Thursday, September 29, 2005

More on Authors Guild and Google

The Authors Guild sent out a more detailed explanation of their reasons for suing Google for putting copyrighted works online. I have to say they were pretty convincing. I'm just going to quote them:

  1. Google is a commercial, not a charitable, enterprise. Google is worth roughly $90 billion, making staggering profits through its online advertising programs. Its investment in Google Library is intended to bring even more visitors and profits to its website and ancillary services. The Guild is all for profit, but when the profit comes from the works of authors, the authors should be properly compensated.
  2. Google is scanning entire books, not just “fair use snippets.” Google is digitizing countless texts, your books, in their entirety — every sentence, every carefully chosen word — without your permission. That Google presents browsers with small selections of your work doesn’t change that.
  3. It’s not just public domain books. The Guild has no objection, of course, to the digitization of public domain works. The Google Library project goes far beyond that, encompassing works that are still protected by copyright, including in print and out of print works.
  4. Out of print doesn’t mean public domain. Out of print works are valuable. Out of print works are republished every day, bringing welcome new advances to authors and the prospect of new royalty income. That Google is willing to sink so much money into digitizing these works is further proof of their ongoing value.
  5. Authors (and the Guild) aren’t opposed to making their works searchable online with a proper license. With a proper license, in fact, far more than “snippets” could be made available to users. The opportunities are boundless, but it all starts with a valid license. This is no big deal, really; businesses large and small sign license agreements every day.

Tsmacro, in a comment below, remarked that most authors probably will gain rather than lose from this enterprise. He may well be right. But that, in the end, is not really the point. The point is that copyright means that the creators of works are reserved the right to control how their works are copied and distributed. Most writers, if asked, would probably grant permission. But some wouldn't. And that's their right. (Caveat: the situation may be complicated by what permissions authors have granted their publishers for e-publishing, and whether the publishers granted the rights to Google.)

The part about Google doing this for profit is really the clincher. Even if many authors might benefit—they don't have the right to make a profit from reproducing work without permission.

Note that the music industry, in the end, woke up and realized the need to license music downloading—and everyone is now benefiting from it.


Sunday, September 25, 2005 Is Live!

I think I forgot to mention that my online guide to SF and fantasy writing, oddly enough called Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, is now available online for anyone to peruse and use. It's not what you'd called finished, exactly. It's proving to be a much bigger job than I realized to fix all the funky formatting from the earlier html, and get all the navigation links in place. But the first handful of lessons are in good shape, and you can get around the whole course using the contents page.

The guide covers the fundamentals of story writing, including getting from idea to story, world building, creating human and alien characters, plot and conflict, language and style, finishing what you start, workshopping, submitting to publishers, and more. It's geared to the younger aspiring writer, but I hope could be useful for anyone looking for a little jump start.

It grew out of a course I created for MathSoft's StudyWorks Science some years ago, and now I'm putting it up for free as a public service. And SFF.Net is hosting it as a public service, as well.

If you know of any young aspiring writers, send 'em over. And please spread the word.

It's at

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Authors Guild Sues Google

Well. Timing is everything. After my comments last night about Google's display of book pages, I got a notice today that the Authors Guild has filed suit about this very issue:

NEW YORK -- The Authors Guild and a Lincoln biographer, a children's book author, and a former Poet Laureate of the United States filed a class action suit today in federal court in Manhattan against Google over its unauthorized scanning and copying of books through its Google Library program. The suit alleges that the $90 billion search engine and advertising juggernaut is engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers.

Through its Library program, Google is reproducing works still under the protection of copyright as well as public domain works from the collection of the University of Michigan's library.

"This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law," said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. "It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied."

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I'm a member of the Authors Guild, but I'm not immediately sure that I agree with them on this. Whether Google's usage properly falls under "fair use," I'm not sure—and I suspect it hinges partly on what percentage of any given work they're displaying. I know when Amazon started doing it, there was concern about whether books in which smaller contributions played a bigger part—such as collections of poetry, cookbooks with individual recipes, and so on—would be adversely affected, more than something like novels.

Speaking for myself, I'm happy to have excerpts available, as I figure it won't hurt sales and might help them. But I agree that authors should have the right to say. Should publishers ask them before offering their books to Google? Yes. Did mine? Not that I can recall.

I'll be watching this.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Google's Display of Pages

I went as Tim suggested to I had no idea Google was doing this, though it appears pretty similar to what has been doing for a while. I have no fully formed opinion on the matter, but my gut reaction is, as long as they have some protections in place to prevent excessive downloading of copyrighted work, it's probably a good thing. I mean, I put chapters of my books up on my web site in hopes that people will read them and become interested enough to want to read the whole book. This seems like one more way for someone to stumble across your work and maybe buy it, or at least read it. And the material, as I understand it, is supplied by the publishers.

The startling thing was seeing my brother's book listed under a search of my own name. He's Charles S. Carver, a psychology professor and coauthor of a well-regarded textbook in personality, as well as a scientific monograph, On the Self-Regulation of Behavior, published in 1998. I was surprised not just at seeing his book, but at seeing a reference to a quote from my novel Panglor in it. I'd completely forgotten that he'd quoted me in his work of serious science. But I pulled my copy of his book off the shelf, and yep, there it was, at a chapter head. That was kind of a cool rediscovery.

By the way, for the same reason I approve of this, I'm glad that used copies of my books are so readily available on the net. Even if it cuts out a few new sales (not that many, I'm guessing), it makes it easy for curious—or impecunious—readers to give my stuff a try. And it's not as if the publishers are keeping the books in print forever. (The one place where this does grate is when I see Amazon listing used copies of a new book on the date of publication--or even before--which means people are selling off review copies. Still—that's not as bad as finding one of your own books at a yard sale, with the cover torn off. That has happened to me.) Despite the occasional wince, though, I figure there's generally no such thing as bad exposure.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tim was asking which of my books I think has the best movie potential. The short answer is: all of them. But I suppose you'd rather have the longer answer. I thought so.

Well, I have long felt that Star Rigger's Way was perfect for making into a movie, partly because it's got a lot of very visual elements, plus it's a fairly simple and straightforward plot. I also think Eternity's End would work well, because it has really interesting visuals and is a more complex work. So, really, it would be great as a 6 or 8-hour miniseries.

On the other hand, the Chaos Chronicles are my choice for a 12-hour miniseries! The escape from Neptune, the arrival at Shipworld, the attack of the boojum, the undersea world of the Neri...they could do great things with all this!

The problem is, nobody is signing on for the rights to any of these. Not even a nibble from Hollywood. Come on, Mr. Spielberg, give them a try! You'll like them. Are you listening?

Okay, okay, it's not tomorrow yet. (Well, actually, it is, I suppose.) Anyway, I'm going this up, so you get two posts in one night.

Tomorrow I'll try Tim's question about Google and showing pages. (Which I knew nothing about until I saw Tim's question!)

Labels: ,

Which Book, Which Book?

Okay, I haven't actually abandoned this blog, though you might be forgiven for wondering. Just had a really busy week, is all.

So, my last entry netted a number of questions, which I'm now going to take a shot at answering. Note: I going to be making a lot of this up as I go.

Tsmacro asks what's the best order to read the books of the Star Rigger universe in. Good question; I'm not sure I have a good answer. If you'd like to follow the chronology of the universe in order (sketchily filled in by the books), then you ought to start with Panglor, then follow with Dragons in the Stars and Dragon Rigger, then move on to Star Rigger's Way followed by Eternity's End, and finally end up with Seas of Ernathe. (They're all described on that same page--see link above--just scroll up and down.) Panglor starts you before star rigging has been discovered, and leads you toward the discovery. Seas of Ernathe happens after the secrets of star rigging have been lost, and we're trying to rediscover them.

That's chronological within the universe. But if you're more interested in following my development as a writer, then you might do it differently. I wrote Seas of Ernathe first, when I barely knew anything about the universe; I'd only written the short novelette "Alien Persuasion," which later became the basis for Star Rigger's Way. Plus I was a very young writer. After that, I wrote Star Rigger's Way and Panglor, then left that universe for a little while, before coming back to write the two dragon books. (The main thing that places the dragon books earlier in the universe than Star Rigger's Way is that the heroine, Jael, is abused by her ship's owner in a way that would never be tolerated by the RiggerGuild described in Star Rigger's Way.) Finally, I wrote Eternity's End in answer to my editor's question: "Whatever became of that character in SRW—Legroeder? We last saw him a captive of pirates, and probably in trouble because he helped his old friend to escape..."

In general, I feel that the later books are a lot better written and more satisfying than the earlier ones. But is that a good reason to read them in the order written? I don't know. What do you people think?

Tomorrow I'll answer (or try to answer) Tim's question about the movie potential of my books.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Write SF

Some years ago, I created an online course in SF and fantasy writing, aimed primarily at high school and middle school students, called Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. It was published on CD by a company called MathSoft, and eventually put online by them, also. (It actually grew out of a distance-learning TV broadcast I hosted, which was beamed into middle school classrooms for two seasons.)

It's been unavailable except on the used-CD market for a while, but that's about to change. I'm refitting the course for online viewing, and hope to have it up again and open to the public in the next week or two. It'll be free of charge, and as friendly to the user as I can make it. The URL will be If you're an aspiring writer, or know one, come check it out in a week or two.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and America

I haven't written anything until now about the disastrous hurricane and the terrible aftermath because, truthfully, I didn't know what to say about this horrific event that others haven't already said better. But I received an email from an SF fan in Germany, lamenting the devastation and the apparently incompetence of federal officials in dealing with it—or in preparing for it in the first place.

My friend Tobias deserves an answer, so I'm going to write it here. The problem is knowing where to start. Maybe not by answering directly, but first by praising the heroism of those who have been putting their lives on the line in search and rescue operations, and maintaining order in the face of despicable violence—or by bowing my head to the suffering of those who waited far too long for aid, or who lost people they loved or everything they owned to the hurricane. Or maybe extending a hand of solidarity to the millions of people who, like my family, have tried to help their neighbors in need by contributing in whatever way seemed best, usually a cash donation to relief organizations. (I was perhaps most moved by reading that a gift of $3000 had been forwarded from the people of Honduras to the relief effort, people who have very little, and who gave anyway.)

But that doesn't really answer Tobias, who said, "I see a president far away in Washington, DC who is completely overwhelmed with the situation... Where was FEMA and the national guard, the military?" Well, yeah. Much of the National Guard—and their equipment—is in Iraq, where they were sent on a pretext by their commander in chief. As for the president being overwhelmed, that's not much of a surprise, given his overwhelming incompetence. We all remember his deer-in-the-headlight reaction to the news of 9/11, don't we? (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you really need to watch Fahrenheit 911, and watch the actual video footage of his paralysis when told of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. It's frightening, it really is.)

Then there's the head of FEMA, who didn't know that there were a few thousand people trapped in the Superdome, and whose previous disaster management experience was in helping to run an Arabian horses association. And of course there's the Bush administration's recent cancellation of funds for improvement of the levee system around New Orleans. Not to mention the reversal of wetlands protections that had been put in place by earlier administrations. (Wetlands, in case you aren't up on your estuarine science, help provide a shield against such things as devastating hurricanes.)

Tobias also says, "I wonder when USA will sign the Kyoto environmental protocol to stop the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for the warming of the atmosphere." A lot of us wonder that, Tobias. I'm not sure we should necessarily blame this particular storm on global warming gases, but there's little doubt that this sort of thing will only keep happening, and get worse, if the global community—in particular the U.S.—doesn't start taking global warming seriously. So, Tobias, don't be embarrassed to keep asking your American friends these questions. And we'll keep asking our elected officials.

I keep telling myself, it's got to change. The Bush people can only fool the voters for so long, until the people wake up to reality. This is my prayer. Please, God.