Crying foul

David Rothman’s at it again, and I’m just plain tired of it.

Let me clarify: Not David “medical librarian” Rothman, who I read regularly and respect. I’m talking about David “Teleread” Rothman, and there’s no link because I’m certainly not going to increase Teleread’s link love even by the smallest amount. Not hard to find, if you’re so inclined.

DTR (for short) has given me a hard time before, calling me a Luddite, dinosaur and similar charming terms–mostly because, back when I was writing about ebooks (which I don’t as long as I work for OCLC, given NetLibrary), I wasn’t enthusiastic enough for his taste.

This time’s different. The current Cites & Insights includes an essay on copyright term and extent, “PermaCopyright and Other Extremes.” Go read it, if you haven’t already; if you’re a PDF bigot, here’s the essay in HTML form. I discuss a silly but high-profile essay by Mark Helprin asserting that copyright should last forever, and some of the responses to the essay.

After the Helprin essay and some direct responses, I comment on a rather lovely piece by Jonathan Lethem in Harper’s, “The Ecstasy of Influence.” Lethem, a novelist who understands that virtually all “new” creations are influenced by and draw from (that is, are partially derivative of) older creations, makes his point by writing a lengthy essay nearly all of which is taken from other sources, but turned into a strikingly original piece by the process of arrangement and connection.

Just for fun, I followed that with “An immodest proposal” to give Mark Helprin exactly what he wants: PermaCopyright–but only for wholly original works. Then I define wholly original.

It’s a goof, of course. I think it’s a pretty obvious goof. I can’t think of any piece of writing or music in the last several centuries that would qualify as wholly original under my definitions–and that’s because “wholly original” is almost wholly mythical.

I stopped reading Teleread a long time ago, but–thanks in part to David “medical” Rothman!–I have a LibWorm ego feed that turned up DTR’s post, including this comment:

Hmm. What’s this about the possibility of “indefinite” protection for “wholly original” works and terms of 28 or 40 years or other “plausible” lengths” for entirely or partly derivative works? Is Walt—a library automation specialist dear to many in the library community—actually serious about selective permaterms? Is this just a “modest proposal” in the Swiftian sense? I’d hope so, given the disaster that even selective permaterms would wreak on Project Gutenberg and other public domain efforts. Anyone, Walt included, care to parse these thoughts? Does he really want librarians and the rest of us to pay big bucks—forever—to the heirs of future Shakespeares?

I found this offensive and said so in a comment. Anyone who reads DTR and doesn’t link through to my essay might actually believe that I favored permanent copyright in some cases. For DTR to even suggest that this might be the case indicated to me either a failure to actually read the essay or a fatally flawed sense of humor–or, I suppose, skimming through stuff looking for another chance to beat up on me, given Rothman’s past record.

DTR’s response to my comment?

With hundreds of RSS feeds to digest, Walt, I just wanted a definitive parsing, ideally from you. May the day come when LIS schools can give courses—updated daily—in Crawfordian studies! Meanwhile we’ll agree to disagree on e-books, an area in which I keep thinking you’re in your humor mode. Cheers. David

I was going to write an angry response here–why is it up to me to do “definitive parsing” of an essay?–but now I see what’s actually happening.

To wit, DTR is too busy to actually read the essay or the issue. He chose to attack me based on my announcement of the issue, specifically this text expanding on the ©1 essay title:

PermaCopyright and other extremes, including my Modest Proposal for permanent copyright for truly original works

This is, I submit, a new low in attack blogging: Taking the announcement of a piece as the basis for an attack on the author. And here’s my response:

If you’re too busy to read something, you have no business commenting on it. Doing so is somewhere between sloppy and unethical.

And here’s the true irony. In the past, I typically haven’t expanded on essay titles at all. Another nemesis, whose name will go unmentioned here, griped several times about this, apparently feeling that I owe it to potential readers to provide an expansive description of contents so they’ll know whether the issue is worth their time. While I think that’s a little bizarre for a freebie, I also wondered whether some essays (particularly essays that pull together bits and pieces) are underread because they’re not discovered. I thought I’d try more expansive announcements.

Here’s the result. Consider the advice of one person who has no doubt long since stopped reading C&I–and get slagged by someone else who’s too busy to actually read it, but not too busy to cherrypick a sentence to use as the basis for an attack-dog “query” several times as long as the sentence itself.

Well, I’ve wasted too much time on this. I intend to get started on essays for the August C&I today–and that’s going to be a confusing process, as I see four essays coming all of which relate to and overlap with one another. Some fun.

U.S. readers: Enjoy your fireworks or whatever. I needed today to kickstart a return to writing after a two-week break (ALA and aftershocks)…

5 Responses to “Crying foul”

  1. “‘With hundreds of RSS feeds to digest, Walt, I just wanted a definitive parsing, ideally from you.'”

    Something that people seem to forget:

    Blog posts run, on average, about 100 words. Succinct, while not usually admitting of extended treatment of an issue. Essays can be anywhere from 1000 words or so and above.

    Clearly, Walt at Random features blog posts, and Cites and Insights features essays (mostly). And while it is incumbent on him to read everything before commenting, what does he expect from a publication which explicitly offers itself in a format for extended and thoughtful reading (either on paper or “e-book”)?

  2. walt says:

    Well stated–although for some blogs the lines aren’t that clear.

    In any case, commenting on the substance of a multithousand-word essay when you’ve only read a fifteen-word blurb for that essay strikes me as outrageous. I have refrained from commenting on Everything is Miscellaneous or The Cult of the Amateur for a simple reason: I haven’t read them, although I’ve certainly read a lot more than 15 words about them.

  3. You are always miles ahead, Walt.
    Have you seen the interesting things JL is doing at his website?
    The Promiscuous Materials Project
    and then there is BRIAN ENO & DAVID BYRNE–
    ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’

  4. Eli says:

    I just bought “Cult of the Amateur” and I’m willing to loan you my copy when I’m done …

  5. walt says:


    You’re assuming that I have any desire to comment on Cult of the Amateur…

    Actually, thanks. I’ll take you up on the offer. I need to start reading books again. No rush…