John Scalzi caught my trackback before, and replied to a post that could have been construed as flame-bait -- I called him and his readers "squares" -- with a friendly and reasonable response. His point, that this woman who wrote some Star Wars Fan Fiction was in open violation of copyright, and that in light of her occupation as an editor and publisher this calls her professional compitence into question, is probably correct. My point sort of sailed over everyones' heads.
I came into the middle of a semi-professional catfight , and so my response was seen as off-topic. Also, given the writerly audience, I certainly didn't help myself out with "editors who help people right better." Still, my own spotty writing aside, I think I can distill our departure based on this comment from Mr. Scalzi:
Also, letâ€™s not make a moral crusader out of Ms. Jareo. She didnâ€™t publish her fan novel to subvert the existing copyright norms; she published it because she didnâ€™t really think sheâ€™d get caught. Itâ€™s explicit in her â€œinterviewâ€ on the subject, where she says â€œYes, it is for sale on Amazon, but only my family, friends and acquaintances know itâ€™s there.â€ Elsewhere in her interview she doesnâ€™t offer *challenges* to copyright law, she offers *rationalizations* as to why existing copyright law shouldnâ€™t apply to what she is doing, none of which hold up in the real world. As Ms. Jareo was not challenging copyright law, just arguing it shouldnâ€™t apply to *her,*...
See, I think the above is exactly why this author is a great moral case, even if she's not necessarily an intentional crusader. Maybe she's not up on the law because she works mostly with poetry or with technical manuels, or I dunno, but it seems to me that she's doing what any person un-initiated in the particulars of copyright would probably feel it natural to do:
- She wrote a story inspired by one of the better epics of a previous generation.
- She wanted to make it available for her extended social network.
- She took advantage of Amazon's web services that help her do this.
To me, this makes it even more resonant than if she was trying to commit some act of self-conscious civil disobedience. She was doing what felt right, and it just so happens that there are compelling economic, moral and even legal arguments that what she did was right, and the way we run Copyright in the US today is wrong.
So yes, I'm upset about how we deal with ideas, information and creativity as a society. As far as I'm concerned "the way it is" -- wherein Michael Jackson lives off Beatles royalties and you need written permission to have a snippit of TV on in the background of a documentary -- is wrong. It gets more deeply and darkly fucked the more you dig into it, especially on the high-tech end of things, and it's not just unjust; it's important. I believe that this really is important for our future: that culture remains a public commodity and that knowledge of how the world works is free.
Stick with me though, because that wasn't even the point.
Even more than arguing against the way things are, or where they're headed, I was attempting decry the way in which people who seek to be successful, and thus by necessity learn "how the real world works," often become semi/un-conscious proponents for the extension and continuence of this status quo, letigimate or not. I'm decrying the internalization of socially maladaptive norms. This is how corrupt institutions sustain themselves: by co-opting potential sources of dissent. This is was what initially drew my reaction.
I don't think you can draw a clear bright shining line between "the morality of current copyright law" and how you treat this case. You reify an immoral regime when you henpeck dissidents. Whether they happen to be clever or thoughtful or not, you've adopted The Man's mindset and are enforcing his way of seeing the world. That's what I see when I read a bunch of apparently intelligent people backslapping one-another over how "stupid" someone is in their violation of copyright.
It smacks of squaredom (or maybe cognitive dissonance) to say you'd cheer a person who'd take this kind of fight to the Supreme Court, and yet turn around and snipe at someone who just tries to get away with the same thing on a much smaller scale. It speaks to a subservience to the Law which I don't think the Law generally, and especially this law in particular, deserves.
And that's my meta-point: it sucks that so many professional creators settle down to work on Maggie's Farm. This is probably on the top of my mind because I'm in the stage of life where people start making all sorts of sacrifices for their careers, and those who have not yet internalized the tribal norms of one institution or another are under increasing pressure to do so. It's a shame that it happens like this.