has used CopyBot to make an infringing copy of your content, please file an abuse report. Note that this is completely separate from any copyright infringement claim you may wish to pursue via the DMCA.

A week later, on November 22, a SL journalist reported in New World Notes:

And though my reader poll overwhelmingly criticizes Linden Lab's handling of the CopyBot crisis (nearly 50% call it "Poor", while just under 13% describe it as "Good") it seems the company's ultimate response--explicitly making misuse of CopyBot a violation of Second Life's Terms of Service--has mitigated most of the outrage.

In our conclusion to this series, we'll talk more about these virtual world issues impacting the real world. The U.S. Congress is talking about studying Second Life and its counterparts.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Borders Looking in New Directions

Don't blame me for not getting back to Second Life. Blame life itself. There are just so many interesting stories out there in the big city.

But I promise: tomorrow we'll get back to the last two posts on Second Life.

According to Bloomberg News, on Friday, the new CEO of Borders Group announced that the company is "reviewing options for its Internet relationship with"

Back in April of 2001, the New York Times reported:

The Borders Group, the nation's second-largest bookseller, is closing its struggling online store and will have serve its customers instead . . . Amazon will become the seller of record, providing the inventory, fulfillment of orders, Website content and customer service . . . Borders is a distant third in the online book market, with $27 million in sales last year. Amazon sold $1.7 billion of books, music and videos last year, and, the online affiliate of Barnes & Noble, the No. 1 bookstore chain, sold $320 million.

What a difference five years makes.

George Jones, the new Borders CEO, wants to distinguish Borders from its competitors. Bloomberg reports that Jones sees the Internet playing a large role in the chain's future.

"We need to differentiate ourselves so that a customer is willing to drive by our competitor's stores for certain products we carry," he said. "We want to focus on certain key categories where we will really stand out."

The 55-year-old Jones has only been with Borders since July 17th. The press release announcing his hiring had this to say about him:

Jones has more than three decades of retail experience including his most recent post as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Saks Department Store Group. Prior to Saks, Jones was President, Worldwide Licensing and Retail, for Warner Bros., where in addition to his core responsibilities, he oversaw Warner Bros. Worldwide Publishing, Kids WB Music, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, WB Sports and Warner Bros. Studio Stores. His background also includes key merchandising and operations positions at Target Corporation, including Executive Vice President-Store Operations and Senior Vice President-Merchandising.

This is a savvy businessman with more than a little experience in marketing. Right now, according to Bloomberg, Borders has 13% of the book market, behind B&N at 15%, but ahead of Amazon at 10%. Jones inherited 1,200 stores and 35,000 employees.

Keep an eye on Borders.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tribute To A Writer

This morning's Shelf Awareness reported the death of William Diehl, who wrote Sharky's Machine and Primal Fear among other thrillers.

Diehl died unexpectedly in Atlanta on Friday of an aortal aneurysm. He was 81.

For writers needing a boost, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provided both tribute and inspiration in its obituary in Monday's paper. Approximately 30 years ago, the 50-year-old Diehl was on jury duty in a Fulton County courtroom. Bored by the trial, he began writing a novel on a notepad. Three years later, his first book, was published. Michael Parver, a friend of 40 years, told the story to the Journal-Constitution:

The book deal had come at a low point in Diehl's life, Parver said. Diehl, a former freelance photographer, writer for The Atlanta Constitution and editor at Atlanta Magazine, was jobless and having trouble paying bills. When his agent called to tell him "Sharky's Machine" would be published, the phone line went dead, Parver said. "He hadn't paid the bill. . ."

That first novel, Sharky's Machine, was published in 1978. It became a best-seller and, then, a movie starring Burt Reynolds.

In the 28 years since, Diehl had written nine other books. The last one, his tenth, is expected to be published next year.

For all you writers who tell yourselves you're too old to start a new career or too poor to risk something new and uncertain, take heart--and inspiration.

Simpson Reprise

We interrupt our five-part presentation on Second Life to bring you further details of the debacle surrounding the O.J. Simpson book, If I Did It.

Additional trivia:

  • On Thanksgiving Day, the New York Daily News reported: "O.J. Simpson called it 'blood money' and laughed yesterday as he boasted how he gladly spent the estimated $663,000 he got from Rupert Murdoch's company for his now-discarded book . . . In a telephone interview with Florida radio station WTPS-AM, Simpson said, "Would everybody stop being so naive? Of course I got paid . . . I spent the money on my bills. It's gone."
  • From an article in the New York Post (NYP) referring to the Florida interview: "Simpson said the project was not a confession to the slayings. "I made it clear from the first day I met the writer that I wasn't involved . . . I said, 'I have nothing to confess.' "
  • "After the interview, the former gridiron great played three hours of golf at a course near his home in Miami. He refused to answer questions, but could be heard loudly singing, 'I work hard for my money' and chuckling to himself as he was driven around in a buggy by one of his playing partners. " (NYP)
  • eBay responded to complaints from the family of Nicole Brown Simpson that copies of the book were showing up on the online auction site. Hani Durzy, spokesman for eBay said, "Once HarperCollins reports to us, we take the auctions down . . . "We appreciate the concern of the Brown family, but this is a procedure that has to be followed."
  • Rupert Murdoch's News Corp broke its silence about the deal, admitting that the "third party" with whom ReganBooks had contracted was Lorraine Brooke Associates. The advance paid was $880,000. The $663,000 figure reported by the Daily News is arrived at by subtracting the $100,000 paid to ghostwriter, Pablo Fenjves, and by subtracting the presumably 15% commission paid to Lorraine Brooke Associates ($117,000),
  • In a November 28th story, Newsweek reports "that ABC’s Barbara Walters had explored so seriously the idea of doing a Simpson interview to promote the book that when she balked at proceeding, ABC’s Entertainment division had to pay Mur­doch’s publishing arm a “kill fee” of as much as $1 million."

"O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!"
--From Hamlet (I, v, 106)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Second Life (Part III)

This is the third in a five-part series on social networking sites and their potential impact on the real world. To explore the issues created by such sites, we are looking at Second Life, the virtual world created by Linden Lab of San Francisco. Second Life has encountered a fair number of problems--some of which might have been anticipated and others that no one could have foreseen.

Remember: unlike many online games, Second Life is not set up for gamers to "win." There are no progressively difficult levels of achievement. Instead, SL is intended to mimic the real world. And, as in the real world, the way to show your superiority is in subjective ways: the clothes you wear, the house you live in, the vehicles you drive, the job you possess and the number of friends you have.

The first order of business of most SL residents is to find a way to earn Linden Dollars. Those dollars are needed to buy clothes, to purchase land (or to rent an apartment or hotel room), and to build a house.

There are a variety of very low-paying jobs in SL. You can be a shop clerk or a security guard. You can be a dancing body in a nightclub (to help the club look popular to avatars dropping by). You can model clothes for a fashion designer. If you have real world skills, you can be a fashion designer or a builder. If you have social skills, you can be an event host or a DJ. If you understand money, you can buy and sell property and become a land baron.

Occasionally, a new resident will think to earn money through virtual sex. While there are escort services available, many residents are also willing to have virtual sex for free.

The issue of adult-oriented businesses also raises the problem of content. I've already mentioned that minors are directed to Teen Second Life. However, the adult SL grids are also divided into PG and Mature. Adult-oriented businesses and activities must confine themselves to the mature sims (large areas) of the grids.

Remembering that Second Life exists on a large array of servers, purchasing land is the equivalent to purchasing bandwidth. This helps your house and avatar to upload more quickly than someone who is in SL for free and is not a landowner. However, some residents complain because of the lack of zoning beyond PG and Mature. It is possible for a resident to spend more than $1,000 in real money to buy a large parcel of land, only to find another resident setting up a popular business right next door on a much smaller parcel of land. That business--if it draws enough traffic--will be a drain on network connections and greatly impact the owner who has spent a large sum for "superior" service, only to find reduced performance.

There have also been cases of neighbors harrassing each other by painting graffiti on walls or engaging in other acts of vandalism. "Land griefing" is a term for someone who obstructs another resident's view or creates a nuisance in order to force his neighbor to pay him to go away by purchasing the extortionist's land at a premium.

Like the real world, SL and other games attract con men, eager to steal from or cheat residents. Gambling is permitted in all areas of the adult grid. However, the machines are "built" by residents and may be rigged to win all the time. Residents do well to remember the warning, caveat emptor.

Another scam was reported by the sci-fi game "Eve Online" earlier this summer. A player named Cally set up a virtual bank and then absconded with billions in virtual currency deposited in his bank by gamers hoping to earn interest on their unspent dollars.

CNet News addressed the problem of virtual crooks in an article titled "Cons in the Virtual Gaming World." The article asked:

[W]hat happens when the rules of a game allow players to be subject to trickery, robbery, embezzlement, fraud and other deeds . . .? Some gaming experts . . . think that it might be time for real-world judicial systems to take the antics of virtual scammers like Cally seriously, even if the game creators are willing to let them get away with their schemes.

Wired News reported on May 18, 2006:

In what might be a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, a Pennsylvania lawyer is suing the publisher of the rapidly growing online world Second Life, alleging the company unfairly confiscated tens of thousands of dollars worth of his virtual land and other property.

For its part, SL accuses the attorney of scamming their land auction system. The resident, Marc Bragg, "copied the URL for a legitimate auction, then swapped in the ID number for land not yet up for sale publicly, so there would be no minimum bid and few, if any, competing bidders." In essence, he purchased a large plot of land that would have sold for a minimum of US$1,000 for US$300. When Second Life execs realized what he had done, they froze his account and refused to permit him to withdraw "about a million Lindens" (or approximately US$3,700). Bragg is suing for US$8,000, saying that there was nothing in the SL Terms of Service prohibiting him from doing what he did.

Most observers believe that Bragg's hacker-like method will lose him the case. However, many eyes are fixed on the outcome. reported: "On October 4, 2006, a first-of-its-kind lawsuit was filed in Chester County, Pennsylvania seeking remedies for a series of virtual land deals gone sour. The lawsuit was originally filed in magistrate court on May 1, 2006 and re-filed with a more detailed complaint because of importance of issues being addressed in the case . . . This suit is unique because the land does not actually exist in the real world and no law has yet been created in the United States with regard to the unique nature of virtual land."

Tomorrow, we'll look at more issues raised by life in virtual reality--issues involving the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Second Look At Second Life (Part II)

This is the second in a five-part series.

Yesterday, we talked about what Second Life (SL) is. Today we'll talk more about the Second Life economy. On Tuesday, we'll discuss the issues SL is experiencing, and how these might impact gamers in RL (real life). On Wednesday, we'll look at how those issues in virtual reality might impact non-gamers in real life, especially in the area of copyright. On Thursday, we'll look at the U.S. Congress' interest in SL and other virtual worlds.

In my description of Second Life, I pointed out that this virtual world has a thriving economy, which splashes over into the real world where gamers buy and sell goods and exchange Linden Dollars on the Internet. CNET News talked about this in an article on February 8, 2005:

[M]ost such offline trade is part of an underground economy discouraged by game publishers such as Sony Online Entertainment, which has blocked auctions of items for "EverQuest" and other popular games, claiming such trade infringes its intellectual property.

A few online game publishers, however, have decided to embrace the intersection of virtual and real-world economies, providing approved outlets in which players can convert in-game assets into real-world wealth. The result has been an intriguing blend of typical game dynamics and the free market.

Second Life is one of the latter types, which has encouraged the development of a free-wheeling economy. Eligible residents (those who pay for the service or who were early members of SL) receive small amounts of Linden Dollars from Linden Lab once a week. Other residents (those who join for free) must seek alternate ways to accumulate Linden Dollars in the virtual world or in real life.

Some residents have discovered that their online skills can be used for real world dollars, while others have found that their real world skills can be used to earn virtual dollars.

Occasional gamers who only drop into Second Life and other MMOGs once in a while don't have the time/skill to earn either dollars or rewards. For these persons, the answer is to buy the necessary rewards or dollars from online players who spend more time in-world. A vibrant market has developed for sale and purchase of game rewards and/or game dollars.

On the flip side, artists, designers and real estate investors have found whole new careers inside Second Life. From a Wired News story dated February 8, 2006:

Jennifer Grinnell, Michigan furniture delivery dispatcher turned fashion designer in cyber space, never imagined that she could make a living in a video game.

Grinnell's shop, Mischief, is in Second Life, a virtual world whose users are responsible for creating all content. Grinnell's digital clothing and "skins" allow users to change the appearance of their avatars -- their online representations -- beyond their wildest Barbie dress-up dreams.

Within a month, Grinnell was making more in Second Life than in her real-world job as a dispatcher. And after three months she realized she could quit her day job altogether. Now Second Life is her primary source of income, and Grinnell . . . claims she earns more than four times her previous salary.

And this isn't all. The May 1, 2006 edition of BusinessWeek Online talked about real world people and companies that are using Second Life:

as any flight simulator fan knows, an imaginary world can make a boffo training ground. Tim Allen, head of technology at Crompco Corp., an underground gas tank testing firm, discovered that as the pseudonymous "FlipperPA Peregrine" inside Second Life. There, he built a virtual gas station, graphically showing all the tanks and gas lines under the asphalt. He says it's much easier to grasp the station's workings this way than it is on paper. "It's great for training new hires and showing changing regulations to existing employees," says Allen.

Large corporations recently began to realize that they, too, could advertise and sell products inside the virtual world. In late June, American Apparel announced the opening of a virtual store in Second Life. BusinessWeek Online reported:

American Apparel is the first major retailer to set up shop in Second Life, and since the store's debut the company has sold "about 2,000 items" for $1 or less, says Raz Schionning, the company's director of Web services.

Other companies are rushing to jump on the bandwagon. Dell Computers issued a press release earlier this month, saying that Dell would be participating in Second Life. On November 14, Ro Parra, Dell senior VP, and Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab CEO, gave "an exclusive preview of Dell Island in Second Life. Following this invitation-only event, the island was open for the public to visit."

In another example of a corporation using Second Life, an article in BusinessWeek Online on August 23 said:

You won't be able to check into Aloft, Starwood's new line of moderately priced, loft-style hotels, until the first quarter of 2008. But in September, you can wander into the lobby of its digital Doppelganger inside the popular online world of Second Life.

Starwood, owner of the chic W brand as well as the Westin and Sheraton chains, is the first real-world hospitality company to open in Second Life, and joins a growing list of other companies who are using the online world to build their brand name, test products, or simply sell merchandise—albeit digital merchandise . . .

FISHING FOR FEEDBACK. For Starwood, opening Aloft in Second Life is a way to test-market the hotel's design and rapidly prototype the evolving concept. For instance, staffers will observe how people move through the space, what areas and types of furniture they gravitate towards, and what they ignore.

You begin to see the impact Second Life and other social networking sites (like MySpace) might have on the real world. We'll talk more about this in upcoming posts.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Welcome to Second Life

While I've kept an eye on Second Life, the metaverse created by Linden Lab, up until now I haven't been motivated to blog about it. However, as lawsuits started popping up, the subject became more interesting to me.

Today and tomorrow, we'll start by describing the world of Second Life. Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll talk about the growing unrest in its virtual world, and the implications its issues have for those of us in the real world--in particular, the very intriguing copyright issues being raised. On Thursday, we'll talk about the recent interest the U.S. Congress is taking in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

If you're unfamiliar with Second Life, it is--as I said--a metaverse, or a universe within the universe of the Internet. It is also a MMOG or a massively multiplayer online game. According to Wikipedia, Second Life is:

a privately owned, partly subscription-based 3-D virtual world, made publicly available in 2003 by San Francisco-based Linden Lab . . . The Second Life "world" resides in a large array of servers that are owned and maintained by Linden Lab, known collectively as "the grid". The Second Life client program provides its users (referred to as Residents) with tools to view and modify the SL world and participate in its virtual economy, which concurrently has begun to operate as a "real" market. At precisely 8:05:45 AM PDT, October 18, 2006, the population of Second Life hit 1 million Residents.

I checked a few minutes ago and, only a month after October 18th, Second Life now has 1.6 million residents. Linden Lab claims Second Life's population is increasing by 38% every month. There were 14,192 residents logged on when I looked.

Think about that for just a second. There are now over a million and a half people who have signed up to "play" Second Life with more arriving every day. This is a huge example of a social networking site, similar to other enormously popular online games or sites like MySpace.

The SL residents select an online name and avatar (an online representation of the resident) and begin to participate in life in virtual reality. Unlike the garden-variety computer game, no one "wins" because it is not set up that way. Instead, as an article in said back in 2003:

Ostensibly a game, its players control avatars in a world with few overriding rules, and where almost nothing was pre-planned. In short, play in Second Life is a perfect example of emergence, where things evolve not by design but by happenstance, and where a never-ending stream of the unexpected is the rationale for shelling out $15 a month.

It's the same reason kids play together on a playground ... because a playful environment is set up to give you the flexibility to do different things," said Amy Jo Kim . . . "One of the notable things is that you don't actually win the game. And that means, since humans tend to be goal-oriented, that people come up with their own goals, such as building the biggest building on the block.

Second Life mimics real life, including the economy. Real dollars can be exchanged for Linden Dollars (the exchange rate varies, but was approximately L$270 for US$1 earlier this month). There is even a secondary market in the real world to buy and sell Linden Dollars. Check out this eBay auction here.

Residents can use their Linden Dollars to buy and sell goods and services. They can purchase land from Linden Lab (or from other residents) and build houses, which they can then furnish. They can buy new clothing (skins) or hairdos for their avatars. They can open their own stores in which they can sell goods and services. They can throw parties, listen to music or join groups with like interests (as an example, some avatars are furries--animals).

There is an active group of World War II gamers in SL who purchased an island, which they then separated with the Jessie Wall. On one side of the Wall, they are safe from physical harm; on the other side--The Outlands--they face harm.

In the article on, Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab's CEO, described the arrival of the World War II gamers in Second Life:

They all came in to check us out. They took over ... about 16 acres and said, 'You come in here, we'll kill you,'" Rosedale said. "This one guy who built and sold guns had this little gun shop in the hinterlands.... And the WWII Onliners got on their little island, which happened to be next to this guy's gun shop. In one week, he made $100,000 (in game currency) selling guns to these guys. That was just the coolest thing.

The same article talked about Second Life's flexibility:

"Every time someone does something great, we say, let's see how we can help you," designer Aaron Brashears said. He pointed to things in Second Life like trivia games as examples. A player wanted to host a trivia game, an idea the designers liked. So they gave her some extra money to distribute as prizes and built in features allowing for a Jeopardy-like set, replete with buzzers to hit to answer questions.

Second Life mimics life's hardships and pleasures, including residents who hook up for virtual sex. Because young people were signing on with false birthdates and being exposed to mature content, Second Life launched Teen Second Life in 2005 for young people from 13 to 17. Content in Teen Second Life is monitored for the protection of the youngest residents of the virtual world.

Tomorrow we'll begin to talk about the side effects in the real world from virtual reality in Second Life. In the meantime, if you want to visit the website, here's the link. Or, you can check out New World Notes, the blog of Wagner James Au, a Second Life journalist who writes about life in this virtual world.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Taking Care of Business

Miss Snark directed readers yesterday to a blog of Neil Gaiman's from last month.

Neil is on a crusade to get writers to make wills--specifically, wills that dispose of their intellectual property. He tells a story about a writer who died without a will, thereby leaving the rights to his books by default to his estranged wife who did not handle those rights the way he would have wanted them handled.

Neil's post stopped me in my tracks. I do have a will. I also have an advance health directive, giving instructions on how to handle my health care should I become incapacitated and unable to speak for myself. Frankly, I've congratulated myself for being very responsible about such matters. However, I have given no thought whatsoever to intellectual property rights.

Had someone mentioned this issue to me before, I would have pooh-poohed the idea, arguing that such worries were pretentious for a newbie writer. I no longer think that way.

Even if you are unpublished, you should think about the person you would want to control the rights to your works after your death. If you think I'm being silly, read the Wikipedia entry on John Kennedy Toole, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously twelve years after his death. Here's the link.

Everyone needs a will. Everyone needs an advance health directive. Every WRITER needs to address what will happen to his/her intellectual property after death--even if all you want is for someone to burn all existing manuscripts.

We're coming up on the end of the year. Start the new year off right. If you don't already have a will, please consider drawing one up and addressing intellectual property rights as a part of the process. If you already have a will, read Neil's post here and think about appointing a specific person to address your intellectual property issues. I love and respect my executor, but he is not the person I want to direct my intellectual property issues.

While you're at it, read the information on an advance health directive here.

Do these things for yourself. Do these things for your children. Do these things for the ones you love.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Publishers Chasing Universities for Copyright

Back on November 8 and 9, I did a couple of posts about the high costs of textbooks.

Today a friend (Thanks, CN) emailed me an article that appeared in Monday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer (PI). The introductory paragraph said:

Book publishers say professors who post long excerpts of protected texts on the Internet without permission cost the industry at least $20 million a year. Cornell University, the Ivy League college in Ithaca, N.Y., agreed in September to regulate work its faculty puts on the Web, in response to a threatened lawsuit from the Association of American Publishers.

I immediately went to the AAP's website to check for press releases.

Sure enough, on September 19, the AAP issued a release in which it said:

As part of ongoing discussions over the manner in which Cornell University provides copyrighted course content to students in digital formats, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and Cornell recently announced a new set of copyright guidelines to govern the use of electronic course materials on the library’s electronic course reserves system, on faculty and departmental web pages, and through the various “course management” websites used at Cornell. The guidelines affirm that the use of such
content is governed by the same legal principles that apply to printed materials.

When I was in graduate school from 1990 to 1993, I always appreciated the few professors who put together a bundle of articles and chapters from various textbooks in order to save students from having to buy multiple books. I would pick up the photocopied bundle at the school's copy shop. The price included the copies and the copyright fees.

According to the Seattle PI article, "The Cornell campus store assembles course packs and handles payment of permission fees, which alone are 'considerably in excess' of $200,000 per year."

Since that time, the outrageous cost of textbooks has more teachers seeking alternatives to asking students to pay for three or four books per class. In 2004, Congress held hearings on the escalating cost of books (the estimates at that time were that four years of college could carry a textbook bill of $4,000). No relief for students came out of those hearings.

However, with the increasing popularity of the Internet, many professors have been posting the course material online.

Tracey Armstrong, the chief operating officer of the Copyright Clearance Center, which collects royalties from universities on behalf of publishers, "estimates that publishers' losses may be more than $20 million a year, based on the $27 million in annual royalties her agency collects." (PI)

Patricia Schroeder, head of the AAP, said: AAP hopes that Cornell's actions will set an example for other colleges and universities and provide them an opportunity to review their own practices and institute similar guidelines."

An Early Holiday Gift

Here's an early holiday gift from me to you.

This link here will give you a list of the shortcuts you can take when searching Google.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you blessings on this day of thanks:

Time to spend with family or friends, or just to relax on your own,

A place you love, or where you feel safe,

Activities that give you pleasure or comfort,

And a sense of contentment--even if only for today.

I'm spending today with those I love.

See you again on Friday.

Big Brother Isn't Watching; He's Listening

Okay, now this story creeped me out. I read it on Listening Post. It was written by Eliot van Buskirk.

The Dutch town of Groningen has activated a system of street microphones in order to pick up aggressive sounding voices. The microphones have software that detects "high frequency vowel sounds [that] span a broader frequency range." The police have already made three arrests during a trial run of the system.

The developer of the technology is Peter van Hengel who claims: "Aggressive people tend to tense their larynx, and the sound made by their vocal cards is distorted . . . A truly aggressive voice is very hard to imitate."

I *think* I'm okay with cameras everywhere we go. While the idea of being watched all the time also creeps me out, I recognize that the safety value outweighs the intrusive element. However, when it comes to having my conversations *heard*, I feel completely differently.

I'd hate to think that, before long, our anti-terrorist efforts will be expanded to include sound systems like this.

Remember: Fifty-seven years ago, George Orwell wrote 1984, in which the citizens of Oceania were under complete surveillance by Big Brother.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Internet Liability Case Decision

A significant ruling was handed down in the California Supreme Court Tuesday. The case, Barrett v. Rosenthal, related to Internet liability.

The ruling summarized the facts as follows:

Plaintiffs, Dr. Stephen J. Barrett and Dr. Timothy Polevoy, operated Web sites devoted to exposing health frauds. Defendant Ilena Rosenthal . . . operated an Internet discussion group. Plaintiffs alleged that Rosenthal and others committed libel by maliciously distributing defamatory statements in e-mails and Internet postings, impugning plaintiffs' character and competence and disparaging their efforts to combat fraud. They alleged that Rosenthal republished various messages even after Dr. Barrett warned her they contained false and defamatory information.

Ilena Rosenthal claimed she was protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, in which Congress stated: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." She was not the original person to "defame" Barrett and Polevoy. She re-printed something that a man named Tim Bolen had previously written.

The original hearing of the case upheld her position. However, then the California Court of Appeals, in a radical decision, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Tuesday, the California Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals saying:

We conclude that section 230 prohibits 'distributor' liability for Internet publications. We further hold that section 230(c)(1) immunizes individual 'users' of interactive computer services, and that no practical or principled distinction can be drawn between active and passive use. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals.

We acknowledge that recognizing broad immunity for defamatory re-publications on the Internet has some troubling consequences. Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area, however, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement.

This is huge. The court spent a fair amount of time talking about the difference under law between a "distributor," like a newspaper vendor or bookseller versus a "publisher." According to the California Supreme Court, historically, "under the common law, "distributors" . . . are liable only if they had notice of a defamatory statement in their merchandise. The publisher of the newspaper or book where the statement originally appeared, however, may be held liable even without notice."

The California Supreme Court said that: "subjecting Internet service providers and users to defamation liability would tend to chill online speech."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) applauded this decision, saying that if the court had found in favor of the plaintiffs:

the implications for free speech online are far-reaching. Bloggers could be held liable when they quote other people's writing, and website owners could be held liable for what people say in message boards on their sites. The end result is that many people would simply cease to publish or host websites.

The ACLU agreed with the EFF and their staff attorney Ann Brick was quoted on the EFF website:

Section 230 protects the ordinary people who use the Internet and email to pass on items of interest written by others, free from the fear of potentially ruinous lawsuits filed by those who don't like what was said about them . . . The vitality of the Internet would quickly dissipate if the posting of content written by others created liability.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The New and Future James Bond

My strongest memory of my maternal grandfather is of him reading. For years, whenever we visited, I'd come home with a huge box of paperback books he'd finished. Since his tastes ran to westerns and sci-fi, I was reading Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs at age ten, with a dictionary beside me.

One day, Grandpa wasn't as vigilant as usual, and I ended up with a copy of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. I was probably fourteen by then, and Fleming was already dead after writing twelve novels featuring James Bond.

I'd never read anything like Casino Royale. I was immediately hooked, but knew I'd have to find a way to sneak more of the racy Fleming books into the house. Over the next year, I managed to read all the novels in the series by checking the books out of the library at peak hours, tucked between copies of more traditional teenage fare.

The Bond of those books was brutal, misogynistic and full of hubris. I had to look the word "hubris" up, having never seen it before reading Ian Fleming. The author used it to describe James Bond early on, and I've never forgotten the word.

All this, of course, is prelude to my review of the new film Casino Royale.

The reviews have said that the 21st Bond movie brings the series back to basics. This assessment is absolutely on target. This is not the Bond to whom film buffs have grow accustomed. While the movie is non-stop action, there are few, if any, of the over-the-top CGI special effects fans have come to expect.

The action begins quickly with a flashback to Bond's attaining his 007 (license to kill) status. Another early scene follows an eye-popping footrace through a construction site in Madagascar. I was so impressed with the actor/stuntman playing the terrorist Bond chases that I had to look him up. Turns out Sebastien Foucan is the founder of the sport of free running. Free running is an offshoot of the better known parkour, which originated in France. In both free running and parkour, a runner tries to cross a designated urban site in the fastest and most direct manner possible, using skills such as jumping, vaulting and climbing. Sebastien Foucan is remarkable. Both his scene and the earlier flashback set the tone for the movie--the action is up close and personal, not Olympic-sized and distant.

Much has been made of Daniel Craig as the first blond and blue-eyed Bond
--as well as the shortest. I was far more interested in the ruthless, dispassionate nature of Daniel Craig's portrayal. This was the Bond I'd first met in those long-ago novels, the man who both scared and thrilled my teenage self. While Sean Connery looked dangerous, his tongue-in-cheek jokes and urbane smoothness reassured movie fans. Daniel Craig looks and acts dangerous.

The plot is also far less contrived than earlier movies. Bond is after Le Chiffre (translates to "the figure, the number or the amount") a man who acts as banker to terrorist groups. Unknown to his clients, Le Chiffre is speculating with their money. After Bond interferes in Le Chiffre's attempt to manipulate an airline stock, the action moves to Montenegro where Le Chiffre attempts to win back the $100 million that Bond has cost him. Le Chiffre is a desperate man; if he cannot rebuild his clients' accounts, they will come after him.

M16 sends Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) from Her Majesty's Treasury with $15 million to bankroll Bond in the game--which has changed from the original Baccarat variation of Chermin de Fer to Texas Hold 'Em. My teenage self had to go to the large dictionary at school to find a definition of Chermin de Fer.

Bond is blunt with Vesper--she's not his type. She asks, "Too smart?" He responds, "Single." It's a personality reveal: He prefers his women married. It makes for less fuss later. The deepening of Vesper and James' relationship is an interesting variation on the usual Bond. So is Vesper's assessment of Bond as being from a less than aristocratic background.

There are sly winks and nods to the other movies. Bond wins a silver Aston Martin DBS from one of Le Chiffre's henchmen in a poker game early on. A second example comes when Vesper Lynd introduces herself to Bond on a train. She says, "I'm the money." He responds, "Every penny of it," a reference to the character of Moneypenny, M's secretary. Finally, he doesn't say the line, "Bond, James Bond" until the very end of the film.

The only problems I had with the film were the terrible-awful-horrible opening credits and the even more dreadful theme song. Talk about a clunker tune best forgotten. Yuck.

I'm a diehard Sean Connery fan. I never went to a film starring another Bond although I've probably seen most of them on television by now. Having said that, I must say Daniel Craig's performance is superb. I will look forward eagerly to more James Bond movies with Craig (he's signed a contract for a total of three). I'd grown tired of the over-the-top plots and scenes. This film really did feel like coming home--in more ways than one.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Power of the People

I spent a very satisfying hour on Monday morning, contacting Fox Network and then my local Fox affiliate to voice my dissatisfaction with the O.J. Simpson "special." I then contacted four sponsors of my local Fox affiliate: two national (Fisher Price and AT&T) and two local (a grocery chain and a car dealership). It was very interesting to me to find that, when I spoke to a live person (as opposed to a recording), the two people I spoke with immediately said, "I agree. I'll pass your message along, and I may make some calls of my own."

I had a number of errands to run on Monday afternoon and came home to find that lots of individuals like myself were contacting Fox. More importantly, Fox sponsors were contacting Fox.

By now, you've heard the news. Rupert Murdoch has pulled both the ill-advised book and the even more ill-advised television special.

When people bond together for a common cause, things do happen.

It's my hope that O.J. will crawl back under a rock. However, I expect it's far more likely that he will self-publish his book and try to capitalize on all the publicity.

Hurray for North Dakota

I just read this morning's Broadcasting & Cable News (B&C News) here. It was the first time I realized that the O.J. Simpson Fox television special is scheduled to air during sweeps week.

This is a blatant attempt to capitalize on the murders of two people. I am disgusted by the depths to which Fox is sinking.

Fortunately, some affiliate stations are rebelling against this slimy move. B&C News reports that "North Dakota’s Prime Cities Broadcasting is refusing to air the interview."

Hurray for North Dakota. B&C also said, "poor advertising prospects and mass amounts of negative publicity, and the possibility remains that Fox could still decide to yank publisher Judith Regan’s interview of Simpson entirely."

Encouraged, I clicked over to my local Fox affiliate and sent them the following email:

I am outraged and disgusted by your network's plan to air an interview with O.J. Simpson during sweeps week. This is sinking to new lows.

Please be advised that I am making a list of those companies who advertise on your network this week. I am writing an email, which I plan to forward to all of those advertisers promising NEVER to use their products again should that "special" air. Whatever short-term bump you get from broadcasting this abomination will hopefully be offset by advertisers who will be furious with you.

If enough people hit Fox where they live--their advertisers--we can hopefully stop them from broadcasting this show.

Feel free to copy this email or parts of it. Flex your muscles as a viewer. Put a stop to this travesty. You can go to this link, to find your local Fox affiliate and send them an email or phone and leave a message with their advertising department. Alternatively, you can call Fox News at (888) 369-4762 and leave a comment to let them know how you feel and what, if any action, you plan to take. Remember: Their advertisers are their lifeblood. Threaten that, and you will get their attention.

Marketing Tools To Build Buzz

In early September, a friend and I attended ABC's premiere night at the Granada Theatre in Dallas to see the opening shows for "Ugly Betty" and "Men in Trees." As usual with such affairs, we each received a gift bag filled with gimcracks advertising existing and upcoming ABC shows.

On our way out the door, we were confronted by a group of teenagers asking if they could have the candy bars in our bags because the wrappers contained clues to a treasure hunt. We gave them one of our two bars, and the kids ran off to accost other departing members of the audience.

I was reminded of those candy bars this morning when I read an article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The article titled "Believe It Or Not, Fake Biotech Firm Is Key Marketing Ploy For Crichton Novel," said:

Eager to get viewers more involved with its TV program "Lost," the [ABC] network . . . aired a commercial during the show for an entity known as the "Hanso Foundation." The ad asked viewers to call a toll-free number to learn more about the mysterious organization, part of a broader marketing "game" -- essentially a scavenger hunt -- the network operated over five months.

Those who called Hanso . . . received clues to follow, directing them to a Web site or elsewhere, says Michael Benson, ABC's senior vice president of marketing. Ultimately, the game included Internet radio broadcasts, and even distributing candy bars with a fictional name to people in the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia, he says.

The WSJ article also discussed the latest "fake," which is advertising Michael Crichton's upcoming novel:

A puppy that never ages. A cactus that grows human hair. Giant cockroaches presented as pets.

Genes run amok at Nextgencode, which is as it should be. The "company" is the creation of News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers, and its sole purpose is to gin up interest in "Next," Michael Crichton's coming thriller about genetic research. The publisher plans to post videos on YouTube and other popular Web sites touting the accomplishments and products of Nextgencode.

The article cautions that publicity firms need to be careful. Consumers who fall for a fake marketing ploy can feel tricked and embarrassed if the "joke" is revealed too late. There was a backlash against the Sci Fi Channel when it claimed to have had a falling out with M. Night Shyamalan over an unauthorized documentary. The phony contretemps was actually a hoax to promote buzz for director Shyamalan's film, "The Village."

I was amused by the article because I can remember receiving a "fake" wedding invitation nearly twenty years ago. The invitation was on good quality paper and included the little "return" card and envelope. It took several minutes before I realized that the bride (whose first and last names were the same as one of my cousins) was a character on a television show where a big wedding was planned for the new season. I called a phone number I found on the invitation and ended up with a publicity firm that told me they had mailed wedding invitations to all the people in the phone book with my surname in Dallas and other major cities on behalf of the network.

That wedding invitation was a novelty for me. However, in the years since, I've seen or heard of many such ploys publicizing TV shows and movies. I don't recall seeing one to advertise a book before this Crichton device.

Building buzz is big business these days.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bobbin Makes His Internet Debut

I am very fortunate in the location of my house. I don't have many immediate neighbors because I live on a corner facing woods on two sides. However, to the east I am next door to a lovely family and, to the north, the rear of my property adjoins to that of a very nice couple.

The family next door has five children who were all home-schooled. I have been thrilled to watch the kids grow over the last eight years. The two oldest are now off at college, leaving three very charming teenage boys.

One of the boys got a new camera recently and decided to practice by doing a video of Bobbin, my two-year-old feline.

Bob was a little camera-shy, and the cameraman was a little nervous about the flailing claws. However, here is the link for your viewing enjoyment:

You'll note that Bob maintains his hold on territory and does not back down. I've mentioned his prowess as a hunter in previous posts. The cameraman's mother once prophesied that, some day, Bob would bring me a coyote as a trophy. Since, to date, he's come home with birds, mice, rats, squirrels, tarantulas, gophers and snakes, I live in fear of that day.

I'm off today to have a late lunch and see the new Bond movie with a friend. Hope your Sunday is as pleasant.

Do NOT Shoot Yourself In The Foot

I was cruising blogs today and came across a comment that really hit home with me.

The Knight Agency's Elaine Spencer was answering questions. A lot of people were complaining about never getting an answer to their e-query letters. Elaine's response included this:

I have however noticed a VERY annoying trend. I receive many queries that seem perfect. I read the query, formulate a response, and reply. Then my reply is bounced back to me with a note asking me to submit my address to become an approved sender so as to alert the account holder that I am not a spammer. I do not have time for this. In these cases, again, a response inevitably is never sent.

Boy, is she singing my song. I get a fair amount of unsolicited emails every day. I receive membership applications for the Passionate Ink chapter, I receive emails from people who have read my blog, and I receive emails from people who have read my posts on other loops or blogs. I ALWAYS respond. However, every time I receive an automatic response, asking me to fill out an application, I delete it and move on.

This feels INCREDIBLY rude to me. YOU'VE sent me an unsolicited email and then demand that I fill out an application to respond???? What's up with that?

Years ago, when I was first starting out in the business world, there was an old ploy intended to establish oneupsmanship in telephone conversations. A person would have his secretary place a call for him. When the intended recipient of the call picked up the line, the secretary would say, "Just a moment for Mr. Jones," leaving the recipient on hold for a call he hadn't placed. Sometimes the recipient was left on hold for two or three minutes while the caller finished another phone call. Intended to establish who had the upper hand, it was was both rude and annoying. Unless it was the recipient's boss on the line, a lot of people simply hung up.

This email "application" nonsense feels like the virtual equivalent of that old power game. In effect the person with this filter on his email is saying, "My time is more important than yours. I'm too busy to wade through spam. Therefore, if you want to email me, you must fill out an application to do so."

Elaine is right. A lot of writers have these filtering mechanisms. I know. I run into this application process a couple of times every week.

On the average day, I pick up 250 spam emails. Fortunately 75% of them go into my spam filter and can be disposed of by one click of my "delete" button. I choose to hand delete the remaining 25% because if I set my spam filter higher, I begin to trap legitimate emails in the filter.

Is it annoying to wade through those 65 spam emails by hand every day? Of course it is. However, I prefer to do that than to risk deleting a legitimate email by accident.

Wake up, people. Even if you enter the agent's email address into your system when you send the query, you can't guarantee that s/he will use the same email address to respond to you. My agent uses a different email address to respond than the address at which writers query her.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Addendum to Previous Post

Yesterday I finally gave in to both Blogger's demand that I move into their new beta system and Yahoo's entreaties to upgrade my system. I'd avoided both upgrades for so long that Yahoo was reduced to splitting my screen. Half the screen was devoted to dire warnings about the continued stability of my system. I finally did both upgrades yesterday evening.

All this to say that I was having "technical difficulties" when I posted last night. I was still trying to switch back and forth out of Blogger's "edit Html" mode. I had huge problems figuring out how to copy from Word into Blogger in the two modes (Yes, I admit it: I'm a slower learner when it comes to computers).

When I read my post from yesterday, I realized the following paragraphs had not transferred to the end of the post after the Incentive Program:

I've repeatedly said that I believe self-publishing is the wave of the future and that bricks-and-mortar bookstores need to be enlarging their vision of themselves. Amazon's moves may pave the way to helping self-pubbed writers and toward pushing bricks-and-mortars bookstores to reinvent themselves.

One of the huge impediments to self-publishing is that, once a writer holds a book in his hands, he still needs a way to drive traffic to his site. While Amazon has not solved that problem, it's easy to imagine a virtual marketplace--a bazaar, if you will--of self-pubbed writers linked together in a storefront that caters to fans of a particular genre. Can't you see a sci-fi site where readers could navigate easily among the self-pubbed books and topics of interest? Perhaps in one area a writer would be engaging in an online chat with readers while, in another area, a writer could be explaining how to build a believable fantasy world. While many writers are bonding together in Yahoo loops now, I suspect a group located on Amazon (together with a virtual bookstore) would make more sense.

Bricks-and-mortar bookstores will increasingly face some of the issues that university libraries now face. On September 19, 2005, I did a post titled "Not Your Grandmother's Library," in which I discussed the growing concern among universities regarding the lack of usage of the school library. Students are doing their research online and not visiting the libraries as frequently as they once did. There have been multiple initiatives among universities to discuss alternate uses for their libraries.

Some bookstores are already enlarging their role within the community or as places for social gatherings (installing coffee bars or Internet spots, hosting writers' meetings, etc). In my post about NAIBA the other day, I pointed out that the trade organization is urging its booksellers to embrace the role of handselling books. These are ways that booksellers can ensure their future and the future of their physical plants.

The Future of Internet Services, Part II

This is Part II of two parts. Yesterday we talked about Jeff Bezos and his plans for the future of

BusinessWeek (BW) Online quotes Bezos: "'All the kinds of things you need to build great Web-scale applications are already in the guts of Amazon . . . The only difference is, we're now exposing the guts, making [them] available to others' . . . And he hopes, making money."

Bezos' strategy--and it's a bold one--is to make Amazon's system and services available to Internet users so that the small business person will have access to the same services that a large company like Amazon or Google has access to. He "is initially aiming these services at startups and other small companies with a little tech savvy. But it's clear that businesses of all kinds are the ultimate target market."

Among the new companies and services Amazon has acquired or launched in the last eight years are S3 (Simple Storage Service), EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) and MTurk (Mechanical Turk). With S3, "Amazon charges 15 cents per gigabyte per month for businesses of all kinds to store data and programs on Amazon's vast array of disk drives. It also charges merchants 45 cents per square foot per month for real space in its real warehouses. EC2 rents out computing power, starting at 10 cents an hour for the equivalent of a basic server computer. MTurk takes on the jobs that a computer doesn't do well. Amazon has "set up a semi-automated global marketplace for online piecework, such as transcribing snippets of podcasts . . . Amazon takes a 10% commission on those jobs." (BW) Thousands of individual people around the world take on small tasks assigned to them (like picking the best photo out of a group) and are paid by the piece. They can work from home while watching TV and earning money at the same time.

All these services "potentially make a profit center out of idle computing capacity needed for [Amazon's] . . . retail operation. Like most computer networks, Amazon's uses as little as 10% of its capacity at any one time just to leave room for occasional spikes." (BW)

We talked yesterday about Web 2.0 being the next wave of the Internet. Amazon is seeking to place itself at the head of that wave.

"Google, MySpace, and YouTube cracked open for the masses the means to produce media and the advertising that sustains it, creating tens of billions of dollars in market value and billions more in new revenues. Now, by sharing Amazon's infrastructure on the cheap, Bezos is taking that same idea into the realm of physical goods and human talent, potentially empowering a whole new swath of businesses byond the Internet itself." (BW)

On Tuesday, Amazon issued a press release announcing three new innovations and an incentive plan:

aStore: Using aStore, Associates "create complete storefronts on their websites quickly and easily. Associates with virtually no technical skills can create an online store that includes products from any of Amazon's 35-plus categories and popular Amazon shopping features such as Customer Reviews, Editor Reviews, Wish Lists, and Listmania."

Omakase Links : With these links, Amazon assumes "one of the hardest parts of operating an e-commerce site--personalization . . . Omakase Links allow Associates to automatically display products personalized to visitors' purchase and browse history on Amazon, as well as the content of the Associate's sites."

Product Previews: Associates can permit Internet users to preview product information without clicking through to When visitors hover over a Product Preview link in a body of text or a small virtual storefront, a window appears that will include the product image, pricing, reviews and availability.

Incentive Program : "Website owners who sign up to be Amazon Associates and take advantage of these new tools will receive referral fees of up to 8.5% when visitors to their sites click on products and complete their purchases on the website . . . Between now [11/14] and 12/31/06, Associates can earn up to $1,000 in additional referral fees by using aStore and Omakase Links. During that time, Associates will earn an additional 4 percent when they refer visitors to using aStore or Omakase Links (up to a maximum of $500 from each feature per Associate).

BusinessWeek Online asks the question: Is Amazon biting off more than it can chew? Only time will tell.

Stay tuned . . .