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When trademark becomes a tool for stealing our language

My latest Guardian column is "Trademarks: the good, the bad and the ugly," and it looks at why trademark, at its best, does something vital -- but how trademark can be abused to steal common words from our language and turn them into a twisted kind of pseudo-property.


Trademark lawyers have convinced their clients that they must pay to send a threatening notice to everyone who uses a trademark without permission, even where there is no chance of confusion. They send letters by the lorryload to journalists, website operators, signmakers, schools, dictionary publishers – anyone who might use their marks in a way that weakens the association in the public mind. But weakening an association is not illegal, despite the expansion of doctrines such as "dilution" and "naked licensing."

When called out on policing our language, trademark holders and their lawyers usually shrug their shoulders and say, "Nothing to do with us.

The law requires us to threaten you, or we lose our association, and thus our mark." This is a very perverse way of understanding trademark.

The law is there to protect the public interest, and the public interest isn't undermined by the strength or weakness of an association with a specific word or mark with a specific company. The public interest extends to preventing fraud, and trademark uses the motivation of protecting profits to incentivise firms to uphold the public interest.

Trademarks: the good, the bad and the ugly

Pirate Cinema up for Canada’s Aurora Award

The 2013 Prix Aurora Award ballot has been announced, and I'm delighted to see that my novel Pirate Cinema is up for the prize in the Young Adult category. The Auroras are a people's choice award given for Canadian science fiction and fantasy, and I'm delighted to be recognised in the land of my birth! The whole ballot is a great signpost to some wonderful Canadian literature, and the young adult section is particularly strong:

Best YA Novel – English
Above by Leah Bobet, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
The Calling by Kelley Armstrong, Harper Teen
Dissolve by Neil Godbout, Bundoran Press
Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero by Michell Plested, Five Rivers
Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow, TOR Teen
Under My Skin: Wildlings Series (Book 1) by Charles de Lint, Razorbill Canada

2013 Aurora Ballot Announced

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom read-aloud part 03

[NB: Some indeterminate screwup, which was nevertheless definitely caused by me being a stoop, caused this episode not to make it into my feed. I are a dum.]

As I mentioned in my March Locus column, I'm celebrating the tenth anniversary of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by planning a prequel volume. As part of that planning, I'm going to read aloud the entire text of that first book into the podcast, making notes on the book as I go. Here's part three.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

MP3 link

Publishing should fight ebook retailers for more data

I've got a guest column in the new edition of The Bookseller, the trade magazine for the UK publishing industry. It's called "Tangible Assets," and it points out that of all the fights that publishing has had with the ebook sector -- DRM, pricing, promotion -- the one they've missed is access to data. Whatever else is going on with publishers and Amazon, Google, Apple, et al, the fact that publishing knows almost nothing about its ebook customers and has no realtime view into its ebook sales; and that the ebook channel knows almost everything, instantaneously, is untenable and unsustainable.

I just came off a US tour for my YA novel Homeland, which Tor Teen published in the US in February, and which Titan will publish this coming September in the UK. I went to 23 cities in 25 days, a kind of bleary and awesome whirlwind where I got to see friends from across the USA—Internet People to a one—for about 8.5 minutes each, in a caffeinated, exhausted rush.

Inevitably, I had this conversation: "How's the book doing?" and I got to say: "Oh, awesome! It's a New York Times and Indienet bestseller!" (It stayed on the NYT list for four weeks, so I got to say this a lot). And then, always: "So, how many copies does that
come out to?" And my answer was always, "No one knows."

This is where the Internet People began to boggle. "No one knows?"

"Oh, there's some Nielsen reporting from the tills of participating booksellers—you can get that if you spend a fortune. But there's no realtime e-book numbers given to the publishers. We'll all find out exactly how the book performed in a couple of months."

And that's where they lost their minds. The irate squawks that emerged from their throats were audible for miles. "You mean Amazon, Apple and Google knows exactly who comes to their stores, how they find their way to your books, where they're coming in from, how many devices they use and when, and they don't tell the publishers?"


Tangible assets

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom read-aloud part 04

As I mentioned in my March Locus column, I'm celebrating the tenth anniversary of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by planning a prequel volume. As part of that planning, I'm going to read aloud the entire text of that first book into the podcast, making notes on the book as I go. Here's part four.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

MP3 link

Fox sends fraudulent takedown notices for my novel Homeland

My Creative Commons licensed, 2013 novel Homeland, the sequel to my 2008 novel Little Brother, spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and got great reviews around the country. But Fox apparently hasn't heard of it -- or doesn't care. They've been sending takedown notices to Google (and possibly other sites), demanding that links to legally shared copies of the book be removed.

These notices, sent under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, require that the person who signs them swears, on pain of perjury, that they have a good faith basis to assert that they represent the rightsholder to the work in question. So Fox has been swearing solemn, legally binding oaths to the effect that it is the rightsholder to a file called, for example, "Cory Doctorow Homeland novel."

It's clear that Fox is mistaking these files for episodes of the TV show "Homeland." What's not clear is why or how anyone sending a censorship request could be so sloppy, careless and indifferent to the rights of others that they could get it so utterly wrong. I have made inquiries about the possible legal avenues for addressing this with Fox, but I'm not optimistic. The DMCA makes it easy to carelessly censor the Internet, and makes it hard to get redress for this kind of perjurious, depraved indifference.



Fox Censors Cory Doctorow’s “Homeland” Novel From Google

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom read-aloud part 02 – fixed

As I mentioned in my March Locus column, I'm celebrating the tenth anniversary of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by planning a prequel volume. As part of that planning, I'm going to read aloud the entire text of that first book into the podcast, making notes on the book as I go. Here's part three.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

MP3 link

Pirate Cinema nominated for the Prometheus Award

I was delighted today to discover that my novel Pirate Cinema had been nominated for the Libertarian Futurist Society's annual Prometheus Award, amid a slate of absolutely wonderful books:

Arctic Rising, Tobias Buckell (Tor)
The Unincorporated Future, Dani & Eytan Kollin (Tor)
Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctorow (Tor)
Darkship Renegades, Sarah Hoyt (Baen)
Kill Decision, Daniel Suarez (Penguin)

I was proud as punch to win the award for my novel Little Brother, and I'm very excited to be back on the roster. Many thanks to the jurors.


2013 PROMETHEUS AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

Locus Poll is open – tell them about your favorite sf/f of 2012

The 43d Locus Poll and Survey is open for your picks of the best science fiction and fantasy of the past year, as well as your survey answers (Locus has been collecting detailed statistical information about science fiction readers for, well, 43 years now). You needn't be a subscriber to fill in the survey, though subscribers' votes are weighted more heavily in the awards.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that I have two books on the ballot this year: Rapture of the Nerds (with Charlie Stross) and Pirate Cinema; they're in some very good company as well.

Locus Poll and Survey

My HOW I WORK interview


I did a How I Work interview for Lifehacker, where I talked about the tools I use, and how I use them:

What apps/software/tools can't you live without?

Ubuntu and the suite of GNU tools in any robust Unix system. A good text editor (currently Gedit)—I keep all of my working files at .txts. A robust, highly configurable browser (Firefox/Firefox for Android). A fast RSS reader (presently Google Reader, likely to be Newsblur next). A tetherable mobile connection—I use EasyTether for Android to circumvent tether-blocking as deployed by some of the carriers I use around the world, especially Rogers in Canada. AirDroid for moving files on/off Android devices in my life. An external USB battery (currently PowerGen 5200mAh External Battery Pack).

A rugged, roomy, weatherproof backpack (currently a Bagjack Skidcat). A moneyclip. A small, six-card credit-card wallet. LibreOffice spreadsheets for bookkeeping. GPG, cryptsetup, and TrueCrypt for information security. A high-performance mailer with functional scripting engine (currently Thunderbird with a ton of rules and a huge black-listed kill file and white-listed address book). A titanium Widgy keychain prybar (pictured at right)—useful as a pocket knife but flies (heh) under TSA/BAA radar. No-name, easy to replace earbuds with integrated mic for phone. Exeze waterproof MP3 player for swimming. AquaSphere Seal swim goggles—I swim everyday for about an hour and listen to last night's CBC's As It Happens news podcast. Exeze + Aquasphere are a reasonably priced, reliable goggles/MP3 combo. GoToob silicone bottles for shampoo/soap for the pool—these have strong, reliable suction cups that stick them perfectly to the shower wall.

A no-name, cheap mini screwdriver set—I get these confiscated about six times a year by airport security, especially the jerks at Gatwick airport, but it's worth buying a new set every time. Catering-sized sachets of Tabasco—these don't show up as liquid on airport scanners, unlike the mini bottles. I put Tabasco on everything. I'd use it for contact-lens solution if I could. Aeropress—the single most versatile and reliable way of making coffee, especially on the road. Perfect when paired with a Porlex hand-grinder.

I’m Cory Doctorow, and This Is How I Work

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