The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Copyright Infringement and "D for Detective"

A QUESTION and answer:

“Vis-a-vis downloaded illegal copies of material.

When a person buys a used copy of a book or music the publisher and artist do not receive any money.

How is this different from illegal copying, in that the result for the copyright owners is the same?”
Mike Frank

ANSWER: It is very different, unless the music owner deletes the copy of the music from his own computer or Ipod. Selling a book is not like Xeroxing a copy for a friend. Which is not like duplicating it potentially THOUSANDS of times. While in neither case does the copyright owner make a profit, in one instance a single book passes from hand to hand--a minimal loss. In the other, a single book can be duplicated thousands of times, losing thousands of potential sales. That's my mortgage, man. That's my daughter's year in college. That's not a joke. If one person walks across your lawn, you don't notice. If a thousand people walk across your lawn, your lawn dies. Same action PER PERSON, but the result is different. In the first case we shrug, in the second, we either put up a fence, or have a dead lawn.
Or: "what is the difference between stealing ten cents from your dresser, or 10,000 dollars from your bank account?"
or if you want to be more precise: "what is wrong with weakening the social contract that states taking other people's time and energy is wrong? I mean, I PERSONALLY will never do more than take a penny...who'll miss it?" Right. But a million people taking a penny is ten thousand dollars. And some percentage of those people will be encouraged and emboldened by your relaxing of those rules--and take a hell of a lot more. And you helped create the atmosphere and context in which it was possible.
(By the way: I don't say "you" to mean you, Mike. I know you to be a good and decent man. I use it for simplicity's sake. No inference or accusation intended or implied)

There is a simple fact: human beings like to get things for free. Do you lock your door? Your car? Do you know ANY successful business that does not? That is human nature. To set up a situation where people can choose to get it for free is an invitation to disaster. Humans just aren’t that resistant to temptation, and never have been.
Here is the underlying rule of this behavior: "I can tell you what your work, time and energy are worth. I can decide what I will or will not do with it. If you will not give it to me at that price and with that freedom, I will take it for nothing, and do with it what I will." I know of many people who play by this unspoken rule. But not a single person who wants it applied to them. Oh, they might say: "sure, if I made a song, you could duplicate it..." but that's because they agree with that specific interpretation. They don't want me deciding I can come into their house and take their possessions--which would be MY interpretation of the same principles. Either we respect each other's wishes regarding our work and energy, or the laws of society break down. Everybody takes what they want. In essence, file-sharing technology is used by people who want to set their own rules about what they can do with other people's skill, time, and energy--which is all that "money" is, by the way. They NEVER want other people to treat them this same way.

By the way--this would, in my mind, be a textbook example of a difference between "child" and "adult" behavior. Adults understand that if you steal from others, or perform an action that those others interpret as stealing, you violate the social contract and give implicit permission for those others to steal from you. If you then protest when they steal in return, you are a hypocrite. Children on the other hand, say "mine mine mine. I want it. NOW." And justify taking it in any way they can. If you know anyone who has used the "artists only get 30 cents per CD" excuse and HAS sent that artist their 30 cents, you are dealing with (in my opinion) a very childish, deluded individual. If they HAVEN'T sent the artist their 30 cents, the person is just a lying thief. I can at least have respect for an honest thief: "I wanted it, I took it." Wow. Clarity. But all of this Robin Hood or "information wants to be free" nonsense makes me want to vomit.

I MAKE MY LIVING SELLING INFORMATION. It is delivered in magazines, books, lectures, via radio. The exact same arguments used to "share" music could be, and have been, used to take money from my pocket. You say you have the right to copy and distribute it to thousands without my permission, and you are saying you have no respect for my rights, my bank account or my life. I then would be a fool to have any respect for yours. No society operates this way--it is a child's dream of "I want it, it's mine." Adults get murdered over this nonsense every day, all over the world.

Never get between a man and his income stream. It is not safe. I am not kidding, even a little bit.

D is for Detective

All right. I can’t help it. I have to share this review of my new novel, printed in Publisher’s Weekly:

Casanegra: A Tennyson Hardwick Story
Blair Underwood with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Atria, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7432-8731-9
Actor Underwood (Sex and the City, etc.) teams up with accomplished authors Due and Barnes to produce a seamlessly entertaining novel. Tennyson Hardwick—semisuccessful actor, ex-gigolo and incipient sleuth—has the mixed fortune to reconnect with rap superstar Afrodite, a former client, for a night of more than just sex. The next day, she's found dead in a plastic bag with a split skull, and he's a suspect. To clear his name, Hardwick draws on all of his considerable assets: good looks and charm, a $2.5 million house inherited from a devoted client, martial arts skills (Barnes's stock in trade) and connections on both sides of the law. The authors have mixed up a cocktail of exotic elements—the sex for pay industry, the grind and glitz of Hollywood and the rap biz, a smart leavening of black film history—and topped it with a double shot of brutal murder. Handsome “Ten” Hardwick has not only a great backstory but a very promising future. 6-city author tour. (July)

Casanegra is the product of about 3 years of discussion and work. Tananarive and I have interacted with Blair on two other projects: the movie version of My Soul To Keep, T’s second novel, and the movie version of The Good House. Both are over at Fox Searchlight even as I type this. He came to her and suggested they collaborate on an historical novel set in New Orleans. I suggested a contemporary novel, a mystery, because of the series potential. Also, the core of a mystery is a simple logic puzzle, which can hold a narrative together very well, thank you.

The book is designed to bridge the publishing and motion picture industries. In other words, Blair helped us with characterization, insight into Hollywood, thematic elements, the brilliant notion of Hardwick being a former sex worker. The character is based on his physical description and certain personality traits. We did the actual typing, but Blair was involved in every stage of the creative process, and he is one bright, focused, creative guy. In essence, we wrote it, and he stars in it.

The idea was to take a man (Tennyson Hardwick) about one order of magnitude less successful than Blair, give him physical skills capable of dealing with danger, an intuitive sense of characterization that could lead to personality insights of the variety useful to a detective, and a background varied enough to be both colorful and capable of dumping him into trouble at every turn.

The book is a redemption plot, really, with a crippled father (former policeman) symbolizing Ten’s own broken ethical life. And a teenaged prostitute who he rescues and semi-adopts symbolizing his own lost innocence. A former client/lover at a stratospheric level of success, symbolizing his lost dreams and opportunities. And a journey between the lowest and highest levels of society (a traditional passage for detectives) symbolizing the fact that traditional organs of law enforcement cannot bring justice to the world as effectively as a single man committed to truth at any cost.

It was a blast.

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