Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I still don't understand!

When I see that the last book I blogged about was The Good Soldier, I begin to sweat a little. I've read quite a few books since I finished that, and some of them are worthy of serious comment. I may never get to them all, however, and so I'll do the best that I can.

One of the books I read while I was on vacation was Many Thing You No Understand by Adaora Lily Ulasi. I picked this book up at the library. It was published in Great Britain in 1970, and I have no idea if it was ever released in the United States, nor if the author wrote any other books.

She was born in Nigeria, the daughter of an Ibo chief, and some of the incidents in Many Thing You No Understand are based on incidents she recalled from her childhood. After reading the book, I can’t help wondering...which ones?

The story takes place in pre-WWII Africa, when much of the continent was ruled by Britain. The first sentence of the story is a tongue-in-cheek indication of the remoteness of the story location. You take the train from the coast and in four days you’re at Ukana, a former village which now enjoys the rank and style of a township.

Four DAYS?

In this remote location, a single British man, an Assistant District Officer, is employed to administer justice and uphold the law. He keeps court hours, and listens to property disputes, accusations of adultery and incest, and cases involving theft, handing down sentences of fines or jail time as required. Most of his business is conducted through an interpreter, and there is a lot of humor in the manner in which the interpretations are handled.

Assistant District Officer (ADO): Mr. Jonah Udochi. On July 26th a consignment of corrugated iron, the property of I.O.A. Ltd. was found on your premises, covered with palm leaves. What do you say to that?

Interpreter: The ADO said, that you thief IOA. zinc. What say?

ADO: Ask him whether the corrugated iron got there by osmosis?

Interpreter: He said, they come to your house by wind?

ADO: Tell him that he should be ashamed of himself!

Interpreter: Mr. Udochi, the ADO say, shame, shame!

However, in spite of some humor, this is not at all a light-hearted story. It is a clash of cultures and values, and of the methods of dealing with those clashes.

The chief of a nearby village dies, and, according to custom, some 20 or 30 thirty heads are buried with him. The new ADO, who has only been stationed at Ukana for six months, is horrified by the practice, but would have had no cause to interfere except for one thing. The brother of one of the “heads” acquired for the burial brings an accusation against the men who waylaid and killed his brother, including learning their identities and giving their names to the court.

Presented with the names and the positive witness, the new ADO is prepared to arrest the culprits and pursue justice. His much more experieced District Officer would greatly prefer that the matter be dropped, and in fact, it appears that is what is likely to happen. The accuser and chief witness is suddenly reduced to babbling madness, and sent away for treatment.

Should the British officers seek out the accused (who are hiding while their own deaths are being asserted)? What caused the sudden illness of the witness? Is it better to let the whole matter fade away? The inexperienced ADO and his superior strive gently over the best way to handle things, until the ADO himself begins hallucinating feverishly.

No one--but no one--comes right out and says so, but it is clear that witchcraft or poison is behind some of the “illnesses.” Neither British doctors nor the local witch doctor are able to cure the symptoms.

The conclusion of the story is a bit chilling. The British officers not only fail to achieve justice for the murdered brother (to say nothing of the 20-30 others), but they individually fall prey to the culture they are trying to control. One loses his job; the other loses his life.

I found this story interesting--I’m always intrigued by the interaction of different cultures--but rather unsatisfactory. Aside from showing that the “civilized” English culture was really no match for the “uncivilized” people of Ukana, very little in the way of useful suggestion is made. After reading this book, I’m still in the same position that the title asserts: Many thing you no understand.

It’s all well and good to tell me I don’t understand, but I would prefer a book that went a step further than that and tried to enlighten me a bit as well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Copyrights, Copywrongs

I've been browsing on various craft sites recently, and one topic keeps coming up over and over again. Copyrights! Copyrights to patterns, that it. There are thousands of free patterns available on the internet for everything from clothes to purses to jewelry to wood-cuts to bookmarks to rugs...

Basically, if you want to make something, try an internet search, and you will find a free pattern. Now suppose you make a few purses or hats or scarves (from those patterns or others) and want to sell a bazaar, a craft fair, on ebay, or merely to gullible enthusiastic friends and family? "No!" say most of the web sites on the topic. You cannot sell these items because you would be violating the pattern designer's copyright. You can only sell if you have permission from the pattern designer. (And lots of pattern designers want to deny that permission.)

All this misinformation bothers me, not because I sell anything, but because plenty of entrepreneurial folks (often stay-at-home moms) are using their skills, time, and talent to make things and supplement the family income by a few dollars. (No one ever got rich selling handicrafts!) On any number of sites, I read accusations that these folks were infringing copyrights and (this is my favorite) "violating international copyright laws." (There are no international copyright laws--only some treaties, which not all countries have signed.)

Why do people assert facts when they know nothing about them? Maybe they just got their information from some of those other websites that tell you you are violating copyright laws by making and selling things you did not personally design. A few of these even virtuously quote from part of the copyright code itself, asserting a copyright holder's exclusive rights "(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords; (2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work." They are claiming, of course, that items made from patterns published for the express purpose of explaining how to make the item are "derivative works."

Apparently, they didn't read the whole thing.

It's one of my personal quirks to always, always go to the source for primary information. I read the United States Title 17 Copyright Code, and you can, too. For starters, the above quote is prefaced in this way: "Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to etc., etc...."

Guess what sections 107 to 122 cover? Limitations to exclusive rights, that's what. The section of the code most relevant to pattern designers is 113:

§ 113. Scope of exclusive rights in pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.

(a) Subject to the provisions of subsections (b) and (c) of this section, the exclusive right to reproduce a copyrighted pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work in copies under section 106, includes the right to reproduce the work in or on any kind of article, whether useful or otherwise.

(b) This title does not afford, to the owner of copyright in a work that portrays a useful article as such, any greater or lesser rights with respect to the making, distribution, or display of the useful article so portrayed than those afforded to such works under the law, whether title 17 or the common law or statutes of a State, in effect on December 31, 1977, as held applicable and construed by a court in an action brought under this title.

(c) In the case of a work lawfully reproduced in useful articles that have been offered for sale or other distribution to the public, copyright does not include any right to prevent the making, distribution, or display of pictures or photographs of such articles in connection with advertisements or commentaries related to the distribution or display of such articles, or in connection with news reports.

The most important bits here are (b) and (c). A copyright does not afford the copyright owner any rights with respect to the making or distribution (including selling) or display of the "useful article" portrayed in the copyrighted material--the written pattern itself. Pay close attention to (c). In the case of a work lawfully reproduced (in other words, made from any pattern you have lawfully acquired), a copyright does not include any right to prevent others from displaying pictures of items that are being offered for sale. (In the course of my research, I ran across a quilting website that said you couldn't enter or display a quilt in a country fair without the pattern designer's permission, as the copyrighted design supposedly protected the display of the copyrighted material.)

If you have designed a cute sweater pattern and published it in any way, for charge or for free, your copyright entitles you only to protect the distribution of your pattern, not the sweaters diligent needle-workers have made. Dear pattern designer...if this disturbs you, you are always free to keep your patterns for your personal use and not share or sell them. (Although we hope you don't, because we so appreciate good patterns!) Dear seller of handicrafts, rest confident that you have not joined the ranks of criminals by selling items you have made from any lawfully-acquired patterns. You do not need to seek out that Japanese or Russian or anonymous pattern designer for special permission. You are the reason I did this research and made this post.

A few other points:

Copyright law includes definitions, and a "useful article" is defined in this way: A “useful article” is an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information. An article that is normally a part of a useful article is considered a “useful article”. Toys, clothes, accessories such as jewelry, and so forth, are "useful articles" that do not exist merely to show art work. Original artwork that can be separated and displayed apart from the useful article (such as a picture on a sweater or shirt or tote bag) may be protected by copyright. But not necessarily. Consider this case.

I am not a lawyer or copyright expert. I don't necessarily trust my interpretation of the law (although it seems pretty clear) any more than you should. Therefore, I sent the following question via email to the copyright office of the United States (you can contact them through the website linked above). "Does copyright protection of patterns extend to forbidding items made from the pattern to be sold? If I have a legally acquired pattern of a knitted scarf, a sewn skirt, or a cross-stitch sampler, may I sell the item made from the pattern with my materials, time, and skill? May a pattern designer, offering a pattern for others to make something, determine what is done with the completed item?"

I received an answer on June 19, 2007, from which I quote: "Copyright in a pattern normally pertains to the pattern itself, not to the object that you construct from the pattern."

I'm not asking you to take my word for it, but I suggest those who have a vested interest in the subject get their information from reliable sources, not from craft websites written by those who want to guard or protect their work beyond the point allowed by the actual law. There is an awful lot of confusion and misinformation on this subject floating around the internet. Controlling the distribution of objects based on original ideas or even patterns requires a patent, not a copyright, and those are much harder to acquire.

Keep crafting!


Absentee Blogger Reappears!

When I've neglected my blog this long, I sometimes don't quite know how to get the ball rolling again.

But I know infrequent bloggers, and when they have something to post, they post, and don't even mention the fact that they haven't posted in a month, and before that post there was a six week lapse. They just go ahead and say what they have to say, then disappear into the ether until they have something to say again.

I should do that.

Maybe next time I will.

Sometimes I have a lot to say. Sometimes not. Sometimes I don't have time to write what I think. Surely I'm not the only once who has ever composed blog posts in her head that never saw the light of the blogosphere? Sometimes I'm just doing things instead of blogging about them.

I've been reading books, had a great vacation, finished four crochet projects, and researched a topic of interest to me.

Time to dust off this blog and share.

Watch this space.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Absentee Blogger Award for June 2007!

If there were such an award...reminiscent of the "stinky sock award" given to the campers with the dirtiest cabin...I would win it.

Because this is my first post for June, and just about all I'm going to say is...I'm going away for a week, and won't have internet access!

But I hope to do much better the second half of the month, listing my reading log for May, sharing about the books I read on vacation, showing pictures of the gorgeous countryside I'm going to visit, and maybe figuring out that regular posting schedule I mentioned before.

I've got another cool crochet project or two to show, too, as well as some neat historical stuff from Krakow to tell about. Really, there's so much to blog about, I just haven't been able to decide what to do first, and that's why the dust bunnies in here are the size of camels.

I shall return, trailing unfinished blog posts when I come.