Internet and Computers

Copyright, Moral Right Theft Continued: The Indigo Chapters Version

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So because of the Facebook debacle and after reading a blog post comparing* various Terms of Service (TOS), I checked out the TOSes of the social media websites I belong to. I left the Indigo Chapters community to last — in fact I didn’t even think about it, being Canadian and aimed at serving authors, until I happened to log on — and was shocked at what I read. Now, I know I have trouble reading, and had real trouble with comprehending technical passages when I signed up for Indigo Chapters Community over a year ago, but I’m sure I would have gone haring off in the other direction when I read this and understood what it meant:

“The User acknowledges that any content, e-mails, postings, offers, software, videos, photos, text, graphics, music, sounds, questions, creative suggestions, messages, feedback, ideas, recipes, notes, drawings, articles, stories or other information, data, materials and opinions (including, without limitation any postings on community forums) (“Submissions”) that he or she may provide, e-mail, post, upload or otherwise transmit to the Website shall be deemed and shall remain the property of Indigo, including all copyright, without reservation, and User waives in favour of Indigo any and all moral rights in such Submissions. “

What people were outraged about with Facebook was their attempt at copyright theft; but here Indigo says outright it’s taking copyright away from the users and with no compensation whatsoever. Unlike most social media sites, it doesn’t even acknowledge that users ought to have the right to retain copyright on their own work. In addition, it’s claiming that we’re waiving our moral rights too. Now, I’m not sure they can actually enforce the latter without a signature on our part, but it would take a lot of dough to take them to court to find out plus no one could do it unless they discovered a misuse of their works in which their name was still attached.

So what do I do? I’ll probably remain a member because, unlike with Facebook, I have to enter all my content manually. For comments in community forums, where I write small snippets, copyright theft will be no big deal…except that it pisses me off and with waiving moral rights, we’re all opening ourselves up to having our words used in a way that we wouldn’t agree with yet still having our name attached to them.

I’ll definitely stop posting longer writings and reviews. I was thinking of replacing reviews with links to them here on my website, until I read this totally incomprehensible clause:

“By including a link to the Website on a Third Party Site, User automatically grants, and represents and warrants that it has the right to grant, to Indigo an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use the Website in order to link to, use, copy, publish, stream, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part), summarize, and distribute the content, links and other materials of any kind residing on any web pages on which User places the link.”

Maybe I shan’t post a link after all. This is waaaaayyyy too complicated to read and to understand. If someone can explain it to me and all my readers, that would be great!

I’m starting to understand why all these rights grabs: in the knowledge economy corporations compete by not hiring original creators, instead they acquire their money-making content for free through these TOSes without any responsibility, either in payment or in ethical use, to the creator.

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*The author Amanda L. French, Ph.D, summarized Facebook’s TOS in terms of those from other social media thusly (her blog may be down from too many hits, that’s why I’ve copied it here):

Conclusion? Go ahead and be outraged. Facebook’s claims to your content are extraordinarily grabby and arrogant. Here’s the rundown, which I go through in more detail below:

  1. Facebook apparently wants to keep all its rights to your stuff after you remove it from Facebook, and even after you delete your Facebook account; they just removed the lines that specified that their rights end when your content comes down. Nobody else (of those I looked at) would dream of that; mostly they specifically state that their rights to your content end when you remove the content from their site or delete your account.
  2. This one kills me: Facebook claims it can do whatever it wants with your content if you put a Share on Facebook link on your web page. Unbelievable–and unique, as far as I can tell. People can post links in Facebook to your content just by copying and pasting the URL, but if you want to save them a few keystrokes by putting a link or a widget on your site, Facebook claims that you’ve granted them a whole mess of rights. Count me out.
  3. Other sites point out in their terms of service that you still own your content: Facebook doesn’t mention that little fact. Facebook also neglects to remind you that you’re giving other Facebook users rights to your Facebook content, too — YouTube, for example, makes it clear that other people besides YouTube have a right to use and spread around the videos you upload. In general, other sites’ terms of service just have a more helpful tone.
Bookstores

Connecting to Community

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I spread my presence across the bookstore Net and then realised I was overextended. I signed up for Amazon Connect awhile ago. It’s similar to chapters.indigo.ca Community; in fact the Community is probably a take-off of Connect. I tried to stay current with both, but in the end, especially after all of Amazon’s shenanigans, I’ve let the Amazon Connect profile ride and participate on  and off in the Chapters Indigo Community.

They each have their strengths and weaknesses. I like the Community’s shelves, a sort of virtual replica of one’s bookshelves and CD holders and the fact that you can sign out. But Amazon Connect is soooo much easier to figure out and to find people on it, as long as you’re in the right area of Amazon.com. In contrast, it’s taken me awhile to figure out the Community, and I really don’t like the fact that it doesn’t automatically pull in my blog. Also, their FAQ on whether one can see a person’s profile on the community without being a member of the community wasn’t very helpful. Sure you can, they blithely answered, omitting the small detail of how to find a profile.

My own profile isn’t linked to Lifeliner on the book page, nor does there seem to be a people search feature as on Connect. But since I did happen to mention my book in one of the blogs I posted on the Community, there’s a link to the blog post on the Lifeliner page and hence to my profile. And voilà, I’m found. Sheesh. Connect doesn’t put my profile on the Lifeliner page either. It seems to me that if they want authors to have profiles, the least they could do is put a link or icon or something that a reader can click on to go to my profile. The best part about it is it’s a Canadian community focussed on Canadian authors and readers, which gives it a friendly feel.

Unfortunately, as far as I can see, Amazon.ca does not have the Amazon Connect feature. It doesn’t even list my book as in stock. Now there’s irony for you: even though people have ordered copies of Lifeliner from it, the Canadian subsidiary of Amazon is the only one of the three (US, UK, and Canada) that lists Lifeliner — a Canadian book by a Canadian author on a Canadian topic — as out of stock.

So if you’re an Amazon.com fan, you can find my Connect profile here. And if you prefer chapters.indigo.ca, you can find my Community profile here.

Bookstores

BookLocker Has Sued Amazon in a Class Action Antitrust Lawsuit

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Being involved in the wrap-up of my own lawsuit during the last couple of months, I haven’t kept up to date with how small publishers are dealing with the Amazon Ultimatum. The last I heard was that the American Society of Journalists and Authors, among other organizations, had joined the fight to prevent Amazon from monopolizing the book retailing and printing market.

Turns out BookLocker filed a class action antitrust lawsuit against Amazon and BookSurge in May (the latter is the print-on-demand company that Amazon bought and which requires all print-on-demand or POD publishers to use). The thing that hadn’t really sunk in when I first started following this story was that Amazon is not only forcing small publishers to use their printer BookSurge in order to sell books on Amazon, but that they are also putting the screws on publishers to give Amazon more of a discount than any other wholesaler or retailer or even the publisher itself through their own bookstore.

At the moment, the person who gets the smallest part of the pie is the author. With Amazon insisting on even tighter margins for the publisher and author, guess whose tiny pie piece is going to shrink even more? Yup, the author’s.

Publishers already work on thin margins, and so it will be very difficult for them to absorb giving more of the price to Amazon and having less of it for themselves. Thus, in time, the author will more than likely be asked to take a smaller royalty percentage under the new Amazon model. Right now, the numbers are like this: If, for example, a book sells for $20 retail, and Amazon gets a 50% discount, then that means Amazon pays $10 for the book, but like all retailers, it still prices the book at the printed retail price of $20. However, with such a deep discount (wholesalers get 36%), Amazon has the leeway to sometimes offer a better price to customers than what’s printed on the book. Let’s say they discount it 30%, that’s $6 off. Amazon would then net $4 from the sale. (If it doesn’t offer a discount, it’ll net $10.) In comparison, the author receives a royalty of 10 to 20%, depending on the publisher, on the $10 Amazon wholesale price — not the retail price — which is $1 to $2. Seem fair that the company who simply retails the book earns 2 to 5x more than the author who created it? No, not to me either.

Now, Amazon apparently wants more. And it’s trying to get the class action lawsuit dismissed, standard operating procedure. If Amazon gets its way, then the author will earn a royalty on less than $10 per book sold through Amazon, so even less than the $1 to $2 they receive now.

iUniverse has an interesting deal with Barnes & Noble for its authors. Any book sold through B&N, and only through B&N, receives a much larger royalty rate of 25%. Now Amazon may be more of a book retailing juggernaut than B&N, but B&N has far more consideration for authors, the very people who make their business and Amazon’s possible, if I may be so blunt.

This looks like it’s going to be a long fight. Money is a powerful incentive for Amazon to try to shaft small publishers and authors for as long as possible. What’s an author to do? What’s a consumer to do?

Here in Canada, we have Chapters Indigo as an alternative to Amazon for buying books online. I’ve found the Chapters community in-house support for authors very good; there isn’t the equivalent from Amazon as far as I can see. Even Facebook provides more advice and support for budding authors than Amazon does. As for customer support, I’ve always received good service from Chapters Indigo. I found Amazon.ca actually to be slower in delivery than Chapters Indigo. In the US, you have B&N. I’m not familiar with their customer support, but I’ve heard that they’ve been improving their online presence. For Britain, I’m afraid I don’t know what your online alternatives are. But if anyone has good suggestions for Britain or any other non-North American country, please leave them in the Comments section!

As for me, I’ll be leaving my Orders page as is. First off, decision making is no longer my forté (thank you stupid drivers), and second I really don’t know what is best for me as an author. The thing that concerns me the most is that Amazon.com is the only place that has reviews on my book. B&N does have one review, but Chapters has zip, not even a rating. Reviews and ratings are very helpful for would-be readers to determine if a book is worth buying. And, as well, Amazon has the most informative affiliate links. Even if people don’t use them, the information contained in the Amazon affiliate links is far more helpful than the Chapters affiliate links (just a graphic, big deal). Plus, after doing a quick check on my Amazon rankings, it looks like people are ordering from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca, but alas not Amazon.co.uk. (Now if only someone would buy the darn copy at Book City…) Eventually, I’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, I’ll probably post updates about this issue every so often. Stay posted!

Personal

Top Ten Writing Inspirations

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We authors were challenged in Chapters Community to write a post, or a top 10 list, or a review about those who inspired us and influenced our work, whether books, essays, stories, or fellow authors. Hey, I thought, good idea for a post on my own blog. So here’s my top 10 list of those of who inspired me or influenced me:

1. The long-forgotten girl who liked my writing.

Way back in grade school, when I’d started experimenting with forming letters differently from the way the teachers taught us, I met a girl who read a story I’d written. She came up to me specially to tell me how much she liked it. I was over the moon. It was the first time I knew I could write — not just form letters and spell words correctly, but actually make up a good story.

2. Miss Buchanan

My grade 5 teacher. This smart teacher informed the class that children as a rule were not usually at the same level in spelling, even if they were all the same age, and so she was going to divide us into five groups, each group would receive their own spelling homework and tests, according to their grade level. Wow! For the first time, I wasn’t bored out of my skull when it came to spelling, and for the first time I had to work hard because I was in the top group, the grade 9 level. It was exhilarating!

3. Mr. Richardson

My grade 10 teacher couldn’t care less about the Board of Ed — in the good old Jarvis tradition that our Principal Miss Shilton encouraged — and he was going to pick up where our grade 8 teachers had left off and teach us English Language skills. No, it wasn’t part of the official curriculum, but he thought tossing grammar out of the curriculum from grade 9 on was just stupid. How could we learn to improve our writing and our essays if we were no longer taught how to write English? Good point. He also was the only teacher in high school that brought sanity to English Lit. He died of stomach cancer near the end of our year. We lost a courageous and popular teacher.

4. Prof. Kerpneck

To enter his English 101 class — or was it 100? — we had to write a timed entrance essay. The University of Toronto had started to test frosh the year I entered, having discovered that high school grads couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag (gee, could it possibly be because the Board/Province no longer required English Language courses after grade 8?). Although I passed the pass/fail essay test, years later I decided I wanted to pursue writing, and to that end, I wanted to master the tools of the trade. Kerpneck was unimpressed with my essay, but I begged and pleaded, and he let me in. I finished the year having proved him wrong! It was one of my proudest moments. He was a master teacher. He inspired me to write better and better every time I put pen to paper. And I ended up showing him that I had been worth taking a chance on. I exceeded even my own expectations.

5. Stephen Leacock

His books were the first Canadian humour I read that I really liked. Under his pen, his town and characters came to life, and I was always transported to his world. I learnt that humour can convey some serious issues too in a way that dramatic writing alone cannot do.

6. Charles Dickens

I liked Dickens for two reasons: His books were hugely entertaining, his characters rich and eccentric. Yet his books contained many layers of meaning, including a sharp indictment of British society and laws. The more you read, the more you saw. To manage to both entertain and skewer impressed me greatly and inspired me to aspire to the same.

7. Agatha Christie

This grand dame of mystery receives criticism from the literary snobs, but to be able to write simple prose with characters that are so recognizable yet can be interpreted in different ways (as evidenced by the movies and series based on her books) and in such a short period of time is a gift. I don’t remember which biography I read on her, it was so long ago, but I remember one scene vividly. For three weeks, Christie locked herself away and wrote a book. Three weeks! Now that’s inspiring.

8. Rex Stout

This author is rather sneaky. At first glance, his books are just mysteries, set in a different era, one I’ve seen only in the movies. Then as you read more and more of his works, especially the ones with a little something from his library added at the end of the story, you start to see he’s saying more than what he lets on. He also has created strong voices in his characters of Goodwin and Wolfe. You read a couple of lines of dialogue and you know exactly who they are. Good dialogue, as someone once told me, is hard to master and so important to the success of a book.

9. Greg Ioannou

When someone believes in you and your writing unswervingly and through all the downs and downs of the last 8 years as Greg has done, that person inspires you to pursue it no matter how difficult and how many obstacles are put in your way.

10. The Taylors

Having made a commitment to them and seeing how much Lifeliner meant to them, it inspired me to begin the research on the book and to keep going even after I’d suffered a life-altering brain injury. But I have to admit I got close to quitting at one point. The brain injury had taken away everything I needed to write a book, never mind a short story, and no matter how hard I tried, how many treatments and therapies I undertook, all the pieces necessary to write a book were not coming back. Lifeliner was now out of reach for me, and with a breaking heart I was getting ready to tell them that. And then one of the Taylors brought me that last piece, that piece I had looked so long for and hadn’t found, and I was off again. And this time I FINISHED the damn thing. The reason for writing a book is the ultimate inspiration.