Copyright News

On this day in 1790, the U.S. Congress enacted the federal copyright law, which at the time protected works for 14 years with the chance for one renewal. The current copyright term is now the life of the author plus 70 years.

In other news, the Associated Press announced today a new partnership with Web firm Attributor. The AP hopes the company’s services will let the 161-year-old news organization better track how their stories and photos are disseminated online and detect copyright infringements.

Also, earlier this month the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed suit against Uri Geller, the famed paranormalist on behalf of Brian Sapient, a member of a skeptics group. Sapient uploaded a video to YouTube that questions Geller’s psychic spoon-bending ability that excerpted a portion of a NOVA documentary that featured footage owned by Geller. The EFF argues that this is a clear example of fair-use; Geller alleges copyright infringement.

And finally, an Op-Ed piece by Mark Helprin in the New York Times has raised some hackles among copyright thinkers. On May 20, Helprin wrote an editorial decrying limited copyrights, preferring instead to think of intellectual property as equal to any other economic venture:

No one except perhaps Hamilton or Franklin might have imagined that services and intellectual property would become primary fields of endeavor and the chief engines of the economy. Now they are, and it is no more rational to deny them equal status than it would have been to confiscate farms, ropewalks and other forms of property in the 18th century.

His advice for Congress is to extend copyrights “as far as it can throw.” Ben Vershbow at the Institute for the Future of the Book called the editorial “idiotic,” and scholar Larry Lessig set up a wiki which aims at writing a response to Helprin.

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Hypertext Timeline

Google Labs offers an interesting new feature: timeline view. Users can now see their search results in the form of a timeline. From Google’s experiment description page:

See results on a timeline or map. With the timeline and map views, Google’s technology extracts key dates and locations from select search results so you can view the information in a different dimension.

Pretty self-explanatory if you ask me, though a bit short.

Experiment applied: technologist Mark Bernstein highlights a timeline for hypertext that the experiment generates, one that he says is factually incorrect but popularly accepted. As evidence, Chris Boraski posted a hypertext timeline to his site that contains many of the same events: what Berstein might call the timeline we actually read rather than what actually happened.

That’s the sense I get from reading Berstein’s short post. I don’t know exactly what is wrong with the Google timeline, except for the fact that it was generated by a computer and lacks any real sense. But I can understand that Bernstein has what you might call an insider’s view of the history of hypertext, and we all hate to see the histories of the things we lived through simplified and popularized.

Still, I’d love to know what else should be on a hypertext timeline… Is there a solid, reliable timeline out there? Can someone link it to me?

Memorial Day

MacArthur once said that old soldiers fade away. Nowhere is that more evident than at a Memorial Day service.

On Monday, former soldiers and their families gathered at Sunset Hills Cemetery for the annual holiday ceremony. Speakers extolled the virtues of sacrifice and dedication under a half-mast flag and rainy skies.

One this was noticeable about all the veterans, however: they are old, and getting older.

Certainly, there are Iraq war veterans and Gulf War vets and Afghanistan vets, but they were the minority at Monday’s service. For the most part, the veterans who come to services like these and join veterans groups date from the Korea and Vietnam wars.

That’s according to Irv Page, the VFW post commander in Three Forks. Page has a hard time getting young vets to join the group–he also serves as post commander for the American Legion in Bozeman. He said that once many of them are discharged, they want to put distance between themselves and the uniform.

But that’s not the whole story. Page said that older vets have stopped coming to meetings too.

He attributes the dwindling attendance to the veterans’ reticence to talk to anyone about their experiences, except other veterans of the same conflict. So they don’t gather in large numbers with people who don’t understand exactly what they went through, Page said.

Are the veterans groups we have in danger? Have enough young soldiers joined the groups to keep them alive? Do they still serve a valuable function in society, or are they remnants of a different America that are no longer needed?

I look forward to writing and researching a longer story on this some time in the future.

Reading List Updated

I added a little more advanced version of the Reading List feature today. It pulls links from my del.icio.us links in a specified category and displays them on the page. You can find the link to it in the right navbar. I’ll probably discontinue the reading list that populated the sidebar soon–as soon as I get up enough motivation to edit my template files–so enjoy it while it lasts.

All part of my initiative to reinvigorate this site!

Photoshoppery

Men’s Fitness magazine seems to have altered an image of tennis player Andy Roddick that appears on the cover of the current issue. Several celebrity news sites picked up the story, which Roddick then mocked on his own blog, according to New York Times reporter Adam Newman. Roddick said the magazine increased the size of his biceps for the photo, an allegation the publisher refused to talk about with the Times.

Men’s Fitness CoverOn the blog for The Slot, a site for copy editors, Bill Walsh said the forgery, if it was a forgery, was understandable because of the deadline pressure magazine producers can be put under. In a post dated May 30, he writes, “I mean, if you need to get next month’s issue out now, you do what you have to do.”

Others have been less forgiving. Roy Peter Clark, president of the Poyter Institute told the Times: “Magazines that are careful about photo manipulation inside the magazine lower their standards when it comes to the cover. It’s as if the standards of accuracy and truthful representation don’t exist when it comes to the cover, and that seems very wrong to me.”

EDIT: Wonders of wonders, Bill Walsh left a comment on this post indicating that he was writing sarcastically… It goes to show two things: a) it’s hard to gauge sarcasm when you don’t know anything about the speaker or writer (Sorry, Bill) and b) it’s hard to gauge sarcasm in print (or onscreen) no matter how good of writer you are. So take this into advisement when you read this post.

I suppose it turns out that I agree with Walsh then, because I too think it’s a little unscrupulous.

Book Review

I finished William Martin’s The Lost Constitution (Forge Books, 2007) this afternoon, reluctantly. Up until last week, when I spotted the novel on the new arrivals table at the bookstore, I had not heard of Martin, who began writing the adventures of historical document hunter Peter Fallon in the 1970s. The premise of the novel caught my eye: an annotated early draft of the U.S. Constitution exists and both sides of the political spectrum want it badly enough to murder for it. A fascinating idea, much like an American Da Vinci Code adventure (although I count the film National Treasure as the current holder of that title). Plus, it tempted me with a climax at Fenway on the first night of the World Series. Naturally, I bought it.

What faced me when I opened the pages was essentially two novels. The first was set in 2007 or 2008 and followed the attempts of Fallon and his travel writer girlfriend Evangeline to find the Constitution. The second book followed the story of the document itself as it passed from hand to hand over the centuries, beginning with Will Pike, an assistant to a delegate at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, circa 1787.

From the beginning pages, the present-day story is weak. Within the first two pages, we find the hero speaking to a convict in prison, who tips him off to a major terror plot. Fallon, do-gooder that he is, lets the FBI know, and the Bureau seizes an arsenal that was meant for a major operation on the Fourth of July. The incident sparks debate among the politicos of Martin’s world, who then move to repeal the second amendment. The stage is set.

However when the curtain goes up, the stage is far too confusing to follow. Names rush past the reader’s eye without any concern for having to remember them later. Now, I consider myself a solid reader (A master’s in English literature will make you one if you weren’t before.), but I couldn’t keep all the names in this novel straight until the end, when a convenient series of flashbacks explains the entire plot for us.

Fallon’s involvement in the search is convoluted. There is no reason why he should care so much about this document. As a dealer of rare books, you would expect him to find a business angle. Instead, he comes off as the never-wrong hero who bravely straddles the fence between the left and right. And those extremes are drawn by Martin’s writing as extremes. There is no humanity to any of the characters. The passionate gun-hating senator is nothing more than that. The Maine militiamen are gun-nuts who speak with “characteristic” bad grammar. Even his girlfriend serves limited purposes. One: she tells Peter when she things people are lying, which is all the time. Two: she cracks wise at everything. Three: she hates guns and won’t let anyone, even we weary readers, forget it.

All in all, the historical scenes are written better than the present day scenes, which reduce to mentions of brand names and far too detailed lists of what the characters ate for dinner. I don’t care if their wine was an ’87 or a ’64. I don’t care if it was red or white, and I certainly don’t care if their fish was soaked in rice wine vinegar as a marinade. If I want to know what people eat, I’ll check the Food Network.

On top of that, the characters are in their 40s, and extremely healthy for their age. Neither they, nor their friends, worry about money, as they all seem to have an endless supply of it. Why should the reader care for rich 40-somethings eating gourmet food with media moguls at mountain resorts? The characters from the historical sections are much more believable and realistic, but they are also just sketches, people to be identified by a defining principle and not by any innate humanness.

And even that tangled history degrades by the end of the novel. The quality of the scenes diminish as they get closer to the present, much as the integrity of the original Pike family patriarchs diminish in their widespread offspring. We are left with a mishmash climax of unexplainable violence, predictable moralizing, and a post-climax return of the villain that is far too Hollywood.

If Martin wanted to write a fast-paced bestseller, he might have followed Dan Brown’s formula more closely. If he wanted to sell it to a production studio, he should have written it as a script in the first place. In the end, as a novelist here, Martin fails. As a plotter, he succeeds somewhat better, but I would still recommend spending your $25 on something more entertaining.

New Site Design

I learned from reading a random article on a blog about blogging that said a site redesign is a good way to perk up your writing. Let’s see if that’s true, shall we? I have now customized two new templates for the site and will be switching back and forth between them in the near future. Enjoy as I work out my design muscles.