Copyright Means Rent.

This was a submission for a uni course I recently finished, answering a question about Australian copyright law.  I included Alpha Girl and Beta Max because copyright law is pretty dry, and I don’t actually say that much about it here.

When I undertake university courses I see questions like this all the time, and think to myself “I’ve just read the subject matter, do you want me to parrot it back?” Perhaps I’m being a bit petulant, because I know we have to demonstrate that we have a working knowledge. So, rant over.

It is vitally important that authors today (or their agent, if they wish to employ one), have a working knowledge of the legalities of copyright and contracts. I know in some of my previous posts I have facetiously commented that “I’m lazy and would rather have the agent do the work on the legal stuff”, or words to that effect. Reading the week 8 study guide notes sparked my interest, calling to mind my times working in public policy, interpreting and clarifying legislation.

(“Did you just say you worked in policy?” says Alpha Girl, torn away from her magazine and ongoing role as permanent lounge fixture. “I thought you were too stupid to work anywhere—isn’t that why you laze around the house writing blogs all day, instead of getting a real job?”) 

Knowing your rights as an author in terms of the publishing, sales of rights and distribution of royalties are important to ensure you aren’t ripped off, for want of a better term.

(“You’ve been ripping me off for a while, now,” says Alpha Girl, under her breath. “I know ‘writing’ is your excuse not to pay more rent.”

“I can still hear you,” I reply.)

I found the section on What copyright covers interesting. Plagiarism is something that we are constantly reminded of as students, and I like to know that my own work is protected just as others are. Moral Rights and Fair Dealing (along with PLR and ELR) were aspects I wasn’t familiar with prior to reading the guide.

I found the most interesting section to be the Author Contract, and could see why the author’s (and/or his agent’s) knowledge of the contractual process could be so important – not only in regards to retaining rights in international territories, but also to include clauses on remaindered works to ensure options for buying old stock (as no royalties are available on them), Scope and Quality (the power of knockback!) and Subsidiary Rights (on-selling rights into other media).

(Beta Max bounds in after a hard day at work and equally hard session at the pub. He smells of stale sweat, alcohol and Winfields.

“What you working on, bro?” he says, staring over my shoulder as he opens a beer can.

“Copyright law,” I reply. He switches off, leaps over the back of the lounge and plants his butt on the cushions, spilling beer in the process; we both laugh. Alpha Girl scolds him with her rolled-up magazine.

“So, does that mean you’ll make money from your writing, now,” she says, scowling at Beta Max all the while.

“It means I know about contracts and protecting my work, just in case I get signed as an author,” I reply.

“So much for extra rent,” she says, rolling her eyes.)

Digital Destiny and the Crux of Divergence.

This is a short uni piece I wrote some months ago. It was the second appearance of Alpha Girl, Beta Max and Me in my writing, and the feedback from those uni posts was what lead me to becoming a blogger. I’ve removed the uni academic references from this version.

 

(“So, what are you doing now?” says Alpha Girl, housemate and self-professed Steve-hater.

“I’m writing my latest micro-novel on Twitter,” I reply, reclining on the lounge and not taking eyes off my iPhone. “It’s an existential philosophy in 140 characters, with an unnecessary M.Night Shymalan-twist ending.”

“Writing? I didn’t even know you could read.” She obviously forgets I now steal her newspaper every weekend to read the movie reviews.

“Can’t read? What do you think I do in my room all the time?” I say.

“I shudder to think.”

“You might be surprised to know that I’m currently reading six novels and I’m enrolled in two uni writing courses.”

“Two uni courses? Will they get you a job?”

“They’ve improved my writing.”

“You’ve nicely avoided the question.”)

Advances in technology are opening up opportunities for writers to expand their story-making into new art forms. The digital realm (hereby referred to as the electro-microcosmic frontier, or for those who prefer a more minimalistic approach, the internet) has allowed writers to experiment with various ways of utilising animation, sound and divergence (not Veronica Roth’s novel) to provide innovative experiences for readers.

The course notes indicate some writers might face a certain level of anxiety due to the “bewildering array of tools to generate multimedia”. As a result, they might be hesitant to take up these new art forms.

I’m a bit of an IT geek, always have been. This may be partly due to some mysterious aura I give off, like a bad deodorant that reminds you of a seedy night club venue. When I was working, people would come to me to ask me for help with their computers. I would stand there and ask the inevitable “have you switched it on and off”, then show them how to switch it on and off and receive profuse thanks when the computer magically started working again. In my semi-retired life, my friends still ask me the same things. I have worked on an incredible array of systems and programs over the last 25 years. I pick up new IT easier than Superman juggles elephants. I have desktop publishing, programming and graphic design skills and can use such arty programs as InDesign, Paint Shop Pro, Illustrator, Fireworks and PowerPoint, to name a few. I’m ideally placed to take advantage of this opportunity.

I love art in all its myriad forms. I love electronic media. I love the invention and ingenious possibilities brought by their combination. I draw in my spare time, I compose music; I’m a bit of an artist already. But I don’t want to take on a new form of writing. I want to be a “straight” novelist and short story writer (my apologies to any LGBT readers who may feel I have used that term in a discriminatory fashion – that was not my intent).

Old fashioned? Maybe. But I’m a strong believer that if you invest yourself in a new art form, whether it be a flash poems, generative texts, micro-fiction, or shadow puppetry at the pub, you need to invest yourself wholly. And I don’t believe I would be committed to these new forms enough to do anything more than make a cursory attempt. I guess I just wouldn’t want to be known as a “dabbler”.

And do I think that digital culture may replace novels? Not really. The novel goes through cycles of popularity, much like any other form of entertainment. All it takes is a new Harry Potter and suddenly the world is filled with a gamut of new book readers. Digital media often tends to be free, but along with freedom comes a huge breadth of content, some of which is of questionable quality. But that’s the same for anything, digital or not. I think there is a place for all literary forms.

As long as there are stories to tell there will be people to read them, no matter where they are or how they consume their content.

(“So, what are you doing now?” says Alpha Girl.

“What he always does,” says housemate Beta Max. “Contemplating his navel.”

“Oh, ye of little faith.” I reply. “I’m writing the next smash hit screenplay, composed entirely in Haiku verse. Every character recites their lines of dialogue in syllable structures of 5-7-5.”

“You are such an idiot,” says Alpha Girl.

“You won’t be saying that when Hollywood is at the door for the rights.”

“I wish you’d go out the door. And not come back.”

“Love you, too.”)

Borrower.

This is a uni piece I wrote a few months back. It was actually the first appearance of Alpha Girl, Beta Max and Me. I’ve removed the academic references and included one of my discussion thread responses from that week. NOTE: This was back when I used social media. Nowadays I only use it to promote my blog, which makes me even less well informed then I used to be. 

I haven’t read a newspaper in well over a year. It’s not that I don’t like newspapers; it’s not like I don’t have a ready supply of them each day. It’s just that I’m not really bothered to read them when I get my news through social media and television.

(“Are you on Twitter again?” says Beta Max.

“No,” I reply, quickly changing to YouTube.)

So, I was a little surprised when I read the Insider Movies section of the Sunday Telegraph and found a number of well written movie reviews by Vicky Roach, the reviewer in residence.

(“Why are you reading the paper?” says Alpha Girl.

“Research,” I reply.

“Why can’t you be normal like other people?” she says. I extend my tongue.)

When I read through Critical Review in my uni course notes, I thought to myself: “this is a bit clunky – I don’t recall reviews being this structured.” Identification of work, Context, Description, Assessment, Identification of reviewer – it all seemed a bit robotic to me. I got to the bit about “blending the elements”, and was somewhat relieved. Heaven forbid I’d have to write a review in such a stilted way.

So, back to the newspaper: Ms Roach reviewed four movies: Passengers, Assassin’s Creed, Rosalie Blum and Paterson. I really enjoyed her approach. She was knowledgeable about the art form (script and director techniques, for instance), had a good understanding of the plot and themes of each movie, and raised relevant points and criticisms insightfully. Her comments about Assassin’s Creed succeeding on a “kinetic level”, but failing to deliver in the end due to the character’s “moral ambiguities” and a lack of viewer investment in the outcome, struck home with me as I was planning to take my son.

(“We’re still seeing it,” says my videogame-loving nerd.)

Ms Roach obviously loves the film medium. You can tell from the way she crafts her reviews. (I love women who write well about things they love, especially when it’s a subject I know and love as well. It’s a bit of a turn on. Um, that probably was more than you needed to know.) As expected the smaller “art nouveau” films like Rosalie Blum and Paterson rated better than the big budget movies. Is this a thing with reviewers? “I will always take art over fluff!” I happen to like a little fluff with my art.

(“It’s like chocolate, marshmallow and vegemite sandwiches,” says Beta Max. “They shouldn’t work, but somehow really, really do.”)

Each of Ms Roach’s appraisals captured the essence of the five ingredients of a review, including context and a witty summation of each movie in the legend (for example: “French crowd-pleaser sure to leave audiences blum-struck”, with an attempted pun, no less). I especially liked the intro headline for each movie, in punchy prose – for Passengers: “Sci-Fi romance has too much space in its plot”. For Paterson: “Story of a secret poet has its own rhyme and reason”.

So now I have to read the newspaper every week, just to check out the movie reviews. And maybe read some of the other stuff: news and the like.

(“Are you finished with the paper” says Alpha Girl.

“Not much longer,” I reply.

“Buy your own,” she says.)

 

One of my responses to the discussion thread:

Hi

I, too, like short reviews. I think it’s a measure of a “real” reviewer to be able to do a review in a short format and not leave anything out; to be able to capture the essence of a movie, book or CD in a short, almost perfunctory way.

I have to admit that I’m not good at short. I think I’m a bit verbose at times (read: boring). Maybe I should try writing reviews as Haiku – that way I’m deliberately restrained by the form:

Assassin’s Creed film
Started well but ended bad
Little investment

Could be onto something here. I’m just going to rush out and patent the Haiku movie review concept.

Cheers

Steve

Session. A short tale.

“Back again,” says Ms Therapy, reclining in her chair.

“Yes,” I reply, eyeing her curiously. “Every month, as you know.”

Ms Therapy sighs, grabs a pen and notepad from the desk behind her. “Yes, I know.” She sighs again and my anxiety level rises.

“So, what would you like to talk about this time?” Ms Therapy taps the pen impatiently on the pad. She glances at the wall clock. By this point I’m feeling a little put out.

“Do you have something you’d rather be doing?” I say. “I can always come back later.” The last words via a thin smile.

Ms Therapy grins; it’s a little forced. “No, no, you know that I’m here to listen, help you with your problems…” She trails off. Her eyes are distant, and I could swear she’s starting to tear up a little.

“Are you alright?” I say, leaning forward in concern.

“Yes,” Ms Therapy says, putting a hand to her trembling mouth. “No. I’m sorry,” she says. She starts to cry, suppresses it, fanning her face rapidly with one hand, like she’s swatting away imaginary butterflies. Or maybe killer bees.

“How about I come back another time, maybe when you’ve had time to…adjust.” I start to rise, she holds up her palms signalling stay. I glance at the door – if I’m going to get out of here this is my last chance.

“I’ve broken up with my girlfriend,” Ms Therapy says. This is a surprise, as I wasn’t aware she was gay. Not that I know much about her, but I guess my gaydar is as non-existent as the rest of my people-reading skills. Before I can respond, she continues in a torrent of tears and sputtering speech.

“We’ve been together five years. She’s my everything. We are so good together. And last night, all of a sudden, she says ‘it’s not working’ and that she needs to find herself. I mean, what’s not working? She’s never indicated anything was wrong before. Then she leaves and she hasn’t come back and I’ve been worried sick and she’s such a bitch but I love her…”

I’m glad she doesn’t notice how uncomfortable I’ve become; the occasional squirm and nervous tic. “Umm…do you need a hug?” is all I can think to say. Ms Therapy graciously accepts, and for the next half hour I listen to her travails and placate her with “it’ll be alright” and “she’s a stupid woman, she’ll be back when she realises what she’s lost”.

Eventually, the tears subside and Ms Therapy composes herself. “Thank you,” she says. “I just needed to talk to someone about it. I feel so much better now.” It’s a shame I don’t, but I guess I didn’t really need a session, anyway.

“Glad I could help,” I say. My halo glows with new found, smug self-confidence.

“This one’s on the house,” she says, shrugging. “Least I can do.”

“Gee, thanks,” I say as I exit.

I can hear Alpha Girl now: “Hah! You can’t even get a therapy session right!”

Doh.

Awake. A short tale.

(I exit my room. The sun is shining through my open window, bright beams illuminating me from behind as I stretch and face the world. I imagine a choir announcing my return, like a second coming, of sorts.

“So, where have you been?” says Alpha Girl, sprawled on the lounge and not looking up from her magazine. My choir slurs and stops, like a wind up record player reaching its end.

“Yeah,” says Beta Max, not taking his eyes off the TV as he plays Xbox.

Scratching my unruly head, I yawn, waddle sleepily to the kitchen and pour cereal into a bowl. “I’ve been working on my blog,” I say. “And sleeping.”

“We haven’t seen you for a week,” says Alpha Girl. “Thought you’d moved out. Or died. A good outcome, either way.”

I stick out my tongue, but she doesn’t see it. “Did either of you think to knock on my door?” I say. “I suffer from depression, you know.”

Beta Max moans as his onscreen self is killed again. He looks over at me and grins. “If you died, we would have smelt it by now, dude.”

“It’s nice to know I’m surrounded by such caring, sharing people,” I respond, smiling and flipping him the bird.

Alpha Girl, still engrossed in her magazine, flicks her hair. “You told me you made a commitment to your family not to commit suicide,” she says. “And I know how responsible you are.” For the first time, she looks up and smirks. “Besides, whenever you isolate yourself like that, you put yourself through hell. And I love it when you torment yourself.” I can almost hear the sinister orchestration in the background. Thunder booms. Lightning flashes. A glint of predatory canines as she sneers.

Beta Max throws down the controller as he dies again. “I hate this game,” he says. Loping over to the fridge, he drinks orange juice straight from the bottle. Alpha Girl gives him a death stare. Suitably rebutted, he pours a glass of juice and meekly places the bottle back. “Dude, you know we’re always here for you,” he says.

I laugh. “I’ll remember that the next time I update my will,” I say.)

Symbaroum – a tabletop fantasy RPG that reeks of deep darkness, blighted evil and drawn out death. Fun!

(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”

“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”

“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.

“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.

“I guess so-”

“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)

 

I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to exercise my imagination – ideal for any would-be writer. (What’s an RPG? You can find out more here.)

A while back I bought a tabletop RPG called Symbaroum. It’s a dark-edged fantasy set in a kingdom on the edge of Davokar, a massive forest consumed with corruption, wherein lies ruins of the ancient kingdom of Symbaroum. Adventurers based in border towns like Thistle Hold, venture warily into the dark forest to loot the ancient ruins, battle elves, trolls and blight beasts. This often ends in madness and hideous death. Yeah! Sounds like good times all round.

Symbaroum is the brainchild of Mattias Johnson and Mattias Lilja, of the Swedish games company Jarnringen. Symbaroum is big in Sweden, and is slowly breaking ground around the rest of the world. Modiphius Games distribute the English-translation of the game.

The game uses some interesting RPG mechanics, a few of which I’ve listed below:

  • Whilst there are archetypes to create base characters (Warrior, Mystic, Rogue, each with multiple occupations), and five races, players can elect to build their characters from scratch, selecting abilities (skills) they believe relevant, up to the limit of the build.
  • The eight attribute values that underscore each character range between 5 and 15. To succeed at an action, the player rolls a D20, with success below the tested attribute value. Traits, abilities, weapons and conditions provide positive or negative modifiers. Tests compare one of your character’s attributes against another character’s/monster’s attributes.
  • Players roll all the dice in the game. This includes defending against attacks. The Games Master (GM) never rolls at all.
  • Magic and artifacts can cause corruption in characters, turning them into blight-stricken abominations, if they’re not careful.
  • Battles are hard. More often than not, players may run from conflict. That doesn’t mean they don’t fight at all, but battles can be deadly.

An adventure, The Promised Land, is included in the rule book to introduce players to the systems used.

The campaign background is very detailed, focussing on the country of Ambria and the nearby Forest of Davokar – a small section of the overall game world. The location and background establishes the flavour of the setting – it’s very dark, dank and mysterious, full of horror, manipulative factions, layered history and deep secrets.

The art in this game is by Martin Bergstrom, and it is phenomenal (see the image above for a teaser). Never before have I seen such evocative, haunting and awe-inspiring artwork in an RPG. It really helps to set the scene and emphasise the dark nature of the game.

There are a number of supplements that have been released, with the latest being Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden, the first in a grand campaign called Throne of Thorns.

Symbaroum is a great role playing game. It’s well worth your attention. Even if you’ve never played a role playing game before.

 

(“Hah!” cries Alpha Girl. “I killed you! You’re dead! DEAD!” She’s dancing in her seat.

Beta Max and I look at each other bemusedly. Beta Max whispers in my ear: “I think she’s getting into this game a little too much.”)

 

* Disclaimer: I never said playing RPGs would give you ‘magical math powers’. For more on that, click here.

 

You can order Symbaroum online from the Modiphius Games website at http://www.modiphius.com

Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden is available in print/PDF from Modiphius, or PDF from DriveThruRPG at  http://www.drivethrurpg.com

To find out more about Jarnringen, visit their site at http://www.jarnringen.com (in Swedish, Google will translate the page for you)

Online Dating Fail – Strike 3!

(I walk in the door, despondent after my latest online date.

“So, what was she like?” says Beta Max, reclining on the lounge with Xbox controller in one hand and beer can in the other.

“She looked like my ex-wife,” I say. “And was just as opinionated.”

He purses his lips. “Ooh, not good.”

“No. I’m a bit over it, actually.” I plonk on the lounge next to him, watch Beta Max despatch a few enemy soldiers in the latest Call of Duty game. Engrossed in the on-screen carnage, fingers and thumbs tapping away on the controller buttons, he doesn’t take his eyes off the TV screen. “What is it I always say?”

We speak simultaneously: “Plenty more fish in the sea.”

Alpha Girl enters at that moment. “Blew it again, did you?” she says.

I look back, resignedly, at her. “No, not this time.”

“Well, you know what Beta Max says…”

“Don’t say it-”

Beta Max and Alpha Girl in tandem this time, a huge and devious smile on Beta Max’s face: “Plenty more fish in the sea.”)

 

My second face-to-face date (and third woman I’ve spoken to*). Not so bad. Had a nice meal. Company was okay. Looking like my ex-wife was not a positive point.

Why is it that people don’t look like the photos they put online? Is it because they use old photos, when they were better looking, thinner, had different hair, before they got old and before they got the skin grafts? Yes, my photos are a few years old, but I still look basically the same (except for a few more grey hairs in my goatee and my hairline receding slightly…okay, maybe I shouldn’t be complaining about anyone else).

It is a bit unfair though. I know we shouldn’t judge people based on their looks alone, but isn’t that what first impressions are all about? If the datee puts a misleading photo (or photos) on their online dating profile, aren’t they enticing the unwary would-be dater into a trap, of sorts? The meeting is going to be a surprise, if the dater recognises them at all. Maybe they’re hoping their sterling conversational skills will save the day. After all, looks aren’t everything, right?

Maybe I’m complaining for the sake of complaining. I’m disillusioned and I’ve only met three women so far. I’m sure there will be more. Hopefully not as misleading as the first few.

Back to the coal face. Once more unto the breach. Plenty more fish in the sea (Ugh!).

 

(“Maybe you should hang out at the supermarket,” says Alpha Girl.

“You think I’ll be more successful at meeting women there?” I say.

“No, but I’d see a lot less of you.”)

 

*To find out how that one went, click here. To find out how the second one went, click here. To avoid my whinging altogether, click here for some poetry.      

Work Out Woes

(‘So, you’ve been resting for a week,’ says Alpha Girl. ‘Does your arm feel any better?’

‘Well, it did,’ I reply, ‘But I just worked out and now it hurts again.’

‘Did you go to the doctor last week?’

‘Yes, I did. He’s referred me for an ultrasound on my elbow in four weeks.’

‘Well, make sure you go to it.’

‘No worries. You know you sound like my Mum.’

‘There are worse things I could be.’)

 

So, the week of rest is over, and I’m back into working out.

I did my back workout this morning – 5 supersets of wide grip chin/pull ups (8-10 slow reps per set) combined with bent over dumbbell rows (10 reps each side per set), 5 sets of neutral grip chins (8-10 slow reps per set), 20 sets of push ups (20 slow reps per set), and 20 laps of the back yard (2 kilometres). Yes, I know push ups are for chest, but I was doing them after each lap, as part of the cardio.

And my left arm was in pain. It still is.

I know I have to get something done about it. But I’m not about to rest for 6 months. My workouts are not just physical training, they’re part of my mental health routine.

Tomorrow is chest day. We’ll see how that goes.

 

(‘Dude, you still working out?’ says Beta Max. ‘You should take a leaf out of my book, man.’

‘And do what, exactly?’ I reply.

‘I just rest 24/7, man. And I never strain anything.’)

Sherlocked

(‘So what are you watching?’ Says Alpha Girl.

‘Sherlock,’ replies Beta Max without taking his eyes off the TV.

‘It’s the BBC Sherlock Holmes show with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman,’ I say, my eyes glued to the set.

‘What’s that?’ Says Alpha Girl.

Beta Max and I do a slow double take. ‘You’ve never seen it?’ I say. ‘It’s one of the best shows. Ever.’

Beta max concurs. ‘It’s the shit.’

Alpha Girl watches for a few minutes. ‘I don’t understand what’s going on. That tall guy is a bit of a jerk, yet the little guy just puts up with him?’

Beta Max and I smile at Alpha Girl’s unintended irony.)

 

So, many of you have probably already seen the latest season of Sherlock on cable. I’m just catching up as the DVD set is now available.

I love shows that are well written, well acted, well produced and well…bloody good. Sherlock fits that bill. It’s a modern day take on the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, written by Stephen Moffat (current show runner on Dr Who, another brilliant show) and Mark Gatiss. Sherlock is up to it’s fourth season (fifth if you count last year’s movie fill in). Cumberbatch and Freeman have busy schedules, so they have to squeeze the series in between movies.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a quick-witted, super smart sociopath, who basically treats everyone he knows like a doormat. This includes his long suffering housemate, Martin Freeman’s Dr Watson, who writes about their cases via an online blog. They solve crimes.

Sherlock has a huge fan following. And so it should. It’s funny, smart, gripping television.

And with new seasons sometimes taking several years to get here, and Moffat indicating that the show might not continue, enjoy it while you can.

Season Four is a cracker. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you don’t know what you’re missing.

 

(Alpha Girl, is now ensconced on the lounge between us. I’ve pulled out the DVDs for the previous seasons, and we’re watching from the beginning.

‘Sherlock is so nasty to Watson,’ she says. ‘I like him.’

‘Thought you would,’ I say.)

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