Authors response to the Productivity Commission report

Reposted here so those not on Facebook can access and link to it if they want.

OK, I've had this discussion enough times that I should just make a post to refer people to. This is a giant rant about copyright law debate, so most of you should feel free to skip over it.

Australian authors, please stop freaking out about the copyright term discussion in the Productivity Commission report on copyright. The bit you should be concerned about is the recommendation to lift parallel import restrictions, and arguments about the copyright term distract from your point and make you easier to dismiss.

You should not worry about the copyright term discussion because it was not a recommendation, just a part of the discussion. The PC recognises that copyright term is the subject of multiple international treaties, and we can't just change it without massive consequences, so all they actually recommended was that we stop being one of the countries that argues that copyright term should increase, and start recommending it be reduced. As we are currently one of the minority of countries that has (and actively argues for internationally, because DFAT are jerks) Death +70 years, effectively they are just arguing that we should try to return to Death +50 years as an international norm and then maybe think about where we should go from there. Given the first part would require rejecting the TPP and renegotiating the free trade agreement with the US, this isn't likely to result in drastic change soon.

I agree that their copyright term analysis is not a very good finding, and their economic analysis is badly flawed in ways that could easily be demolished by a good grad student, but that doesn't matter, because the sole recommendation they drew from it IS reasonable, because the current copyright term is much longer than you need it to be, and vastly longer than their economic analysis suggests it should be. If you are a writer and you are middle aged or younger and your life is not cut short, your copyright will not expire until the 22nd century, probably after your children are dead, possibly your grandchildren too. It matters a lot to Disney, but even optimistic analysis says it might change your income by 0.03% - and statistically, it just means that after you die your books will become orphan works. Most authors I know who have expressed an opinion on term length directly would be happy with Death +50 or even Death +25, which means that while they might dispute the PCs analysis, they are actually OK with their recommendation.

The other copyright law recommendation they made is fair use replacing fair dealing. This is irrelevant to the income of most professional writers, and helps the few that it is directly relevant to (such as historians and biographers, satirists, security researchers, etc). And it makes a huge difference to other industries (eg Google have stated Internet search engines would be legally unfeasible in Australia). and our current laws are clunky and unfit for the modern world (for example, did you realise it was illegal to record a TV program to watch later until 2006?). And the arguments that I've seen authors organisations make against fair use are straight from the movie and record industry lobby groups, and really not relevant to the book industry. Please stop opposing fair use. The US has it, and their publishing industry is doing a lot better than ours.

Argue against parallel importation by all means (it will hurt the Australian industry, and the evidence that it works as the PC say it will is limited - eg didn't work in New Zealand). Argue against it hard. You will need to, because the economic argument for it is strong, even if it has not worked elsewhere. Argue for the cultural value of Australian writing, argue that a vital industry is badly lacking in other forms of support, etc. Argue that the government is gutting other forms of support (such as literary grants) at the same time when they should be increasing them, paint the government as literary vandals and philistines only interested in supporting big highbrow art for the top end of town etc.

But please, stop making bad or irrelevant arguments about copyright. It's not helping your cause, and it's putting you in conflict with groups that should be supporting you, like libraries, universities and free speech organisations.

Goodbye to the Mad Monk

TL;DR - sometimes i like to have a big politics rant, this is one of those times.
Of course Turnbull is still a monstrous plutocrat, trained in the financial dark arts at Goldman Sachs, a company so caring and sharing its nickname is 'the vampire squid'. And in many respects the better political instincts Turnbull has learnt since he was last Liberal leader are not a good thing, as they appear to mostly have been manifested as a willingness to sell out his vaguely libertarian principles to serve the agenda of the authoritarian and paleo-conservative right (which he appears to have done in spades to get the numbers.). Of course he will still head a government of angry conservative idiots willing to make morally grotesque decisions if it lets them continue to maintain a pose that appeals to angry conservative idiot voters and the greedy wealthy.
But thats not really the point of what happened last night at all. Abbott was a very particular political monster, and we are well rid of him no matter what happens now. His political instincts have always been to see politics as moral warfare. It wasn't just that he was bad at evidence based policy, but that his political instincts actively rejected it. As a minister he was notorious for not reading or understanding policy proposals he thought he wouldn't like. And more perniciously, when you see morality as a battlefield, its all too easy to let genuine morality be abandoned for tactical advantage (it happens to all politicians, of course, compare Rudd citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer before he was leader). Abbotts moral compass had pointed reliably towards conservative Catholicism, but it broke utterly as leader in his efforts to exploit war and xenophobia.
What was perhaps his worst failing, and the one that made him perhaps the worst prime minister we've had, was that he had managed to base virtually his entire political career on negative campaigning. He'd been successful as attack dog for Howard, he'd managed his successes as Liberal leader almost entirely on negative campaigning against a divided ALP. And as leader, when those tactics started to fail him, his instinct was to double down. Then double down aain. Until it become beyond parody. It was literally all he knew how to do. He got through his entire political life with no negotiation skills beyond bullying and occasional wheedling, even though it had cost him government once already. Everyone will be talking about the culture of negativity and attack politics he personified. The flip side of this is his almost complete inexperience at developing a positive policy agenda (and by this I don't mean positive in the sense of good or progressive, but simply a policy based around what you will do rather than what you will not). When called on to define himself at least in part by what he was going to create rather than what he wanted to destroy, he was an abject failure, a bumbling amateur who simply had almost never tried, and had neither the right skills (he couldn't consult or cooperatively build to save his political life), nor any developed ideas. We got inane thought bubbles (like knighthoods) based around nothing but a vague anglophilic nostalgia, and an enthusiasm for national security theatre (compare Gillard/Rudd policy like NDIS or NBN, Howard policy like GST and national infrastructure funds, etc), and bunch of stuff on climate, internet, that was designed only to provide a vaguely plausible minimalist alternative to actual ALP ideas. Virtually everything else in two years was defined by what he disliked (often for no reason other than people on the other side of politics liked it eg wind power), there was almost no sign of what he wanted to build. And this policy incompetence translated into policy Dunning-Kruger syndrome - he not only was incompetent at policy, he couldn't recognise competence in others, and instead kept buffoons like Dunning and Hockey in positions manifestly beyond their level of competence (rumours about Hockey question even basic numeracy), because he judged them by amiability, ideology, and loyalty. His government was terrible in a way that was hard to believe beforehand, and we'll look back on and shake our heads about for years to come.
Yes, Malcolm Turnbull will be government by the rich, for the rich. Yes, Turnbull will very much be politics as usual, and his government will continue to be anti-union and pro-business, continue to try to take money from the poor and give it to rich, and continue to gradually drift towards a more authoritarian state, as the right wing does. But Abbott was not politics as usual. His was a uniquely broken and disastrous government that made us both a laughing stock and a cautionary tale, charging full steam ahead down the worst avenues of xenophobia and paranoia, but stumbling about like a child whose shoelaces were untied when it came to adult policy areas like the economy. Lets all just breathe a big sigh of relief, and try to get back to taking politics seriously if we can.


The DUFF ballot is now available. This years DUFF race is between Bill Wright, and Clare McDonald-Sims. PDF and RTF versions of the ballot are available - if you use the RTF version, please alter the last line to include your name rather than mine. The deadline for voting is June 10.

DUFF Ballot in PDF

DUFF Ballot in RTF

How to Vote

As we have an election tomorrow here…

I'm tired of the same 'how can you possibly vote for Gillard/Obama/flawed mainstream not-that-progressive party' arguments that I see again and again from passionate political friends (or the alternative 'why vote at all you are just supporting the evil system'). Many of you reading probably understand all this fine, but I feel the need to rant, so indulge me.
How to vote:

Understand that choosing the lesser evil of two evils is usually fundamental to voting. Not evil at all is seldom on the menu. And once it has got to the ballot stage, there probably isn't much you can do about it.
If you live in in a jurisdiction that has preferential, or optional preferential, voting (e.g. Australia) you should vote for the parties in order of preference, putting the ones you like the most at the top. But you should realistically assess which parties actually have a significant chance of winning, and the order you number those parties in probably makes more difference than anything else about your vote, so consider it carefully, even though you may dislike them all. .
If you live in a jurisdiction that has first past the post voting (e.g. US, UK, etc) you have my condolences for your poorly designed democracy. You should probably ignore the parties that you like, but that have no chance of winning at all. You should probably choose which among the parties that have a realistic chance of winning you hate the least, and vote for them.
And here is the important part, the crucial part. Realise that voting is about 1 hour, very roughly 1 day in a 1000 (may be up to roughly 1 in 1500). So, voting takes up very roughly about 0.01% of your time. And voting is a pretty effective form of political activity in terms of how to spend those few minutes every few years. If you are disappointed in having to choose between evil and eviler on the ballot, or annoyed that the act of voting gives you a very limited amount of engagement with the political system, recognise that you are free to engage with the political system in other ways in the remaining 99.99% of so of your life.
You can join a lobby group!. You can start a lobby group, or a campaign! You can join a political party, and campaign within it for better policies and better representatives! Write about issues in social media! Talk to people!

Addenum: If you are lucky enough to live in an area that has a voting system like Hare-Clark or other such sophisticated alternative, you are probably going to have to research individual candidates in some detail, and it is particularly worth your time to look at major party candidates that are not getting a huge amount of promotion from their party. And if you are voting in a multiple position/multiple candidate election (e.g. the Australian Senate or most Upper Houses) you should definitely put some thought into voting for relatively minor parties, because the preference system often throws up something unexpected for the last position on the ballot (e/g/ the DLP in the 21st century), and very few of the parties can be trusted to make sensible decisions. So it is worth having some idea who all those minor guys way down on the ballot are. Hope you enjoy it!

Where was Dave in 2012?

Places where I spent at least one night away from home in 2012:
Perth, Western Australia (a few different places)
San Jose, Costa Rica (two different hotels)
Prague, Czech Republic
Vienna, Austria (hotel)
Rottnest Island
Sydney, NSW (at least 2 different houses, one hotel)
Melbourne, VIC (at least 2 different houses, and a couple of hotels)
"Red Earth City", Matong State Forest, NSW
Toronto, Canada (one hotel, one house)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Margaret River (a couple of different places, two separate trips)
Adelaide, SA
Canberra, ACT


I've received precisely no contact from anyone interested in running for FFANZ. I'm extending the eligibility period for a week.

2012 FFANZ race now open

FFANZ 2012

Nominations are now open for the 2012 Fan Fund of Australia and New Zealand (FFANZ). FFANZ in 2012 will send one Australian science fiction fan from Australia to the 2012 New Zealand Natcon, unCONventional, in Auckland from 1-4 June.

Prospective candidates will have until March 1st 2012 to file the documents required to have one’s name placed in nomination and added to the ballot. The ballots will be published and distributed in early March, and voting will run from March 12-April 9th.

Candidates should file the following documents:

• A brief letter stating one’s intent to run for FFANZ 2012.
• A nominator and a seconder, preferably a nominator from Australia and a seconder from New Zealand.
• A 100 word or less platform statement specifying the candidate’s reasons for running and qualifications for becoming the 2012 FFANZ delegate.

Interested parties should contact the Australian administrator, David Cake, at

The duties of the winning candidate will be as follows:

• Travel to New Zealand and attend unCONventional, the 33rd New Zealand Natcon, in Auckland from 1-4 June 2012 .
• Visit and get to know as many New Zealand Science Fiction fans as time will permit.
• Become the Australian FFANZ administrator until a replacement administrator is found, normally this happens when the administrator role is handed over to the succeeding eastbound delegate (in 2014 if a race is run every year).
• Raise funds and maintain an account to be used by the next eastbound delegate(s) in 2012.
• Promote connections between Australian and New Zealand fandom by a trip report or other means.

Please feel free to distribute this message to your fannish networks.

10 Apps

Months ago, a few people where listing the 10 apps they usually had open. I finally got around to it.

BBEdit - every geek needs a great text editor, and exactly which one people use is a very personal choice, but that tends to display ones personal geek history. BBEdit pretty clearly marks me as 'old school Mac guy'. FWIW, I'm definitely a vi not an emacs guy, but have never felt inclined to use vi when I have the choice of an editor with a real GUI.
I find being able to edit files on remote servers directly via SFTP is something essential to my normal workflow.

iTerm - every geek needs terminal access. I prefer iTerm to the built in Terminal. Actually, iTerm 2.

Echofon - desktop twitter client of choice. I'm always surprised whenever I discover anyone that regularly uses twitter via the web interface. I've tried about half a dozen desktop twitter clients, and seem to have settled on Echofon for now. I use Tweetbot on the phone, I actually like that even more. I tweet from more than one account, so that is an important feature for me.

Google Chrome - Safari comes across as a bit bloated to me. I'm pretty bad at closing tabs, so Safari eats memory fast. I'll probably switch browsers back eventually, though, Safari has a few features I really like (like easily enabling me to open a PDF in a suitable other app). I also use Firefox.

Preview - I find myself looking at PDF docs all the time, for both work and hobbies. I seem to be using Skim - a PDF viewer designed for annotation etc - more and more, and it may well end up replacing Preview for most PDF docs.

Word - I've found working in Universities in which everyone uses Word makes it so much easier than alternatives, despite it not being my favourite word processor. So it is always open.

Scrivener - going to be my tool of choice for serious writing from now on, I think. This is an amazing tool for writing complicated documents, the sort of document I previously would have started in an outliner. Still a bit unsure about reference manager integration, but otherwise amazing.

Skype - I'm involved with at least a couple of groups that seem to have settled on Skype as a regular communications tool, particularly the Burning Man Australia crew and ICANN NCUC gang, plus some friends that use it as preferred IM, so I keep it open most of the time. I don't think I have used its video features ever, but I use both IM and voice chat regularly.

Mail - I finally made the big shift to Apple Mail. Now I've shifted, I'm unlikely to shift again for a really long time, unless someone designs a good IMAP mail client for people that receive massive amounts of mail on multiple mailing lists and multiple accounts and need to filter it all. At the moment, I'm also reading one email account through Sparrow as an experiment, but the rest are all through Mail. I'm experimenting with some add-ons, but not really satisfied.

Powerpoint - I lecture, and I like to lecture with slides, and that usually means Powerpoint. I prefer Keynote if I can, and I've used Prezi and think it is pretty cool, but Powerpoint is the bread and butter choice, because the machines I lecture on have Powerpoint installed, so it is just easier.

Travel Meme

Places where I spent at least one night away from home in 2011:
San Francisco, California, USA (two different hotels)
Singapore (three different hotels)
Seattle, Washington, USA (Kent to be specific)
A highway rest stop in Oregon, USA
Reno, Nevada, USA (two different hotels, a couple of weeks apart)
Austin, Texas, USA
Black Rock City (Burning Man Festival), Nevada USA
Mountain View, California, USA
Toronto, Canada
Huntsvilla, Alabama, USA
Los Angeles, California
Dakkar, Senegal
Auckland, New Zealand (two different hotels)
Taupo, New Zealand
B&B near Koramandel, New Zealand
"Red Earth City" (Australian Burning Man/Burning Seed), Matong State Forest, New South Wales, Australia
Rutherglen, New South Wales, Australia
Melbourne, Australia (three different hotels at various times during the year)
Rottnest Island, Western Australia
Cervantes, Western Australia