Bad Things Happen and There’s Nothing You Can Do

Due to some seriously upsetting personal issues, I don’t know when my next post will be.  Hopefully I will have something to say, but right now I can’t even think straight or see to type.  Sometimes when bad things happen, it disrupts writing.  I apologize.   Please give me some time.  Thank you.

P.S. No, nobody died or is about to, unless broken hearts really can kill you.

 

The Oatmeal Lawsuit Part 2: The Rebuttal

Yesterday, I posted about Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal’s fight against Funnyjunk.com, who allegedly misappropriated some of his work without proper credit.  In short, their lawyer has now expanded the fight against Inman to include several charities Inman directed his supporters to in an effort to shunt their expected ire someplace constructive.

This article on Forbes.com gives more information from Charles Carreon regarding his lawsuit.

I sent a letter (a bit heated but still I tried to be respectful–see it in yesterday’s post) to Mr. Carreon and received this reply:

Thanks for your notes.

 Regarding the facts of the FunnyJunk / Oatmeal dispute, you’re completely misinformed.

  1. Inman never served a DMCA notice
  2. FunnyJunk has a DMCA agent (me) but the Copyright Office hasn’t posted the registration yet
  3. Inman’s cartoons aren’t registered, so he could not sue in copyright until he gets a registration
  4. A registration takes about a year to get
  5. An expedited registration could be obtained for $785, but
  6. Even so, since the “infringement” already occurred, Inman could not recover attorneys fees or per-incident damages;
  7. Therefore, he will not sue and would not even have been able to mount an effective countersuit if FJ had chosen to sue him, which it has not.

As a trial lawyer and litigator with 26 years experience, I generally don’t argue unless there’s a judge who can declare me the winner.  There’s just no point in it.  You can read the complaint on the front page of my website, and consider the merit of the allegations.

 As to how the Internet works and all that, I say pishposh.  I won Sex.Com because even though others couldn’t understand how, I knew that six letters and a dot could be worth millions, and therefore were property under California law.  It took five years to establish that legal truth, that Judge Ware did not accept, that the Ninth Circuit split 2-1 against and referred to the California Supreme Court for an advisory opinion, that the Cal Supremes declined to provide, resulting in the Ninth Circuit finally ruling our way.

 Similarly, bribing charities to endorse a campaign that is not charitable in purpose by using their names without permission, then raising enough money that the charity will be induced to endorse a mean-spirited campaign that contravenes charitable motives is unlawful.  End of story.

 Finally, people don’t hire me to cave in to threats from cartoonists or bullies of any sort.  I too am an artist, and will have my artistic response.  Let me know what you think when you hear and see it.

 No disrespect to you, but if you want to spend your time opining about my qualifications as a lawyer – be me guest.  Your time would probably be better spent writing about something you actually comprehend, but it’s your time.  As far as your not hiring me – no problem.  I have plenty of work.

 ——

I’m sure you do, darlin’.

It’s my understanding that you don’t need to register something to copyright it.  I don’t need to register all my blog posts, do I?  They are published under my name, and I have a notice on my website that the content is my property.  Of course, for drawings, there may be different rules.  I would imagine Mr. Inman is aware of them.

I replied:

Mr. Carreon,

Thank you for your response.  If I’m misinformed, then it should be easy for myself and my readers to check everything out, per your provided notes.  My remark about the Internet was referring to the Streisand effect, which, if you have plenty of work, should then be no problem for you.

If you read my blog post, you’ll see I encouraged people to NOT flame you or anyone else they disagree with.  That is actually a rule in my comment policy.  I still feel that it was wrong for you to be harassed, and my opinion of that will not change.

I usually don’t spend my time opining about other people’s issues.  This is a writing blog, not an industry blog, or one devoted to current events.  Inman’s issue struck home to me, however, because of the potential for abuse by websites such as Funnyjunk and others who can afford to mount a defense against their alleged copyright infringements.

You claim you’re an artist.  Should this happen to you, you’re certainly in a good position to do something about it, whereas the average person might be screwed.  Whether that is right or not, it’s certainly not fair.  Whether Inman sent a DMCA notice or not doesn’t make the initial infringement go away.  If someone steals my work, and they respond to a takedown request with threats, that doesn’t mean my work is any less stolen.

I’ll be posting this rebuttal, and you’re welcome to comment on the blog if you like, per the comment policy’s rules, of course.  Since I don’t actually have a dog in this fight, other than concern about copyright issues, I shall withdraw my involvement after this post.  Perhaps this case will serve to educate writers, artists and other creative people on the importance of both respecting others’ work and protecting their own.

——

The Oatmeal Lawsuit is going to be watched very closely in the blogosphere, and by Internet artists and writers of every persuasion.  I sincerely hope it is worked out to the benefit of others who might face this issue.

I post the rebuttal and my reply here for one purpose:  to show that you can disagree with someone, without flaming them or engaging in harassment.  It’s a pet peeve of mine on blogs and in forums when people get stabby in the comments.  We’re writers.  We should use our words to get information and express our displeasure.

I’m backing off.  The charity involvement is getting crazy.  I’m just going to watch and listen, and hopefully we’ll all learn something.

 

 

The Oatmeal and Funnyjunk: The Streisand Effect Strikes Again!

Once again, we have copyright issues in the online world.  This time, it’s beloved Internet comic Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal’s fight against Funnyjunk.com, who misappropriated some of his work without proper credit.

The lawyer in this fight, Charles Carreon, has blown it up so much that it is now ridiculous.  Read Inman’s original response to Carreon’s action here.   Basically, Funnyjunk hired him to file a federal lawsuit against Inman, despite his right to ask them to take down the unattributed material.  He decided to raise money for charities instead of paying a threatened $20,000 fine.

Now, Carreon is suing the charities Inman has been raising money for.  Is this even A THING?  What is the matter with this guy?

BoingBoing has this post dated yesterday, June 19, 2012, in which Inman tells Carreon to “calm down.” Yeah, he needs to.  So does everyone else.

People, if you want to protest something, do it respectfully.  You won’t be heard if you act like a jerkass and flood someone with threats, harassment, and crap.

A small search turned up some contact information for Carreon, but I won’t reproduce it here.  I did write this email.

Dear Mr. Carreon,

As a writer with two blogs, I am indeed concerned about online copyright issues.  However, in this matter regarding Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal and Funnyjunk.com, I’m not sure you know how the Internet works.

You are now the victim of something called the Streisand Effect. You can look this up at Wikipedia, but basically, it’s when someone’s actions call more attention to themselves than the original issue did in the first place.  I’m truly sorry people have been harassing you.  The Internet can be a very unforgiving place.  People forget their manners there.

However…

Matt Inman is an artist who publishes online.  It’s common practice for users to share material.  If this is an issue, the users and the site that reproduces it are in the wrong.  He merely asked Funnyjunk to take down the material they reproduced without attribution.  I would do the same if my posts were copied on someone’s site, generating profit without my permission.  He has a right to do this.  He also has a right to pursue them if they don’t comply.

Your client did not comply.  Until the Streisand Effect kicked in.

Now, you are taking the fallout.  Your continued actions in filing suit against the charities Inman is taking donations for have made you into the bad guy.  These tactics, not Mr. Inman’s rebuttal, have hurt your credibility.

If I have a case involving your area of expertise, I seriously doubt I would ever engage your services.  I will not recommend anyone I know do so either.  You may think I’m nobody and that I don’t matter.  Perhaps now, but in concert with thousands of other voices, I do make a little noise.  Anyway, Mr. Inman is very well loved and respected as an artist, so count me in as one of his outraged supporters.

My advice to you is to drop these suits before you permanently damage your credibility.  I will be publishing this letter on my blog, so if my email bounces back, it will be seen regardless.

If you have a sensible rebuttal, I’d love to hear it.  I’d be happy to publish it here for you.  I’m all about fairness. You could sue me despite my right to communicate with you and post my opinion online, while linking to sources about this now public issue.  But I don’t have any money, so it would kind of be a waste of time.

I hope you’ll consider my words.   Thank you.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth West
Writer

Yeah, he could sue me.  Is it worth the further damage to his reputation?  Maybe.  There’s no recompense there, because I have nothing to sue for.  Should I take the risk to protest this treatment of a fellow artist?

YES.

Bottom line:

  • You have a right to ask someone to take down unauthorized reproductions of your work, or to properly credit you for it.

This is probably the best initial action to take, since copyright crap has gotten so fuzzy and overblown.  Chances are some random blogger doesn’t know how to cite.  You can help him/her learn this.

  • Don’t threaten or harass people.  All that does is make you look like a jerk.  Yes, even lawyers.   Be the hell polite.
  • Don’t go all Streisand (I’m sorry, Barbra, it’s just that you did it first) on people. You can deal with issues without overreacting or causing the fallout to land on you.

And finally:

  • Please take a moment to calm down before you act.  Sending this lawyer nasty threats to the point where he had to take down his contact page does not make the people who did so any better than him.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  throwing rocks means people stop listening to you.

If you would like to donate to the charities Matthew Inman has specified, you may do so at this link.  They are legit, I promise.

Prometheus: Afraid of its Own Ideas?

Image:  20th Century Fox Film Corp. / Prometheus-movie.com

Prometheus opened in theaters Friday, and I went to see it yesterday after skating practice.  Directed by Ridley Scott of both Alien and Blade Runner, and written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, this prequel to Alien is set in the same universe.  It’s rounded out by a sweeping and ominous score by Marc Streitenfeld.

I have both praise and criticism.  First of all, you need to see this movie in the theater.  You don’t need to see it in 3D.

Really.

Prometheus tells the story of a space mission seeking the answer to an age-old question:  where did we come from?   The title is the name of the ship, which comes from the Greek myth of Prometheus, punished by the gods for creating man from clay. 

Breath-taking overhead shots of a primordial landscape open the film.  Gradually we zoom in on a humanoid creature picking its way along the edge of an enormous waterfall.  It drinks a black liquid, deteriorates in agony, and falls over the edge.  DNA strands permeate the water.

Litterbug!

Image:  20th Century Fox Corp. / Prometheus-movie.com

A recurring motif of stars in ancient artwork is discovered by archaeologists and lovers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green).  They trace the configuration to a distant system containing rocky planet LV-223.

The mission is bankrolled by an elderly businessman, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, unrecognizable in heavy makeup), who has become intrigued by the thesis that humankind originated from space creatures Shaw and Holloway have dubbed “Engineers.”

Along for the ride are practical captain Janek (Idris Elba), surly geologist Fifield (Sean Harris), nerdy biologist Milburn (Rafe Spall, son of Timothy Spall) and Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, a coldly corporate mission director.  Michael Fassbender is David, an android who looks after things while the crew is in stasis.

The acting is sincere.  Viewers may recognize Rapace from the Swedish adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et. al.  Her Shaw is likeable, though not as tough as Ripley.  Theron is always a pleasure to watch.  Marshall-Green is appropriately excited without being too cocky.  The rest of the cast has a lot of personality for such token characters.

Fassbender steals every scene he’s in.   His David idolizes T.E. Lawrence, and echoes Ash, the rogue android from Alien, Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s humanoid wanna-be, and HAL from 2001.  We can’t determine if he has emotions or not.  One decision smacks of pure spite, but could also be seen as clinical curiosity about the consequences.

Famous last words: “I know what I’m doing!”

Image: 20th Century Fox Corp. / Prometheus-movie.com

Much of the film was shot in Iceland, an area of Earth still close to its primordial state.  It makes a decent substitute for LV-223.

Set designers revisited the biomechanical style of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who designed the derelict ship in Alien and the xenomorph we know so well.  Giger himself produced the alien murals on LV-223.

Prometheus tackles big ideas, namely the theory of ancient astronauts who spread their DNA to earth and originated our species.  This idea is a natural outcrop of panspermia, that Earth and / or other planets may have been seeded long ago by asteroids carrying life ingredients around the universe.

It also briefly touches on the idea of humans assuming this god-like function, and how appallingly naïve they are about it.  David asks Holloway why he himself was created.  “Because we could,” is the flip reply, with Holloway not understanding the depth of what he has just said.

In time, LV-223 reveals many of its secrets.  Here is where the script collapses away from philosophizing and into frenetic, action/horror mode.

I found myself laughing at one unnecessary scene.  Horror directors always seem to make this same mistake: inserting a crazy aside.  A good example is the pharmacy scene in The Mist, which brings the story to a screeching halt to show you a really gross special effect, thus evaporating the tension.  I expected better from Scott.

Anyone who saw Alien will recognize certain things on LV-223. The identity of the space jockey, a giant fossilized being discovered on LV-426 by the Nostromo crew, is finally revealed.

“Wonder what happened here?” You don’t wanna know….

Image: sneakpeek.ca

But one gaping question is left unanswered, and Scott leaves the ending somewhat open.  I was disappointed, because I was hoping for answers NOW.  I’m still intrigued.  I would have liked to see what happened if it hadn’t ended the way it did, without waiting for another film.  I smell a sequel…but what would you call a sequel to a prequel?

It seemed to me that Prometheus sits on the very edge of being really profound through the entire first half, especially with that opening scene, but never takes the plunge.  Instead, it lapses into comfortable, sci-fi stereotypes.  The subsequent action eclipses the idea of the mission and becomes clichéd, predictable and non-scary.

I didn’t hate it.  But I didn’t love it, either.

Rating:  7 out of 10 (for effort)

6-15-12 Venus Solar Transit!

SPACE NERD ALERT!

Today, the orbit of the planet Venus took it across the face of the sun.  This phenomenon is happening now.  It is visible from Earth.

This will not happen again for 105 years.  You can watch it online.  Tomorrow there will be tons of video and pictures, I’m sure.

I got two pieces of welder’s glass, one #10 and one #5 darkness, and taped them together.  I was able to see it.   I went outside and made all my neighbors look at it!  I made the ice cream man look!

A digital camera doesn’t have enough zoom to get a picture of the planet (it was just a little black dot), but I got some nice greenish pictures of the sun through the welder’s glass.

Photograph by Elizabeth West

Look, the sun is a ball.  Who knew?  :P

Psycho Kitty was not impressed.

“Yeah…so what?

Photograph by Elizabeth West

Here’s a better picture of what astronomers will see / are seeing:

Rainwater Observatory, French Camp, MS

http://www.rainwaterobservatory.org/rainwater/

I hope you got to see this once-in-a-lifetime event.   If you lived on my street, I would have made you look at it too.  Sorry about that.  You could have had ice cream.

Flying Tips

Update: Valerie Cecil of Guestdoor.com informed me that my TSA link was all 404’ed.  Thanks, Valerie–it’s fixed now!

Check out this article she sent me on how to protect yourself against identity theft while traveling.  She’s included some really good tips on keeping your information safe.

———-

If you have a job that requires frequent travel, you’re probably used to many of the inconveniences.  If not, and your book hits the big time, you might be traveling a lot.  (Yeah, we should all be so lucky.)

I’ve written about flying and how much it sucks these days.  I’ve flown more in the last two years than in my entire life, with Egon being so far away.  It took a little getting used to.

The Internet is full of tips and tricks to make traveling by air easier.  One also finds a plethora of bitching.   Rather than do that, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned, in my favorite list-ish fashion.

Wear comfy clothes, but not sloppy ones

Long ago, when flying was kind of a luxury, it was also a special occasion.  People wore business-type clothes to fly.  They spent a lot of money and even in coach, you were catered to.  I can remember meal service and comfy seats in Coach.  Sigh.  Those were the days.

Want this in business class? Try international airlines. You won’t get it on an American carrier.

Image:  Jiang / Wikimedia Commons

Now the seats are smaller and the planes more crowded.  You might wish to clad yourself in comfortable clothing.  But please, show a little decorum.  Items to avoid include:

  • Flip flops – these are horrible for your feet.  They’re horrible for my eyes.  I don’t want to see your gnarly toes with yellowish, fungus-infested nails.  Blargh!
  • Pajamas – who thinks it’s okay to wear these out and about? Sure, maybe if you’re four!
  • Revealing clothes – anything that would get you on peopleofwalmart.com should be left at home or packed in your carry-on.  Some airlines will kick you off for this.  Really.

Pack sensibly

By sensibly, I mean don’t take the entire house.  I have trouble with this one.  I usually take my computer, since I don’t have a tablet or smartphone, and like to be able to write if the muse hits me.  But I’ve managed to get along with one small duffel and a backpack.

  • Make a list.  I have a standard one that I adapt to each trip.  For example, I don’t have to take hair products if I’m visiting Egon or family—either I have some there or can borrow.  But I might pack extra conditioner if I’m staying at a hotel.
  • Take clothes that can do double duty and don’t wrinkle.  Knit blends are best.  Downy® Wrinkle Releaser really works, and a travel size is available at Walmart.    Many hotel rooms have irons, and if you’re staying at a private home you can wash clothes.

Understand airline and security rules

Like it or not, the reality of air travel means dealing with security and safety.  Not only liquids and shoes, but electronic devices on the airplane, and your behavior.   Yes, there are hotheaded, power-mad asshats out there.  No, you aren’t justified in breaking rules simply because you don’t agree with them.

If I could get a tack past the TSA, it would be sooo in your seat…

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Shut your electronic device off and put it away for takeoff and landing.  I don’t wish to have your iPad crash into my head if the captain has to slam on the brakes.  Before you mouth off about books, I put mine in the seat pocket until the plane is in the air.

The flight attendant’s safety warning says “ALL CARRY-ON ITEMS MUST BE STOWED FOR TAKEOFF AND LANDING.”  That means everything.  You can survive for a few minutes without Angry Birds.  I promise.

Yeah, it’s not that cute when you’re eight, either.

Image: Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Story Time!

On my way back from a recent Egon visit, I was subjected to my very first bag search.  Aww.

I did warn the TSA that I had camera batteries and a small wrist/ankle weight in there, but it alarmed and I was pulled out of line.  The TSA at the Tucson airport were very professional.

No, I’m not endorsing the agency, but it could have been much, much worse.  Next time I’ll take the weight out of the bag, if I have to travel with it again.

  • Do not stare at people who are in the little holding area getting their bags searched.  They could be innocent and you could be next.

———–

By remembering your manners and adding a little patience to your bag o’ tricks, you can make air travel less of a hassle.  And if you’re a writer, airports are great places to people watch.  Maybe the next generation of travelers will learn something from you.

“Someday, boopy, you’ll wear pretty dresses, ride a pony and be subject to extra-constitutional privacy invasion. Make us proud.”

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net