I feel like we’ve heard this before but it still sucks

You can go back through the archives of this blog, hardly an authority on anything (unless AI content farming has really killed off every other blog and then maybe we are), and you can see so many instances of “This is going to kill [some aspect of the publishing world]” and largely it just hasn’t happened.

This one does sound bad. SPD, one of the last small distributors, is going under. They’re doing it quickly, and so far leaving some clients unpaid. It’s already incredibly hard as a small author to get your book noticed by the mainstream, and if nothing else steps in to fill the void left by SPD’s demise, it’s going to be a whole lot harder. People are very stubbornly clinging to their paper books, and while I don’t entirely blame them, it’s just not sustainable going forward.

I have a fair bit of faith in authors and their ability to pivot, but we keep making it harder on them and that’s no way to encourage creation.

For example, Kameron Hurley is one author offering a monthly Patreon subscription where you get exclusive stuff. It’s cool. I absolutely love her universe where some people can inhabit corpses. It’s a really well-developed universe that she has sadly (to me, at least) not written nearly enough in. But plugging an author I like is not the point (though it’s a bonus). This is all extra work. It used to be you could just be an author and your agent would work and get your books in front of people. Maybe that worked and maybe it didn’t, but that was about it. Now authors have way more opportunity but also way more hats they have to wear.

We’ve been talking for a decade at least about alternate paths to success for authors and they mostly haven’t materialized. Maybe authors should try using the electrical output of a mid-sized country to write a book and maybe Silicon Valley would take notice and throw some venture capital at them.

Never thought I’d see the day – welcome to the Public Domain, Mickey

I’m a few months late on this as I was still on blogging hiatus when it actually happened. but the earliest version of Mickey Mouse (The one that Disney very likely stole from another artist) is finally in the Public Domain. I guess Disney decided the lobbying dollars would be more valuable somewhere else and they didn’t get Congress to retroactively extend copyright again.

It’s all the rage lately to be a Constitutional Originalist, but what that really means is you do it when convenient. Otherwise the Supreme Court would obviously have to overturn the laws retroactively extending copyright. Copyright was meant to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” – it literally says that in the Constitution. It was supposed to give people incentive to create things that others would find useful or beautiful. Adding years to an existing copyright can’t do that – the covered work has already been created.

You can argue that extending copyright on future works would promote the progress, but that’s a different argument. It’s still wrong, but that’s an argument for another day.

Extending copyright on existing works is simply a handout to someone who already took your deal.

This is all kind of silly at this point anyway – Mickey Mouse has evolved quite a bit since 1928, with most versions are still protected, AND most of what people wanted to do with the freed Mickey were already permitted under fair use. Still, I’m happy to see this day, as I never thought I would.

Is training your LLM on copyrighted material against the law?

LLMs are everywhere now, for better or worse (mostly worse). They are mostly used for creating just-good-enough garbage. This has been possible for some time now – back in 2015 I trained a Markov chain on a bunch of Wine Spectator reviews and had it spit out wine reviews with Amazon affiliate links, back when you could buy wine on Amazon. The site is still up and still makes me laugh. I suppose ChatGPT is a little better at this now, but not orders of magnitude better.

A lot of things about LLMs are not interesting. They lie confidently. They’ve contributed to the utter uselessness of web search. They make it trivial to create content that search engines like but no one else has any use for. I find all that disturbing but not intellectually stimulating. What DOES interest me, however, is the copyright angle.

Assuming the LLM doesn’t spit out plagiarized work, I do not believe that training your LLM on copyright material is in any way a violation of any current US law. I am not a lawyer, and I am open to be proven wrong here, but it just doesn’t make sense. We are assuming that you are legally accessing these copyrighted works because the scenario is no longer interesting if you are, for example, downloading a torrent of every Random House book ever published and letting your LLM ingest all of that. Current law clearly covers that.

Let’s say I want to be an author. I’m into horror, so I read a bunch of horror books to hone my craft. I read a lot of Stephen King, and now a lot of what I write is pretty heavily influenced by his style. He’s a pretty successful author, so this isn’t really a bad thing. Now, no one would consider this copyright infringement, right? Every author ever is influenced by what they read. It’s one of the first things they teach you in writing class – go read more.

So what is the difference between me reading Stephen King and bits of his style creeping into mine, and an LLM reading EVERYONE, and bits of their style creeping into its writing? The only difference is volume. And there’s nothing in copyright law that says “doing this once is fine, doing it 100,000 times is a violation”.

Activitypub testing, mostly

I’ve just installed the Activitypub plugin and so far I can’t find it from Mastodon, and I assume this is because I haven’t posted anything to the blog yet since I installed the plugin.

I’m going to try to get the blog going again. I used to enjoy doing this. The ebook market has not evolved nearly as much as you would have thought in all these years, but at least it’s not all Amazon anymore. There aren’t a ton of cool new business models built up around ebooks. I know my kids read ebooks sometimes on their phones, but are more likely to read a paper book. Whether this is the cause of the lack of business models around ebooks, or the effect, I don’t really know.

One book does not a reversal of policy make

I don’t share the optimism of Teleread and Kindle Nation, but it appears that Amazon has not entirely deserted free ebooks.

They do, however, remain committed to controlling virtually every aspect of the Kindle that they’ve leased you, which is not terribly consumer-friendly.

Still, at least it’s not as bad as it originally seemed.

Free ebooks back at Amazon- John Lutz Urge to Kill | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home.

Free content doesn’t mean free everything

Over and over, when someone proposes giving away something for free in order to make more money on whatever else it is you’re selling, whether it’s the hard copy of your book, the tickets to your show, or anything else, some people see “free” and can’t understand that it doesn’t end there.  People get so mad that you’d suggest that everyone starve because “kids these days” don’t want to pay for music.

One of the comments on the really nice article linked below is one such person.

Eric: I have to say that this model saddens me.  Where’s the respect for the value of the artist’s labor when its given away free?  In over 25 years as a music writer for film/tv/theater, etc. I have many times been approached with some version of “We don’t have much budget on this one but do us a solid and there should be a good budget on the next….”  NEVER, has one of these ever come back with a decent paying gig and more than once people have come back with, “Oh, but last time you were able to do this for us.  How come?”

First of all, it’s clear the guy didn’t read the post. No one was suggesting you do the show for free.  The author of the article (Derek, not Eric) didn’t actually say to give anything away for free.  He just advocated making an appeal to fans to buy your cd. Pay what you want, even if it’s nothing, but walk out of the show with a copy of the cd.

The point is that, in his experience, the bands make more money this way.  This has nothing to do with giving away your work for some idealistic notion of good for society.  It has nothing to do with disrespecting creative works. The opposite, in fact – it’s all about compensating the creator in a way that allows him or her to continue creating, and treats fans like fans, not potential thieves.

You have to stop and think – is it better to make a living doing what you love, or to be compensated for each and every use of your work?

Article: Emphasize meaning over price = More paid sales | Derek Sivers via CwF RtB on Twitter

This wouldn’t be so bad if the Kindle were more open

Bad news for Kindle readers, especially the less computer-savvy.

But it is worth noting at this juncture that Amazon appears to have made a business decision, at least for now, that “free” will play an increasingly limited role in the Kindle Store

Amazon certainly has a right to shift focus and resources from free and public domain books to the books they’re trying to sell.  But it’s pretty disappointing.  For many people, unfortunately, the Kindle is the ebook reader.  It’s done wonders in showing the non-technical part of the population that ebooks and readers are out there.  But it’s these very same non-technical people who are likely to get all their reading material from the Kindle store, which is of course what Amazon wants.  They’ve put up all sorts of hoops to jump through if you want to put other content on the Kindle.

And so these non-technical people are effectively cut off from public domain books, or books from other publishers who can’t or won’t play ball with Amazon’s restrictions on the Kindle.

Also disappointing is that Amazon doesn’t want to deal with free promotional titles.

The number of free promotional titles has been dwindling since August, and no new free promotional titles have been added this month despite numerous publisher requests to offer free titles.

There is no question that free promotional titles can grow your fanbase.  Two of my favorite science fiction authors reeled me in with free ebooks (here and here).  I’ve since not only bought books from them, but pre-ordered a couple.  Again, Amazon certainly has a right to do what they’re doing.  I’d just rather they chose not to.

Fortunately, it keeps plenty of room in the ebook market and the ebook reader market for others to come in and fill the holes.

Article:  Kindle Nation Daily: Honey, They’re Shrinking “Free” in the Kindle Store via Teleread.

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