2013-12-22

Copyrighting your work

I would like to share an email I received the other day:

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Hello, doug_farren --

We have removed your document "Dragonverse" (id: 38242235) because our text matching system determined that it was very similar to a work that has been marked as copyrighted and not permitted on Scribd.

Like all automated matching systems, our system is not perfect and occasionally makes mistakes. If you believe that your document is not infringing, please contact us at copyright@scribd.com and we will investigate the matter.

As stated in our terms of use, repeated incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your Scribd.com account and prohibit you from uploading material to Scribd.com in the future. To prevent us from having to take these steps, please delete from scribd.com any material you have uploaded to which you do not own the necessary rights and refrain from uploading any material you are not entitled to upload. For more information about Scribd.com's copyright policy, please read the Terms of Use located at http://www.scribd.com/terms.

Best regards,

Scribd Support Team
Questions? http://scribd.com/faq


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Although I'm not positive, here is what I think happened: Some time ago, someone copied the text of Dragonverse and uploaded it under a new title to Scribd. Recently, Smashwords reached an agreement with Scribd and uploaded my books. Their text matching program noted that the new arrival matched an existing book and flagged mine (since it was the most recent) as being in violation of copyright. Thus the email. I have responded to this issue and hope to have it resolved quickly.

The email also got me thinking about Copyright law. The law states that a written work is protected under copyright law the moment it is created, all one must do is to affix the copyright symbol, the year, and the name of the author. Proof of authorship is usually accomplished by publication. The author is not required to file for a copyright with the Copyright Office. After I received the above email, I did some research and discovered there is a very good reason for an author to fork over the $35.00.

The biggest reason is creating solid proof that you are the author of a given work. Once you file a copyright, you are fully protected and proof is easy. You are still protected if you don't file but proving you are the author is a bit more difficult and pursuing legal action against someone who is illegally using your work becomes more difficult. But there is another, even scarier reason for every author to file for an official copyright.

Here's the scenario: An author publishes a new work by uploading it to Amazon. The day it becomes available, some crook buys the book then sends the file in to the copyright office claiming they are the author and giving a false date that precedes the date the book was first published. He gets a copyright that, according to the government, is earlier than the publication date and then the crook can try to sue the author for copyright infringement. Proving authorship is now much more difficult and getting the copyright transferred to the proper owner becomes a painful legal problem.

My advice to all writers - file for a copyright before you actually publish your book. The process is simple: go to the U.S. Copyright Office and click on the "Electronic Copyright Office" icon. Setting up an account is quick and simple and uploading your manuscript is easy. If your books are available in print format you may be asked to submit two copies to the Library of Congress. This requirement can be waived if you have a good enough reason. The cost of obtaining a copyright is $35.00 per manuscript. It becomes official as soon as you submit.

If you're already published but have not yet registered - stop reading and go do this right now.

In other news: I will be starting work on a Peacekeeper sequel within the next couple of days. Tom Wilks will be learning what it means to be gragrakch. I'm also giving him another challenge to overcome. And, although my co-workers have been urging me to write a book entirely about the "Porn Planet", I will not do so. I prefer to keep all my books clean enough for young adults to read.

Have a happy holiday and a wonderful new year!

2013-12-15

Writing as a business

If you're a writer and you plan on making money from it you should treat your writing as a business. Even if you are just starting or have made very little so far, you still need to seriously consider your writing as a business--here's why.

  • If you travel to do research, the mileage is deductible (only applies if you have a home office).
  • If you can establish a home office, you can deduct the portion of your utilities, home insurance, rent, home loan interest, and several other items off your business income.
  • Meals, trips to to conventions (i.e. DragonCon), and purchases of educational and writing-related publications are deductible.
The only downside to forming a business is the extra taxes you must pay on your earnings. If you're receiving good royalty payments and you have very little deductible expenses then perhaps just claiming the extra income is your best option. The only way to know for sure is to run the numbers. In my situation, having a business is the way to go.

So now that you've decided to form a business, now what? First, go get yourself a copy of Home Business Tax Deductions then study it. Don't just read it, study it. Tax law is a complex subject and it's easy to miss an important detail. Next, take the following steps:

  • Establish a LEGAL home office. Record the dimensions of this office area and take a picture of it.
  • Start a business journal. State the date the business was started and then continue with entries documenting important business activities. It's sort of like a diary for your business. You can use anything from a paper notebook to a cross-platform, cloud-based solution. I use EverNote because I can make an entry from any device.
  • Open up a separate checking account for the business. This is not required but is highly recommended.
  • Get or designate an existing credit card for business use only.
  • Get into the habit of documenting everything you do that is business related. Record the reason for and the mileage of every trip. Record when, where, and who you had business meals with. Record the time you spend in your office and the time spent using shared resources (like a computer that is used for business and pleasure). The IRS loves to see documentation--meticulous documentation. I like to use Google calendar so I can record every business activity in half-hour increments and I can access it from any device I own.
  • Get yourself some business cards.
  • Set up a website.
  • Create an e-mail for business use only.
Above all else, document your business activities and become familiar with how to treat your writing activities as a business. I would also recommend doing business as if you expect to be audited. Home businesses are audited more often than normal tax payers. If you keep your deductions legal and maintain accurate and timely documentation you will sail through any audit. The IRS realizes that many people try to claim more than they are allowed. Don't do this! Honesty and faithful adherence to the law will keep you out of trouble.

I am not a tax expert but if you have any questions as to how I do things myself, please feel free to drop me an e-mail. I can be reached at: author@dougfarren.com

2013-12-08

The Price of Technology

The other day my wife’s nephew took over my TV and started showing pictures on it using an old cell phone I had given him. Being a techno-nerd, I just had to figure out how. It didn't take long but then I wanted to try out a video. That failed. While researching why I ran across a way-cool app called Skifta. After loading a helper program on my media center computer I now have the ability to send any picture or video on my home network to any DLNA compliant TV within range of my cell phone no matter where I am. I had no idea my phone could do something like this! And that got me to thinking about this month’s post – how much does today’s technology cost us and is it worth it?

Let’s set the wayback machine (remember that?) to 1978. The internet did not exist. The median family income was $15,060 (U.S. Dept of Commerce ‘Current Population Report’, 02/1980). Consumers could buy a TRS-80, PET, or an Apple II computer for around $400.00. Although I can’t find an official reference, I believe the average consumer paid about $12.00 a month for a phone line. Television was free but limited to what you could pull out of the air.

In today’s world a normal person will pay over $100.00 a month for 200+ TV channels. Land lines are quickly becoming a thing of the past and most people will part with another $100.00 a month for the privilege of owning a cell phone. The internet has also become a service that most people cannot do without and a medium-speed internet connection is going to run you about $40.00 per month. These are all low-end estimates but they add up to a monthly drain on our financial resources of $240.00. As a reference, the median family income as of 2011 is $50,054.

Over the past 35 years the price of having access to the technology we use every day has increased by 2083% while the median income has increased 332%. Looking at it another way, technology amounted to less than 1% of a family’s income in 1978 while today it consumes 5.75%. Is it worth it?

The vast majority of the population will say that technology is well-worth the cost. We have nearly instant communications with each other no matter where we are. We have a mind-boggling variety of interference-free entertainment options and we are connected like we've never been before. I am a heavy user of technology. Because of it, I have become a successful indie author. But, as a writer, I also know there is a flip-side to every coin.

Technology has served to widen the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Because of its cost, those living on the edge a few decades ago have been left behind. And the gap is widening. As the cost continues to grow, the income necessary to access technology will go up creating a further divide between us. But there is hope.

There are now government programs to provide cell phones to the poor. Most libraries now have public computers allowing anyone to gain access to the internet. My hope is that, one day, cable companies will offer free basic TV and internet service to anyone unable to afford to pay for a monthly subscription. The people in the ‘haves’ category can also do their part by donating used computers and cell phones to organizations that will put them into the hands of the less fortunate.


Is technology worth the cost? Yes it is. If you can afford to own the latest wiz-bang gadget your purchases will help fund the development of even more advanced technology. But you should also realize that not everyone is as fortunate and you should do your part in helping others enjoy the benefits of our modern society. Help stomp out greed. Give when you can. Don’t look down on the less fortunate but reach out a helping hand to them. We are all human and everyone deserves to share the experience of living in the modern world.

2013-12-01

Guest Post: Linda Nagata -- Writing the Near Future

I met Linda Nagata in the summer of 2012 at the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop in Laramie, Wyoming. Linda is an award-winning indie writer of hard science fiction. She has a particular knack for character development as well as portraying an incredibly clear picture of what the future may be like. Her most recent novel 'The Red: First Light' is an incredibly gripping, enjoyable read.

 The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata
Certain activities strike me as unwise risks—big wave surfing for example, or scaling a sheer cliff without ropes, or writing near-future fiction.

All stories age. Even those set in the author’s present, that accurately reflect the time and place in which they were written, can come to seem quaint, offensive, or just plain wrong as societal values change. Setting a story in the far future or the undocumented past can’t save an author either, as the plot, the attitudes of the characters, and the theme, will still reflect the author’s values, or the values of a society the author is raging against.

(On the other hand, if a story is set in a very distant period, than much can be forgiven: xkcd.com/771/)

Near-future science fiction is especially vulnerable to aging out. Back in the ’70s, the standard catchphrase “It’s 1984” was used all the time when there was any hint of government surveillance impinging on civil liberties, but we’re long past the date of Orwell’s novel and the phrase is rarely heard anymore -- and these days, with the abundance of social media, many of us are signing up to be surveilled. Technology evolves in unexpected ways, values change, history happens -- and story worlds become obsolete.

This fear of early obsolescence or “aging out” makes the near future a scary place to set a novel. What’s the lifespan of a book going to be when the associated history is changing even as the novel is written? My newest novel, The Red: First Light, is set in the very near future. I needed to have “a war going on somewhere.” For various reasons I decided to set the opening conflict in the African Sahel, only to have the region become a big item in the news just before publication. I crossed my fingers and hoped that unfolding political events would not make the story irrelevant. Other elements used in the story have also been making the news, but I won’t mention those for fear of spoilers.

Selecting which technological aspects of the story world will stay the same as in the present, and which will change, is the next near-future booby trap. When trying to set a story in what is almost-but-not-quite the real world, it’s good to keep in mind that change isn’t constant and that well-adapted technologies can stick around for a long time, even as other aspects of the world evolve. It’s also true that individuals adopt new devices at different rates. I got my first smart phone only about a year ago (and good luck trying to pry it out of my hands!) while my husband is content with a phone that just does text messages and calls. So it’s fair to include familiar elements and old-fashioned people.

And then there’s the issue of keeping up with, of being aware of, what is actually possible now. Earlier this year, a team at Stanford discussed their work creating biological computers to function inside of cells, in 2012 a quadriplegic was controlling a robotic arm via brain implants, and at least within the United States the legality and limits of drone surveillance and technology has become a subject of hot debate. As many have already said, we’re living in a science fiction world. With so much going on, is there any need to make things up?

Well...yes. Yes, there is. But still...

Technology is evolving so quickly, in so many places, in so many forms, that it’s all too possible to discover that a made up “future” tech already exists, with its potential repercussions researched and discussed. It’s almost certain that an author will miss some technological development, likely well known to those working in a particular field, that might have affected the story.

One further little twist: There’s also the question of what is “real.” Remember the mosquito spy drone? Not real, of course, but maybe next year? All these are good, sensible reasons for a writer to stay away from near-future fiction, but despite all that, some of us keep wading in. I like the subgenre, particularly for its relevance to this world we actually live in. Besides, it’s a great excuse to spend time delving into subjects I might not have been aware of, or had the time to look into, otherwise.

Research can be addictive though, and it’s easy to get derailed by details, stymied by the question of whether or not you’ve got it “right enough.” And then there’s the temptation to include all sorts of extrapolation in a story, to explain everything. Robert Jackson Bennett has used the phrase “Hot Mess Novels of Excess” to describe big, sprawling efforts, including his own. Plenty of great books fall into this category, and extrapolative science fiction is full of them.

Taking the opposite approach, an author can deliberately narrow the focus of the story. Less to go wrong that way, right? Maybe. Still, it’s a legitimate choice to aim for a fast-paced, focused tale. This can be techno-thriller territory, cross-genre stuff that can appeal outside the bounds of the science fiction genre – and in full-disclosure mode, this was my goal with The Red: First Light.

So how important is it to stay accurate to the world? Is an extrapolative SF novel spoiled if history or technology overruns it? Yes, sometimes. But a well-written novel can survive long past the obsolescence of the history it contains or the technology it projects. Though I call this sort of near-future science fiction “extrapolative,” we all know science fiction isn’t predictive. It’s a thought experiment. A test bed of what could happen, and where we might be going. A reflection of the human condition.

In the end, it’s the strength of the story that matters.

I think it’s best to regard near-future fiction as impending alternate histories—stories set in parallel universes, still familiar to us, but where events are sure to follow a divergent path.


Linda Nagata is the author of multiple novels and short stories including The Bohr Maker, winner of the Locus Award for best first novel, and the novella “Goddesses,” the first online publication to receive a Nebula award. Her story “Nahiku West” was a finalist for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Her newest science fiction novel is the near-future military thriller The Red: First Light. Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and lately an independent publisher. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui. Find her online at: MythicIsland.com.