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Copyright, the Internet, and Original Fiction

The Blog’s Split Personality

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This was supposed to be an introduction to a short series I’m putting on here, but my thoughts got away from me. Nevertheless, I’m not one to waste thoughts.
When I look back on the rapid growth of the online world, the sentiment I keep feeling is that it really grew out of control too fast. The reason we deal with things like torrents, file sharing and emulators, stuff that’s illegal at worst, ambiguously gray at best, it’s really because the ‘net grew so quickly that we didn’t have time to regulate it, or ensure stuff like this never happened. Possibly the old guard didn’t really understand how it could be used until it was too late, but these days it just gives the impression of a genie that was let out of the bottle, and can never be put back in. It’s difficult, ethically ambiguous, and likely impossible to put copyright restrictions on something as impossible to regulate as the internet. Given the rise of things like DRM, and the heavy protection around newer mediums like Netflix, I get the impression that the Powers That Be will watch all knew multimedia like a hawk, and load it up with as much security as possible so the same scenario never happens again.


This openness doesn’t just bite into companies, though. It also bites into individuals, and the content they create. I’ve been advised in the past that if I’m going to post anything creative or original on the net, that I’d better watermark and copyright the hell out of it, lest it be stolen and re-purposed. Even if you put those restrictions on it, there’s nothing you can really do to prevent someone just Photoshopping them out. Sometimes it even happens unintentionally, like when a line from a Kate Beaton comic became a meme, then became a meme attached to Grumpy Cat, then showed up on Grumpy Cat merchandise being sold for money, all without anyone really realizing the content was stolen. (Read more here).


It goes back to Political Pessimism. If you’re putting that content out there, sooner or later someone’s going to make a grab for it. If you’re going to hide it behind a pay wall, sooner or later someone’s going to find a way to avoid paying their money for it, like the story I once heard on Penny Arcade about people torrenting games where you could pick your payment, meaning they’d rather bootleg it than pay a single cent.

Now, I’m not going to assert moral high ground here. As full disclosure, I have torrented and downloaded media myself, sometimes for specific reasons, sometimes for no reason. I won’t attempt to rationalize it, either, save that at least I was aware of its moral ambiguity.

Now, for what I came here to actually talk about. Back in the day, I wrote a long, multi-chapter story called A History Unforgiven. Its quality was about what you’d expect from a high schooler, to put it mildly. A quasi-medieval post-apocalyptic story about a rebellion in a kingdom in a desert, lifting liberally from Dune and 1984, and hijacking Pink Floyd lyrics for what must have been at least a quarter of all the prose. As I wrote it, I posted it publicly on a website for original fiction, not thinking at the time that I’d be endangering any attempts to use it for something else. Fortunately, it wasn’t stolen, but it made me think. Did I really think I was going to use it for something else? Make money off it? Not really, as I became aware of all the issues it had.


So, what I was intending to introduce was a couple of stories I’ve written, starring a pair of characters I invented for another project that didn’t work out, but I decided to use in other situations. They’re Martin Gallo, a cynical, curmudgeonly kid who may, in fact, be his own worst enemy, and his optimistic but exasperated lady friend, Caroline Dreier. Each story will be put up here in two parts for the next two weeks.


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