After spending much of the last several years regularly updating this blog, it has been some time since I went a month with anything fewer than 5 entries. I love to ramble to the masses, after all, and make sure to post at least once a week whenever possible. So it would make sense, after this August came and went, that some people who have visited this blog would have one very important question to ask me:
Fair question, my imaginary audience, but no. And, while I didn’t die, I can see why you would wonder. It is true, for several weeks now I have been effectively dead to the world. In fact, after frequently making jokes I was a zombie fueled only by caffeine and calypso music, I finally found myself for the first time completely unable to raise my corpse to the challenge. Having resolved to use the month of August to get ahead of several projects so that I could enter 2018 with a fresh start and renewed drive, I ended up with one of the greatest pains I had ever felt in my arm and found it difficult to do much of anything with it. Had I broken it in some freak accident? Was I suffering some sort of traumatic disease which was stripping the use of my arm from me? Did I tear the muscles in some dramatic fashion?
Over the years I’ve often been a proponent of making sure that your story comes before your message. Though you should always include part of yourself, you should do your best to actually avoid ever putting your own opinions ahead of the quality of your work. Emphasizing your opinions too much can overwhelm the material and make it difficult for people to really get invested in the narrative – serving to diminish both. After all, if people don’t care about your story they certainly won’t care about the themes behind it.
So I’ve often talked about the need to present the discussion as a natural part of the narrative. Reeling back your message to allow the discussion to be had on its own will generally present a better result with a more invested audience. And, as a natural result of putting yourself into your work, the message you intended to put out there will usually shine through on its own. By being fair, not forcing the audience to see it your way, and giving them a view into the topic of discussion that lets them get there on their own, you’ll have people who not only receive your message but feel good about getting there. Essentially, if you present an issue in a fair manner and demonstrate why you feel the way you do, either people will agree with your assessment or you’ll have given them something to think about.
But there’s a risk in approaching subjects a little too neutral. While you always want to avoid “soap boxing”, both to ensure the audience is receptive and to ensure a stronger narrative, you don’t want to remove yourself entirely. It’s a tricky balancing act, one that many people stumble on, but an important one none the less. Because when you do remove yourself from the equation and try to approach a subject completely neutral you’ll rarely get the result you desire…. Continue reading Passionate Discussion→
After months of delays, backstage rumors, sudden loss of its show-runner and so many unnerving little announcements coming out of the production of Star Trek: Discovery, the people finally got to see something better than that awful half-rendered ship from the comic con footage. And, though the recent trailer appeared months after the show was supposed to air, we finally have something about the production that looks promising. Showing slick visuals, a somewhat interesting set up, and a ship that didn’t look like ass – it was decent. Though the involvement of the Klingons seems to confirm some theories that people were bandying about nearly a year ago, at least now there was something to discuss.
In an effort to fight back what they call the “white genocide”, a thankfully small but vocal minority (ironic) jumped at the chance to decry the cast of characters. There were too many women, too many minorities, and not nearly enough straight white men for them. Clearly, by their assessment, social justice was out to ruin Star Trek by forcing diversity onto its cast and crew. And the rest of us only had one question to ask:
For years I’ve had a bit of a running joke that I tell even if people aren’t in on it. It’s often rumored that talking about your goals will actually give you an inflated sense of accomplishment. So, as a writer who hasn’t really had a huge amount of success (yet), I tend to rely on self-deprecation to avoid actually stating my goals out loud. Don’t get me wrong, I remind myself every day that I’m a writer and that’s what I want to be, but when I talk to other people I try to make sure I don’t get a big ego about it. We’ve all met that guy who says he’s writing a screenplay or novel and thinks that means the world should kiss his ass. I never want to be that guy, so I make sure to label myself appropriately.
I’m a professional bullshit artist.
Because that’s what you have to be if you’re going to be working in fiction. You have to be able to craft the most unbelievable bullshit into something people become invested in. You have to sell people on notions that you just pulled from the aether (or straight from your ass), and make them want to pay you money for it. It’s a skill that’s easy to learn but hard to master – a field where everyone feels they should be able to do it but only so many can actually pull it off. And that perceived ease of entry is part of the problem for guys like me.
See, writers, by and large, have to sell themselves as much as possible to get people to look their way. But, since there are so many of us out there, it’s hard to make that happen in short order. Most famous authors and screenwriters didn’t really have a major break until their 30s when many of those started trying earnestly somewhere around high school. There are always a few modest writing gigs here or there, you’ll make some headway as an intern if you have the right connections, but for the most part you’re just hoping you manage to out-shine someone else’s bullshit. Unfortunately, recent events with some politicians derailed my efforts for a bit and I was a little upset.
(To ensure there’s no confusion here: I am not a lawyer, I am a writer who has an interest in this subject because I would like to not be sued or ripped off. Noble motivations, I assure you.)
Copyright, it’s a funny thing. Most people have a basic understanding of it, but that understanding tends to be fairly black and white. Some people assume that it should be mostly common sense, but that’s not always true. Things that everyone tends to “know” about the system are usually pretty subjective and can be swayed by a good legal team. And other things that people “know” may be flat out wrong in some cases.
When I wrote the post that eventually got this discussion rolling, one of those things people “knew” is that a copyright holder is obligated to sue to defend their copyright. This is an opinion that a lot of people had based on a misunderstanding and outdated information. Once upon a time, it would have been totally true (and still is in some circumstances and locales). But one of the few things about modern US copyright law that I really like is that we currently don’t require a copyright holder to do anything to maintain their copyright. You can register, but that registration is mostly meant for your future legal cases if you want to draw damages. The minute you publish original content in the US, you own it, no questions asked. A failure to register doesn’t lose you the copyright, it just makes your lawsuits a little trickier.
Instead, lawsuits are generally used to either stop an action, punish a violation, or to ensure that the right people are being paid for a work. These are entirely voluntary. That’s not to say that filing the lawsuit makes you a dick, not at all, you should have the right to defend your work. Rather, when someone says that the lawsuit was an obligation, they’re working under a false assumption. Corporations aren’t “obligated” to protect their copyright from fear of losing it since it’s nearly impossible to lose a copyright. Their lawsuits on copyright are entirely about ensuring that no one else profits from their work or prevents them from profiting on it themselves.
Every day someone has to get up and push themselves to get to work. Some days, that’s a little harder than others. And, I’m willing to venture a guess quite a few people aren’t feeling too great right now. I can understand why those people are a little stressed out. The environment is in shambles, it feels like a lot of progress we’ve made has been backsliding, and the economy tends to be unkind to people in the wrong tax brackets. These are all struggles we share, and everyone has others struggles almost entirely unique to them. If we’re lucky, some of those struggles get easier over time. If we’re unlucky, a few new ones will come along to make the next day harder than the last. But if we’re really unlucky, something goes off the deep end and we find ourselves appointing a crazy hair madman as our leader.
Understandably, some people have a hard time getting up after that. There’s plenty of time to try to figure out what caused it, or what it means, and we’ve got some time to figure out how this is all going to play out. But for today, we have to remember that each new day is another day we have to make count. Even if you’re driving through wastelands, running for your life, you still have to get up in the morning and make your way forward. After all, the alternative is to give up and giving up opens up a fresh new form of hell.
Every year, as this time comes around, I sit back and think a lot about what exactly scares people. So many things that we deal with in our everyday lives can be so unassuming to most but absolutely terrifying to a few. But as I once pointed out, I’m not particularly afraid of things that require a lot of abstract thinking. Stick me in a situation where my entire biology is telling me to get out and I will be fairly afraid, but if I have to imagine something hurting me, I generally also imagine being able to fight back. Masked men with a machete? I wonder why no one’s grabbed the farm tools they just ran by. Animatronics in a pizza shop? I’m familiar with how fragile animatronics actually are. And, as much as people are caught up in some sort of clown hysteria right now, there’s really only ever been one clown outside of fiction that anyone had any real reason to be worried about.
Well, maybe two if you count the threat of obesity.
This doesn’t just hold for the small personal horrors either. As I pointed out once about the apocalypse, a lot of the allure for these scenarios is the feeling that we could somehow plan or prepare to handle them. Every apocalyptic story involves the survivor who finds their way out of it and deals with the horrors in front of them despite the odds. Aliens have invaded? You’ll join the resistance. Zombie hordes marching across the landscape attacking everyone they come across? There are entire websites devoted to planning your survival strategy. And nuclear winter? I know it sounds absolutely terrifying but we’ve actually survived something like that once before. So, despite how horrible they may seem to a lot of people, they’re never something I really sit back and worry about. As I once told my friend, the things that actually have kept me up at night are the things you could never prepare for.
(To ensure there’s no confusion here: I am not a lawyer, I am a writer who has an interest in these subjects because I would like to not be sued or ripped off. Noble motivations, I assure you.)
Copyright, it’s a funny thing. Having recently stepped into a hot debate, I found myself watching people argue with certainty over the nature of copyright law. Amusingly, most of these people were so absolutely sure they knew how copyright law works that you’d think they were all lawyers. For or against, both sides of the debate thought they knew for a fact what the law said on the subject. In fact, both were pretty adamant that the other side were thieves. And they “knew for a fact” because, according to these well-meaning souls, copyright is a simple to understand system that follows common sense. So, once I stopped laughing, I started writing on the subject.
As I’ve been pointing out ever since, there isn’t always as clear a picture as people like to believe there is. In some very black and white areas, it works – you can’t just duplicate someones work or distribute pirated copies (usually). But once you get to the matters of intellectual property, you’d be amazed how hard it is to parse out the solution. The system as it stands today has many glaring flaws that make it difficult to trust that it’s always going to work. Certain provisions within the copyright and trademark laws are intentionally murky, some things are entirely subjective, and most of the time you can’t tell what the truth is until a judge decides. This results in a system where no one is really able to get anything clarified until a lawsuit comes into the conversation. Unfortunately, the little guy can rarely afford that, so the big boys usually win.
In the end, most of us depending on the law to protect our works are depending on people acting in good faith. Generally, we like to hope that people are honest players. We like to imagine that legal action is like a big red button behind a glass case you break only in case of emergencies. In a grey situation, we like to imagine that people stop to hesitate and consider whether they should actually do it. No one would blindly and willfully hit that button just for the sake of hitting it, right?
A plethora of people abuse the system to lock it in their favor even if it shouldn’t be. A great example would be the situation mentioned last time when Saban, owners of Power Rangers, sued a game parodying Super Sentai and other Tokusatsu series. This game existed well within fair use, being a parody based on an entire genre that used no copyrighted or trademarked materials. But, apparently, when you see a team of colorful characters climbing into a bizarre machine – Saban wants you to think of them.
It’s a ridiculous situation, but one that happens all the time. Some companies go out of their way to sue for things they have no right to sue over. They’ll plant themselves on a copyright, trademark, or patent and then use that to strong-arm other companies. But, to be fair to Saban, they do have some legal claim to the IP and that makes them a lesser of evils. Instead, to find a really glaring example of copyright abuse in a similar situation, I’d like to tell you about a franchise from Japan and why a lot of you probably haven’t heard of it before… Continue reading Copyright Confusion: Macross Edition!→
(To ensure there’s no confusion here: I am not a lawyer, I am a writer who has an interest in this subject because I would like to not be sued or ripped off. Noble motivations, I assure you.)
Last month I mentioned something about an upcoming Star Trek production and it stirred a lot of debate about the legality of fan films. At the time, I wasn’t even trying to claim anything about legality because, frankly, that can’t be determined until after the lawsuit’s long over. And, while people are incredibly passionate about that debate, I’m not actually so angry that I could go on talking about the production for much longer. It’s not that I don’t care, I do, but the emotion that would best describe my reaction would be “disappointment”.
Still, there is something about the topic that I am fairly passionate about. Long time readers could be confused how I could come out so adamantly against the likes of Shia LaBeouf for plagiarism and copyright infringement but defend fan-works like Axanar so often. The two points of view may be seen as contradictory in the eyes of some, but they’re all part of a general philosophy I have regarding copyright. Basically, thieves should be treated as such, but fan works need not necessarily be considered thieves.
I believe in a system that protects creators, doesn’t naturally favor the wealthy, and provides some limited protection for fan productions as creators in their own right. The way I’ve seen it for a long time, that’s not quite what we have. Instead, our system tends to bend to the whims of whoever can afford the best legal team. And, because of that, I’m often disappointed in general at the way the system’s carried out. To put it another way: guys like Shia LaBeouf get away with it because the system we have now lets them while even the most innocent of fan productions could be shut down at a moment’s notice. Would I consider Axanar as “the most innocent”? No, but that’s why I’m more disappointed than angry.
So it’s not that I want to tear down the copyright system, far from it, creators like me need more protection from the likes of LaBeouf. However, when I look at fan productions I don’t see the enemy so much as I see people who are either trying to get started as creators or trying to show their love for the work of another creator. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are matters of theft, but I don’t feel most fan productions should fall in that category and right now the law basically says they do.
What I’d want is clear and common sense legislation to guide fan works in a way that won’t hurt the original creators. Many believe that legislation already exists and mention repeatedly that’s the whole point of “Fair Use”. But, as much as people would want to believe Fair Use provides that common sense protection for fan works, it really isn’t as clear as people would think it is. The fact of the matter is, even seasoned professionals often overlook the fact that Fair Use, like most of copyright law, is incredibly subjective and, frankly, has lost some of its power in the last few years.
(Edited on 8/26/16 to make a couple points clearer. Lesson to the kids at home: if you’re on medication, don’t forget to have someone check your work.)
So, an interesting thing happened last week. During a hazy day where I didn’t really feel like doing my planned blog I instead decided to shoot from the hip. Throwing together a blog on a topic I’d recently discussed with friends, I published it and figured that would be the end. Turns out, according to people on Twitter, mentioning Axanar is like yelling fire in a theater. Suddenly there was a swarm of people unlike anything this blog has ever seen before. As I was publishing last Wednesday’s post I looked up to see that a post I figured wouldn’t go anywhere suddenly had more traffic than the rest of my blog combined.
Now, half a lifetime on the internet has taught me three very important lessons about expressing personal opinions. First, never debate people in a format with a character limit, there in lies the path to madness. Second, never jump into the middle of a heated debate in a comments section, they will eat you. And, third, if you do see someone make a valid point, acknowledge and respond to it in a controlled setting. Thankfully, I own the setting.