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When I first used CC0, the public domain “license”, on Stories About Things in 2011, I’d only ever seen it in two places: Falkvinge.net (the blog of the Pirate Party founder – no surprise there!) and Your Face is a Saxophone (yeah, that’s as awesome as it sounds.) No basic googling turned up any big time indie writers using it. Not even small-time folk like myself wanted to touch CC0 – most weren’t even aware of  it. But it still sounded like a hell of a cool idea, so I went for it.

Turns out I’m not crazy.

Or, well, at least, I’m not alone.

CC0 Heroes: Who’s Afraid of the Big Nice Wolf is the first in a blog series by Leo Kirke on CC0 artists who choose to make art free of the Copyright lockdown. This segment covers the accomplishments of Piti Yindee, illustrator, comic artist and creator of Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf and how he’s maneuvering the free world of art.

“…Yindee even makes it possible to download Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf at no cost in one large archive zip file. His website even includes a “Free License” page (declaring “Wuffle Has No Copyright”) in which he explains, in his own words, his reasoning for using CC0. It’s definitely worth reading, as it is a very succinct and direct explanation of why an artist chooses Free Culture. In particular, I love this statement:

‘For arts to become a culture, you have to let it go free.
Let it be shared and copied. A language dies if nobody speaks it.
Same goes with art.

It dies if nobody share or talk about it.’  

Read the whole post here…

It’s happening. Culture is opening.

Be ready.

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January has brought us yet another example of bad behavior from publishers.

Earlier this month, a math teacher was convicted for linking to pirated answer sheets.

While as a fiction writer, I am always saddened to see novels taken down in the mass book burnings of the internet age, even I have to admit it’s even harder to watch educational materials go down.

Noordhoff-PressI am a little late on this, but seeing that as no good reason to keep quiet, I sent out my thoughts to Ms. Bruinsma – the press contact on Noordhoff’s site. (Under the “Pers” tab – it’s in Dutch, but Chrome was kind enough to translate.)  To anyone else who cares I urge you to please send a note to this probably well-intentioned publisher to let them know that this behavior hasn’t gone unnoticed.. I’ve been writing to authors/publishers for over a year. Sometimes they don’t respond. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they respond well. Sometimes they don’t. But while they are responsible for their actions as a creator or corporation, we are responsible for speaking up. So please, take a minute to let this publisher know that no one is okay with bullying school teachers. You don’t even have to take the time to write something totally new. I’ll give you mine – take ideas, take chunks, take the whole damn thing if you want. But if it helps at all for inspiration, here’s my letter:

Dear Noordhoff Publishers,

I would like to express my disappointment that an educational publisher would threaten a teacher sharing answer sheets with students. (Reported here: http://torrentfreak.com/math-teacher-convicted-for-linking-to-copyrighted-answer-sheets-130116/ )

Both my parents were math teachers and my dad has contributed to textbooks in the past. I am well aware of the time and effort that goes into producing quality teaching materials, and it makes sense that a publisher would want to protect these materials.

However, locking up educational materials counters the very effort of the creators that publishers fight to protect, and defeats the purpose of the time and effort put into the work. It would better serve the writers, without whose efforts Noordhoff would have no materials to profit from, and the students whom these materials are supposed to benefit if Noordhoff found a better way than forcing a teacher to not share the answer sheets that are available to them. I can’t help but wonder, what alternatives did Noordhoff seek before litigation?

Aelius Blythe

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With 100,000 registered users in less than an hour, Mega – the bigger, better, more resilient storage/sharing platform of Kim Dotcom, and the phoenix rising from the ashes of Megaupload – is flying off the ground. Fans are bottlenecking at the gate to get in and get behind that 50GB free space, the built in encryption, and the promise of a more shatter-resistant infrastructure. But more importantly, we’re rushing to get behind the guy that will fight like hell to keep it all alive.

Now let’s get one thing straight: Kim Dotcom is a douchebag.

But I don’t want to jump on the Megabandwagon because I want to be his BFF. I want to make the jump because of what he represents: Survival. Kim’s a rich opportunist, former bad guy, and current self-important egomaniac. But he’s using his riches and his opportunity and importance for good – to provide a great and free service, promote privacy, bring accessible cryptography to the masses, rally the internet for better, freer communication, and fight tooth and nail on its behalf.

Kim Dotcom has survived.

He may yet see the inside of a US federal prison. He may yet be crushed under the weighted judiciary jackboot. He may yet…… lose. And we all with him.

But not today.

Today, he is fighting.

Today, Mega is fighting.

Today, the stampeding and hopeful fans are fighting.

Yes, there are questions about Mega. While they tout privacy, they keep IP addresses. What will they’ll be doing with those addresses? And are they going to be VPN/Tor friendly? Can we trust their crypto? I don’t know, and I sure as hell won’t trust Mega with anything important until I find out – if ever.

But today, Mega isn’t a symbol of ironclad privacy. It isn’t a symbol of unbreakable crypto. It isn’t a symbol of the holy grail of internets.

Today, it’s a symbol of survival.

It’s a symbol of resistance.

It’s a symbol of fight.

Today, the phoenix rises from the ashes.

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There’s a new player in the ebook world. Welcome Ownshelf!

Ownshelf is a new platform that helps Facebook users connect with their friends for a more social reading experience. It also gives readers a convenient place to share their books across devices. Like Facebook itself, it’s exclusive – the “Bookshelves” you see are specific to your social circle. Since the books you discover are being shared by your friends, it’seems good way to discover books that match your tastes. Additionally, Ownshelf has/will partner with Creative Commons or otherwise share-happy authors (like at the moment, Paulo Coelho) who share their own shelves and their own books with all users.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, rumblings in the author community betray the fear of piracy on Ownshelf. Not only does Ownshelf not even resemble a pirate site, its founder, Rick Marazzani, is adamant that it never will. But even aside from the intention of its creator, Ownshelf’s design is itself deterrent to pirates. Firstly, users sign in with Facebook. Facebook. You know the site that’s known for policing identities, even to the detriment of its users? Yes, that one. While this may shut out a section of readers, it fills a niche for real customers just looking for legitimate ways of reading their own books on multiple devices or sharing perfectly legal material with their friends. Real names mean accountability, and that makes Ownshelf is one of the least likely places you’ll be finding piracy. Moreover, the exclusive nature of Ownshelf and Facebook compounds the deterrent factor. Users share books with their Facebook friends – not everyone on the damn internet. Unlike at, say, the Pirate Bay, users can’t type in, say, “Harry Potter” and download it from whoever happens to have it.

So, authors, lest you seek another Lendink debacle, banish these fears of piracy! 

In fact, Ownshelf has other foci than pirates:

1) Public Domain books. We all know that public domain books are available on Amazon, Project Gutenberg, Goodreads and numerous other sites on the web. But Ownshelf adds a social element that makes sharing even easier – on one of the most-used social networking sites in the world.

2) Indie books. That is, indie books by indie authors who want their books read and shared. Paulo Coelho is the author of the moment, and I for one am waiting eagerly to see who will be next.

It’s unfortunate that piracy paranoia plagues innovation in the book world. (Lendink, anyone?) But far from being a rogue pirate site, Ownshelf looks to be an essential tool for sorting through the particularly high masses of legit reading material that even dedicated readers struggle to wade through.  Public domain and indie books flood the ebook marketplace. The sheer numbers on Amazon are overwhelming. The social element of browsing the stacks online is indispensable.  Swapping shelves with fellow bookworms with the same literary tastes helps us navigate this brave new world of reading.

Of course, Ownshelf isn’t alone. Goodreads is probably the most well-known and most similar platform to Ownshelf. But all manner of book blogs, review sites, fan forums have multiplied to fulfill readers’ needs – and these needs are growing. Mark Coker of Smashwords foresees ebooks taking up to 45% of the US trade book market in 2013. While this may be overly optimistic, it’s pretty clear that the marketplace – and the diversity of books therein – is growing, and growing fast. I for one welcome any new service to help with the growing load.

And it’s not just for readers.  As an author, I’m happy to have one more option to share my own projects with my friends and family on Facebook, either exclusively while I work on publishing them, or temporarily while I wrestle out Copyright/Public Domain issues with Smashwords and Amazon.

So here’s hoping Ownshelf survives.

Go check it out before the mob arrives.

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This week brought sad news for the Pirateverse: BPI got its way by intimidation and force yet again. After vicious personal threats of bankruptcy against individual members of Pirate Party UK, the party’s Pirate Bay proxy has gone dark.

It’s a bad day for creators and fans alike.

But setbacks like these are not defeats. Rather, they are steps forward in turning the tide of culture and creation against their domineering  monopolies.

Every personal threat, every letter of extortion, every lawsuit, every dancing baby taken off YouTube, every Winnie the Pooh laptop confiscated, every step too far proves the lengths that entertainment monopolies will go to in order to keep our channels of communication under their control. Not to make light of PPUK’s stress and harship in this difficult decision, but what greater justification could the free culture movement have asked for? As industry bodies reveal just how much control they can force over legitimate political discourse, it becomes clearer – to artists, fans, and the voting citizenry – that they will always take that one step past too far. They will always push further and further and further down the path to prevent competition, communication, and independence for their artists.

We’ve catered to these monopolies for so long because they have (or so we assume) “good intentions.”  But good intentions didn’t stop with copyright extensions, surveillance and police powers, and extrajudicial force. And it’s a joke to think good intentions will stop at shutting down one channels of communication. Who will they come for next?

Yes, it’s a sad day for artists in the UK.

But even this – even this – is a step forward. As our channels between artists and fans are choked, more and more of us will be affected. And as more and more of us experience censorship, more and more of us will be compelled to speak up.

Like many, my first reaction was anger, not at BPI, but at the Pirate Party: How could they back down? But the Pirate Party does what the Pirate Bay – and TUEBL and Megaupload and any other defiant troves of culture – cannot: they give voice to us inside the very walls of government.  To be threatened and intimidated for this is appalling, and yet this is the hostile tank the Pirates wade into every day. And still, they persist. Sitting at home, typing behind my screen, I am not the one being threatened with bankruptcy. My family, my home, my work are safe. I can’t judge those who can’t say the same. But I can damn well be impressed that they stand up and keep banging on the walls of the legislature, pestering the status quo, and giving us voice even when their own are silenced.

The UK Pirates have yielded to threats so that they can remain standing, so that they can fight this war in the way that the rest of us can’t. While PPUK is offering to give back money donated during the campaign to keep the proxy, I sincerely hope that anyone who cared enough to support the cause will continue to support the anti-censorship fight. And if financial support is beyond your means, talk, tweet, like, share. Let the world know that censorship is not OK.  This war is not over. Our support is needed now more than ever.

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Read the sad update on the fight

The creative world needs your help.

The Pirate Bay is used by thousands of artists.

When the Pirate Bay crew decided to help out creators with promotions, this was so popular that they’ve now created an entire site dedicated to artist promotionsThe Promo Bay. While those lucky enough to get promoted enjoyed spikes in awareness, sales, and fans, all the other thousands of torrent-loving artists still have total and free access to one of the best distribution services in the digital world – their beloved Pirate Bay.

Except they don’t.

Not in the UK.

UK creators and their fans were cut off from one of their closest allies as courts ordered ISPs to block the site.

Creators, if you think this is a problem for a few giggling fangirls downloading the latest um… Popular Artist X, you’re sorely mistaken. It’s you’re problem. It’s our problem.  The Pirate Bay is one of the biggest and best distribution tools for artists. The World’s Most Efficient Public Library mustn’t be hobbled – not by blocking, not by raiding, not by throwing it’s creators behind bars. Fellow writer, Cory Doctorow got this. In his words:

“Universal access to human knowledge is in our grasp, for the first time in the history of the world. This is not a bad thing.”

The internet has given us the potential to give every human being free and unfettered access to the total sum of cultural material and knowledge available to the world. If we choose not to use this ability, and worse, if we deliberately choose to block it, what does that say about us? According to UK policy, it say “Congratulations! You’re a law-abiding citizen.”

But not everyone agrees.

And not everyone should. After the UK Block on the Pirate Bay, countless proxies popped up to route around the censorship. As the anti-censorship party, the UK Pirates provided their own proxy – and are now being threatened for it by the entertainment industry.

Creators, this is a problem. For us. For artists. For writers. For fans.

It’s is not just about altruistic sharing. It’s not just about the unconscionable act of threatening a political party for routing around a hostile blockade. It’s about us. Make no mistake: this is about creators. Blocking the Pirate Bay in the first place was a hostile move against a whole generation of musicians, filmmakers, writers, artists, and fans.

As a group, we creators tend to sympathize with the who fight pirates – even if we don’t agree – because they have good intentions. They are protecting the artists! Or at least, they think they are. I have no doubt that even the most hardline copyright trolls really do believe in what they’re doing. So we really should be understanding. Good intentions, after all.

Fuck good intentions.

Censorship is not ok. Not ever.

Censoring a communications channel is never ok. Not ever. The first place I saw TPB blocked wasn’t in the UK. It was in China. Of course, China isn’t so worried about copyright infringement. They’re more worried about things like this. But forget that. We don’t need to be political dissidents or rebels in an oppressive regime to suffer from censorship.

We just need to be creators.

Writers. Artists. Anyone trying to make a living on our creative work.

And censorship hurts us, too. We need our communications channels open.Communication is what we do. Taking away our route to share with fans, takes away our work, our livelihood, our passion. And no matter the good intentions, it is not ok to continue and continue and continue to pursue these kinds of mistakes.

We need to speak up.

We need to speak up against censorship and against the threats to those that fight it.

The Pirates of the UK have spoken up – and they are not alone. The Pirates of the Netherlands were embattled by a similar struggle. This time around, let’s support those who are fighting anti-artist hostility, before the same happens to the UK Pirates. We can do it. I know that because we have done it before. When the Promo Bay launched, UK ISPs promptly blocked it, but public outcry beat down the blockade. And that was a small battle. Remember ACTA? SOPA, PIPA? Even against billion dollar opponents and powerful lawmakers, speaking up can and does change policy.

So speak up.

If you can give, give. If you can’t give, share, tweet, like, talk. Communication is the enemy of censorship. So communicate!

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Yesterday,  this article on Falkvinge.net reminded of a guest post I did on PirateWho about the value of creators – something the copyright debate tends to ignore. With PirateWho currently down, I’m republishing my guest post in full here:


Dear Lady Justice,

How are you?

I ask because you seem a bit disoriented lately.  I wouldn’t say anything, except… except it may be partly my fault.  You see, lawmakers and judges and juries around the world have taken it upon themselves to debate… me.  Well, my profession.  It’s a pity, really.  I would have been there to clarify the whole situation, but I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.  So what am I?  I’m a writer.  Or more inclusively, a creative.  Yes, I’m one of those head-in-the-clouds types who got the silly idea into my head to try to put food on the table by making up stories.  But, all those lawmakers and judges and juries you’ve been overseeing seem to have the wrong idea and have gotten up in arms about it.  It must be quite a headache for you!

So let me explain.

Right now, representatives all over the world are debating the value of copied material – and reflecting on the ones who created it, people like me.  But they seem to think – this is so embarrassing – that we, the creators, are the copiers.  

Not so.

You see, this is important because creators are valuable, even – if I may say so myself – essential to society.  Creators expend energy, money, time, and sanity to bring insights and entertainment to people.  The value of this effort is incalculable.  A copy, on the other hand, has a value of… zero.  The labor involved in making a digital cop – or a hundred – is zero.   The money involved in making a digital cop – or a hundred – is zero.   The time involved in making a digital cop – or a hundred – is zero.  Okay, okay, almost zero.  There’s a teeny bit of storage space and the bandwidth are required, but let’s face it, there was probably some to spare, right?

Making a copy is not the job of a skilled artisan, a team of experienced publishers, or a technical mastermind.

Making a copy is so simple a child can do it – and many do.

And these are the children, so the story goes, who are devaluing art, devaluing music, devaluing literature.  Lady Justice, these lawmakers and judges and juries that you oversee rage against these children for making copies – calling them pirates, like they were some sort of seafaring criminal.  Creators themselves rage at pirates for devaluing their creative material by sharing it for free.  Yet it is the creators themselves – and the lawmakers and the judges and the juries – who equate their worth with the act of copying and thereby truly devaluing it.

As if we were not creators at all, but only copiers!  As if we, like secretaries existed to run down the hall to an antiquated machine to collect and distribute pressed wood-pulp!  As if we, like secretaries, existed to feed paper into trays, to make sure it didn’t smudge or wrinkle!   As if we, like the antiquated machines themselves, existed to pump out copies one after another after another after another!

But it’s worse than that now.  It’s worse because it’s 2012 and making copies doesn’t even require running down the hall.  It doesn’t even require loading paper into a tray.  It doesn’t require making sure an ink cartridge is full.  It doesn’t require compiling the pages, binding them, separating the copies. It doesn’t take time. It doesn’t take effort  It doesn’t take money.  It doesn’t take skill.

Making copies takes a few clicks.  

This is our value?  A few clicks? 

According to the hardline copyright brigade who have been shouting down the halls of Congress and Parliaments the world over, yes.  This is our value.  This is our value according to the publishers, producers, and distributors that continue to argue – and argue and argue and argue –that the primary purpose of their industry is to do something that a child could do.  This is our value according to the creators who argue that it is their duty  to make and to control every single copy of their work in existence – copies that they did not make because they were too busy doing their real job and creating.  This is our value according to those who lobby to relegate our profession to something child could do.  

Our value, according to these arguments, extends no further than to copying a file over and over and over.

We are better than that.

Creators get paid to create, not to copy.  We are not secretaries.  We are not copiers.  We are creators.

So, Lady Justice, I’m sorry for all the headache it’s caused you, but would you please tell the lawmakers and the judges and juries who you oversee, and please tell the publishers and producers, and distributors who lobby in your name, and please tell the poor creators who have been relegated to the copy room,  please, please please tell them to stop treating us like some antiquated machines whose purpose is only to spit out the same piece of work as many times as somebody puts in dimes.  We are better than that.

Recognize our value.  Please?

Thanks,

Aelius

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Sorry for the doom and gloom lately. On a ligher note… My shameful confession of the year!

Last year, during NaNoWriMo, I posted a few tips that I find helpful for marathon writing. Some of them are awkward, like remembering to wear pants when rushing out of the house, and avoiding the I-forgot-to-shower-between-chapters-two-through-eleven stink.  But here’s the REAL awkward hint for writing: watching crappy TV.

Now, I’m usually one of those weirdos who needs complete silence to work. I don’t even like music. Usually.

However.

Between the exciting thinking-up part of a story and the pretty polishing up of it, there is The Dreaded Middle. In the Dreaded Middle, I know what the story is. I know what I need to write. And I know that the words need to get on the paper, one after another after another after another before they can be prettied up. The lustre of the wild creativity of beginning the project is gone, and the end isn’t quite in sight. The fun of creativity has dimmed somewhat in the face of actual work.  The Dreaded Middle is not the glamorous writer’s cafe. It’s the place where writers suck it up and do what needs to be done to put words to paper. For me, that’s white noise.

So I watch TV*.

It’s background noise. I can’t watch things I’m actually really interested. There’s a No-Writing-EVER Rule for shows like Community (Feb 7th! 😀 ), Castle, Doctor Who, and Elementary. And this is where the crap comes in. Crap is background noise. Crap is not distracting. Crap gets tuned in and out like lawnmowers churning outside in the summer. Crap provides the perfect white noise generation for optimal productiveness.

I have never been able to work well in chunks. Not in school. Not in jobs. Not in writing. Yeah, I said work well. I’ll do it if I have to – I’ll give it one hell of a go and stare at a screen for 12 hours straight if I need to. But in the end I’ll get a fraction of the work done that I would have in 12 hours broken into chunks.

Hence, background noise.

Hence, TV.

Hence, crap.

It works. Gets me through the tough writing days. But boy, is it awkward to explain how I know who the Bachelorette is getting engaged to or who really won ANTM Cycle 17.

So.

Tell me I’m not the only one with shameful writing habits!

What awkward writing confessions do you have? What weird tricks do you use to get pen to paper during the hard times?


*Metaphorical TV, that is. I don’t have a TV, but Watch Internet just sounds creepy.

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Last month I wrote about Writers and Moods. I didn’t realize I was repeating myself. Only in reading the comments did I pull  this old post out of my memory. It was over a year old, and boy, have things changed since then.

Back then I was just writing for fun. Back then, I hadn’t yet finished a novel. I hadn’t published anything. I hadn’t made a cent off my work. And I was a hell of a lot more optimistic.

In the last year, while publishing, and eventually quitting my job to do this full time, I’ve learned a few things from writing:

It’s hard. Putting words on paper is a challenge as it is, but that’s only the beginning. Putting those words in the right order is the real hard part.

I try to remind myself that I have the best job on earth. I get up when I want. I take lunch when I want. I take breaks when I want. Most importantly, I write whenever and whatever the hell I want. And it is all the result of putting writing first – putting producing stories at the absolute, #1, non-negotiable priority.

So I wonder if I would go back.

If I could – which I can because the optimism and misery live in my own damn brain – would I go back to the realistic, but mildly optimistic self of last year? Could I make the conscious choice to take care of my self first and my work second?

I don’t know.

And there’s the cliche again. Addicted to mystery. Do I secretly crave the gloom and doom of my current mindset? Really, really honestly… if I could go back, would I?

Last year’s post, I knew that writing was miserable. But did I know it was addicting?

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Halfway through November, my NaNoWriMo updates looked pretty grim. Well, confession time: Things didn’t get any better. I stopped updating my word count shortly after I switched projects, not because I wasn’t writing, but because I wasn’t posting it. Not that every WriMo posts their work – most don’t. But I said I would, and I wasn’t going to count words that I hadn’t shared.

On the upside, I have a great chunk of work. Maybe not linear, sensible work, that I’ll be sharing like I wanted to, but for now I’m happy and celebrating the fact that I have a great skeleton first draft.

When I decided not to LiveWrite, the reason was that I was too distracted by the “Live” part to focus on  the “Writing” part. I stalled. Turns out, the pressure of just posting my writing – even if it wasn’t live – had much the same effect. I was so afraid of the posting part, I was paralyzed in the writing part. As I go more and more public with my writing, I have to remind myself that what really matters is the writing itself: first and foremost, getting it donethen sharing it. As I get to be a better writer, I hope those two things can happen simultaneously. But for now… I’m just writing.

So happy December!

Relax, have a toast to new novels, and regale everyone with tales of valiant NaNo efforts until next year!