Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Questions Answered. Neverwhere Commentated. Copyright law entangled.

Several people wrote to say "No, you're wrong, it's trademarks you can lose if you don't enforce them, not copyright," which, seeing I was on the phone to a copyright lawyer about something else fifteen minutes later, I was able to get a definitive answer on. "Yeah, well, it's complicated, they're right and you're right," he said.

(If I understand this correctly, which I may not, you probably cannot lose your copyright, but you could lose any way of making anyone stop infringing it, or pay damages or whatever. And if someone else starts asserting they have copyright on something of yours, while you may not lose your own copyright you may certainly lose the means to stop them if you don't act fast -- copyright in the US has a 3 year Statute of Limitations, remember.)

In the meanwhile, one of the things I love about having this blog is that there are always people who are actually informed about things I merely burble ignorantly about. For example:

On the lyrics question, you might be a bit misinformed. You suggest sites should ask for permission, which is an excellent idea. The problem is that the music industry doesn't work like the writing industry. You own the copyright on your books; you were able to grant the Tori fansite permission to reproduce your stories because you have the right to let them do that. Radiohead fansites can't ask Radiohead for permission to reproduce Radiohead's lyrics (which Radiohead would undoubtedly give), because Radiohead can't grant that right. I'm not sure of the exact legalities of the situation - whether Radiohead technically own the copyright but transfer the right to enforce it to their publisher, or whether the publisher actually owns the copyright itself - but the upshot is the same: the body which has to grant permission is the music publisher, Warner Chappell. It's them, not Radiohead or even Radiohead's record label (EMI), who are sending out the letters (not yet official cease and desist letters) to a multitude of Radiohead fan sites, not just Green Plastic. It's rather like if you didn't actually own the copyright to Coraline, and Harper Collins didn't own it, but some entirely different organisation with which you had only the most distant of relationships did. And they could exercise that right with no reference to you. It's this system which lets Michael Jackson own most of the Beatles songs, for instance - it wasn't the Beatles who sold them on, it was their publisher.

You also raise doubts about the veracity of the reproduced lyrics. Well, the fan sites are very accurate for songs which are actually in a state to have definite lyrics: most of Radiohead's actual released output has official lyrics available in some form (usually liner notes) and the fan sites just reproduce these. Where they aren't available, the sites sometimes get official information by other methods (the Radiohead fan sites already have the official lyrics for Radiohead's new album, despite it not having been released yet).

The real issue here appears to be that Warner are worried about their business publishing songbooks for popular albums. The good news for the sites is it *seems* they might be flexible - what they're mostly annoyed about is the publication of guitar tabs, which Warner thinks stops people paying the rather hefty prices it charges for "official" sheet music (the irony being that Radiohead themselves have complained the songbooks Warner publishes for their material are inaccurate). There are indications they might be flexible with regard to simply printing lyrics, which the fansites point out that no-one in their right mind is going to pay more than the price of the original album for. The songbooks sell on the back of the music more than the lyrics, so it's this Warner really seem to be trying to protect. Hopefully, they might allow the sites to print the lyrics if they remove their archives of guitar tabs for the songs. But it's all rather uncertain at the moment. It's a bit of a sad affair all around, though, and I just wanted to make it clear that it's not the creator of this content behind it - Radiohead have often endorsed the fan sites in interviews, and they certainly support the material they publish.

-Adam (yup, me once more)

Very helpful... thanks.

I just saw on your blog that the Neverwhere DVD is in production. My boyfriend and I are very excited to hear this news, as we've always wanted to see this (without buying pirated copies at the local conventions). A quick question, though....would it be possible at this date to get the commentary closed captioned or subtitled, as well as the movie itself? My boyfriend is deaf due to an illness, and would love to be able to read your commentary while watching. If you could pass this along to the production company I'd really appreciate it.

Kristin Osborn

I asked the DVD producer about this today, and mentioned that several people had asked about it. He's going to find out if the BBC version had captioning, and if A&E can do it.

I sat in front of the screen in a studio in Minneapolis today for the entire afternoon, while all six episodes of Neverwhere played, and talked about whatever came into my head while Neverwhere ran, as a sort of stream of consciousness thing. It's been a long time -- I'd forgotten, on the one hand, how much I disliked the way the first episode came out, and the edit of the last few minutes of the last episode, and on the other, how much I enjoyed large chunks of episodes 4 and 5, particularly the Croup and Vandemar and De Carabas bits.

And I really, really kept wishing that we had all the footage that was shot, and could edit it all back together the way it was meant to be, missing scenes and all...

I also kept wishing I had Lenny Henry, or Clive Brill, or Dewi Humphreys in the commentary room with me, to interpolate when I flagged.

I will be going to the San Diego Comic-Con in July. I can't be there for all 4 days, only 2, and want to plan my trip so I won't miss Neil. What days would be best to be there to see Neil? Thanks, Roxanne.

I can pretty much guarantee I'll be there for the whole time, and doing more than one event every day. We'll figure out the final schedule fairly soon, I expect, and I'll post it or link to it as soon as I can...

In the meantime I can tell you that the Mirror Mask event, with me, Dave McKean, Lisa Henson and Michael Polis (from Hensons) will be from 4:30 to 6pm, on Friday, July 18th. It will have Audio/visual equipment, and with luck Dave should be able to show a few scenes from the film...

Hello, Neil.

I was always happy that to see that you often included or represented lesbian characters in your writing. Is it deliberate and something that you are very conscious of? Is it from any specific influence at all? Interestingly, I don't recall any gay male characters, though. Just like the girl-kissers, huh? Me, too.... ;}


You don't? Let's see, in Sandman, among the characters who reveal their sexual orientation (which tends always to be a minority of characters) and off the top of my head, in the male gay camp you've got Alex Burgess and Paul McGuire (in episode one and The Kindly Ones) , the Cluracan, the Corinthian, Hal Carter, and, depending on your definitions, Wanda. Also several young actors and Christopher Marlowe. In American Gods you've got Salim and the Genie. (One major character in Neverwhere is gay, although you'll not know it until he develops a romantic liaison.) Over in the short fiction, you've got Mr Alice in the 999 story, "Keepsakes and Treasures", the inventor of the reboot drug in "Changes", and a fair number of other characters actually, now I come to think of it.

I tend not to write characters with sexual orientation as a starting point, unless that's how they define themselves. Most people don't.

Who writes are two brazilians girls, readers of your work in general. You�ve probably heard this many times before, however we need to say we love your wonderful and original stories and characters. We enjoy pretty much Morpheus�s family and all Sam�s faiths (American Gods), just to give an example that scarcely shows what we mean. Unfortunately, here, in Brazil, especially in our not too big city (not so small as Lakeside, though), is too hard to get in touch with your books. So, we think you�d aprecciate knowing that there are young fans (18 and 20 years) from a so far place who deeply enjoy your words.

Post scriptium: We�d be extremely glad if you write a few words in answer.

Dreaming farewells,

Darlene e Liany

(One of those occasion times when I thought I'd post something just to make someone's day.) Brazil is one of my favourite countries, and I'd love to go back, and see more than Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero, for once. One day, I hope. Although there are a lot of places I've never been I that I suspect I have to visit first, like Singapore (3406 people) and Japan (2240) and the Philippines (1256) and Hong Kong (1136) and Israel (686) (to take the list of people coming to this site from Asia, according to the stats counter, in numerical order of visits from last month, May). (It drops down to 1 person from Mongolia, and one from Qatar.) (And yes, I know these numbers are very unreliable.)


I just read through the FAQ and now have a question that I didn't see listed there, which for some odd reason makes me happy.

I sort of assume you do so much writing that you don't need to do anything to keep sharp. However I was curious if you do or have done any writing exercises?

I'll give an example - Some of my friends and I do a "30 minute rule" where we'll come up with something like "A farmer finds what looks to be a telephone pole on his field" and then set a clock for 30 minutes and see what we can come up with in that time. A lot of time the stuff turns out silly but it's still fun.

Also if you do respond with an exercise would it be alright if it's put into a list I am making for my site of different exercises people come up with?

Thanks for your time,

I'll try to write in formal verse forms, every now and again -- I'll try and make a Sestina work, or a Villanelle or a Rondel. But not very often. For the rest of it, most of my writing exercises consist of writing.

Hey Neil!
A brief question - will the all singing all commentating Neverwhere DVD be availible in region 2? It seems a little strange if it was just region 1 as it is a BBC production.


It'll be Region 1 I'm afraid -- the BBC only sold A&E the rights to do it into the US. If it does well in the US, perhaps the BBC will bring it out on DVD. (Although they still have it for sale on PAL VHS, I believe.)

Lots of recent variants on,

The Suicide girls love you! Dude I would kill myself if the Suicide Girls loved me! Way beyond cool! Are you a member?!?

Marvel releases books soon after the comics come out these days. Should I buy the comic (1602) or wait til the book comes out?

Not a Suicide Girls member, I'm afraid, although considering the number of people they've sent here in the last week I'm starting to feel like I ought to be, if only to say thanks. (The only place to send more people over here recently is, while they're closed for refurbishment, and I won't link to them as there's just a message telling you they're closed right now and if you want something to read, come here. But when they're back in business, hoo boy will I link to them.)

Where 1602 is concerned, it's your call on comic vs. trade paperback. (Remember, though, if nobody buys the original comic, then there probably won't be a trade paperback.) We're also doing some strange things with the introductory "story so far" page in each comic, which I can't imagine would ever be reprinted. (The last one I wrote was extremely loosely based on the way Mike Sekowsky used to design 1960s JLA opening pages, with the addition of a little cartoon of me telling the story so far, while a bemused cartoon of Andy Kubert sits at his drawing board next to me and is concerned.)