Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Changing World of Romance

There were a couple of newspaper articles this weekend on the changing romance industry. The first appeared in the Los Angeles Times (LAT) on Friday and was entitled, "Hearts, Flowers and Racy Passages." The second was in today's Washington Post (WP) and was entitled, "Romance, Writ Large."

The WP article described romance publishing as big business. "In 2004, the latest year for which the RWA (Romance Writers of America) has compiled figures, romance fiction generated $1.2 billion worth of sales...Some 2,285 romance titles were released that year, accounting for 54.9 percent of mass-market paperback sales and 39.3 percent of all fiction sold in this country."

Kate Duffy, editorial director of Kensington Publishing, the second-biggest romance publisher on the RWA list, was quoted as saying, "A lot of this market involves giving people something they can't get anywhere else...Whether it's suspense or paranormal, we're trying to give them more."

Both articles devote a fair amount of space to discussion of the interest in erotic romance. The LAT piece quotes Tina Engler, founder of Ellora's Cave, saying, "'Erotica legitimizes the female sexual experience...Women read these books and it makes them feel normal about their own fantasies.'"

Beth Bingham, a buyer for Borders, says her chain started carrying erotic romance in 2004 when Ellora's Cave, which had started out as an e-publisher, began printing some titles. Since that time, they have added Avon Red and Harlequin's erotic romance lines. "'It came from customer interest....Customers would come in and specifically ask for it. It's now a growth category in our romance department.'" (LAT)

The WP article concurs: "And then there is erotica, a rapidly growing segment of the romance market that can be found in lines such as Harlequin's new Spice and Kensington's Aphrodisia." Kate Duffy says that Kensington figured out in 1999 that "'more sex means more sales. We've been tracking and publishing hotter and hotter romances.'"

The WP interviewed MaryJanice Davidson, a romance writer from Minnesota, who described her career as going "'from the trailer park to the New York Times bestseller list in zero to 60.'" Davidson described being unable to interest traditional publishing in her paranormal, really sexy books. She turned to e-publishing where Cindy Hwang, a senior editor at Berkley, saw her writing. In 2003, Hwang, who has since left Berkley, signed Davidson to a three-book contract.

The WP article went on to say, "at the same time that the definition of romance is broadening, so are the platforms and markets through which romance is being distributed." Traditional publishers are making deals to produce audiobooks and electronic books which can be read on e-book readers. The article closes with a quote from Duffy: "'We're all about the next best thing and getting there first.'"

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Myron's Back!!!

I'm vegging today. This is the first day in the last ten that I haven't had to deal with the aftermath of two floods inside my house. The flooring will have to be replaced in three rooms, the carpet pad replaced and the carpet shampooed in another.

But, today, I'm not a homeowner or a writer. I'm a reader.

I'm a big fan of mysteries and thrillers. I love 'em. Doesn't matter how violent or how dark they are. If they're well-written and entertaining, I devour them.

My youngest brother is a sports columnist. Back in 1996, he recommended a new writer by the name of Harlan Coben to me. Coben had just won an Anthony for his first novel, Deal Breaker. He would go on to win an Edgar and a Shamus for his third novel, Fade Away. According to Coben's website, he was the first writer to win all three awards.

Coben wrote about a sports agent named Myron Bolitar who had once been a college basketball star before an injury sidelined him. Each book in the series was set in a different sport--basketball, football, baseball, golf, tennis--and included murder, mayhem and a lot of dry humor.

Coben's voice was firmly tongue-in-cheek, and the characters in his series were frequently waaayyyyy over the top. Myron's best friend and former college roommate is a wealthy investment counselor named Win--short for Windsor Horne Lockwood, III--who is most often described as psychotic. Win was one of the chief attractions of the series for me. Completely without conscience and frequently unpredictable, he is also intensely loyal to Myron.

Myron's secretary, the beautiful Esperanza, is a bisexual, ex-professional wrestler. Her tag team partner, Big Cyndi, also works for Myron on occasion, thoroughly terrorizing his clients with her bulk and her Halloween-style make-up. And then there's Zorra, an ex-Mossad assassin, who happens to be a transvestite. Coben describes Zorra thus: "She wore her '30s blond wig and smoked a cigarette in a holder and looked just like Veronica Lake after a real bad bender, if Veronica Lake was six feet tall and had a Homer Simpson five o'clock shadow and was really, really ugly."

Coben wrote seven Myron Bolitar novels between 1995 and 2001. They were published in mass market paperback and developed a loyal cadre of readers, including me.

Then Coben jumped the rails. In 2001, he published his first stand-alone suspense novel in hardback, Tell No One. From that point forward, he wrote another four stand-alone novels--Gone for Good, No Second Chance, Just One Look and The Innocent. Although they became best-sellers, my heart just wasn't in them. I wanted to read the further exploits of Myron and Win.

Apparently I wasn't the only one. Coben wrote: "Over the past six years, the one question I always get on the road is, 'How tall are you?' The answer: Six-four. But the second most common question is, "When are you going to bring Myron and the gang back?"

Well, he's done it. Last week, the eighth Myron Bolitar adventure, Promise Me, was released. The book flap reads: "It has been six years since entertainment agent Myron Bolitar last played superhero. In six years he hasn't thrown a punch. He hasn't held, much less fired a gun. He hasn't called his friend Win, still the scariest man he knows, to back him up or get him out of trouble. All that is about to change...because of a promise."

There are changes--both in format and with the characters themselves. Coben now includes the POV of other characters. This plot is not set in the sports world. Myron now represents actors as well as sports stars. Esperanza is married with a child.

In Promise Me, Myron overhears two teenage girls talking about getting into a car with a drunk driver. His protective instincts are engaged, and he makes the two promise him that they will call him for a ride--no matter when, no questions asked--if they are ever put in that situation again. Three weeks later, one of the girls does call, and Myron gives her a ride at 2:00 AM. She disappears, and it turns out he was the last person to see her.

I'm in heaven.

Off to read. Have a good weekend.

Friday, April 28, 2006

How Opal Mehta Got Caught & Taken Off the Bookshelves

Today is the sixth and final day of the Opal Mehta scandal, at least as far as this blog is concerned.

Little, Brown has declared an immediate recall of Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan's first book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life (HOMGKGWAGAL). Little, Brown had already shipped the first 55,000 books of a reputed 100,000 book run to booksellers so this will be a very expensive recall for them. According to the Associated Press, despite previous statements that the book would be revised to remove the plagiarized sections; Little, Brown would not offer comment when asked if the book was being changed, or canceled altogether.

I just checked e-Bay to see if the book was on sale there and found a dozen copies ranging in price from $.01 to $99.99. I then purchased a copy from

Apparently as part of the same behind-the-scenes settlement, author Megan McCafferty issued a statement in which she said, "I wish to inform all of the parties involved that I am not seeking restitution in any form...I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can, too."

While Ms. McCafferty's statement is both gracious and graceful, no one can argue that she has achieved two things in the past week: first, enormous publicity for her own new book, Charmed Thirds, which was released on April 11; and, second, removal from the bookshelves of a novel that was competing with hers for the YA consumer dollars.

Kaavya Viswanathan declined comment.

Dreamworks had already purchased the film rights to HOMGKGWAGAL. Although there was no official word, Internet rumors were that the project will be shelved. Publishers Weekly reported that Variety said Dreamworks already had a script for HOMGKGWAGAL and that, "though the studio first considered acquiring McCafferty's work, it now seems that the project is being dropped entirely."

Lest Kaavya sink into utter depression, the Associated Press reminded readers of another scandal over 25 years ago. In 1980, Jacob Epstein admitted that his debut novel, Wild Oats, was plagiarized from writer Martin Amis. "Epstein found forgiveness in Hollywood, where his writing credits include "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Opal Mehta Got Caught!!, Part III

It's getting harder and harder to keep track of the players in the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal. Before we address the latest developments, let's list the actors in our little morality play:

Kaavya Viswanathan: The 19-year-old Harvard sophomore who made news last year when she reportedly received an advance of $500,000 for two YA books. On Sunday, the Harvard Crimson broke the story that Kaavya was suspected of plagiarism.

Alloy Entertainment: The book packager that helped to guide Kaavya and put together the proposal for her book--How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life (HOMGKGWAGAL)--for Little, Brown.

Little, Brown: Publisher (division of Time Warner) that signed a contract with Alloy Entertainment and Kaavya to release HOMGKGWAGAL. Alloy and Kaavya share the copyright for the novel.

Megan McCafferty: Former editor for Cosmopolitan and best-selling author of two YA novels. A week after HOMGKGWAGAL went on sale (and the same day McCafferty's own third book was released), she reportedly received an email from a fan pointing to similarities between Kaavya's book and her own work.

Crown Publishing: Publisher (division of Random House) that published Megan McCafferty's first two novels and her most recent book, Charmed Thirds, released this month.

Now that we've got the playlist straight, let look at what happened today. To begin with, a new player entered the scene. Claudia Gabel was brought up by the New York Times. In a very weird coincidence, the Times claims that "Claudia Gabel is thanked on the acknowledgments pages of both Ms. McCafferty's books and Ms. Viswanathan's...Ms. Gabel had been an editorial assistant at Crown Publishing Group, then moved to Alloy, where she helped develop the idea for Ms. Viswanathan's book. She has recently become an editor at Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group, a sister imprint to Crown."

Knowing that Ms. Gabel had worked on Ms. McCafferty's work before she helped develop Ms. Viswanathan's book, one would think that Ms. McCafferty's publisher would be all over it. Instead, a spokesman for Random House (owner of Crown) said in the New York Times that Ms. Gabel, who worked at Alloy from 2003 to November, 2005, said she left "'before the editorial work was completed' on Ms. Viswanathan's book." The RH spokesman said that Ms. Gabel worked on the project in its "conceptual" stage and did not touch the writing. Ms. Gabel did not return calls to the Times for comment.

Although Little, Brown, Kaavya's publisher, had indicated they would make a statement yesterday, no such press release was forthcoming. Previously, the Little, Brown publisher had told the Times, "'Our understanding is that Kaavya wrote the book herself, so any problems are entirely the result of her writing and not the result of the packager's involvement in the book.'"

The Harvard Independent, a weekly student newspaper pointed out that this is not the first time the book packager has been involved in a lawsuit with Random House--only that time, both the packager and Random House were accused of plagiarizing a writer who had done work-for-hire for Alloy Entertainment (which was doing business as 17th Street Productions at the time). The writer, Susan Daitch, had done a first draft of a children's novel called Blackwell's Island while working for 17th Street. Random House hated the draft and demanded another writer. Daitch had never signed a contract with 17th Street giving up rights to her work. After she was let go, she took the very astute step of applying for and registering a formal copyright for that first draft she'd written. When Blackwell's Island came out, Daitch promptly sued both the packager and the publisher. Although 17th Street denied Daitch's claims, the matter was settled outside of court with Daitch signing a non-disclosure agreement.

What is obvious is that the relationships in the literary world run deep and are complex. A partner in one venture may be a competitor in another venture. All the players know they will come together again in the future. I'd wager that this matter will be resolved without any of the participants setting foot in a courtroom.

The real tragedy is a 17-year-old being pushed to perform and to excel to the point that she lost track of her moral compass. I am not condoning what Kaavya did. It was wrong, and she will have to face the consequences of her actions as all adults must do. I just think it's unfortunate that she was plunked down into this position in the first place. This is a cautionary tale for every "helicopter" parent (hovering) who equates worldly success with happiness.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Opal Mehta Got Caught!!, Part II

So, where do we stand on the fourth day of the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal?

I first posted about this alleged case of plagiarism yesterday. Quick recap: Last year, then 17-year-old Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan received a $500,000 advance for two YA novels. Earlier this month, the first of those two books--"How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" (HOMGKGWAGAL)--was released.

According to the Harvard Crimson, a fan of popular YA author Megan McCafferty noticed similarities to McCafferty's work and contacted McCafferty by email on April 11. McCafferty then contacted her agent who, in turn, notified publisher Crown (a division of Random House). Crown reviewed HOMGKGWAGAL and immediately sent a letter to Kaavya's publisher, Little, Brown (a division of Time Warner).

When contacted over the weekend, Kaavya initially denied the charge. However, on Monday, she issued a statement in which she acknowledged the plagiarism, but claimed it was "unintentional and unconscious."

There have been a couple of new developments since my post yesterday. First, Publishers Marketplace obtained a copy of the document in which Crown now summarizes the 45 passages that are questionable. That's right. I said 45 passages.

Lest you be thinking that these passages are just accidental similarities, I'm going to list a few examples:

McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts"
"Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget's braces came off and her boyfriend Burke got on..."

Viswanathan's "HOMGKGWAGAL"
"Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend...But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla's glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends came on."

McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts"
"Marcus finds me completely nonsexual. No tension to complicate our whatever relationship. I should be relieved."

Viswanathan's "HOMGKGWAGAL"
"Sean only wanted me as a friend. A nonsexual female friend. That was a good thing. No (sic) there would be no tension to complicate our relationship and my soon-to-be relationship with Jeff Akel. I was relieved."

McCafferty's novel
"They could've bought Diet Cokes at any one of the 38 eating and drinking establishments in the Ocean County Mall, but in a truly sadomasochistic dieting gesture, they chose to buy their Diet Cokes at Cinnabon."

Viswanathan's "HOMGKGWAGAL"
"In a truly masochistic gesture, they had decided to buy Diet Cokes from Mrs. Fields."

There are 42 more examples like this in the Crown document. Kind of explains why Kaavya didn't maintain her initial "I have no idea what you are talking about" stance. Instead, she went on The Today Show and publicly apologized, continuing to insist the copying was unintentional.

Now starts the posturing. Today's Publishers Weekly included a response from Steven Ross, publisher at Crown. "The media storm has derailed Crown's plans to promote McCafferty's just-released third title, 'Charmed Thirds.' After a strong couple of weeks, the sales momentum has slowed, Ross said, as the focus has shifted to the plagiarism issue. 'We can't book anything,' Ross said."

Okay, now let's stop here and think for just a moment. There have been lots of plagiarizing scandals (and even a lawsuit over "The DaVinci Code") in the last four months. Not one single time, did the sales of books go down as a result of a scandal. If anything, mediocre books got more press (and more sales) than they would have accrued naturally.

Methinks this is Crown giving Little, Brown fair warning that they are going to expect substantial compensation and, maybe, even demand that HOMGKGWAGAL be pulled off the bookshelves so that "corrections" can be made. Side benefit: McCafferty's latest book won't have to compete with the newbie writer's novel.

Publishers Weekly sort of confirms that viewpoint: "Ross said he is hopeful the dispute will move out of the media and into the hands of lawyers, where a resolution can be reached. Asked if Crown was pushing for an immediate recall of the book, Ross said, 'no remedy is off the table.'"

Little, Brown was expected to issue a statement today.

I've been thinking. If I were Kaavya's parents, I'd be looking to Alloy Entertainment, the book packager that contracted to help Kaavya produce her book. I'd be asking them some serious questions. After all, the book packager shares the copyright with Kaavya.

Think about the pressure the 17-year-old was under. She was a freshman at Harvard, and she'd just been paid a $500,000 advance. Yes, she was wrong. Yes, she should never have done it. But she was only seventeen. Someone should have been keeping an eye on her. Knowing her age and the enormous pressure to perform she was under, someone should have thought to ask her the hard questions.

Guess those questions will get asked now.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How Opal Mehta Got Caught!!

Day Three in the Opal Mehta scandal.

If you haven't been following the latest plagiarism scandal, let me bring you up-to-date. This weekend, the Harvard Crimson reported that, in writing her debut novel, one of Harvard's stars had apparently plagiarized parts of another writer's YA novel.

Kaavya Viswanathan is now a sophomore at Harvard. On February 23, 2005, Publishers' Marketplace reported that the then 17-year-old freshman had received "just under $500,000 for two books," including her first novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In (HOMGKGWAGI). Opal is about a lovely teenager who has been following the life plan developed by her parents a decade earlier, only to find that she is not considered Harvard material because she is such a nerd. Opal sets out to change things and get into Harvard.

The New York Times has published three articles (and one arts brief) on Kaavya this month. The first appeared on April 6, two days after her novel was released. The second and third came out this week.

According to the first article, Kaavya denies that she is Opal. She does admit, however, that her parents "hired Katherine Cohen, founder of IvyWise, a private counseling service, and author of ''Rock Hard Apps: How to Write the Killer College Application.'' At the time IvyWise charged $10,000 to $20,000 for two years of college preparation services, spread over a student's junior and senior years." Not only did Kaavya get accepted at Harvard, after reading a sample of the teenager's writing, Cohen referred the teenager to the William Morris Agency, which also represents Cohen. Jennifer Rudolph Walsh became Kaavya's agent and put her in touch with a book packager that specializes in YA novels, Alloy Entertainment. Alloy and Kaavya share the copyright for HOMGKGWAGI. Little, Brown published the debut novel.

The problems started last week when Random House, owner of Crown Publishing, sent a letter to Little, Brown, complaining of copyright infringement. It's reputed that a fan of author Megan McCafferty had contacted Crown to point out similarities in Kaavya's new novel and McCafferty's earlier works published in 2001 and 2003.

This past weekend, the Crimson reported that there were a number of sections, including one 14-word passage, in HOMGKGWAGI that were very similar to Megan McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts." Kaavya refused to give the Crimson a comment saying according to the Times, "No comment. I have no idea what you are talking about."

Kaavya had changed her tune by yesterday (Monday). Then Little, Brown issued a statement from her saying, "When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, 'Sloppy Firsts' and 'Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did." She continued, "Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,' and passages in these books." (

Kaavya also said "that future printings of the novel would be revised to 'eliminate any inappropriate similarities' and that an acknowledgment to Ms. McCafferty would be added." (NY Times)

In an article scheduled for tomorrow's New York Times, Steve Ross, Crown's publisher, said that, "based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act."

It seems that Ms. McCafferty's publisher was not impressed by Kaavya's apology. "Mr. Ross added that Crown had not ruled out legal action. 'Right now this is in the hands of our lawyers,' he said. "We're waiting to see what their recommendations are." (NY Times)

This is my third blog this year on literary hoaxes and plagiarism. Since January, we've had J.T. LeRoy, James Frey, Nasdijj and Ben Domenech. Now Kaavya Viswanathan joins their ranks. Notorious company to be keeping at age nineteen.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tell Me Again--Why Do I Blog?

I've been blogging for about eight months now. I started doing this for the same reason as most other writers--to develop a marketing platform. The goal is to gradually build a readership that will translate into more book sales down the road. If you give readers a reason to keep coming back, the odds are that they'll be interested in purchasing your books when they're published. That's the theory anyway.

I've found I enjoy blogging. I've met a lot of nice people this way, and I like thinking about what to write each day. There are, however, a few points to remember.

First and foremost, I need to keep reminding myself of my purpose in blogging. This is not an online diary, and I'm not just looking for someone to talk to or using this forum as therapy. This is the site to which I directed my agent when we were discussing her possible representation of me. It's a site to which I will refer my publisher. Therefore, I need to behave professionally.

I also try very hard to stay away from politics, religion and other controversial subjects. I don't always succeed. I can think of two occasions in the last eight months when my outrage over something was so severe, I stepped over that line. Do I regret it? No. The issues were too important to ignore.

My good friend and fellow blogger, Sloane Taylor (, did the same thing recently in responding to a particularly insidious form of terrorism. I agreed with what she did. Sloane also considered the consequences of what she was about to say and decided that the subject matter was important enough to outweigh any potential fallout. The comments she received proved that she was right.

On the flip side, I recently read a blog that made me say, "Sweet Holy Virgin, what was she thinking?!? Another writer had written a blog dissing an entire group of people. Forget unprofessional. It was suicidal. If your purpose in blogging is to attract fans, it's never a good idea to go on a rant guaranteed to make you sound awful and to alienate almost anyone who reads it.

Second point about blogs, it's like having a dog. Your blog needs to be taken out and exercised. That means you should update it frequently--at a bare minimum once a week. In my case, I've opted to post every day. Is that difficult? It can be. But that was the decision I made, and I'm sticking with it.

Final point about blogging: be creative. Have fun with it. A group of the Brazen Hussies created a blog ( on which they are writing serialized stories; another Hussy does question-and-answer sessions with published writers (; and a third is doing online reviews of erotic romances ( Each is creative and intriguing. Each will find an audience.

On the homefront, I talked to the insurance agent today. Hopefully my home disaster will be a thing of the past by the end of this week. Thank you, Jesus.

Note to Self: Writers WRITE

Spent the day cleaning house as if--by scrubbing the floors and the bathtubs--I could erase the smell of wet carpet.

Listened to NPR while I worked. I'm still having trouble adjusting to their new weekend schedule. My local affiliate has scrambled the shows--moving "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me" and "This American Life" to Saturday from their former slots on Sunday. Now there's a new two-hour show on Sunday called "To the Best of Our Knowledge." Somehow, either in a mixup or because they're in the middle of their fund drive, last week's show was rebroadcast today.

It was all about the world of publishing. Had interviews with the editor of Publishers Weekly, Zadie Smith and Steve Berry. It was the Berry interview that most intrigued me.

He talked about an experience that is common to all writers: meeting new people and telling them you are a writer. When this happens to me, I generally encounter one of three reactions:

1) They are totally uninterested. They'll say, "That's nice," and move on to another subject. I find this happens about 25% of the time.

2) They ask a great many questions about me and my writing. "What do you write?" and "Where do you get your ideas?" are the two most popular questions. This group probably comprises about 40% of the reactions I incur.

And then there's the third group. If you've been keeping count, you'll already have figured out that this group accounts for about 35% of my responses.

3) These people usually start out saying, "I've always wanted to write." They then list all the reasons why they can't: demanding job, young children, sick spouse.

The more these folk talk, the more obvious it becomes that they have no interest in actually writing. What they want is the life of a writer. They speak enviously of people who get to work out of their homes. I try to explain that you have to be very disciplined to keep "office hours" and not get distracted by things like daytime television. They never seem to hear me.

Berry (author of "The Amber Room") talked about this in his NPR interview. He said that he is often asked about things he rarely worries about: the covers to his books and movie rights. He said he always tries to move the conversation to the actual craft of writing. He'll ask, "Tell me about YOUR book." The response is always the same: "Oh, I haven't written it yet."

I know exactly how he feels. When people ask me how to find an agent or publisher or film producer, I always say, "You need to have a finished manuscript first."

They seem taken aback. "Can't I just send my idea?"

I shake my head. "Sorry, only a finished manuscript talks."

This is the point in the conversation I dread. About half of them then say,
"I could give you my idea, and you could write it, and we could split the profits 50/50."

This is the time when I seek distractions. I'll say something like, "Gosh, doesn't that broccoli look fresh," and "Look at that precious baby." Of course, these are just red herrings. I'm already focused on my escape.

What I really want to do is say, "Hey! Writers WRITE. That's what they do. That's why they're called writers."

But I never do. I smile and nod and get away as fast as I can.

It was comforting to realize that Steve Berry does the same thing.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pretty Woman--Or Not

I just had a very weird deja vu experience. I've been trying to put my house back together after a plumbing disaster. While I worked, I had the television on in the background for noise.

When I realized "Pretty Woman" was the movie being broadcast tonight, my first instinct was to turn it off. You see, that movie and I have a history.

Back when the movie was released (1990), I was a brand new graduate student in Social Work, and things weren't going well. First of all, I'd been admitted to the program "on probation." Secondly, I was suffering from cultural clash. I'd already been out working in the world for a number of years. The hoops that the graduate school professors put their students through seemed really silly and juvenile to me--a sort of "you've got to pay your dues" mentality. I was out of patience and, after only a semester, having second thoughts about my decision to seek a MSW degree.

One of the requirements for a Master's in Social Work was a course called "Race, Ethnicity and Women." In my increasingly oppositional mood, I found myself offended by the notion that I required a course to learn cultural sensitivity. It didn't help to learn that the major part of our grade would be a paper commenting upon some aspect of race, ethnicity and women. I put off writing that paper again and again.

Meanwhile, "Pretty Woman" was chewing up the box office. It reportedly cost $14 million to make and grossed $11 million in its opening weekend. Its eventual box office take was $463 million gross worldwide and another $82 million in rentals. Not bad. EVERYONE loved it. Naturally, I went to see it. And HATED it. I was offended by the whole poor little girl needing to be rescued theme. I disliked the power imbalance between Edward and Vivian and found the entire movie condescending toward women.

I was a minority of one. It seemed the entire world adored the movie. No one I knew agreed with me on how harmful the film was for young girls--promoting a prostitute (no matter how beautiful and funny she was) as a role model and setting up an unrealistic view of love. I particularly disliked the "waiting for Prince Charming" theme.

You have to remember that this was following hard on the heels of the "bodice ripper" era of romance novels. These novels followed a formula in which the hero kidnapped and raped the heroine because, of course, a good girl couldn't have consentual sex. I saw both those novels and "Pretty Woman" as fostering stereotypes of women and encouraging an expectation that women remain passive in the face of sexual abuse.

I wrote my 25-page thesis on "Pretty Woman." I researched the role of women in the arts and slammed both the bodice rippers and the movie as being regressive, repressive and toxic.

To my utter astonishment, the paper earned an A+, the only one in the class. Additionally, the professor became a mentor of sorts to me, helping me to steer around the shoals of a program that, with two lengthy internships, took me three years to complete. I earned my MSW and a 4.0 GPA as well.

Fast forward 16 years to tonight. I ended up sitting on the floor with the cat in my lap watching the entire movie. Did I hate it? No. Was I appalled by it? No. I found it sweet and kind of quaint.

What changed in the intervening 16 years? First, the world facing women is an entirely different one today. Young girls have more role models and more options now than they've ever had. One bad role model is no longer a matter of serious concern.

And me? I now read romances--not the bodice rippers of my youth, but erotic romances where the women embrace their sexuality openly and with enthusiasm.

If, in 1990, you had predicted my reaction today, I would have said you were crazy. What a difference a little time makes.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

To Soup or Not to Soup

Sorry for the delay in posting. I've been having plumbing "issues."

Actually, my house was having the issue; I was just the one charged with dealing with it. My internal plumbing is fine, thank you very much.

However, this problem brought one of my quirks into the light of day again. The first time I was made aware of this idiosyncrasy was when I moved into my house. Friends and family were helping me pack. The person assigned to pack the pantry came upstairs to where I was emptying closets and said, "What's with all the soup?"

I said, "What?"

He said, "I'm packing up the pantry, and I started counting the cans of soup. I found 87 cans." He made it sound like he'd found a stash of cocaine.

I found myself stammering, "I like soup."

He nodded. "So do I. I have three cans in my pantry. Chicken with rice, chicken with noodles and beef vegetable. You have 87 cans."

For the first time ever, I found myself having to put into words my soup fetish (his words, not mine). There are two (no, make that three) times when I buy soup.

I tend to be a little obsessive-compulsive. When I am stressed, this quality becomes enormously exaggerated. Unlike others, who over-shop, over-medicate, over-drink, etc., I buy soup. Yeah, soup.

Face it, there's something very comforting about eating a bowl of hot soup. Chicken soup. Lentil soup. Beef barley soup. Pasta y fagioli soup. Okay, I'm Italian. For those of you not fortunate enough to be Italian, pasta y fagioli is macaroni and bean soup. The Spaghetti Warehouse restaurant chain serves a version of this as an appetizer. It's not the real thing, but it give you an idea of what the real thing is.

My grandmother used to make pasta y fagioli for me all the time. When she knew I was coming to visit, she'd make a fresh batch. After she died, making that recipe was a way to remember her and to feel good. In classic Pavlovian style the trigger eventually evoked the response on its own, and the act morphed into my making the soup to feel good when I was feeling stressed or upset.

I used to make my own pasta y fagioli. Then I discovered Progresso had a version of it. It's not exactly like Grandma's. So I doctor it and, in twenty minutes, I have a fair approximation of Grandma's soup. Lots of carbs. Carbs boost serotonin levels. Believe me, after a bowl of pasta and Great Northern bean soup, you can't help but feel better.

Through the years, it has become more and more difficult to find that particular Progresso soup. First they stopped calling it "Pasta y Fagioli" and started calling it "Macaroni and Bean." Then a lot of stores stopped carrying it. Which brings me to the second reason I had 87 cans of soup.

There is only one store currently carrying Progresso Macaroni and Bean soup in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I know. I emailed Progresso to ask. So, every time I am in the vicinity of that store, I buy two or three more cans (at almost $4 a can). Which is why I currently have 21 cans of it in my pantry. It represents a significant percentage of my personal net worth. I wonder if you can shelter an investment like that in an IRA?

The third reason I had the 87 cans is that my family and friends were moving me in December. Although I was born in New York City, I spent the bulk of my childhood in Florida. The Sunshine State. Where it's warm. When I moved to Texas, I was unprepared for the cold winters. I was also very poor. I had only open-toed shoes and no real winter coat. I spent that first winter trying to avoid walking in snow and responding to people who asked, "Aren't you cold in those shoes and that little jacket?" I would say, "Oh, no. I love the cold weather." Then I'd go home and eat soup for dinner to try and get warm again. Today when I'm cold, I instinctively reach for the soup--not coffee, not tea, not cocoa.

Soup is a very economical meal when you're poor. I ate a lot of it back then. It's also fast and easy. Now that I'm working out of my house and not wanting to be distracted, I eat soup for lunch most days. In the winter, I make fresh soup and freeze it. Many times, however, for convenience sake, I fall back on a can. No Campbell's for me. I'm strictly a Progresso or Wolfgang Puck lady.

All of this came back to me yesterday when the plumber asked, "Hey, lady, what's with all the soup in this pantry?"

I replied, "What are you talking about? There aren't more than 50 cans in there."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My Antonio

Today was a really crummy day, and please believe when I say that I've had a few crummy days in recent weeks.

To begin with, I was one of 3,000 people who lost their electricity in a giant thunderstorm last night. This is nothing new. As I've said before, I live in a forest. Every time it rains, my electricity goes out. However, normally, when the power goes out, it comes back on within two or three hours. Not this time. My power stayed down for over ten hours. And that was just the start of the day. Suffice it to say, that I had to write a check for $700 that I wasn't wanting to spend. And I had to sic the police on the water department. God knows what will be coming out of my faucet from here on out.

Rather than dwelling on a REALLY bad day, I'm going to focus on something positive.

Antonio Banderas. Am I the only one who finds him incredibly sexy? I can even watch him in a bad movie and (mostly) not notice. Rumor has it that Melanie Griffith hangs around the set whenever he is performing to keep an eye on him. I don't blame her. Hell, I would, too. "Keep your eyes off my man, you hussies!"

All this to say that I recently went to see his latest movie, "Take the Lead." Forget that it looked like a high school version of "Fame." Antonio was

Even so, my infatuation with Antonio wasn't quite deep enough to make me overlook the film's lame ending. Since the ending is broadcast from the first fifteen minutes, I won't be spoiling anything by saying that the "outcasts" from an inner city high school attend a formal ballroom dancing competition where the other contestants are snotty debs and their beaus. Okay, Antonio is there; I can buy that.

Then the inner city kids take over the DJ's instrument panel and, in short order, are doing "their" dances while the wealthy nabobs nod and smile in approval. It was done in Dirty Dancing and done a hell of a lot better. Even Antonio couldn't overcome that goofy, derivative ending.

Okay, I'm feeling better. Just thinking about Antonio perked me up. Have a good one.



Copyright 101, Part IV

Today we're returning to talk about copyright and, this time, the subject is Fair Use.

First, the usual disclaimer: I am not an attorney and am not pretending to be one here. The information contained in my blogs on this subject are based on my own practical experience and on information gleaned from research. If you have a copyright issue, consult the U.S. Copyright Office at or a copyright attorney.

Much of the information contained in this blog comes directly from the U.S. Copyright Office with some help from Wikipedia.

Fair Use is the doctrine that balances the copyright rights of the artist against the free speech rights of the First Amendment.

Wikipedia's definition is that Fair Use "in the context of U.S. copyright law . . . provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test."

The Fair Use doctrine was an informal part of copyright law until the Copyright Act of 1976 when it was specifically described. That law says that fair use is permitted "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies of classroom use), scholarship, or research."

In making a determination as to whether the use of a work is a fair use of that work, the four factor balancing test includes:

1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2) The nature of the copyrighted work;
3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The rest of this column will be spent on discussing each of the four factors.

1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
Keep in mind the purposes described in the law (criticism, comment, reporting, teaching, etc.) Is the use stimulating creativity or enriching the public? Is it advancing knowledge? Or is it just being used for personal enrichment. An example given points to the use of Barbie dolls for a photography exhibit that parodied Barbie and the values she represents. This was considered fair use of the dolls despite Mattel's objections.

2) The nature of the copyrighted work
This is the section under which the recent plaintiffs in The DaVinci Code lawsuit would have been tripped up if they had tried their case in this country. Wikipedia states: "In order to prevent the private ownership of work that rightfully belongs in the public domain, facts and ideas are separate from copyright--only their particular expression or fixation merits such protection." Therefore, in reviewing a case of copyright infringement, the court will consider whether the work is fictional or non-fictional. Time magazine purchased and copyrighted the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy's assassination, but they lost their 1968 case to stop a publisher from reproducing stills from the film in a history book because the court determined the public interest outweighed the copyright holder's interest.

3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
"The third factor assesses the quantity or percentage of the original copyrighted work that has been imported into the new work. In general the less that is used in relation to the whole . . . the more likely that the sample will be considered fair use." (Wiki)

Music is a whole different animal when it comes to fair use. Since 1991 and rapper Biz Markie's case, the rule has been "'get a license or do not sample.'" No matter how small the amount of the sample, you must get a license to use a copyrighted work.

4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
"The court not only investigates whether the defendant's specific use of the work has significantly harmed the copyright owner's market, but also whether such uses in general, if widespread, would harm the potential market of the original. The burden of proof here rests on the defendant for commercial uses, but on the copyright owner for noncommercial uses."

First, the courts try to determine if the new use will substitute for the copyrighted work in the market. This is the area in which film pirates often fall afoul of the law. You cannot copy a work and then turn around and sell it. Second, the courts also consider whether market harm can occur beyond a substitution. If the new use creates a new market, copyright infringement can alos occur.

A reminder here. Your work is copyrighted the moment you fix it in tangible form. However, in order to prosecute a copyright infringement case, you must also have registered your copyright.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

2005 e-Book Sales

Posting a daily blog can sometimes be difficult. Today for instance. I have three different subjects I want to talk about: Fair use as it applies to copyright, what I've learned about the electric grid in this country and now--a new report on 2005 eBook sales.

I think I'm going to have to go with the e-book sales today and save the others for another day.

Publishers Weekly had a small item yesterday morning regarding 2005 e-book sales. It said that the International Digital Publishing Forum [IDPF] reported "e-book sales from 18 companies totaled $11.9 million last year."

I visited the IDPF website (, which describes itself as "the trade and standards association for the digital publishing industry." IDPF reported that the 2005 sales figure represented a 23% increase over 2004. The results were not directly comparable because the list of publishers varies between the two years.

I should probably mention that this is by no means an all-inclusive list. IDPF depends on publishers voluntarily reporting their sales figures. I can name another twelve e-publishers whose names are not on the list.

While the approximately $12 million in sales is not particularly impressive, the 18 publishers who chose to report results for all four quarters in 2005 are. The complete list is: DigitalPulp Publishing; Elib AB; Ellora's Cave Publishers; E-Reads; Fictionwise, Inc.; Hard Shell Word Factory; Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.; HarperCollins; Houghton Mifflin Company; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; McGraw-Hill; Pearson Education; Random House; RosettaBooks LLC; Simon & Schuster; Stonehouse Press; Time Warner Book Group and Zondervan.

It will be interesting to see what the Quarter I results are for 2006. The deadline for submitting that information is May 8.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Selling & Renting Digital Films Online

I live in Texas, which is in the middle of an unusual heat wave. Today the D/FW area was officially 101 degrees although my local bank's outdoor thermometer thought it was much hotter.

This has resulted in our state power grid making the decision to do rolling blackouts throughout the state, bringing down one part of the grid every 15 minutes. I want to understand this better and will probably blog on it in the next day or so.

In the meantime, I've been wanting to post this item for two weeks. Something else just kept coming up to delay it.

On Monday, April 3, seven Hollywood studios announced that they were beginning to sell digital versions of their top films on the Internet. According to the Associated Press, this is "the first time major movies have been available online to own . . . The films can't be burned onto a disc for viewing on a DVD player. Still, the move is seen as a step toward full digital distribution of movies over the Internet."

The studios in question are: Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Lionsgate and MGM. They will make available both first-run titles like "Brokeback Mountain" and "King Kong" along with older titles. Most of the studios will use Movielink ( for distribution. However, Sony and Lionsgate will use CinemaNow ( for their distribution.

I clicked on Movielink tonight just to see how it works. You can choose to rent or purchase the movies. If you rent (fees start at $.99), you have 30 days to watch the film. You can play the film for up to 24 hours during that 30-day period, meaning--if I understand it--that you can watch a two-hour film a full twelve times during that 30-day period. If you choose to buy the film, there are no limits on how often or when you play the movie. Purchase fees start at $8.99 for older movies and $26.99 for new films like "Brokeback Mountain." When I checked CinemaNow, the deal was similar. I could rent "Walk the Line" for $3.99 for a 24-hour period.

Right now the plan is to make some movies available online the same day they become available on DVD. However, the studios will pick and choose the films involved. They do not want to hurt their lucrative DVD business.

However, this is a first step toward a digital universe. You can set your entertainment center up to run the movie from your computer to your big screen TV. You can even cut a disc as backup. But that disc will not run on a DVD player at this time.

I know I keep harping on the importance of providing material in as many mediums as possible. This is a very important first step for Hollywood.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Generational Musings

I've been working on an article for my chapter's newsletter. I call it "The Industry Matters." I've always loved double entendres, and I especially like that title.

In the course of doing the article, I wrote about Dorchester Publishing's new initiatives intended to capture younger readers. On Saturday, I blogged about their plan to partner with to host a series of "speed dating" events around the U.S. starting in May.

Dorchester's second initiative was announced in RWA's ”Romance Writer’s Report.” According to RWR, the publishing house is planning a new imprint for 2007. These romances will feature heroines aged 18 to 25 stolen from their normal lives into an alternate universe “that challenges all she thought she knew.” The books will sport covers resembling the popular manga graphic novels.

In talking about her goals, Dorchester Editorial Director Alicia Condon was quite open: "it's a chance for us to foster reading among those in an age bracket that publishers have long had trouble reaching.”

Thinking about Alicia's comment reminded me of a book called "Generations" that I read almost fifteen years ago. The book was written by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The authors attempted to identify generational patterns. The book didn't earn much credibility with sociologists or historians, but it did get a lot of attention from marketing people bent on selling to the various generations.

There are lots of ways to look at the post World War II generations. For the purposes of this blog, I'm not going to try for sub-categories. I'm not using Strauss & Howe's delineations either. This is a broad butcher block look:

Baby Boomers 1946-1964
Generation X 1965-1980
Generation Y 1981-2001

The group that Dorchester is targeting is Generation Y, those children who are now roughly between the ages of five and twenty-six. These kids are also known as the Millennials or the Net Generation because they were the last children born in the twentieth century, but the first children to grow up in a digital world dominated by the Internet.

The Gen Y group have much broader and more diverse entertainment options than any previous generation’s. They’ve grown up with access to PCs, cell phones, digital cameras, Instant Messaging, DVDs, Mp3s, Tivo, PlayStation and MySpace. They are more at home in front of a laptop than they are with a library book. These are not the computer geeks of the Gen X group, where one had to be technologically inclined to understand computers. The Gen Y kids inhaled digital technology with every breath; they drank it in with their mothers' milk.

The publishing industry is going to have to develop much more convenient and immediate mediums in order to appeal to this generation. These kids spend more time on the Internet than they do watching television; they watch movies on huge home screens or laptops instead of visiting theaters. They like computer graphics, colorful manga and cell phones that take photos. They are in constant communication with each other via cell phones, Instant Messaging and social network websites like MySpace. They can share music, play video games and exchange pictures all with a few keystrokes.

So how do publishers reach this demographic group? Try visiting websites like and look at the manga the Gen Y group are buying and downloading. There are even Harlequin books available on this site.

Visit XM Radio's website and look at the offerings on their Sonic Theater station (

Stop by Fictionwise's website ( and look at the novels by Random House, Pocket, Penguin, Luna and others that can be downloaded to read immediately.

Again, it's about medium, immediacy and selection.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Time to Celebrate

This has been a stressful week. I'm glad it's over. I've had all kinds of challenges (read here: crises) and opportunities for growth (read here: near-psychotic breakdowns).

I battled a flea epidemic and began putting together my first book proposal. I've already blogged about those so I'll just add that I lost the first go-round with the fleas and overslept and missed my RWA meeting for this month.

After staying away from my home for four hours earlier this week while the fogger took effect, I came home, confident that the little b*stards had been eradicated. Sat down at my computer and watched in horror as two fleas jumped on my forearm and danced a little Happy Dance before giving me the finger and hopping off.

I went roaring back to the store that had sold me the fogger only to be told that no pesticide can penetrate flea cocoons, which is why they recommend that you wait two weeks and re-fog. I wasn't having any. I asked if he was trying to tell me that the cocoons had matured in the forty-five minutes between when I got home, aired the house out and sat down at my computer. I'd become a flea connoissoisseur in a very short time and knew those two smart-*ss fleas were not immature babies.

Apparently, the sight of an enraged flea-bitten woman who had started the day with a cold shower (no water heater) was sufficiently intimidating that the salesclerk gave me my $25 back.

On Friday, I planned my strategy carefully. This time, instead of purchasing one box of four foggers, I employed two packages with a total of six foggers. Instead of staying gone for only four hours, I stayed away for six hours.

Got home Friday night, aired out the house, sat down at the computer and waited. Nothing. Thank God. I began to work.

About fifteen minutes later, a flea hopped on my forearm. I stared at him in utter disbelief. He staggered about an inch, saluted me and died. I almost cried with relief; my home was mine again. It smelled of pesticide, and I had no hot water, but it was all MINE.

A good thing happened during one of my enforced absences, I saw the new film, "Lucky Number Slevin." Reviews of the movie were mixed. Most described it as "stylish," but a number of reviewers found it self-important and a "con." I disagreed. For one thing, it has a hell of a cast: Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu and Josh Hartnett. That cast could have recited the alphabet, and I'd have been happy. The movie opens with Bruce Willis describing a scam called "The Kansas City Shuffle." He says it's a con game with a body. Fair warning to my mind. I counted 21 bodies (not including the race horse). Although not as good as either, it reminded me of "Pulp Fiction" and "The Usual Suspects." I enjoyed it. And I didn't get bit once. That's something to celebrate.

Happy Easter and a Joyous Passover to everyone.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Two Items: Dorchester & February Sales Figures

Both of these items appeared in yesterday's Publishers Weekly (PW), but got bumped from my blog in favor of Frank Woolworth's birthday.

First, the report on bookstore sales. PW reported that bookstore sales dropped 1.7% in February to $1.05 billion according to the Census Bureau's preliminary data. This drop in sales followed on the heels of January, when sales rose 4.4%. The entire retail segment's sales were up 7.4% in February at the same time the bookstore sales dropped.

The second item reported by PW yesterday was a marketing ploy by Dorchester. The mass market fiction house is partnering with, an online dating service. Beginning in May, the partners will host "speed dating" events in five cities. The cities are: Atlanta; Chicago; New York; San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Dorchester was very frank about wanting to reach the 20 to 30-year-old reading market. Dorchester VP and Editorial Director Alicia Condon was blunt: "Our purpose in forming this partnership with is three-fold...First and foremost, it's a wonderful opportunity for us to participate in helping people make real-life connections. Second, we hope to re-educate readers about the romance genre...and's a chance for us to foster reading among those in an age-bracket that publishers have long had trouble reaching."

Each attendee at the speed dating events will receive two books; Dorchester estimates they will give away up to 150 books at each event. Attendees will also get dating tips from Dorchester's authors.

It will be interesting to see if the initiative is continued beyond the first five events.

Have a fun weekend!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Let's Applaud F.W. Woolworth

Okay, even though this posting will be for April 14th, I'm writing it on the night of the 13th. And Jay Leno is responsible for the subject.

My intention was to write about Dorchester's new marketing plan. But then Jay said something that changed my mind. So blame him for this blog. Dorchester will just have to wait.

Jay mentioned that April 13th was the birthdate of Frank Woolworth, the founder of the F.W. Woolworth Company.

Now, stay with me here for a moment. I'll actually bring this around to a subject of importance to writers before we're through. To begin with, however, I think old Frank deserves a mention. I'm going to cheat and take his bio directly from Wikipedia, which says: "Franklin Winfield Woolworth (April 13, 1852-April 8, 1919) was an American merchant. Born in Rodman, New York, he was the founder of F.W. Woolworth Company, an operator of discount stores that priced merchandise at five and ten cents. He pioneered the now-common practices of buying merchandise direct from manufacturers and fixing prices on items, rather than haggling."

By coincidence, Monday, on another loop I belong to, a writer asked what the difference was between a trade paperback and a mass market paperback.

A friend of mine, McKenna Olhasque, gave a very succinct description of each. Shortly afterward, she and I were exchanging emails, and she mentioned a bit of history that I was not familiar with.

Megs and I have this ongoing dialogue about the future of books, e-books, etc. In an email to me, she said that providing those descriptions of mass market paperback and trade paperback reminded her that--for years--no self-respecting author would be caught dead in paperback and no bookstore would carry them. She said it was "good ol' Woolworth, in both the US/UK, that opened up that market."

I had never heard this bit of trivia and went a-huntin' after we signed off. Sure enough, my friend Megs was right (not that I ever doubted her).

Albatross Books in Germany was the first to produce a small paperback book in 1931. However, the person who gets the most credit for the mass market paperback is British publisher Allen Lane who, in 1935, launched the Penguin imprint. According to the Penguin company website, Lane had his brainstorm "[a]fter a weekend visiting Agatha Christie in Devon, [when] he found himself on a platform at Exeter station searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey back to London, but discover[ing] only popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels.

"Appalled by the selection on offer, Lane decided that good quality contemporary fiction should be made available at an attractive price and sold not just in traditional bookshops, but also in railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores."

Wikipedia says Lane "bought paperback rights from publishers, ordered huge print keep unit prices low, and looked to non-traditional bookselling retail locations. Booksellers were intitially (sic) reluctant to buy his books. Woolworths, the department store, however placed a large order on the books, and the books sold extremely successfully. Booksellers were no longer reluctant to buy the books. The word, 'Penguin' became extremely closely associated with the word, 'paperback.'"

Now, isn't that a great trivia tidbit? Thanks to Megs for providing it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Good News and The Price

The last couple of days have been crazy. I've been battling a flea infestation (the result of a warm winter and my no longer being as vigilant because I only have cats now instead of cats and a dog; Lucy died last March). The cats haven't even been outdoors (much) in over two weeks.

For those of you who've never had them, fleas are insidious, nasty little buggers. Yahweh should have added them to the list of plagues he sent the Egyptians. Fleas beat frogs and gnats--hands down. The Egyptians would have surrendered, and Yahweh wouldn't have had to bring in all those messy boils and noisy locusts.

My first warning of the impending plague (which I completely misread--so much for my powers of observation) was when the cats began climbing higher. I noticed Tribble on top of the television and Bobbin on top of the etagere and wrote it off as them playing "power games." More fool me. They were trying to stay off the flea-infested carpet. By the time the fleas began to bite my ankles, we were deep in an infestation.

In the middle of this week, I got word that St. Martin's Press is interested in the story that Jacky submitted to them. They want some changes to that manuscript and proposals for two more stories.

Terror set in. It's taken me two full days to calm down enough to think.

Fortunately, Jacky is calm and stable and encouraging. She's turned down two of my proposed plotlines, but agreed to a third. That means I still need one more plotline.

I can do it. Yes, I can. Of course, I can. Oh, God, I'm really sorry for all the swearing I did about the fleas. I promise I'll do better the next time you visit plagues on my household. Just give me some help here. PLEASE!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Copyright 101, Part III

After I posted yesterday's blog, I had a couple of emails asking me to define "notice." Sorry. I should have thought of that before.

First, the daily disclaimer: I am not an attorney and am not pretending to be one here. The information contained in my blogs on this subject are based on my own practical experience and on information gleaned from research. If you have a copyright issue, consult the U.S. Copyright Office at or a copyright attorney.

Okay, notice. Let's start with the definition the U.S. Copyright Office gives: "A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership."

Copyright notice consists of three elements: the "c" in a circle (©), the year of first publication, and the name of the owner of copyright. An example would be: ©2003 John Doe. Again, please note that date is the year of first PUBLICATION, not the year you created the work.

"Use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection." A copyright notice is no longer legally required to secure copyright on works. Your work is now protected from the moment you fix it in an tangible medium of expression.

Although the copyright notice is now optional, it does provide some legal benefits. First of all, because prior law DID contain a copyright notice requirement, the use of the notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older works.

"Works published before January 1, 1978, are governed by the previous copyright law. Under that law, if a work was published under the copyright owner's authority without a proper notice, all copyright protection for that work was permanently lost in the United States."

The 1988 Berne Convention Implementation Act amended the copyright law to make the use of the notice optional on copies of works published after March 1, 1989.

Another way in which the copyright notice is still relevant is that it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright and identifies the owner and the date of first publication. That prevents anyone from using your work and then claiming an "innocent infringement defense."

Use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the U.S. Copyright Office.

You often hear agents or others saying that putting a copyright notice on a work marks a writer as a amateur or newbie. This is because the copyright notice only applies to PUBLISHED works. However, it's worthwhile to take a look at the definition of publication and to consider how to protect unpublished works.

"The 1976 Copyright Act defines publication as 'the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending.' The following do not constitute publication: printing or other reproduction of copies, performing or displaying a work publicly, or sending copies to the Copyright Office.

"The copyright notice has never been required on unpublished works. However, because the dividing line between a preliminary distribution and actual publication is sometimes difficult to determine, the copyright owner may wish to put a copyright indicate that rights are claimed." An appropriate notice for an unpublished work might be: Unpublished work ©2004 Jane Doe.

Next week, we'll take a look at "fair use."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Copyright 101, Part II

Okay, it's time to continue with Copyright 101. We're addressing the issue about once a week throughout the month of April.

First, the disclaimer: I am not an attorney and am not pretending to be one here. The information contained in my blogs on this subject are based on my own practical experience and on information gleaned from research. If you have a copyright issue, consult the U.S. Copyright Office at or a copyright attorney.

Today, we look at the different terms of protection for works created in the United States during the period between 1923 to 1978. Remember: works created before 1923 are largely in the public domain.

To begin with, here's a helpful summary from Wikipedia: "Copyright subsists for a variety of lengths in different jurisdictions...[D]ifferent categories of works and [their] length...also depend on whether a work is published or unpublished. In most of the world the default length of copyright for many works is either life of the author plus 50 years, or plus 70 years. Copyright in general always expires at the end of the year concerned, rather than on the exact date of the death of the author. (The right to reclaim a copyright--or 'terminate the transfer' of a copyright--commences and ends on the anniversaries of exact dates in the United States.)

"In the United States, all books and other items published before 1923 have expired copyrights and are in the public domain. In the US, government documents, regardless of date, are all public domain."

There's a great copyright resource by Keith Aoki, James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins. It's a graphic novel by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain called "Bound by Law?" Included in what looks like a comic book, is a great chart showing terms of protection for copyrights in the United States. I will reproduce a portion of it here (permitted by attribution). To determine the length of copyright, find the description that best fits the work:

1) For a work created: 1/1/78 or after (works published without notice of copyright between 1/1/78 and 3/1/89 retained copyright only if the omission of notice was corrected)

It is protected from the point at which the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression to the point in time that is the life of the author plus 70 years (for works of corporate or anonymous authorship, they are protected for the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 yeas from creation).

2) For a work published before 1923, it is now in the public domain and the term of protection has expired.

3) For a work published from 1923 to 1963 that was published WITH notice, the term of protection is 95 years after publication date. However, if the copyright was not renewed, the work is now in the public domain. Many works published during the period between 1923 and 1977 are in the public domain because the authors did not comply with notice, renewal or other formalities.

4) For a work published from 1964 to 1977 that was published WITH notice, the term of protection is 95 years after publication date. Again, works published without notice are now in the public domain.

5) For a work CREATED before 1/1/78 but NOT published, the term of protection began on 1/1/78 (the effective date of the 1976 Copyright Act) and the term of protection is life of the author plus 70 years.

6) For a work CREATED before 1/1/78 but PUBLISHED between then and 12/31/02, the term of protection began on 1/1/78 (the effective date of the 1976 Copyright Act) and the term of protection is life of the author plus 70 years OR 12/31/47, whichever is greater.

7) For a work CREATED before 1/1/78 and PUBLISHED after 12/31/02, the term of protection began on 1/1/78 (the effective date of the 1976 Copyright Act) and the term of protection is the life of the author plus 70 years.

Next time, we'll address the issue of "fair use."

P.S. I've already had several emails asking about the "notice." So I'll do another post tomorrow to address that issue ONLY.

Monday, April 10, 2006

He Ain't Heavy

A couple of things happened this weekend that started me thinking--always a dangerous proposition.

My phone rang later than usual Saturday night. When I picked it up, the youngest of my three brothers was on the line. Without preliminaries, he said, "I'm on deadline. What city is 'Romeo and Juliet' set in?"

I answered, "Verona," and he hung up.

I should probably explain that my youngest brother is a newspaper columnist. He was obviously facing a deadline. Hitting one key on his cell phone to ask me the question was faster than hitting multiple keys on his laptop to ask Google that same question. He was in a hurry and knew I would know the answer.

On Sunday, I called my middle brother, a computer programmer. I explained to him that I wanted a tape of the National Geographic cable show on the Gospel of Judas airing that night. As we talked, he popped a videotape into his VCR and programmed the television to record the show.

There were half a dozen people I could have asked to copy that show for me, but I knew I could trust my brother to do it and get the tape to me.

My birthday was this week, and a friend and I celebrated it on Sunday. We met at church, went to brunch and then visited the Dallas Arboretum, where the spring flowers are in bloom. This time of year, you can usually find me at the Arboretum.

On our way through downtown Dallas from Ferre, which styles itself as "an urban Tuscan restaurant" (???), to the Arboretum, we were nearly trapped by a sea of vehicles. "What on earth?" I said. Dallas' downtown is not generally a place where you encounter traffic jams on weekends.

"It's the Immigration march," my friend said, executing a quick turn that brought us up a ramp and away from the ocean of cars.

Once we were above downtown, we could see just how large the crowd was. Thousands of mostly Hispanics (but not all), dressed in mostly white (but not all) and carrying American flags were walking in the direction of the Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe (the Cathedral Shrine of Guadalupe) on Ross Avenue. It took a minute for me to realize that they were chanting, "USA, USA, USA."

The news put the crowd at between 350,000 and 500,000 people--the largest protest in Dallas' history. I believe it. I had never before seen such a mass of humanity marching in peaceful, orderly fashion. The news said that, despite its size, there was no violence in the crowd. There were only two arrests made by the DPD.

Watching the broadcast last night, my first thought was, "They're supporting their brothers."

Sometimes the services we render our brothers are small, mundane tasks. Other times, we globalize both the service and whom we recognize as our brothers.

In the same way J had called me on Saturday, and I had called P on Sunday, those thousands of law-abiding demonstrators were responding to calls of need from their brothers and sisters.

No matter what your position is on the immigration question, you could not help but be moved/impressed/awed by seeing half a million people turning out on a beautiful spring afternoon to make their voices heard. It's a sight I will never forget.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Did You Hear the Earth Shake?!?

Did you hear the earth shake this week?

It happened. At least twice.

The first time was on Wednesday when Apple announced new software that will allow users to run Microsoft's Windows XP operating system on Apple's Macs.

For years, Mac users have complained because they could not run the popular Microsoft Windows on their computers. Now, Boot Camp, a free download available from Apple, will permit users to install Windows XP on the newer Intel-based Macs. Users will still need to purchase the Microsoft software.

Industry insiders believe that this move will help Apple (whose stock jumped 10% on the day the news was announced). Currently Microsoft dominates the PC market where it is estimated that Windows runs on 90% to 95% of all computers. By contrast, Mac accounts for between 3% and 5% of all computers.

According to Samir Bhavnani talking to, "Apple's move to reach out to Windows users is a promising step toward increasing the Mac's market share." He also noted "that the iPod's popularity exploded once Apple made its iTunes software available to Windows users."

Apparently the lessons iPod taught have not been lost on Apple.

The second time the earth moved this week was on Friday when Gail Northman of Triskelion Publishing, a small e-publisher, announced that her company has now received RWA "recognized publisher status."

For those of you who are not romance writers, there has been an increasingly heated controversy inside the venerable Romance Writers of America (RWA) over the last year.

Backstory: RWA has a process by which it okays publishers by conferring "recognized" status on them. This initiative began with good intentions--to prevent authors from being scammed by illegitimate con artists and vanity publishers. To accomplish this, RWA set guidelines for "recognized publishers," those publishers that romance authors could trust.

The last time I saw the guidelines, they stated the a recognized publisher should be: "A royalty-paying publishing house that (1) is not a subsidy or vanity publisher (2) has been releasing books via national distribution for a minimum of one year, and (3) has sold a minimum of 1,500 hardcover or trade paperback copies or 5,000 copies in any other format, including print on demand, of a single romance novel or novella or collection of novellas in book form, in bona fide arms-length transactions, and continues to sell a minimum of 1,500 hardcover or trade paperback copies or 5,000 copies in any other format of a subsequent romance novel each year."

I just received my renewal notice for RWA. Next month will mark my second anniversary as a member. During my entire tenure, the only e-publisher on RWA's approved list has been Ellora's Cave (

There has been an increasing undercurrent of dissatisfaction from e-pubbed authors who felt that RWA was being unnecessarily harsh and legalistic in reviewing publisher applications. Some authors felt that RWA was deliberately dissing the world of electronic publishing and them, as writers.

By extension of RWA's definition, authors who were pubbed by publishers not on the recognized list were not "recognized authors." This has created a two-tiered system, with RWA refusing to even allow non-recognized authors' websites to be listed on the RWA website. This means that romance authors with multiple novels, novellas and short stories published by houses such as Loose Id, Liquid Silver, Red Sage, Amber Quill, Whiskey Creek Press and Triskelion are NOT considered published by the organization charged with promoting romance writers.

RWA tried to assuage bad feelings by encouraging non-recognized authors to join PRO, a RWA internal sub-group marking authors as "professional" if they had submitted a manuscript to an editor or publisher--even if it was rejected. I have never bothered to join PRO because, frankly, I didn't see the point.

Interestingly enough, ALSO this week, Anna Genoese (editor at Tor) voiced her opinion of the whole PRO make-the-little-author-feel-special-thing on her blog (

It's probably just a coincidence that, after at least four months of submitting paperwork to RWA to become recognized and being told that they hadn't gotten it right yet, Triskelion received "recognized" status two days later.

Triskelion HAS been particularly assertive in saying in effect, "We meet the guidelines that RWA set. You cannot now turn around and read the rules differently or demand something else from us."

At any rate, two solid walls cracked this week. Apple and RWA. I, for one, will celebrate both events.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Verdict Is In!

The verdict is in for the copyright infringement case against Random House and "The DaVinci Code."

On April 7th, Judge Peter Smith ruled in the case filed by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," who had claimed that Dan Brown stole the "architecture" of their non-fiction book to write his novel, "The DaVinci Code." The judge ruled in favor of Random House, the defendant.

The judge was scathing in his ruling: "It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (DaVinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright." (Yahoo News)

Random House's chief executive was delighted: "We never believed it should have come to court and frequently tried to explain why to the claimants."

Yahoo reports that the loss may mean that Leigh and Baigent will have to pay legal costs estimated to be more than 1.75 million dollars. Of course, the lawsuit also helped sales of both "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and Baigent's new book, "The Jesus Papers," which was released on March 28.

Publishers Weekly included a quote from Dan Brown: "A novelist must be free to draw appropriately from historical works without fear that he'll be sued and forced to stand in a courtroom facing allegations that call into question his very integrity as a person."

The ruling did not come as a surprise to most legal watchers who thought it would be a huge stretch for the judge to rule that someone could steal an "idea" or "a historical fact."

Friday, April 07, 2006

Do You Know Sophie?

I know I said we'd talk about changes in the movie industry today, but I changed my mind. We'll save that subject for another day. There was an item in Publishers Marketplace (PM) today that caught my attention.

I love my subscription to PM. It provides more valuable data on the industry than anywhere else.

Today's PM included an article about The Institute for the Future of the Book (IF:B). The IF:B website here provides the following mission statement:

Starting with the assumption that the locus of intellectual discourse is shifting from printed page to networked screen, the primary goal of the Institute for the Future of the Book is to explore, understand and influence this shift. The Institute is a project of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California and is based in Brooklyn, New York.
The Institute is funded by two very large foundations: MacArthur and Mellon.

PM says:

While publishers are reckoning with Google Book Search (and Amazon's ever-expanding Search Inside the Book and related initiatives), people associated with The Institute argue that these are primitive and regressive visions of books made electronic. And by extension, they would argue that publishers investing heavily in infrastructure built around these paradigms are preparing for the past more than for the future.

Instead of seeing the work being done by Google's Book Search and Amazon's Search Inside as the groundbreaking wave of the future, the IF:B sees those initiatives as stagnant and confining. The Institute is working on its own vision of the future; a vision that it calls Sophie.

Sophie is no less than a plan to reinvent the book. Not just satisfied with an electronic book that can be read on a computer screen, Sophie is a social engineering experiment as well. Recognizing the success of such websites as My Space, Sophie is an attempt to create documents that could live and breathe on the Internet and where readers could interact with each other and with the author. PM described it thus: Sophie "will make it easier to create electronic books that incorporate today's technologies to 'present a reading environment' and 'enable readers and writers to have conversations inside of books.'"

Go over and visit The Institute and read about Sophie at the IF:B blog here.

I hope you'll be as fascinated as I am.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rumblings in the Book World

Something interesting happened over the last two days.

I've been exchanging emails with another writer. She questioned me on the future of e-books. I said that, while e-books have been gradually gaining in acceptance, I thought the tipping point would occur when a viable e-book reading device came on the market. I mentioned the device that I blogged about in January during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas: Sony's Reader.

To date, there really hasn't been an e-book reader that consumers have embraced. Because these devices have been hard to read or large and bulky, they haven't caught on. Most people who download e-books are still reading them on laptops and PDAs.

Sony announced the Reader at the show in Las Vegas, indicating it would be available in the spring of 2006. "Around the size of a paperback but only a half-inch thick, the Reader has a 6-inch gray-scale screen and is easy to hold at less than 9 ounces." Its expected retail price was between $300 and $400.

"'This new display technology allows for long immersive reading, the type of which you wouldn't want to do on a computer screen,'" according to a Sony spokesman. "'It's very close to looking at the printed page.'" (USA Today)

The Reader's internal memory can store approximately 80 books, and extra memory cards can expand that storage to hundreds of books. USA Today indicated that a single battery charge will permit the users to read up to 7,500 pages.

I've been waiting for the release of the Reader because I'm eager to see if the reports about its easy-reading screen are true. Recently, there've been rumors that the release would be delayed.

Yesterday's Publishers Weekly had an announcement that Borders book chain has agreed to sell Sony's Reader this summer.

This morning, my friend Jeanne Laws sent me an email containing an announcement by Barnes & Noble that they would NOT be selling the Reader.

Frankly, I was a little surprised. I could understand Sony negotiating with the two rival chains and making its best deal with one of them. I could certainly understand Borders making a glowing announcement of the joint marketing agreement. I could even understand the Associated Press seeking comment from Barnes & Noble (Borders' biggest rival) and Amazon (the largest seller of e-books) on the deal. Amazon responded the way I'd expect. They will not be selling the Reader and didn't return calls for comments.

However, it seemed that Barnes & Noble went out of their way to snub both Borders and Sony. "We have sold e-readers before and they haven't done particularly well," the B&N spokeswoman said to the AP.

I dug around a little bit today, trying to find out more. That's when I learned that Sony will not be marketing their downloadable books through Borders. Oh, Borders will sell gift cards/pre-paid cards good for use at Sony's online store (, but Sony is not marketing their e-books through their new partner.

Sony has been criticized for missing the boat on downloadable music. Apple stole their thunder with the iPod. They are clearly hoping to catch the wave with e-books. However, if they are going to set up kiosks inside Borders to sell the Reader, why the hell not also sell the latest bestsellers at the same time?

Even the movie industry--that bastion of reluctance to change--is catching on. We'll talk more about that soon (see 4/18).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Are You Infected?

Someone asked me a question today about how e-publishers market their books. She was concerned because she didn't see any e-books on the Publishers Weekly best-seller lists or any mention of them in the Arts and Leisure sections of newspapers.

I was tickled because, although she asked about electronic publishing, she sought validation for it in the traditional print arena. The Internet is a whole new publishing world with brand new rules.

This reminded me of a really interesting article I read back in 2004. It was written by four IBM researchers and was presented at the International WWW Conference that year. It looked at models for information diffusion on the Internet. One of these was the disease propagation model, the theoretical paradigm developed by mathemetician Daniel Bernoulli in 1760.

Bernoulli postulated that an epidemic begins with an infected host. The host comes in contact with other persons. Those persons will either be susceptible to the disease or resistant to it. Those who are susceptible become infected; those who are resistant do not. The newly infected persons then go off to interact with a new generation of people, and the process is repeated again and again, spreading the disease.

If each infected person only infects one other person, the disease remains contained. However, when the infected people infect more than one person each, the disease grows exponentially, and this "contact" process becomes an epidemic.

So, why am I nattering on about this? Think of it in terms of "buzz" on the Internet. Remember, back in December, when I got so excited about Irish author, John Connolly? For simplicity's sake, let's say 100 of you read my blog that day. Say, too, that of the 100, only 35 of you found the idea of a cross genre mystery/horror novel interesting. That means 35% were susceptible while 65% were resistant. Of those 35% who were susceptible, say 10% actually cared enough to go out and find Connolly's latest book, "Black Angel." Of those ten people, five liked it enough to recommend it on their blogs. If 100 brand new people read about it on each of those blogs, we're looking at a total of 500 more persons who will either be susceptible or resistant. Each new generation spreads the "buzz" about Connolly broader and broader in the Internet population. THAT's the disease propagation model. And that's how information is communicated on the Internet. It's much more decentralized than the old communication venues. Individuals decide who to trust and where to find information.

The whole point is that we now have entirely new ways of communicating and disseminating information.

Another illustration of what I'm talking about: Four months ago, I cancelled my subscription to a daily newspaper. Because it was a traumatic event for me, I blogged about it on November 10.

About a week ago, the daily newspaper began showing up again. The first day a paper appeared on my front lawn, I called them. They explained that I would receive one week's worth of free papers. They were trying to entice me to return to their journalistic fold.

The interesting thing is I haven't opened even one of those newspapers. After YEARS of receiving a daily paper, I am now addicted to getting my news in real time on the Internet. I can't be bothered to open the paper, looking for the story I want.

Pay attention to the world around you, folks. Begin thinking about it in new ways.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Electronic Royalty Rights

I keep a little list of news stories I'm interested in beside my desk. The list reminds me to follow up periodically to see if anything has changed with those stories.

Since last May, I've had the case of Frederick H. Martini, Inc. v. Pearson Education, Inc. on that list.

Frederick H. Martini is a writer of textbooks initially published by Simon & Schuster (S&S) in the 1980s. Since 1998, when they acquired the S&S unit, Pearson Education has published Martini's work.

In late 2004, Martini--a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa--filed suit against his new publisher. According to a 5/16/05 article in Publishers Weekly (PW), Martini charged that "Pearson was selling electronic editions of his works for which it did not own electronic rights." Martini also complained that Pearson wasn't paying him his full royalty on sales.

Pearson responded by filing a motion to dismiss the case. In February, 2005, that motion was denied. At the time the article appeared in PW, the case was in discovery with Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Martini had a number of complaints: First that Pearson had not updated all their contracts with him to include electronic rights. He further claimed that they were selling electronic products on which they did not own the rights. Finally, on the electronic and print products for which Pearson did hold rights, Martini claimed the company was either not paying royalties or not paying the full amount of royalties owed. Publishers Weekly cited one product (a CD-ROM) on which "Martini received a 1% royalty when the contract called for a 12% payment."

"Industry members have long been concerned that the sale of online products could be difficult to track." (PW).

A discussion today on a writers' loop I belong to reminded me of the Martini case, and I checked Judge Illston's calendar. According to her docket for 3/25/06, there was a "further case management conference" scheduled for 3/31/06 (last Friday).

It sounds like the case is proceeding with glacial speed through our justice system.

Michael Lennie, Martini's attorney, was quoted in the PW artice as saying that they filed suit "after months of discussions with Pearson failed to produce a full accounting of what products Pearson has published that were derived from Martini's works but were released without his knowledge." My best guess is that Judge Illston is helping to obtain that full accounting.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Copyright 101

Okay, today, we begin Copyright 101. About once a week during the month of April, we'll address the subject.

Again, the disclaimer: I am not an attorney and am not pretending to be one here. The information contained in my blogs on this subject are based on my own practical experience and on information gleaned from research. If you have a copyright issue, consult the U.S. Copyright Office at or a copyright attorney.

That being said, there is a wealth of information available on copyright. Anyone in the creative arts needs to have at least a working knowledge of the subject, especially since there is a lot of misinformation out there.

Let's begin with what copyright is. Copyright is the protection afforded by a country to its artists (including literary, performance, dramatic, musical, architectural and visual arts) for the original works they create. These works can be both published and unpublished. In the United States, the copyright protection begins the moment the artist puts the work into tangible form (manuscript, canvas, film, musical score, computer program, architectural plans, whatever).

In the U.S., you cannot copyright an idea, fact or invention. Patents protect inventions and discoveries (which was why the son could not copyright that blow dryer in Question #8; it would have required a patent). As an aside, part of why "The DaVinci Code" case is attracting such attention is that the plaintiffs wrote a non-fiction book to which they are claiming copyright over facts (that Jesus was married and had children). Since this case is being tried in England, it has the potential to change copyright law in that country if the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

While an American artist does not have to register with the U.S. Copyright Office to be protected, he/she cannot sue for copyright infringement unless the work in question is registered, which is why registration is recommended. This is part of the reason why mailing a manuscript to yourself in the mail is not helpful--that sealed envelope will not substitute for registration in a court of law.

Each country establishes its own copyright laws. The United States has copyright relations with many of the nations of the world--although not all nations. Broadly speaking (and there are exceptions and rules), a foreigner from a country that is a treaty partner with the U.S. can apply for a U.S. copyright.

While at one time, publication was an important part of obtaining copyright in the U.S., subsequent laws have changed this. In addition, changes in copyright law have impacted on the length of term of protection.

In general (again, remember, there are exceptions), for any work created after 1/1/78, the term is the life of the author plus 70 years. In addition, works published before 1923 (where the copyright expired and was not renewed) are now in the public domain, meaning available for use by anyone.

For the period between 1923 to 1978, a variety of different terms of protection apply. We'll talk about this and "fair use" the next time we discuss copyright--in another week or so.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Answers to the Copyright Quiz

Okay, we'll start today by giving the answers to our April Fool's Quiz on copyrights.

Before we begin, a disclaimer: I am not an attorney and am not pretending to be one here. The information contained in my blogs on the subject are based on my own practical experience and on information gleaned from research. If you have a copyright issue, consult the U.S. Copyright Office at or a copyright attorney.

With that out of the way, here are the answers to the quiz:

1) Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. True

2) Americans have to register their works with the U.S. Copyright Office to be covered in the United States. False

3) A cheap and effective way of copyrighting a work is to mail it to yourself through the U.S. Postal Service and then save the sealed envelope, which establishes the date you wrote the work (often called the Poor Man's Copyright) False

4) An idea, fact or invention can be copyrighted. False

5) The term of copyright for a work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. True

6) Is my copyright good in France? True; Israel? True ; Afghanistan? False

7) I'm not an American citizen, but I can copyright my work in the U.S. True

8) My father is dead. He invented a new kind of hair dryer before his death. I can copyright it. False

9) I don't need to use my real name. I can copyright a work using my pseudonym. True

10) For works created after Jan. 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 55 years. False

Tomorrow, we'll start with the basics of Copyright 101