Yesterday, the Evil Mastermind told me there was a problem with the reactor core in this Death Star of a blog. Yesterday, I went to have a look, armed with my trusty elastic bands and bits of dried chewing gum. But he didn’t tell me he keeps a very small (but quite friendly) black hole down there. I go down there for one night and return this morning to find months have gone by up here. Damn.
Time to catch up with what’s been going on, and irony has to be the theme of this month’s column. We begin with Phillip Pullman and his ill-advised rant against copyright pirates, whose activity he described as “moral squalor”. In a powerfully written, but ultimately misguided piece, Pullman says that, “The principle is simple, and unaltered by technology, science or magic: if we want to enjoy the work that someone does, we should pay for it.”
Perhaps, but it doesn’t say anything to those of us who merely desire to be read. As many others have pointed out, a pirated copy does not equal a lost sale because the pirate wouldn’t have bought the book anyway. Or, as science fiction author Cory Doctorow put it: “My problem is not piracy, it’s obscurity.” The conclusion in the article is fair: that copyright laws need to change to take account of the drastic changes wrought by the digital revolution. The irony here is that it needs a millionaire, bestselling author to draw attention to the issue, who makes himself sound incredibly tight-fisted.
If you’re old enough to have bought a vinyl LP in the 1970s or 80s, you’ll remember the “Home taping is killing music” inner sleeve, when all along it turned out that the corporations were killing music. To use Pullman’s own analogy, the parallels with the fiction industry are clear: 30 years ago a record label (publisher) would have given a new band (author) a few albums (novels) to develop their skill, up to the point of – gasp! – making a loss on the artist. That cannot happen now, and it’s only thanks to new technology that so many artists can take charge of their own work. But we don’t need millionaires to tell us what equals “moral squalor”.
More irony, and the potential for some bad dreams, comes courtesy of the author Terri Bruce, who had to go to court to stop her publisher putting out her novels Hereafter and Thereafter with editorial changes which made her sound like “an illiterate git”. Bruce itemised a massive 260 errors which her publisher introduced during editing and proofreading, which she claimed amounted to a breach of contract. Here is one example:
Bruce’s version: “Irene looked down. The cat was staring at her.”
Publisher’s version: “Irene looked down. The cat stared at her.”
Editing continuous tenses to simple is an important part of preparing fiction for publication (which I discussed in a previous post earlier this year), but it’s good to know when you’re changing the meaning. In the author’s version, the cat was already staring when Irene looked down; but in the edited version, Irene looked down and then the cat began to stare at her. The judge agreed that the continued distribution of Bruce’s books was damaging her reputation as an author. The publisher is Eternal Press, who agreed to settle and has withdrawn the books. According to Bruce’s blog, she hopes to find a new publisher as soon as possible, and hasn’t ruled out self-publishing.
There’s an argument that Bruce would do well to self-publish her books at once, to capitalise on the publicity around this bad experience with her publisher. But the strongest argument of all in favour of self-publishing is that she’d be able to publish the story she means to tell.
Right, this Death-Star of a blog is two years old this month, and I’m hanged if there aren’t a few parties going on where the last thing on everyone’s mind will be fixing the reactor core with elastic bands and bits of dried chewing gum.