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Harlan Ellison battles AOL: Are you concerned about intellectual property rights?

The current issue of Writer’s Digest (May 2004) raises serious questions about writers’ rights. Chief among them is Internet piracy, and Harlan Ellison’s battle with AOL is tightly focused in Robert W. Bly’s interview with Ellison. As anyone who has read Ellison before knows, the writer is only slightly opinionated and has no qualms speaking out. Ellison certainly blames the Internet for much of the woes beleaguering writers today, but he also has a lot to say about “amateurs…the ones who give their stories away….” WD makes the full transcript available online. Although Ellison has settled with the individual who put his material up on the site without authorization, he’s fighting AOL because they did not respond immediately to his request to remove the material. You have to give the man credit: he puts his money where his mouth is. His entire retirement money–he’s 79 yrs–is at risk with this lawsuit, and we all know who benefits in the long run from any court case. If, after reading more, you agree with Ellison and want to help, consider donating to KICK Internet Policy.

For a calmer consideration, check out Hugo and Nebula nominee Kent Brewster’s plea. I confess I lean toward Ellison’s concerns regarding the rights issue. As a writer who strives to derive some income from my ideas and opinions, I also share concerns about the future of writers and the rising threat to intellectual property rights. It’s not unusual for publishers to play hardball when it comes to contracts and money. Most writers find contract negotiations akin to a walk through Dante’s Inferno. Short of pulling the project and losing the contract, most writers don’t have many options. You can raise negotiating points but when the publisher’s reply leaves no wiggle room the writer has pretty much received a take-it-or-leave-it offer. Now there’s seems to be a growing view that writers should not even expect to be paid for their writing.

So we writers are left with growing publishing venues but with most of them either not paying or paying very little. Yes, exposure is important and should be considered, but so should the value a writer puts on their work.

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