Protecting the Digital Rights of Authors

The Authors Guild recently sent out a message to its members that should be of interest and concern to all Internet savvy people, not to mention all writers. The Guild, which has come out against Google’s Library Program, seems to have hope for the plans of a new coalition that includes Yahoo. The message said:

A coalition including Yahoo, Adobe Systems, Hewlett-Packard, and the libraries of the University of California and the University of Toronto announced today that they’re launching a book-scanning project that would make digitized texts searchable through Yahoo. Yahoo’s coalition took care to state that only works for which it has the rightsholders’ permission or are in the public domain would be included. Although we haven’t reviewed the details of the program yet, it sounds as though they’re going about this in a sensible way.

Yahoo’s new venture is further demonstration that the right to store books in digital form is commercially valuable, a right that should be licensed rather than appropriated.

The email also included a copy of a letter to the editor from Authors Guild President Nick Taylor, published by The New York Times, in response to an op-ed piece by Tim O’Reilly, a member of a Google advisory board and publisher of computer manuals who supports Google’s Library venture.

To the Editor:

Tim O’Reilly (“Search and Rescue,” Op-Ed, Sept. 28), who is on the publisher advisory board for Google Print, informs us of the many benefits of the Google Library program.

The program, which would digitize and store millions of books, has its merits, all of which can be achieved through proper licensing. Google knows its business; it expects to profit from this project. Certainly some of those profits should go to the authors who created the books.

By digitizing mountains of copyrighted books without permission, Google is exercising a renegade notion of eminent domain: Google decides what’s good for us and seizes private property to get it done.

Legitimate eminent domain is exercised by elected officials, however. And the property owners get paid.

There’s a better way: let’s build a real digital library, not just “snippets.” Writers are willing, but not at the cost of our rights.

Nick Taylor
President, Authors Guild
New York, Sept. 29, 2005

For further information, visit The Authors Guild.

And yesterday, in a e-newsletter I receive from Publishers Weekly, I read:

The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group has pulled the company’s titles from the Google Print program to protest the scanning of copyrighted materials in the Google Library program. RLPG president Jed Lyons called Google Library’s scanning policy a “flagarant violation” of copyright laws, and has told Google it wants the books that have been scanned as part of Google Print removed from its database and the books returned.

Scarecrow Press, the publisher of my Henderson biography in progress, is under the umbrella of Rowman & Littlefield.

RSVP

No, I’m not plugging RSVP: Rare Songs, Very Personal, Nancy Wilson’s last grammy-winning recording. I’m referring to the original meaning: Respondez S’il Vous Plait. “No news is good news” used to be true, but that has changed. The number of emails I send, and phone messages that I leave, that go unanswered grows exponentially each day. I used to think it was just plain rude (not to mention discourteous and bad for business) to not answer messages. Part of me still feels that way. I answer every communication I receive, even if it is to just to say “no” or “I don’t know” or “I’ll get back to you soon.” But I have to admit that doing so is taking up more and more of my time, leaving me less and less able to accomplish the myriad tasks on my to-do list. I know that I am not alone in this. I notice that even my own friends and business associates are hard pressed to keep up and respond in a timely fashion, if at all. But it just goes against my grain to blow someone off by not responding at all. I remain determined to respond, even if it take me a little longer than it used to. And if it’s blog-mail, I always reserve the right to repond publically in a DevraDoWrite “I’ve Got Mail” post.

More Disappointment

I had dinner with a friend last night who told me that she, too, had seen and enjoyed Winged Migration. But then she told me she had been dismayed to find out that the makers of the film manipulated the birds and staged everything. Apparently this was not a secret; it is detailed in the extras, the behind the scenes footage that they included on the DVD.

In all the press materials, and articles I can recall (without research), it was implied that this was truly an observational documentary — birds on their own turf, doing their own thing in their own time. I remember talk of the traditional and remote controlled gliders, Ultra Light Motorized aircraft, and other contraptions on which cameras were mounted to capture the ‘bird’s eye’ view (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist). Now I hear that the birds filmed were raised by (or maybe at the behest of) the filmmakers; transported to various locations, then filmed while being led to fly from point A to point B ; and that situations were staged.

I don’t condemn their methods (although I am not thrilled by the thought that they may have deliberately placed birds in the path of hunters), but I do condemn their deception. Just as I believe that nonfiction writers have an implied contract with their readers to disclose whether the account is completely accurate or whether they have taken any liberties (such as creating composite or fictional characters and invented dialogue), I also believe that documentary makers should be held to the same standards.

If you are a regular reader of DevraDoWrite (and I hope that you are) you know that this is one of my repeated refrains. See the last paragraph of this May 10th Caveat Lector post

P.S. Being that Capote, the movie, opens tomorrow, someone is bound to ask me about In Cold Blood. I loved the book…and then hated Capote when I found out, afterward, that he had actually made up scenes and created a fictional ending. If he had disclosed that up front, i could have applauded both his skill and his imagination. As for the issue of an author manipulating his or her subject(s) to get the story (as was apparently done by both Capote and the birders) that’s a complex can or worms I will tackle at another time.

Movies Movies Movies

I haven’t been to a movie theater lately — summer movies seems to be for kids — but I hd movies on my mind so I began to make a list of ones I’ve seen in recent years. I was having trouble remembering, so I searched my datebook for titles that were not readily coming to mind. Strangely (or perhaps not) there was no correlation between the titles I remembered easily and the movies I liked, nor conversely between the ones I’d forgotten and those I’d disliked. Here are some of the movies that I saw in theaters during the last few years:

Under the heading of battling delusions and overcoming odds are two movies I liked: The Aviator — although I had never before been a DiCaprio fan, and A Beautiful Mind — his delusions seemed real to me.

Among the movies that enjoyed a lot are: Ladies in Lavender starring my favorote dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Calender Girls with Helen Mirren, Bone Collector — Denzel as a quadraplegic forensic detective plays the whole movie from his bed), Finding Neverland, Frieda, Gosford Park, and Mad Hot Ballroom — a documentary about New York City kids competing in a ballroom dancing contest. Also The Pianist, Traffic, Cider House Rules, The Adaptation, and Stepford Wives (better than I expected it to be).

A few that I enjoyed, but had forgotten about until reminded by title include Nurse Betty, Space Cowboys, Remembering the Titans, and The Contender. Being Julia and Tuscan Sun were also light-weight but enjoyable.

Here are a few I could have missed: Along Came a Spider (I love Morgan Freeman, but…); The Beat My Heart Skipped; Changing Lanes; My Dog Skip, and The Upside of Anger. Actually that last one was okay.

Two I wish I had missed are Training Day (I like Denzel, but this was a bit much) and Taking Lives. Once in a while I will actually walk out on a movie — like Titus (I used to like Anthony Hopkins), or someone I’m with will insist on walking out as was the case with Boys Don’t Cry (yes, I know it was acclaimed, but I wasn’t liking it much either.)

Of course there are movies that one has to see because everyone is talking about them: Million Dollar Baby (I loved it); Manchurian Candidate (good); Sideways (okay); Being Julia (pleasant, but I don’t get the best actress nod); Ray (well done and close to truth); 9/11 (liked it, but I’m already in the choir); American Beauty (didn’t care).

The real surprise was how much I liked Winged Migration (even though the soundtrack was a bit much). Recommended to me, but not yet seen are March of the Penguins, Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and Story of the Weeping Camel. (Coincidentally, there is an article in today’s The New York Times about the penguin flick — Compared With Their Filmmakers, the Penguins Have It Easy.)

From this brief tour one can see that I tend to like movies that are based on true stories and don’t care much for shoot-em-ups. I also notice that actors I really like, movie after movie, sooner or later end up doing movies I don’t care for at all, leading to my disappointment. For example, Anthony Hopkins — I loved Shadowlands, Remains of the Day, Howards End, 84 Charring Cross, even Nixon and Silence of the Lambs, but not much since. Same with Denzel: some good stories and performances — Crimson Tide, Malcolm X, Philadelphia, Bone Collector — and then a lot of gratuitously violent flicks. The ladies disappoint less often, if ever. Dame Dench in Mrs. Brown, Iris, Chocolat and others, has never let me down (or if she has, I don’t remember it). Hmmm, I wonder what that means.

What’s on your list?

People Make The Difference

From now on, I will be buying my CDs and DVDs at Tower Records. I never actually had an allegiance to amazon.com, they were just convenient, and the prices were right. Initially it was books I was buying, but when I wanted a CD, well why not? Easy to order, arrives at my door. And so the habit began, not from desire but because there was nowhere else I particularly wanted to go. And to some extent, “go” was the operative word.

Years ago I used to shop at Tower Records, in New York City stores and later in Los Angeles on Sunset. The stores were nice, big enough but not huge, good selection including lots of jazz, knowledgeable staff…All too soon, however, the stores became too big, the staff too small and narrowly focused; jazz became marginalized, the classical music section shrank, and the pounding sounds of the latest hits (I guess it was rock, back then) pervaded every corner of the store. I didn’t want to shop wearing earplugs, so I eventually stopped going. For awhile I just didn’t buy many new CDs, and then online shopping became the solution. I traded the impersonal store for the personless internet.

I haven’t been inside a Tower store in many years, and I don’t know when they created their online presence. I had no “relationship” with them, so it never occurred to me to check back, to investigate other locations or possibilities. So what has changed? I met some wonderful PEOPLE who work for Tower, and they were so kind and supportive, not only to me and John, and our client Clairdee, but also the many artists at the Monterey Jazz Festival who record or write for small independent labels and publishers. They created prominent displays and listening stations for us, positions for which the big guys usually pay big bucks. Clairdee’s CDs were side by side with Sonny Rollins’ new release inside the Arena, and in the booth along the midway, three of her recordings were displayed face out, at eye level. “Men, Women and Girl Singers,” the book I wrote for my husband, was directly under a sign proclaiming HITS! in an endcap right at the door of the booth where every passer-by could see it even if they didn’t go inside. And they hosted signings: I saw Doug Ramsey there signing his Desmond biography on Saturday, side-by-side with John Scofield; John signed his biography on Sunday, side-by-side with Clairdee.

I can’t thank these people enough. Sure it was good for business — they said Clairdee’s Music Moves flew off the shelf and we sold quite a few books as well — but it was their attitude. They really wanted to promote the little guys and they went out of their way to make it happen. We didn’t know these great folks before a week or two ago, and we never asked for any special treatment while exchanging a few emails and quick calls. I was also surprised to learn that this team that worked together like a well-oiled machine is actually a bunch of colleagues from several different stores. I kept asking who was in charge, so I could give thanks and heap praise on all. Seems they were all in charge, so let me publicly thank the ones I know by name, and encourage you to shop at Tower, especially if you live near one of the stores where these four fine folks work: Event Coordinator LeRoid David from the Bay Area Regional Office, Operations Manager Pete Leon and Product Manager Matt Loushin from Mountain View (South Bay’s Flagship location), and Operations Manager Maggie Colligan from Market Street. [The photo shows LeRoid (left), and Pete (right), with John.]

Doesn’t Anyone Remember The Magnificent Obsession?

Boos: I am so sick, sick, sick of every celebrity and every wannabe-famous-artist who is exploiting the Katrina catastrophe for his or her own publicity value – this applies as much to Dr. Phil (visiting refugees at the Houston Astrodome) and Michael Jackson (coming out of seclusion to say he’s now inspired to write or record a new song), and Harry Connick, and Wynton Marsalis, and, and, and… as it does to relatively unknown singers and musicians who are pledging to send money to help Katrina victims if you buy their CDs. I have nothing against Dr. Phil trying to help, but I’d have been more impressed if he had done so quietly, without attendant cameras to record his good deeds and broadcast his goodness to the world. Ditto for the others.

Perhaps in the above list I should include Oprah Winfrey. Her show yesterday spotlighed the aid efforts of Jamie Foxx and Faith Hill, but as a piece in The New York Times pointed out today:

“…unlike the politicians, musicians and movie stars who toured relief facilities and the news networks whose reporters were bound to let officials defend their relief efforts, Ms. Winfrey was able to turn her own cameras on the suffering, to have a celebrity physician tour medical facilities and diagnose injuries, to orchestrate family reunions…

For those of you too young to remember, The Magnificent Obsession was a 1954 remake of a 1935 movie based on a book of the same title by Lloyd C. Douglas. It starred Jane Wyman, who received a “best actress” Oscar nomination for her performance; Rock Hudson, for whom the movie was his vehicle to stardom; and Agnes Moorehead. Hudson’s role in this melodrama is that of a playboy turned philanthropist who learns that the greatest gifts are those given selflessly and in secret.

Bravos: I came across a website hurricanehousing.org, where individuals, ordinary folks, are offering free shelter to those in need. When last I looked, the site claimed “185,331 beds volunteered so far!” And the offers are coming from everywhere – New York City, Buffalo, Anchorage, Honolulu, Omaha, Providence, Seattle — the list goes on and covers the map. And many are offering more than place to sleep. I read descriptions that offered to help people find a job, enroll their children in the local school, buy clothing and food, and even take in pets. These are not wealthy people, and many make it clear that even though quarters might be tight, they want to help. This is true giving.

Fabulous dinner!!!

Every writing instructor and editor I’ve ever known has told me that exclamation marks are to be used sparingly, if at all, and never more than a one at a time. However, the dinner we had at Bond Street, an upscale contemporary Japanese restaurant in NOHO (that’s not Japanese; NOHO means North of Houston Street), was so amazing as to merit many more than the three I used in the title above.

How we came to dine there is a story in itself – a story about a young girl, a guitar, and a dog (actually two dogs) — no, it’s not about me. The girl is Eliza (ten years old, I’m guessing), and she lives in the building next door with her parents and their bird dog, Maddy (or is it Matty?). Eliza loves music, jazz, and studies guitar. The friendship began when the dogs meet on the street one day, and evolved with talk of music. Jim and Eliza became fast friends, attending one another’s concerts (luckily her parents like jazz, too, and they were all at the Y the other night), and sharing music (Jim wrote out the music to Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas for her, which I understand she has learned to play quite well.) The bond between the two families was forever cemented the day Eliza’s mom, a veterinarian, made a house call and saved our dog’s life. (Django had been previously misdiagnosed, and she discovered and treated him for Lyme disease.) So what’s this got to do with a fabulous Japanese dinner? Eliza’s dad is one of the owners of the restaurant.

Housed in a brownstone, Bond Street has no restaurant signage, just a discreet awning displaying the address. The staff is genial, and the waiters are not only well-versed in the smallest details of the menu, they can describe the nuances of each of the twenty-something different types of sake available.

Kateigaho – Japan’s Arts & Culture Magazine posts this description in their piece about Japanese Cuisine in NY:

Executive chef Hiroshi Nakahara presents innovative sushi made with the choicest, most elusive ingredients from all over the world, such as hon-maguro tuna from Spain and crabs from Alaska. He has impressed diners since the three-story restaurant opened in 1998. There’s seating for 200; high-spirited chefs welcome guests to counter seats, while the dining area is cozier.

“Luxe sushi served in a nightclub atmosphere makes for an enduring scene,” writes Ben Williams in a Citysearch Editorial Profile. I don’t really know what is meant by “an enduring scene,” but here’s what he wrote about the food:

“High-end Japanese goodies are sprinkled throughout the menu: Toro-caviar sushi comes with a decorative gold twist on top, foie gras meets seared tuna to intoxicating effect and arctic char garnished with truffles has almost too much flavor. Yellowtail is superb enough to make a special featuring four different types a highlight. Blue fin toro is the gorgeously soft center of a special roll. If you want variety, the excellent 6 Bond Nigiri special delivers six exotic combinations.”

10Best.com says:

This celebrity hot-spot offers an attractive setting, chic diners and an excellent menu to delight even the most fussy of palates. The creative kitchen comes up with delectable offerings such as oba-leaf sorbet and sushi topped with gold leaf. Order one of Bond Street’s many sakes, sit back, grab a cell phone and bask in the excitement and frantic activity that is New York. Business Casual, with a flair.

We sat in the back room on the second floor, one of the quieter rooms, where our party of four shared appetizers of Crispy Himeji Rouget with tomato ginger dressing, Crispy Goat Cheese Crab Cakes with pounded rice crust and carrot lemon coulis, and sashimi. For an entry, I opted for a sushi and sashimi plate that included the most delectable mirugai, ebi, hamachi, and other morsels, plus some kind of roll encrusted with sesame that came with a dipping sauce. The Broiled Chilean Sea Bass, marinated in saikyo miso, was melt-in-your mouth delicious, and the Grilled Rack of Lamb with Asian pear and shiso sauce was equally tasty. Even the desserts were out of this world – my favorite was Banana Milk Chocolate Dim Sum with hazelnuts & sweet sour cream dipping sauce, but others at the table raved about Chocolate Meltdown with coffee ice cream & fresh cream, the Ricotta Cup with yamamomo granita, and the Lychee Panna Cotta with strawberry rhubarb compote and vanilla syrup.

Check out the menu (I found one online here) and don’t forget to make a reservation.

6 Bond St, New York, NY 10012 • 212-777-2500 (between Broadway and Lafayette)

“Jazz on a String”

About a month ago, I shared an email from Los Angeles Times writer Don Heckman. In part, he wrote:

…writing an attack is easy, and sometimes it’s the appropriate thing to do. But writing something which points out problems with possible solutions is much harder and, I believe, demands more of one’s writing skill.

I admire his position, but there are times when I feel the public would be better served by his powers of critical thinking and his years of musical experience. Monday was one such time. Don and I both attended the sixth annual Instrumental Women’s show, “Jazz on a String” this past Saturday at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, and as my husband put it, “you two must have seen different shows.”

Don’s review opens with “An array of first-rate talent showed up…” but he never mentions that they could not be properly heard due to poor sound (a deficiency either of the sound system or the engineers) that turned the 18-piece string section into mud. And perhaps it was the chilled night air that troubled the strings’ ability to stay in tune. He describes Lesa Terry’s solos as “briskly swinging, jazz-driven” and mentions Cheryl Keyes “inventive flute soloing and dark-toned vocal,” but does that mean they were good? Lori Andrews “demonstrated a remarkable capacity to produce blues-bent improvised lines,” but to what end? Phyllis Battle may have been ebullient, but was she in good voice?

The two performances that he found “most intriguing” were Nedra Wheeler and the string octet from the Pasadena Young Musicians Orchestra. They were my favorites, too. I’ve written about Nedra before, and one of the things I love about her is that she embodies the music, she is jazz, and it comes through her playing and vocals, as well as her stage presence. The eight pretty high school violinists have a long way to go, but they played well on Lesa Terry’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s “The Preacher.”

Don’s only serious criticism was “the far too many announcements and introductions,” and he concludes, “It was, in sum, a fine evening of music.” I feel that while it was an entertaining evening, musically it was far from excellent.

Duke Ellington used to say that there are only two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. Arts education is virtually nonexistant in our schools, so it is up to the critics to inform John Q Audience that musical pyrotechniques do not mean that the music is good. Contrary to popular opinion as observed in myriad audience responses — opinion I suspect is largely based in ignorance — playing fast, bending notes, and changing keys does not make a musician a virtuoso. And singers who use over-the-top vocal tricks, growling and shouting, have forsaken the art of the song. A concert may be entertaining, and there is value in that, but does that mean the music was good? I think not.

Straighten Up and Fly Right

I am on a rant tonight against people, in all sorts of fields, who deliberately misrepresent themselves. As a nonfiction author and journalist I have a real problem with lies of all types and sizes. Today I read a 1500-word piece about a local event, 20% of which was devoted to quotes from a man who represented himself as the event’s producer. This man is always looking for exposure; he’s a player, all talk and little, if any, action. I was a publicist for many years, so I am no stranger to “marketing” tactics, but I draw the line at deceit and deception. People who give themselves false job titles are bad enough, but you have to be really stupid to lie to the media about it when there is someone else around who actually holds that title. Then again, it seems that many newspaper writers today (especially at local papers) do not bother to check the facts, so the lies get printed and become fact to those who do not know any better. My local Weekly is full of inaccuracies, mostly caused by writers running quotes (often from a friend or community gadfly) and not bothering to verify it or, if on a controversial subject, to check for rebuttal. People who deliberately mislead, and those who perpetuate the deception, whether knowingly or by virtue of their own laziness or stupidity, need to stop it.

It Takes More Than Chops

Modern Jazz Quartet, Paul Desmond, Jim Hall, Russell Mallone, Benny Green, the Heath Brothers, Ron Carter, Maria Schneider — jazz

Not long ago my husband and I were invited to a ‘bar and grill’ that features local jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. Despite its proximity to our home, we had never been there before, but a friend of a friend was promoting a new jazz pianist and we agreed to go. The program notes explained that the pianist, who was classically trained with a degree in piano performance, had been studying jazz for the last three or four years. She had played a few gigs with other groups, and tonight was her showcase with her trio.

Her opening was technically quite impressive, but anyone can attack the keyboard, it’s learning to caress it that’s hard. Still, flying fingers and big sounds go over well with today’s audiences. The more notes a player can squeeze into a single measure, the faster the tempo, the more brilliant the musician is assumed to be. Add in a modulation to a different key and the audience will be on its feet. We wished we could get on our feet too, not to applaud, but to head for the egress. Too many notes and not enough nuances are high on our list of pet peeves, but there were worse offenses to come.

She never once played a tune as it was written; not once did we hear the original melodic and harmonic lines before she began improvising. Her musical abstractions were like aural crayon scrawls of a two-year-old who had not yet learned basic shapes or how to color between the lines, and I wondered if she actually had ever learned any of the tunes. I didn’t have to wonder for long. She soon announced that while her piano teacher wanted her to study a song for weeks, she would quickly become too bored. No wonder all the tunes sounded alike – same key, same approach, same feel. Only the tempos varied. Obscured by the influence of Coltrane, even My Funny Valentine came out sounding like Giant Steps.

My husband often quotes Ben Webster talking about the importance of knowing the lyrics and telling the story with your instrument, and he ascribes the behavior of today’s audiences and young artists to inadequate arts education. There is an education gap, to be sure, but as the evening wore on, I began to view this pianist’s performance more as a rebellion against her classical training. I wished then, and I hope still, that someday she will return to some of the practices of the concert stage: the protocol that dictates some degree of formality in attire (unless it’s casual Friday), precludes long verbal digressions about one’s boyfriend or personal minutia, requires that the players learn the music, and obliges them to play as an ensemble (which is not the same thing as playing simultaneously). Such protocols, I would hasten to tell her, are not the sole pervue of the Mozart and Mahler crowd, they have been, and continue to be, well employed by the likes of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Paul Desmond, Jim Hall, Russell Mallone, Benny Green, the Heath Brothers, Ron Carter, Maria Schneider, and scores of other artists across all musical genres. Technique, alone, is never enough.