Intellectual Property II

Somebody asked me:

> Rob, Did they give you these policies in advance? Any kind of writer’s
> guidance in advance?

I did, in fact, have the policy in advance, which is another and very
interesting story. This mag is part of a group, and I had previously written an
article for another of their rags. Having written the first article (and, at
the last minute, had to yell and scream when they changed the implication of the
article to the complete opposite of that intended), suddenly I couldn’t get paid
because they didn’t have a “freelance writer’s agreement” with me. So, having
wasted serious time in putting together that first article, I was eager to do
this expediciously. Maybe they could send me either a softcopy of the
agreement, or a scan, by email? Oh, no! Heaven forfend! They couldn’t make a
softcopy or scan of the agreement: the agreement itself was intellectual
property, and they wouldn’t want any possibility of unauthorized copies floating
around. (This is a mag group on high tech topics and they haven’t heard of

Anyway, the agreement is one of the more bizarre and convoluted documents I’ve
ever seen, and contradicts itself on this very point. Page two says (buried in
one paragraph) that the item supplied “has not been previously published”, while
page one says that, if it is, the supplier (that’s me) supplies the item under
the terms in the contract.

However, while I used my own previous writings, the item supplied definitely
hadn’t been published before. I’ve written extensively on the history of
computer viruses, but I’ve never before had to pare the text so sparingly,
wondering, often, if I was misrepresenting the actual situation by having to be
so terse. (But that’s always the case with magazines anyway.)

> If not, do you have a lawyer that you can talk to?

A lawyer? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s one of the major points with this
whole copyright issue, and it is a major factor with the file-sharing/RIAA/MPAA
business as well. Copyright law, and lawsuits, are the province of entities who
can afford lawyers, and writers can’t. Corporations can. So, supposing that
this publishing group decided to take what I submitted to them, not pay me, and
publish the feature anyway, even under somebody else’s name. How much is it
going to cost me to sue them? How much chance do I have of getting them to
answer the suit? If it did go to court, they’d be able to fill the court with
lawyers: if I *was* able to get anybody to take my case for the pittance I’d be
able to pay, do you truly think that I’d have any chance of winning, even with a
case as clear cut as all that?

I’ve got a lot of experience here, believe me. I’ve had all kinds of people
steal my stuff over the years. Once, somebody took 150 of my reviews, all of
which you have seen marked with the “copyright Robert M. Slade [year]” line, and
published them in his book. I raised that issue with the publisher. I have a
nice letter from a Vice President of John Wiley and Sons, stating that I have no
rights in the matter because, in their considered opinion, anything that appears
on the Internet is completely free of copyright protection. (Someday, when I
get mad enough, I’m going to scan some of Wiley’s books and put them on the net,
along with a copy of that letter.) Most recently, I found that a company had
posted my entire dictionary of security terms on their site. (In that case,
they did apologize and take it down. They had contracted out that part of the
Website, and had no idea that the contractor had delivered stolen goods. I have
no idea what happened to the contractor.) In any case, I can complain, and
sometimes I get an apology, or a request for permission. Never have I gotten
any money. Copyright law just doesn’t work for us producers.

(In related news, Canada recently narrowly missed having an amendment to the
copyright law here, Bill C60. There is an ongoing discussion about it in the
editorial and letters page of the Vancouver Sun. In todays paper [and in yet
another irony, the Sun won't let you see that at

433d-a89d-988f4fb0d8e3 unless you are a subscriber] someone from UBC is
the “file sharing is theft” mantra. I find this interesting because he talks
about getting royalties for materials he has written. I wrote some stuff for
UBC a while back. When someone signs up for the online course, UBC gets
and I get $5.)

(Oh, dear. I used a couple of lines from her message in this one. Now
I’ll have to get her to sign a formal release before I send this. Ooops, too
late. Hit the “publish” button already …)


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