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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fair Use and other things

After the reading, Bill Hader and Doug Jones and I got together for some food. Behind us is Saint Mark's Bookshop, which I only mention because it is my favourite bookshop in New York. The photographer was a young Japanese lady who had previously come over to tell Bill she was a fan and to get her photo taken with him, which I figured made her much likely than any random New Yorker, when we spotted her on the street as we casme out, both to take the picture and give me my phone back afterwards.

I am no longer in New York during passover and a papal visit (which means the chance of my actually being able to say "Good yontiff, pontiff," has now dropped back from astonishingly faint to none).

The event last night raised a lot of money for the CBLDF, which was good. And we've won the Gordon Lee case, which is better.

And I thought it high time I reposted the link to the CBLDF membership page, for those of you who would like to join, or who need to renew. It's here. (www.cbldf.com takes you to the site that sells the memberships, signed prints and the rest.) (And don't forget that there are levels of membership all the way up to ANGEL at $1000 a year.)

Also lots of cool products, including this new T-shirt design, which I rather like...



...

Lots of emails from people asking me to comment on the JK Rowling/ Steve Vander Ark copyright case. My main reaction is, having read as much as I can about it, given the copyright grey zone it seems to exist in, is a "Well, if it was me, I'd probably be flattered", but that obviously isn't how J.K. Rowling feels. I can't imagine myself trying to stop any of the unauthorised books that have come out about me or about things I've created over the years, and where possible I've tried to help, and even when I haven't liked them I've shrugged and let it go.

Given the messy area that "fair use" exists in in copyright law I can understand the judge not wanting to rule, and assume that whatever he says the case will head off to the court of appeal.

My heart is on the side of the people doing the unauthorised books, probably because the first two books I did were unauthorised, and one of them, Ghastly Beyond Belief, would have been incredibly vulnerable had anyone wanted to sue Kim Newman and me on the grounds that what we did, in a book of quotations that people might not have wanted to find themselves in, went beyond Fair Use. (Which, I was told by my UK publishers, has now, as a concept, vanished from UK copyright law, although a moment's Google seemed to disprove this.)

Most commentary on the internet seems to break down into people picking sides based on personalities and opinions. As with most grey areas of law, it isn't cut and dried, and even when an appeals court-sized decision is handed down, it probably won't become cut and dried, because "Fair Use" is one of those things, like pornography, we are meant to know when we see them.

Having said that I'm fascinated by the "new rumour" that seems to have sprung up on this -- I noticed it on the Guardian comments page today, when someone began their comment with:

There is a story that Neil Gaimen was paid not to express criticism of Rowling for some of the similarities to his work.

I thought, "if there is, I haven't heard it". As far as I know the only person who ever claimed that was the mad muggles woman, Nancy Stouffer, at,

http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/zforum/01/author_stouffer032801.htm

WDC: I read somewhere that some of the details in Rowling's books could be seen as borrowing from The Sandman comic books--I believe owls carrying messages for wizards was one example. Asked about this, Sandman creator and author Neil Gaiman's response was basically so what? Storytellers pick up bits and pieces from here, there and everywhere all the time as they create original works. Why is this bothering you so much more than anyone else whose "bits and pieces" may have been borrowed (and note I say MAY)? Because you have so many examples? I've seen them on your site and think most of them are coincidental and lacking in substance, no more justifying this brouhaha than the owl messengers would be for Gaiman to throw up his arms and scream plagarism.

Nancy Stouffer: The fact is that initially Gaiman did throw up his arms and yell plagiarism. It wasn't until he had a movie deal that his comments began to change. Initially he was terribly annoyed.
(This is the Nancy Stouffer whose case, when it went to court, was thrown out and who was ordered to pay two million in attorney's fees and fined $50,000 for "submission of fraudulent documents and untruthful testimony". She lied a lot.)

Actually, what I said, on the Dreaming website, long before this place existed, back in 1998, when this nonsense first started, was,

Thursday, March 19, 1998
Neil on Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling

Posted by puck at 3:00 AM PST | Comments (3)
There's a rumour going around that Neil is upset about the Harry Potter books being too similar to The Books of Magic. Neil asked me to post this to clear things up:

"I was surprised to discover from yesterday's [Daily] MIRROR that I'm meant to have accused J.K. Rowling of ripping off BOOKS OF MAGIC for HARRY POTTER.

Simply isn't true -- and now it's on the public record it'll follow me around forever.

Back in November I was tracked down by a Scotsman journalist who had noticed the similarities between my Tim Hunter character and Harry Potter, and wanted a story. And I think I rather disappointed him by explaining that, no, I certainly *didn't* believe that Rowling had ripped off Books of Magic, that I doubted she'd read it and that it wouldn't matter if she had: I wasn't the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school. It's not the ideas, it's what you do with them that matters.

Genre fiction, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on.

(As I said to the Scotsman journalist, the only thing that was a mild bother was that in the BOOKS OF MAGIC movie Warners is planning, Tim Hunter can no longer be a bespectacled, 12 year old English kid. But given the movie world I'll just be pleased if he's not played by a middle-aged large-muscled Austrian.)

Not sure how this has transmuted into "Gaiman has accused Rowling of ripping him off." But I suppose it's a better story than the truth.


The Stouffer stuff was spun by sites like this -- http://www.geocities.com/versetrue/rowling.htm

Did Warner Brothers Pay off Neil Gaiman, Worst Witch and Melissa Joan Hart?
Warner owns the rights to Harry Potter. They later bought rights to Neil Gaiman's work, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and distribution rights to the "Worst Witch." They were the three main threats to the trademark.

After Neil Gaiman started squealing plagiarism, "Warner Brothers have optioned Sandman for a movie..." according to Neil Gaiman's website. When it looked like ABC was about to dump "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" Warner went and paid the most it ever did for a comedy. How often does a show a network is dumping switches networks, let alone pay a record amount for it? Was Gaiman and the Harts who own the Sabrina show paid off?
Which, given that I don't own Sandman or Books of Magic/Tim Hunter - they were both work for hire and are owned by DC Comics, a Time-Warner company, have been since they were created in the 80s -- have never "squealed plagiarism" except in Nancy Stouffer's sad mad mind and given that both Sandman and Books of Magic were first optioned for films by Warners some years before the first Harry Potter book was published, is not just astoundingly badly written lunatic conspiracy theory nonsense, but easily disproven creepy nonsense.

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