Last week saw the publication in the UK of the Gowers report on Intellectual Property (IP), of which more in a moment. And on Saturday the Financial Times ran an editorial which was full of good sense. Headlined 'Intellectual Propriety', the sub-head ran 'The term of copyrights and patents should not be extended'. Here is an extract:
The FT (which I think we can assume speaks for its former editor) thus takes the same line as Macaulay in 1841. Macaulay argued that copyright was a form of temporary monopoly, and that monopolies were, in principle, against the public interest. For a fuller discussion, see my post of 6 February 2006.
This week, as part of a welter of documents accompanying a budget report, the Treasury published a review of the rules on intellectual property. Written by Andrew Gowers, a former editor of this newspaper, it argues against extending the term of copyright for music, but for reforms that would make intellectual property cheaper to protect and easier to enforce.
That is consistent with the purpose of copyrights, patents and trademarks: they exist to encourage the creation of knowledge, by providing the creator with a period of exclusive use, and to persuade people to make their discoveries public, so others can build on them.
If the revenue from a temporary monopoly is more than the cost of writing, recording or inventing then a financial incentive exists. But because that monopoly has a cost to society - the drug or film or book costs more than it would if it could be freely copied - the term of the intellectual property should be the minimum possible.
I fear that 4500 musicians are going to be rather disappointed.
Full details of the Gowers report are on the HM Treasury web site.
The Frontlist is the subject of a brief article in the International Herald Tribune, a newspaper which chooses, for its own good reasons, no doubt, to refer to it as The Front List.
The Frontlist was described here on 18 July 2006. It is a web site which offers you the opportunity to submit a sample of your novel, whereupon said extract is read and scored by five other people who have also submitted samples. Those bits of amazing prose which score highly are then read by agents and/or publishers who thus hope to avoid having to do their own elimination of the not very impressive by wading through the slush pile.
I had reservations, but I thought people should suck it and see. Scott Pack is quoted as having some reservations too.
The IHT adds little new, but as I said before, 'this entire operation is being run by thoughtful and well-intentioned people -- idealists, even -- who are going to be doing a great deal of work for close to zero money, and it would therefore be churlish to be unkind about it.'
It's early days yet to expect the scheme to have thrown up a winner, but, if you're an eager young hopeful, it's a site to explore. (Link from booktrade.info.)
Richard in bidding war
Galleycat says that Richard Madeley, male half of the UK's formidable TV pair Richard and Judy, is working on a book about fathers and sons, and that the auction is getting excitable. (The proposed novel has been put aside.)
Meanwhile, everyone continues to rave about the value and importance, to the UK book world, of the Richard and Judy show.
Prizes that no one wants
There is much uproar in blogoland over the prizes that no one wants. Well, not many people. It's all very boring, but if you read Galleycat's posts of 6 December and 7 December you will see that Sobol launched a prize for fiction writers and expected 50,000 entries; so far they've got 1,000 or so, probably because you have to pay $85 to enter.
Anyway, the only reason for mentioning it here is because it reminds me of an article which appeared in Esquire at least forty years ago. That told the tale of a competition (run by a publisher, I think) to find a really great novel. The prize was huge (I seem to remember $200,000), and included sale of film rights to some Hollywood household name. In the end the entries were so poor that the publisher had to commission a professional to write the 'winner'.
I am also reminded of a competition run in 1983 by the Sunday Express, to find a new romantic writer. Over 10 million words were submitted (perhaps 200 novels), but unfortunately only one entry conformed with the requirements of the competition.
Bookslut reports that an audience in New York was stunned (gobsmacked, as we say in England) by the following statement from Milton Glaser:
Glaser, designer of the iconic "I Love New York" design, had an unfortunate Larry Summers moment when he said that the reason there are so few female rock star graphic designers is that "women get pregnant, have children, go home and take care of their children. And those essential years that men are building their careers and becoming visible are basically denied to women who choose to be at home." He continued: "Unless something very dramatic happens to the nature of the human experience then it's never going to change." About day care and nannies, he said, "None of them are good solutions."The crowd fell silent, says Bookslut, apart from a hiss or two. Curious, isn't it, how a crowd can be silenced by a statement of the blindingly obvious.
There are ghosts, and ghosts. Ansible reports that Arthur C. Clarke feels he's too old for the writing game, and has asked dynamic 'young' author Frederik Pohl (born two years after ACC) to finish his new novel.
Ansible also quotes the ever-modest James Ellroy: "I am a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music." (New York Times Magazine interview, 5 Nov.)
And a lot more besides. Go take a look.
While you're at it, go look at David Langford's The End of Harry Potter.
The Writers Ink
There are more ways than one to make a living as a writer, as The Writers Ink shows. And no, they don't bother with an apostrophe. This gang not only have an office in the USA, they have one in Seoul, South Korea, too. Link from my son Jon who met Peter at a party.
Kathy O'Beirne story
If you are keeping half an eye on the Kathy O'Beirne story, you may wish to note that some passionate supporters of that lady continue to post comments on my post of 20 September 2006. One of the latest is a 'counselling psychologist'.
Culture on Sunday
The Sunday Times culture section contained several items of note.
If you have ever wondered what an English pantomime is all about, the review of Dick Whittington at the Barbican gives you a pretty good idea.
There's a discussion of how the television industry hopes to avoid making the same mistakes that the music business made when it comes to permitting downloading. (And copying? See the Gowers report.)
Then there's a discussion of how classical music fans like to download stuff too (who would have guessed?), and can they have a more sophisticated service please.
John Doyle has written a book about the impact of television on Irish society. The Irish didn't get their own TV service until 1961, and at the official opening both President de Valera and Cardinal Dalton warned of the evil influence that TV could have. Well, it sure as hell reduced respect for both politicians and the church. You might like to read this before or after Christine Falls.A chap called Pynchon has a book out. Apparently.
And the bestseller list shows that Marina Lewycka is still in the top ten (after 23 weeks) with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, of which 557,350 copies have been sold. So far. Thumpy eck, Mavis, that's a lot of books. But she deserves it.
Director of People wanted
The Sunday Times appointments (jobs) section has an advert from HarperCollins for a 'Director of People', which is, presumably, the new name for Human Resources aka Personnel.
The ad describes HC as 'well positioned to embrace the transformation of publishing in the new digital environment'. The Director will be expected to 'enable the company to thrive in a rapidly developing publishing sector that will place increasing emphasis on direct relationships with the consumer'. W.H. Smith et al are going to love that bit, aren't they?
And, above all, the Director needs the 'ambition to play a pivotal role in taking an established and high profile organisation through substantial change to ensure it maintains its competitive edge in a dynamic publishing market.'
Well, it's taken a while, and this isn't the first sign of it, but at last UK publishers seem to have got the message that we're in the digital age and things cannot remain the same, even if you want them to.
Gessen on blogs
Finally, Maud Newton drew my attention to some comments about blogs which were made by Keith Gessen, editor of n+1. Here's part of what Gessen said:
The trouble with [literary] blogs arises when they go from being diaries (very private expressions, telling us something only that person knows) to being basically attention-grabbing mechanisms.... Back in the day, you would occasionally stumble upon some person blogging about their very private reading, what it was like, what their reactions were. Those people still exist, but they're drowned out by people who are just purveyors of literary gossip -- who comment on books they haven't even read, who, as Marco likes to say, are just basically freelance publicists.Now the man has a point, and it has bothered me for some time. When I first started this blog it consisted almost entirely of stuff that was unique to me, i.e. it was about books that I'd read and enjoyed, and about my ideas on the best way to write fiction, and so forth.
Gradually, and I'm not sure quite how it happened, I drifted into providing (at least part of the time) what a friend of mine used to call tragic gossip -- i.e. snippets of news about the book world. Today's post is an example.
Now the tragic gossip approach has its uses. As a retired person I do have rather more time available to read newspapers and web pages than has someone who has a full-time job (and, often, is trying to write a novel as well). So a kind of filtering process and a bit of reader's-digesting can serve a useful purpose.
And it may be that I, and Keith Gessen, underestimate the usefulness of that. However, I do retain a slightly guilty feeling that the true value (if any) of this blog lies in such original comment and guidance as I can provide in the form of some of my better essays and book reviews. Most of the gossip you can, in fact, get elsewhere.
The trouble is, of course, that the extended essays take rather a long time to do. For weeks now, I have been thinking of doing at least a couple more items on Victorian pornography (parts one and two appeared some time ago), some more about emotion and decision-making for writers, and the literature of transgender, and a lot more. But it is all too easy, I'm afraid, to get distracted.
Note to self: must work on the balance thing.