Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ebooks for Libraries

TL;DR

1.     I want to help authors get their ebooks into libraries.
2.     I want to help libraries acquire indie ebooks.
3.     To do this, I started a business called EAF - EbooksAreForever.com.
4.     I want to sell your ebooks to libraries.

What's going on with libraries and ebooks?

There are 120,000 libraries in the US. These libraries, and their patrons, are eager for popular ebooks. Many libraries have a budget they must spend, or they risk having that budget cut.

Currently, libraries have no allies in the ebook market. They aren't happy with the restrictions and costs of the current leader in supplying libraries with ebook content, Overdrive. Through Overdrive, many publishers charge high prices for ebooks, some higher than $80 a title. They also require yearly license renewals, and may force libraries to re-buy licenses after a certain arbitrary number of borrows.

Just one example of the perils of this approach for Americas libraries is that a library must pay for extensions of time-limited licenses of old ebooks and purchases of licenses for new ones. All kinds of sustainability and predictability issues arise. And thats true even if the budget remains the same, rather than declining, as many have in recent years. It will be harder than ever for libraries to grow their collection, whether the licenses are time-limited or come with limits on the number of times a library can loan a book.

So libraries are spending a fortune and don't even own the content they're spending that fortune on. In many cases, if they stop paying the fees, they lose the content they bought. This has been dubbed "digital decay", and it's a money grab, pure and simple. 

What's going on with indie authors and ebooks?

Some indies are on Overdrive and 3M. I've been on Overdrive for a few years. My last quarterly check was about $60, and I have a large catalog. This is small money, not just for me, but for any writer. And I was fortunate enough to have been invited into Overdrive. Many authors are not.

The vast majority of libraries don't have access to many of the ebooks that readers are seeking. The latest AuthorEarnings.com report showed that 33% of all ebooks sold on Amazon are from indie authors. Libraries are missing out on 1/3 of available titles, because they have no way easy way to acquire them.

Just as important, these are quality titles. People are reading, enjoying, and recommending them. Indie authors are hooking readers, and selling as well as the major publishing houses, but there isn't a way for libraries to offer them to their patrons.

This is unfortunate for patrons, and libraries, and indie authors, who are all missing out.


For the past year, my business partner, August Wainwright, and I have been talking to acquisitions librarians across the country, and they crave an alternative to the status quo. These libraries are looking to buy thousands of ebooks at once in order to best serve their patrons and community.

Their main wish is to be treated fairly - which means they want to own the ebooks they purchase, acquire good content at a reasonable price, and have access to as many copies as they need.

Our solution? Give libraries what they're asking for, and in a way that gives libraries the sustainable purchasing model they deserve. We're striving to offer a large, curated collection of popular ebooks that libraries can easily purchase with just one click.

We currently have just under 1000 ebooks in our collection, with more being added daily.

And we want to include your titles as well.

I'm a writer, and I'm already on a lot of platforms. Why should I sell my ebooks through EAF?

EbooksAreForever distributes to libraries at $7.99 for full length novels, and $3.99-$4.99 for shorter works. We're offering 70% royalties to the author, and the library will have the ability to purchase more copies as needed.

The way this works is that if a library wants to allow 3 patrons to borrow your ebook at any given time, they’d need to have purchased 3 “copies”. Most libraries adhere to a strict hold ratio (usually around 3:1) in order to present patrons with the best user experience possible. Our hope is that by making ebooks both affordable and sustainable, then libraries in response will automatically purchase more copies.

So, if you have a catalog of 10 ebooks that we then distribute to 1000 libraries, you've just earned $56,000 in royalties from making your books available to the library marketplace if they each buy one copy. If your titles are popular, they'll buy more copies and you'll earn more.

I heard about EAF over a year ago. What have you been doing all this time?

Listening and learning. EbooksAreForever.com is trying to serve three groups: Authors & Publishers, Libraries, and Library Patrons.

Each requires special consideration to ensure the best overall experience possible.

Currently, there is no killer app in the library market. Every library, library system, or consortium, has to reinvent the wheel in order to offer ebooks to its patrons. With no standardization in the library market, and the few companies and publishers who offer ebooks to libraries doing so in such a one-sided, money-grabbing manner, libraries have been getting squeezed without getting fair and sustainable value when it comes to content.

We needed to figure out what libraries were looking for, as well as what features authors and publishers would love to see, and how to best provide them with that.

A large part of this involved bringing on multiple partners to help make the EbooksAreForver.com website as robust and useable as possible, while implementing a fully RESTful API.

What's an API and why should I care?

The easiest way to conceptualize what an API does is to think of an interaction between two separate pieces of software without needing a human element.

EbooksAreForever wants libraries who purchase ebooks in our collection to eventually integrate access to those titles in as many places as possible; most importantly, their own ILS (catalog system).

Some libraries have their own custom ILS, others use third-party services of which there are many. You can see here that in Texas, there are about 20 different ILS systems being used. Without an API, we'd have to go one by one to help each library integrate our books into their catalogs. Think copy and pasting times a million. With an API, each service could integrate our catalog by following a simple set of standardized rules.

Another way to think about it would be to look at the connections on the back of a TV. That panel on the TV with all the coax/hdmi/usb/fiber/rca connections are in a way your TV's API. It allows other appliances (Cable boxes, DVD players, video game consoles...) to interact with your TV.

The reason you should care about this is because it allows EAF and our service to act in the exact manner in which libraries desire. One of our goals is to meet the demands of the ReadersFirst organization, which is made up of nearly 300 libraries that represent more than 200 million readers in the US and Canada. These principles, and in turn our API, are about openness and ease of use, all of which provide libraries and their patrons with the best user experience possible.

If all libraries are using various third parties to license overpriced and decaying digital content to them, how does EAF plan to interface with them? Aren't libraries tired of new companies vying for their acquisitions dollars?

What we've been doing the past year is only offering our collection to a few beta testing libraries that use Adobe Content Server. It's an expensive, ongoing cost, and many libraries can't afford it, or won't even bother with it for various reasons.

With the API in place, we can deal directly with libraries, library systems, and consortium, without Adobe—though we can also interface with libraries who prefer to keep Adobe.

I'm not sure I understand…

Having an ebook file isn't enough. Libraries also need ways to catalog ebooks, store ebooks, and provide ebook access to patrons.

EAF has been developing ways to do that, for all libraries, in a way that doesn't fleece them.

Where are you at right now?

We're at the stage where we need more content. Offering a better service to libraries is only part of the equation; we also want to offer them content that no other company can.

Indie content.

We're the only company fully opening up to indie authors, and we're paying the same rate Amazon does.

Right now, we're working with a select group of partner libraries. We've been dealing exclusively with that initial group, but now we’re adding another selection of libraries who will be joining in the next two weeks. They've weighed in and have helped us build the platform they actually want. Our full launch date is tentatively set for later this spring/early summer. When that happens, we'll begin distribution to ALL public libraries, be it individually, whole library systems, and consortium groups, through both our web platform, as well as patron reader apps.

What are these “consortium” you speak of?

A library consortium is really any local, statewide, or regional cooperative group of libraries that provides and helps with the effective coordination of the libraries they count as members. Their main focus is usually built around improving services to the clientele of libraries within the given consortium (group).

When large publishers were faced with the advent of ebooks, instead of trying to come up with viable models that worked in libraries, they applied the same structures that they used for paper. Some say they deliberately crimped libraries. And in much the same way, many large publishers, distributors, and services have refused to adequately work with consortia.

EAF is not among that group. Although we understand the need to come up with different models for different sections of the marketplace, it is our mission to find solutions where others have fallen back on insufficient ways of doing business.

Joe, you're an author. Are you sure you want to give libraries a copy of an ebook that will last forever? Doesn't that put a cap on a title's earning potential?

It may seem that way, but we have future plans. Currently, libraries can buy multiple copies of titles for simultaneous uses.

Soon we plan to offer libraries unlimited uses if they pay slightly more.

That sounds even worse for the author!

Depending on EAF's ability to saturate the library market, it will be a long while before we run out of libraries to distribute content to. An author selling one title to 5000 libraries earns $28k, which is well above the average advance that legacy publishing offers. Sell four titles, and that author is making six figures in a new market that wasn't previously open to them.

It’s important to understand that EAF is intended to be a complimentary service. Much in the same way that it used to be common for translations and foreign sales to be a part of an author's subsidiary earnings, we want library sales to be available to indies. Libraries spend billions of dollars annually acquiring content. But they likely don't have your content.

Yet.

Don't library sales hurt sales on other platforms?

That's a common assumption, but we haven't found any evidence or data to back it up. The library market has always existed, just like the used book market.


The reality is that readers who are loyal to the ebooks available at their local library may have never had a chance of discovering your titles. What we’re talking about here is an entirely new group or readers that has previously been unreachable.

If I sell my titles through eBooksAreForever, do I still own my rights?

Yes. And you can opt out at any time for any reason, though all sales are final. Meaning, if you sell a title to a library, they keep that title.

Can I sell my ebooks for more than the stated price?

During the current beta period, we are keeping all prices for novels set to a pre-established level.

However, as we move out of the beta period and expand our offerings, we will be looking at different pricing structures. It is of great important to us that we create a sustainable platform for both libraries, as well as for publishers & authors.

I’m already distributing my titles on Overdrive. Will selling through EAF affect my account?

Distributing your titles through Overdrive won’t affect your ability to also distribute through eBooksAreForever. However, libraries will most likely not re-purchase titles if they have already licensed them through Overdrive. We are actively working to persuade libraries to purchase titles - and keep them forever - through our service, instead of continually licensing ebooks at higher prices from other services. This would help library budgets go further.

Is exclusivity ever required to join eBooksAreForever?

No exclusivity is ever required.

And, since we’re still in a beta period, our advice would be to continue to distribute through other library specific channels, if you have access to them. As we grow, we believe our pricing model will earn authors far more royalties, even with fewer overall sales, when compared to any of the other market competitors. But even after we demonstrate that to be true, we will still never require exclusivity.

I'm an author. How do I submit my titles to EbooksAreForever? Do you have any requirements?

At this point, EAF provides libraries with vetted content. We want to offer great books by great writers, so we're reviewing works on a case-by-case basis. Contact us at support@ebooksareforever.com if you'd like an invitation to join.

We aren't currently accepting erotica, but we will be soon.

If I'm accepted, what next?


I'm an agent who represents indie authors and want to know more.

Contact Joe at joekonrath@comcast.net. We'll set up a call.

I'm a publisher and want to know more.

Contact Joe at joekonrath@comcast.net. We'll set up a call.

On my blog, I've repeatedly called independent ebooks a shadow industry. This shadow industry hasn't been able to effectively mesh with the library industry.

We're working to change that. And we'd like you to join us.


Friday, March 20, 2015

When Jack Meets Derek - A Guest Post by Mark Terry

This blog post is designed to flog my recent short story that shares one of my series characters, Dr. Derek Stillwater, with one of Joe Konrath’s series characters, Lt. Jack Daniels. The short story is called BLACK RUSSIAN and it is part of the Kindle Worlds program. You can buy it here for the low-low price of $0.99.

If you want to know how I came to actually write BLACK RUSSIAN, I suggest you visit my blog and read Derek Stillwater Visits JA Konrath’s Universe. It’ll provide you with some information on why I wrote what I did and how it came to be, if that’s the sort of thing you’re interested in.

So rather than regurgitate that here, I thought, since I wrote things backwards—starting on a novel first, then realizing Joe wanted a short story first—that maybe I could share with you how Derek Stillwater first met Jack Daniels. The events occur only a day or two after the events of JA Konrath’s DIRTY MARTINI, and I expect the novel will be published sometime mid-2015 if I can get my crap together and finish it.

For those of you who haven’t read DIRTY MARTINI (what the hell are you waiting for?), a mass murderer dubbed The Chemist is using Botulin toxin to kill random chunks of the population of Chicago and Jack headed the task force to track him down. As I said earlier, this occurs just two days later:

Jack
Realistically speaking, I was on administrative leave while the aftermath of, well, everything, was documented. But my captain and Superintendant Terry O’Loughlin had made it quite clear that although I was behind a desk or at home and not on the street, I had to make sure the Chemist task force was wrapped up with a bow, all the I’s dotted, T’s crossed, and whatever clich├ęs the brass could come up with to say, “Lieutenant Jacqueline Daniels, chain yourself to the computer and file paper until your eyeballs bleed.”

The glamorous life of a hotshot homicide detective.

I was currently in a conference room with thirteen boxes of paperwork. Big boxes. Really big boxes. Many dead trees. A lot of this was in the computer system, but I still needed to go over the notes from various members of the task force and make sure everything was in order before they all got filed, distributed, and the inevitable civil lawsuits, complaints, and finger-pointing commenced. The sewage treatment center seemed quite intent on suing the CPD for blowing a big hole in their facility.

So I welcomed the polite knock at the door.

The guy standing there stood a smidge over six feet, had thick wavy brown hair, electric blue eyes, and managed to look both wiry and strong. He was good looking in a beat-up sort of way. He wore court shoes, blue jeans and a tight black T-shirt with U.S. Army Marathon written on it. He wore a handgun in a holster off his right hip. I noticed that the T-shirt fit him very well.

“Can I help you?” I said.

He smiled and it was a great smile, one that made his rough-around-the-edges look all the more appealing. “I hope so. You’re Lieutenant Jack Daniels?”

“Guilty.”

“Did your mother have a sense of humor or is that a married name?”

“Both. You are?”

He handed me a badge folder. It said Dr. Derek Stillwater, Department of Homeland Security.

Handing it back to him, I said, “You’re late to the party, Doctor. We’ve already solved the case.”

“Ah. Well, actually, I’ve been here the whole time. I came in with the FBI’s HMRU, but we decided Rick Reilly would be the liaison with the CPD.”

I flushed. FBI Special Agent Rick Reilly, part of the Hazardous Materials Response Unit, was what one could euphemistically call “as hot as a supernova.” He knew it, and I knew it, and we almost consummated it on my desk. Stillwater caught the flush, cocked his head and suppressed a little grin.

Bastard.

“What do you want, Doctor?”

“Overall, I think you did a great job—“

“You came in here to congratulate me?”

He sighed. “I’m not here to criticize you, if that’s the second part of what you’re thinking. But I’ve been working closely with the CDC on this case. As you know, they were collecting all the patient lab results and interviewing survivors and family members to help locate the epicenters of the poisoning.”

Stillwater still stood in the doorway, very close to me. I stepped out of his orbit, frowning.

“Yes, okay, fine. Why are you here?”

Stillwater took a deep breath. He glanced at a rugged-looking black watch on his wrist. At the same time, I noticed black beads he wore around his neck and a silver metal chain that disappeared beneath his shirt. The beads were a little different for a Fed and I wondered what they were all about.

“Look, it’s almost noon. Why don’t I take you out to lunch and explain what’s going on. At the very least you can take a break from all the paperwork.” He gestured at the table.

“It has to be done.”

“Please,” he added. “It’s important.”

Derek sez: So, okay, they get introduced. Seems there’s a copycat and Derek’s been assigned to hunt down that person. I’m really looking forward to writing the rest of the book. But I thought I’d give just one more little taste, because I enjoyed writing the scene so much. Jack and Derek have just interviewed the Japanese Consul in Chicago and after leaving the interview, run into an old partner of Jack’s.
         
Jack
Back out on the street, Stillwater turned and glared up at the building. Chicago pedestrians responded the way they always do, by ignoring us and flowing around us like a sandbar in a river. I said, “Problem?”

“Besides the obvious? What the hell was that all about?”

“I thought you were being unreasonably pleasant.”

“I could have kicked him in the head, but it probably would have been counterproductive.”

“I think he was blowing smoke. I wanted to push him on it.”

“I’d like to know more so I have some facts to shove down his throat. Besides, technically the Consulate is Japan territory. Nobody will back us up if we try to pressure this guy in his office.”

We started walking back to headquarters. “Okay,” I said. “Which victim? The math professor or the laser guy?”

Stillwater shrugged. He seemed distracted. “You comfortable driving in the city?”

“Sure. My car’s a piece of crap. What’re you driving?”

“Big Buick. It’s a rental.”

“You get to drive.”

“Sure.”

“I think we might want to bring my partner in on this. It’s going to snowball as we get going.”

“Herb?”

“Yes. Do you know him?”

“No. Saw his name in the reports and in the news. Is he any good?”

“How do you expect me to answer that?”

“Something reassuring?”

“Yes, he’s—“

“Jackie! Jack! Jackie, Jackie! Jack!” It was a very familiar voice. We turned. Sure enough, it was Harry McGlade, trotting toward us. But the second he spotted Stillwater, the color ran out of his face.

“Uh, hey, Agent Stillwater, howya do—“

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone move as fast as Stillwater. I’ve studied Tae Kwon Do for years and still work out once a month, but I’ve seen masters who didn’t have the kind of “quick” that Stillwater demonstrated.

One second he was next to me, the next he was on Harry, his fist gripping Harry’s throat.

“You remember what I told you last time? What I would do if I ran into you again?”

Harry let out a strangled gargling sound. He raised his prosthetic to grip Stillwater’s wrist.

“McGlade, you touch me with that thing and I swear I’ll tighten my fist.”

“Let him go,” I said, even though I was kind of enjoying this.

“I don’t want to see you again,” Stillwater said, and let go.

Harry, massaging his throat with his good hand, said, “Geez, Stillwater! You some kind of psycho or something? I’m just here to talk to Jackie.”

Scowling, Stillwater walked to the curb, leaning one arm on a parking meter. He didn’t take his gaze off Harry.

“What do you want, Harry?”

“It’s about my spacesuit—“

“For crying out loud, Harry. Give it a rest.”

“I loaned it to you and you ruined it.”

Harry had a spacesuit of sorts that he uses for God knows what fetish and he loaned it to me when I needed to enter a house the Chemist had booby-trapped. The suit was ruined and Harry wanted me or the city to reimburse him for it.

“Go find some other kink, Harry.  In the meantime, send your bill to the mayor’s office.”

“Hey, I got a party to go to—“

Stillwater took his gun out of his holster.

Harry gulped. “You know what, Jackie? I don’t think it’s a good time. I’ll talk to you later.” And he turned and rabbited down the street.

Stillwater put the gun away, which was a Colt .45 1911 semiaut with a pearl handle. It seemed a little flashy for him.

“I don’t know whether to thank you or chastise you. How do you know Harry?”

We continued walking. Stillwater said, “I was in Chicago about four years ago investigating a bioterror threat and our paths crossed.”

“I gather it didn’t go well.”

“I threw him out of a window. It was closed at the time.”

Something I had considered doing many times. “You have a temper?”

“Not so much, but McGlade brings out the worst in me.”

“He does that to people.”

Derek sez: So, if you like that little sample, pick up BLACK RUSSIAN. If you don’t like that little sample, hell, pick up BLACK RUSSIAN anyway, you’ll get your money’s worth.

And thanks Joe, for the opportunity to team Derek up with Jack and for Derek to terrorize Harry McGlade.
   
Joe sez: Thanks, Mark.

I've been a fan of Mark Terry since reading DEVIL'S PITCHFORK five years ago. (You should go buy it.) Stillwater is a fun character, and watching him interact with Jack and company cuts to the essence of why I did Kindle Worlds in the first place; playing in another writer's sandbox is fun, but bringing series characters together is really fun.

Ebooks allow for so many things that paper never could. Authors can change cover art as many times as they want to. They can fix typos, or rewrite entire scenes, after publication. Readers can download ebooks anywhere, anytime, inexpensively. It's all win.

But being able to do crossovers, where fans can see two heroes from two different series interact, is practically unprecedented. This couldn't be done in the old days. Publishers, and rights, once got in the way.


I believe that the more creative freedom given to writers, the better it is for everyone. Being able to work with another author's characters can be as much fun for the writer as it is for the reader. 

But don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself by reading BLACK RUSSIAN, and by writing in my universe.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Kindle Worlds Launch

This is cool.

The Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle World is now live. The official announcement was just made.

Right now there are 38 stories, with more on the way.

I first blogged about this last week. TL;DR - writers can now create stories using characters and situations from my books. How my KW is different from other Kindle Worlds (at the time of this writing) is that writers can keep the rights to their characters.

This is a big deal, because it allows authors to team up their characters with mine. Or their characters can kill my characters. Or have sex with them. Or whatever.

The takeaway here is that writers can do cross-overs and mash-ups, which is a fun way to cross-pollinate fans, and could never be done before in KW.

I encourage everyone reading this to check out the launch stories. Simply click on the title under the cover art.

In the upcoming weeks, many of these authors will share their experience on this blog. As far as experiments go, this one is pretty big. It has never been done before, and we're in uncharted waters. I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.

And if you're interested in writing in the Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle World, or the Codename: Chandler Kindle World, you can. You don't need my permission, or my help. You don't need to even tell me. You can do it entirely on your own. It's easy, and you keep half the royalties. All you have to do is follow the guidelines. So check those out, check these out, and mix your characters with mine.

Looking forward to seeing some cool stories!

Here's the list of titles so far:












































































Sunday, March 01, 2015

On Copyright Again

Last summer I wrote about the need to reform copyright.

The points I made then are still relevant and valid, but I wanted to add a bit to it based on some comments in my last blog post.

I talked about how fun it would be to write a comic where Superman, Hulk, and Spawn fight, but how that isn't ever going to happen.

DC owns Superman. Marvel owns Hulk. Image owns Spawn.

Since none of these characters are in the pubic domain, the only way to use them is with a license. But that's only one level of restriction. Even with an approved license, licencors will have rules. The few existing Marvel-DC/Hulk-Superman fights have been lackluster at best. That's because the rules imposed by the licencor override any creative freedom on the part of the author/artist.

Writers who work for a specific comic company have rule sheets and bibles for what is allowed and what isn't. Unless special exceptions are given, there are boundaries. It's stifling creatively.

I'd love to write a comic with Hulk, Superman, and Spawn, and have them beat the hell out of each other for 64 pages, instead of throw each other around for six panels and say stupid stuff. And I'd like to decide who wins, not be restricted or constrained by what the licencors' agree on.

I went into this Kindle World giving writers almost total freedom, with the exception of the guidelines that Amazon imposed (no ads, no porn, no racism). I allow any kind of sexual relationship. I allow writers to kill my characters. I allow writers to bring in their own characters.

Marvel and DC aren't doing this with their IPs, and during the rare times they had crossovers, there were either rules, or they let the fans decide.

Ultimately, my point is that Hulk would tear off the Man of Steel's arms and beat him to death with them. But that story won't ever be written by me, because of copyright.

How interesting it would be if fair use allowed writers to use the IPs of others. Let's say it was a limited use; maybe 15% of the completed protect. It would still be a game-changer.

But as we saw in the music sampling lawsuits through the ages, it ain't gonna happen.

Which is a shame.

I liked He's So Fine, but preferred My Sweet Lord. I like Bittersweet Symphony over the exceedingly rare orchestral version of Time is On My Side. Super Freak, and You Can't Touch, this can exists side-by-side. So can Under Pressure and Ice Ice Baby.

I can see paying a reasonable fee for fair use, but turning over full copyright and all royalties for a riff seems wrong. These songs weren't covers, or even re-imaginings. They were new art, based in part on old art.

Which is what Shakespeare did with many of his plays. Retell old tales in a new way. Which we're still doing with Shakespeare (West Side Story, Haider, Forbidden Planet, Gnomeo & Juliet.)

In 1936, Carl Orff took some poems written hundreds of years earlier and composed the Carmina Burana. Fifty years later, Orff's estate successfully sued the band Apotheosis for doing a techno version of O Fortuna.

Should Apotheosis have gotten permission to use a song written by a dead guy? Perhaps, but I'd argue for some sort of fair compensation. Maybe a one-time fee. Maybe percentage-based. But it shouldn't be up to the dead guy's estate. Once a creator dies, why not let that work spawn other works? Let the estate get a cut, but don't allow the estate to make any decisions on how the license is used. If I wanted my heirs to decide how to use my characters, I'd let them make the rules while I was still alive. Orff's estate killed a song (it's no longer available new) that introduced many, including me, to Orff's music. Orff may have even liked the version, had he been alive to hear it.

But art lost out to copyright. You can still download illegal versions of the Apotheosis remix, buy used versions, hear it for free on YouTube and all over the Internet, but neither Orff's estate nor Apotheosis earn a dime from it.

Pretty stupid. Especially stupid because the hit Apotheosis version is probably the catalyst that made O Fortuna so popular in modern society. They recorded their techno remix in 1991, and many people, like me, heard Orff's music for the first time. Prior to 1991, according to Wikipedia, there were a handful of popular culture uses of O Fortuna. Since 1991, there have been four dozen.

I wonder how much of that song's modern popularity is because it was a Top 10 hit, on Billboard for 11 weeks, thanks to Apotheosis. I wonder how much the Orff estate knows that. I can guess how much they've benefited monetarily.

We can argue who rightfully deserves the money--some heirs who did nothing to create the song, or a group that modernized something 55 years old and made it a big hit. That's an argument I want to have.

We live in a world where artists are regularly screwed by publishers, producers, and record labels, but it's okay because they signed on the dotted line, even though the contract sucked. But then we have a ridiculous double standard, where heirs and companies can hold onto the rights to Mickey Mouse and Sherlock Holmes and Carmina Burana for long after the original artists died.

I know I'm bringing up a lot of ideas here, some of them possibly conflicting, so let me highlight a few points:

  • When an artist dies, any IP they created should revert to heirs.
  • If that IP is currently being exploited by a company (producer, label, publisher) it should still revert. Artist dies, contract is over.
  • Once reverted, heirs are allowed to hold that copyright for a minimal amount of time. Say 40 years. But they don't have a say in how that copyright is used. 
  • Once reverted, any other artist or producer can use that IP in a commercial version of fair-use. I'll propose that if a certain percentage of the IP is used in a certain percentage of a new work, the heirs get a certain percentage of profits associated with that work, or certain set fees if that work is for advertising purposes.
  • If the artist is still alive, there should still be commercial fair use laws. Perhaps stricter than what the heirs have, but other people should still be able to use what the artist has done. I point to my Jack Daniels & Associates Kindle World as an example of that. Go ahead and use what I created, however you'd like, but pay me some set percentage.
These are ideas that I feel should be discussed, not laws I want to put into effect. I see problems with some of my points.

An IP creator, or their heir, might not want these IPs used in association with certain things. Advertising. Religious, political, or sexual issues. Morals antithetical to the original artist's intent. 

But if the artist is dead, isn't the artist is past the ability to care? And if the artist is alive and popular, fans are writing slash fiction anyway, where Luke nails Leia and Harry nails Hermione and Hulk nails Superman. I've even heard some unsubstantiated rumors that someone took Edward and Bella from Twilight, threw in some S&M, and then had a minor hit. And Stephanie Meyer was okay with it.

There is the possibility that public oversaturation of an IP can cause it to lose value. But I'd call that speculation. I bet if Stephen King or James Patterson did a Kindle World following my example, they'd increase their income and popularity. Patterson outsells King because he already allows other artists to create works under his brand. Patterson makes sure he keeps control over the works produced, but is that being a shrewd and smart businessman, or ultimately leaving money on the table? Amazon reviews show a lot of fans don't like Patterson's books when they're written by others. But many do. And the books keep selling. Wouldn't loosening up restrictions allow for even greater sales?

At what point does an IP become oversaturated? Or killed by bad reviews? Has that ever happened? Hasn't it been shown that bad publicity is better than no publicity, and being obscure is worse for your career than being mediocre?

I know this all seems the opposite of everything we've been taught. It's certainly much different than the current laws.

But is it wrong?

People cosplay, and the IP holder doesn't get a dime (unless that holder is smart and sells their own costumes). No one knows how many YouTube videos are put up and taken down on an hourly basis that involve other peoples' intellectual property. (You down with O.P.I.P? Yeah, you know me. And that's parody, so it's fair use you see.)

DJs makes mixes. Musicians sample. Fan fic abounds. People upload their covers and remixes of popular songs. 

Information wants to be free. That doesn't mean artists don't have a right to make money, or that someone who patents a pill to cure a disease shouldn't be allowed to make a fortune, or that a successful business shouldn't be able to trademark their logo. But there is a line somewhere. I'm not charging you to read this. When I speak to my friends, they don't have to pay me. Every original sentence I write and original word I utter does not mean the world owes me $$$, just like if I'm busking on Michigan Avenue with my C-harp, belting out the techno version of O Fortuna for tips, I shouldn't have to give Orff or Apotheosis a dime.

There is a line. And I don't think the current line meets the needs of the current population. Not the artists. Not the fans. Not the consumers.

It probably meets the needs of the big businesses who exploit artists and fans and consumers, which is reason enough for it to be re-evaluated.

I write for a character named Jack Daniels. When the whiskey makers heard about this back in 2003, they sent me a very kind letter wishing me success, but asking if I wouldn't mind putting a disclaimer in the beginning of my book.

Though the Lt. Jack Daniels mysteries are no way sponsored by, endorsed by, or related to Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, when I tell people my main character is a female cop named Jack Daniels, they get the joke.

Had Jack Daniel's Properties, Inc been litigious, they could have scared my publisher into not releasing Whiskey Sour. But they were polite and generous, and didn't sue me to prevent the start of my career. Hopefully my little series has sold a few bottles of whiskey for them, and though I am in no way sponsored, endorsed, or related to Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, I will admit to having enjoyed more than a few bottles over the decades, including some special bottlings like the 1991 Barrelhouse No 1 which has been one of the most pleasant liquor experiences of my life.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I love me some Jack Daniel's. I love that I can write about a character named Jack Daniels. And I love allowing other writers to write about that character.

And I'd love to write sequels to Salem's Lot, and the Exorcist, and Silence of the Lambs, and love to bring Cheers back and make Kramer and Al Bundy regulars, and while I'm at it I want to do a screenplay where Han and Starbuck are in the Millennium Falcon, being chased by Klingon Birds of Prey, and are forced to land on LV-426 where they run into a new Alien hive.

Also, Han nails Starbuck.

The Dirk Benedict Starbuck.

Kara Thrace it's awesome, but it's my slash fic and I can do what I want.

Except I can't.

I like the post-YouTube world. The post-YouTube world is the world where Rorschach and Deadpool can get a million hits (a dozen of them all mine). Where I can download a music torrent because the album was never released on CD or mp3, and I don't have a turntable to spin the used LP because I'm not a hipster. Where people share free thoughts on Twitter, and free pics on Pinterest, and book quotes on Goodreads. Where user-generated-content-based Wikipedia is the go-to place for facts. Where Amazon can release a book that collects some of its Funniest Customer Reviews. That book has a review by me in it. I didn't get paid. I didn't care. I wrote it to amuse others.

Just like I'm writing this blog to inform others. And I'm not charging anyone.

Maybe I'm wrong, but in an age of net neutrality and free information and the unprecedented ability of the World Wide Web to enable and encourage open exchanges of opinion, ideas, and art, current copyright law seems overly restrictive, archaic, and broken. It seems set up to protect the rich at the expense of society. Protect big business and screw the artist. Limit artistic freedom and expression.

We're not having this conversation in court because those with the money want to keep their money.

I like capitalism. I like money.

But I think there's something wrong with the idea that if I work a 40 hour week at Name Any Business, I get a salary or an hourly wage, and the money that I earn is a set, agreed-upon amount. But if I work 40 hours on a story--which is something I love doing and a helluva lot easier than working in a factory (done that), a restaurant (done that), construction (done that), an office, (done that)--I get to earn money for my lifetime, and my heirs can keep earning for 70 years after I die.

Lemme steal a few quotes from Wikipedia to further support my position.

Benjamin Tucker, opposing intellectual property, writes, "...the patent monopoly...consists in protecting inventors...against competition for a period long enough to extort from the people a reward enormously in excess of the labor measure of their services, – in other words, in giving certain people a right of property for a term of years in laws and facts of Nature, and the power to exact tribute from others for the use of this natural wealth, which should be open to all.

Petra Moser: Overall, the weight of the existing historical evidence suggests that patent policies, which grant strong intellectual property rights to early generations of inventors, may discourage innovation. On the contrary, policies that encourage the diffusion of ideas and modify patent laws to facilitate entry and encourage competition may be an effective mechanism to encourage innovation.

Stephen Kinsella: [I]magine the time when men lived in caves. One bright guy—let's call him Galt-Magnon—decides to build a log cabin on an open field, near his crops. To be sure, this is a good idea, and others notice it. They naturally imitate Galt-Magnon, and they start building their own cabins. But the first man to invent a house, according to IP advocates, would have a right to prevent others from building houses on their own land, with their own logs, or to charge them a fee if they do build houses.

Thomas Jefferson: If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

I haven't done much linking in this blog post, even though I've mentioned a lot and read a lot that could defend my position. I'm not trying to prove my ideas are correct. I'm not even sure they are. But I think they are provocative enough to start a discussion.

Philosopher John Locke said there were three natural rights that all people had.
  1. Life: everyone is entitled to live once they are created.
  2. Liberty: everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn't conflict with the first right.
  3. Estate: everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn't conflict with the first two rights.
Yet once Locke wrote that, he no longer owned it. In fact, Jefferson's taper was lit from Locke's, and I don't think Locke got any royalties for helping found the principles that the USA were based upon. 

I don't know if Locke meant Ideas when he pondered on the concept of Estate. If I paint a picture, there is one of them. It is my right to do with it as I please. But neither Locke, nor Jefferson, had ever conceived of the Internet, where unlimited copies of a jpg can be made, for free, forever. 

Art, and media, are forms of communication. As a species, communication has helped up thrive. It doesn't seem to me that laws that prohibit communication are good laws. I can draw Mickey Mouse for my personal use. I can buy Mickey Mouse cartoons on DVD, used. I can name my dog, or my child, Mickey Mouse. I can write a story that features Mickey Mouse, and put it on the Internet. Gte Mickey Mouse tattoos over my whole body. But I can't write a Mickey Mouse story and sell it without permission.

I've read, and enjoyed, Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. I've used the term "outlier" on my blog many times over the years, but haven't paid Gladwell any more royalties than Jefferson paid Locke. 

Why can I write about someone becoming an expert at something by spending 10,000 hours doing it, and I don't have to pay Gladwell (who cited a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, and I don't believe Gladwell paid him either), but I can't have a single picture of Mickey Mouse in my novel--even with citation to Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks--without permission and licensing fees? Why do novels and non-fiction have different rules? Can't we learn as much from Catcher in the Rye as we can from Principia Mathematica? And didn't Whitehead and Russell get most of those equations from others?

Salinger sued Fredrik Colting for writing a sequel to Catcher sixty years later. Salinger won. Could Cantor's estate have sued Russell and Whitehead for including ordinals in the PM without paying royalties? Any reasonably smart empiricist could successfully argue that math is an invention rather than a discovery, and thereby should be protected under copyright law.

But that would be silly, wouldn't it?

We are in a world where a monkey can take a selfie, and it is debated in court who owns the copyright.

Isn't that sort of extreme?

At what point does an idea, a group of words, an image, a concept, character, a story, cease to belong to one and can be considered part of the collective human experience? The creator's life plus 70 years? The moment it pops into existence?

Again, I'm not sure of the answer. But I don't think current copyright law effectively answers the question.

Search for "Star Wars Fan Film" on YouTube. Count how many you find.

You'll be counting for a while.

I'd guess that many of those films--and there are thousands--took time, talent, and money to make. I'd argue they strengthen the Star Wars brand. I also know, from experience, that some of those filmmakers will go on to create their own IPs. Many not as successful as Star Wars, but Star Wars may have given them the inspiration to eke out their own living someday.

Just like I'm not able to eke out a living writing about serial killers, though I'll never be allowed to write that sequel to Silence of the Lambs where Clarice Starling and Will Graham hunt down Hannibal Lector. With the help of Lt. Jack Daniels.

And while that may not be a loss for the literary world and a tragedy for Art with a capital A, I can't help but wonder if in some parallel universe I'm doing just that, and having a damn good time.