Dog-Eared and Dispatched: June 22, 2014
Welcome to this week’s amble through the tangled thickets of book culture. There’s good news on the copyright front, as US courts rule that the character of Sherlock Holmes is part of the public domain. We’ve also got some summer reading recommendations for you, and news about Amazon (but not about Hachette). There are some substantial footnotes on net neutrality, Haruki Murakami, Gordon Lish, and more. Ready. Steady… Read!
Get out your deerstalkers, the character of Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. After the Doyle estate threatened to sue for licensing fees over a book of Holmes stories based on the canonical tales, Leslie Klinger instead sued the estate, arguing that his stories did not infringe on the ten late stories still in copyright. A judge agreed with Klinger; the Doyle estate appealed, and this latest verdict upholds the lower court’s decision in favor of Leslie Klinger, realistic copyright limitations, and readers everywhere. As Judge Richard A. Posner remarked: “Flat characters thus don’t evolve. Round characters do; Holmes and Watson, the estate argues, were not fully rounded off until the last story written by Doyle. What this has to do with copyright law eludes us […] Anyway, it appears that the Doyle estate is concerned not with specific alterations in the depiction of Holmes or Watson in Holmes-Watson stories written by authors other than Arthur Conan Doyle, but with any such story that is published without payment to the estate of a licensing fee,” and since copyright is supposed to support creativity rather than greed, it’s elementary. [The Guardian, Moby Lives!, University of Chicago Law School News]
Now that midsummer has passed, you can finally get serious about your summer reading. If you haven’t yet made your summer reading list, we’ve rounded up some of the suggestions floating around out there. Big name TED talk speakers have some ideas that range as wildly as the recommenders—from Slavoj Žižek to David Sedaris (and yes, some female authors, too). If you want something a bit more goal-oriented, the short lists for the 2014 PEN literary awards were announced this week; the linked article includes access to free samples from the selections. I particularly liked People in the Trees and An Armenian Sketchbook which are great—and also the only ones on the list I’ve read. The debut authors on the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize shortlist could especially use your love. In case you haven’t yet read Midnight’s Children, you can say you’re staying current because English PEN has awarded Salman Rushdie the 2014 PEN/Pinter Prize. Finally, you can help Colbert put California on the bestseller list—it launches July 7, so you’ll have plenty of time to read it before the weather gets cold. Really, though, you don’t need a list—though there are countless options if you do—dare to read haphazardly. It’s summer. Enjoy it.[TED talks, Galleycat, PEN, English PEN, CS Monitor, Google]
We were really hoping to leave Amazon out of the column this week, but too much went on this week to leave you out of the loop. The Department of Labor is investigating the deaths of workers in Amazon warehouse facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Management at one of the warehouses disavowed responsibility: “Temporary staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for the safety and health of temporary employees. These employers must assess the work site to ensure that workers are adequately protected from potential hazards.” In other words, it’s not their fault if their warehouses are dangerous—the temp agencies are (legally) liable. OSHA states that the five “temporary staffing agencies each face $6,000 in penalties proposed by OSHA and have 15 business days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, ask for an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.” Poor workplace conditions in Amazon warehouses are not new; we’re hoping they become old news soon. Oh, yes, and Amazon also packaged audible books into the Kindle iOS app and announced a device for increasing consumer debt. Early remarks on the new device are tepid at best: “Amazon’s new gadget is less a phone than a pocketable cash register hooked directly into the retailer’s intelligent warehouses.” Which warehouses? Oh, right. [Department of Labor, Moby Lives!, Galleycat, Forbes, New York Times]
- Gordon Lish is, after all, only an editor.
- A Bloomsday time capsule in need of support.
- #Keeping Score at the world cup.
- A fan video of “psychologically minded novelist” Haruki Murakami: “He says he sometimes writes his novels in English—which is not his first language—to limit his vocabulary and assume an odd relationship to ordinary life.”
- Apple has settled in one of the ebook price-fixing civil suits; further bulletins as events warrant.
- American Library Association supports net neutrality: “Bandwidth and access should be offered on equal terms to all willing to pay. Otherwise, broadband providers will be free to leverage their quasi-monopolies into lucrative but market-distorting agreements. The vitality of voices on the Internet is critical to the intellectual freedom that libraries around the world are trying to protect and promote. Laws that preserve Net Neutrality are the best way to preserve a vibrant diversity of viewpoints into the foreseeable future.” (via Moby Lives!)
- Mike Shatzkin considers the battle between Amazon and the Big Publishers; spoiler alert: no one looks good.
- Amy Stolls has been appointed director of literature at the National Endowment for the Arts; she has been serving as acting director since May 2013.