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Hachette to Tor authors: you must keep the DRM on your ebooks

You'll recall that Tor Books (and its sister science fiction imprints of Macmillan publishers around the world) has dropped DRM on all of its titles. Hachette, one of Macmillan's rivals in the "Big Six" pantheon of publishers, is famously pro-DRM (one Hachette author told me that her editor said that Hachette's unbreakable policy, straight from the top, is that no books will be acquired by Hachette if there are any DRM-free editions, anywhere in the world).

My latest Publishers Weekly column reports on a leaked letter, signed by Hachette's Little, Brown UK's CEO, that has been sent to authors whose books are published by both Tor and Hachette imprints in different territories. In the letter, Hachette instructs the author to demand that Tor leave the DRM intact on the books that both publishers produce, and warns that future contracts will require that authors who sign with Hachette in one territory only use pro-DRM publishers in other territories.

It's an astonishing combination of chutzpah and denialism:

I’ve just seen a letter sent to an author who has published books under Hachette’s imprints in some territories and with Tor Books and its sister companies in other territories (Tor is part of Macmillan). The letter, signed by Hachette’s Little, Brown U.K. CEO Ursula Mackenzie, explains to the author that Hachette has “acquired exclusive publication rights in our territories from you in good faith,” but warns that in other territories, Tor’s no-DRM policy “will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected.” Hachette’s proposed solution: that the author insist Tor use DRM on these titles. “We look forward to hearing what action you propose taking.”

The letter also contains language that will apparently be included in future Hachette imprint contracts, language that would require authors to “ensure that any of his or her licensees of rights in territories not licensed under this agreement” will use DRM.

It’s hard to say what’s more shocking to me: the temerity of Hachette to attempt to dictate terms to its rivals on the use of anti-customer technology, or the evidence-free insistence that DRM has some nexus with improving the commercial fortunes of writers and their publishers. Let’s just say that Hachette has balls the size of Mars if it thinks it can dictate what other publishers do with titles in territories where it has no rights.

Doubling Down on DRM

Update: In a pair of tweets, the @HachetteUK account sends this correction: "Sorry to be a pedant, but in your DRM article you refer to Ursula Mackenzie as our UK CEO when in fact she is the CEO of Little, Brown UK, part of the HUK group. Our Group CEO is Tim Hely Hutchinson. Thanks."

Anatomically correct heart macaroons

Eat Your Heart Out Bakers, home to some of the weirdest confections in my weird world, have unveiled a line of anatomically correct macaroons. Because of reasons. If you have to ask, you'll never om nom nom nom.

Fills me with joy how all the uber talented EYHO bakers continue to push the limits of creative baking. Case in point being these incredible heart macarons which Miss Insomnia Tulip created using different coloured batters. Hell yeah of course they will be on sale at EYHO…

Anatomically correct heart macarons

1863 Manhattan brought to life in miniatures, to retell the story of the Draft Riots for "Copper" (video)

[Video Link]

Director Joe Sabia, who collaborates with us on the Boing Boing video channel for Virgin America, says:

To promote BBC America's Copper, we turned 1863 Manhattan into miniatures to detail the events of the Draft Riots. Our second production for Four Story Treehouse.

Epic. An earlier spot Joe and co. did for BBC America's "Planet Earth" was equally awesome, as was this "story of sushi" produced with miniatures.

Branch sounds neat

Branch, a new social startup, just came out of beta today. Promising "A new way to talk to each other," the startup is incubated by Obvious Corporation, the "mini-accelerator" from Twitter's Biz Stone, Ev Williams and Jason Goldman. Here's an example of what they have in mind.

One of the things Twitter doesn't do very well is foster actual conversations between people. One could say that this is, in fact, the great shortcoming of our time on the internet: comment systems, Facebook, Google Plus, all fall short. Branch looks like it's trying to tackle that problem. More power to 'em.

Coverage today: TechCrunch, The Next Web, VentureBeat, GigaOm.

StarShipSofa sf podcast is having a killer August

Tony from the StarShipSofa podcast writes, "August sees a fantastic line up of top SF authors on StarShipSofa. This month boasts stories by Kim Stanley Robinson, Bruce Sterling, Gene Wolfe and Adam Roberts, with also an amazing cover art by Andreas Rocha."

Insurance company defends policy holder's killer in court

ProgressiveComedian Matt Fisher says: "On June 19, 2010, my sister was driving in Baltimore when her car was struck by another car and she was killed. The other driver had run a red light and hit my sister as she crossed the intersection on the green light… At the trial, the guy who killed my sister was defended by Progressive’s legal team. If you are insured by Progressive, and they owe you money, they will defend your killer in court in order to not pay you your policy." [UPDATE: Progressive denies defending the person who killed its policyholder] [UPDATE 2: Read the comments in Cory's post here. The court records show that Progressive did indeed participate in the killer's legal defense]

Apps for Kids 29: Yodel-Oh!

[Video Link]

Appsforkids Click here to play episode. Apps for Kids is Boing Boing's podcast about cool smartphone apps for kids and parents. My co-host is my 9-year-old daughter, Jane Frauenfelder.

In this week's episode Jane and I talk about Yodel-Oh!, a target tapper game where you have to keep a Swiss mountain climber from falling off the edge of a cliff. It's $0.99 in the iTunes store (Yodel-Oh! for iPad, Yodel-Oh!™ for iPhone).

If you're an app developer and would like to have Jane and me try one of your apps for possible review, email a redeem code to

Listen to past episodes of Apps for Kids here.

To get a weekly email to notify you when a new episode of Apps for Kids is up, sign up here.

How to Tell Good People from Bad People

NewImageI remember reading this pamphlet when I was a first or second grader living in Golden, Colorado. I can't remember if my school passed out copies, or if it came in the mail.

The page scans at Budget Raygun are low-res, but it looks like the pamphlet was published in 1964 by the International Order of the Golden Rule, an organization for "independent, family owned funeral homes that span the globe."

The advice in the book is good, but even as a callow youth I thought there was something bogus about the illustrations of "good people" vs "bad people." I couldn't find much difference between Mr. Good and Mr. Bad, and I found myself more attracted to the bad lady than the good one.


How to Tell Good People from Bad People

The Sixty-Eight Rooms: exciting kids' novel about shrinking to fit inside the miniature Thorne Rooms

NewImageOne morning a couple of weeks ago my family and I were rushing out the door for a vacation. Everyone but my 9-year-old daughter had packed a book for the long plane ride (Me: Too High to Fail; Carla: Gone Girl; Sarina: The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette).

I hurriedly skimmed our bookshelves to find something Jane could read. I came across a book I don't remember buying, called The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone. I pulled it off the shelf and learned that it was a kids' novel based on the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

I was vaguely familiar with the Thorne Rooms. In the 1930s a Chicagoan named Mrs. James Ward Thorne designed 68 miniature rooms depicting the interiors of houses in Europe, Japan, and the US from the 13th century to the 1930s. They are 1/12 scale (1 inch = 1 foot). I've never seen the rooms in person (they are housed at the Art Institute of Chicago), but I've seen photos and the detail is remarkable.

NewImageOn the plane, my daughter didn't want to read the book. That's because she had my iPad loaded with the first two seasons of The Powerpuff Girls, which she had been too young to enjoy when they initially aired. I can't blame her -- it's one of the best cartoons ever and I ended up watching a bunch of them with her.

When we arrived at our hotel, she resisted reading the book because she had not yet run out of Powerpuff Girl episodes. I told her she could not watch any more episodes until she had read at least 15 pages of the book. She agree to the deal, provided I read the book aloud to her. That was fine by me, because I was intrigued by the Thorne Rooms.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms is about two middle school students who take a class field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. After viewing the African art, the teacher tells them they can to check out the Thorne Rooms. While there, the boy (Jack) finds a sparkly key and shows it to his friend, a girl named Ruthie. Later that week the kids go back to the museum by themselves and Ruthie learns that when she touches the key she shrinks to 1/12th her size, enabling her to explore the Thorne Rooms from the inside. Once she gets into the rooms, she starts finding clues that she's not the first one to have entered the rooms using the key's magic.

By the time I got to page 15 Jane begged me to keep going, and so I did. For the next several days she read the book on her own and didn't watch any Powerpuff Girl episodes. I have not had a chance to finish it, but Jane assures me it's amazing. I just bought the sequel, called Stealing Magic: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure.

Buy The Sixty-Eight Rooms on Amazon

For his birthday, (almost) all of Alfred Hitchcock's cameos

In honor of Alfred Hitchcock's birthday - which would have been his 113th - here is a very decent compilation of nearly all the cameos made by the Master of Suspense. He may not have been an angel, but he made us some pretty excellent movies, in which he made some pretty clever cameos. (via Roger Ebert's Journal, Chicago Sun-Times)

Animation teacher faces the sack for refusing to push "unnecessary, expensive" textbooks at hedge-fund invested Art Institute of California

Mike Tracy teaches at the Art Institute of California—Orange County, but not for long. In a note on his Facebook page, Tracy explains that AIC-OC (whose parent company, EDMC, is 41 percent owned by Goldman Sachs) has told him he'll be fired if he doesn't agree to sell a quota of expensive and, in his opinion, unnecessary e-textbooks.

Here's the note Tracy posted:

As many of you know, I have been in a dispute with our school, the Art Institutes, for some months now, over their policy of mandatory e-textbooks in classes where their inclusion seems arbitrary, inappropriate and completely motivated by profit. In July I asked the US Department of Education, the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education and WASC (our accrediting agency) to look into my concerns. Since that time, the school and its parent company EDMC have escalated the pressure on me to select a book for a class I teach that I don’t think requires one.

Today, the President of the school, Greg Marick, presented me with an ultimatum; either choose a book by Tuesday, Aug 14th or the company will terminate my employment for insubordination. My response, of course, is that I will not change my mind on this issue and that I’m determined to resist the policy however I can. I think this means that, as of this week, I will no longer be teaching at AI.

I want you, my students and colleagues to know that it has been my great honor and privilege to have worked with you over the last 11 years, and that I will miss the opportunity to work for you and with you. I have enjoyed my time as a teacher very much, but it appears as though it is now time to move on. Furthermore, you can count on me to continue the struggle that I have instigated on this issue, if only from the outside. Although it aint over till it’s over, it looks like a 99.5% deal, barring an 11th hour change of heart by the corporation, which would surprise me.

Here's a petition from Tracy's colleagues and present and past students, asking the administration to reconsider its position.

Animation Teacher Faces Termination For Refusing To Sell His Students Unnecessary Books (via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Robot, Mike Tracy)

Kirby Ferguson's TED Talk: "Embrace the Remix" - a must-see

Kirby "Everything is a Remix" Ferguson, whose work we've blogged about a lot, gave an amazing, must-see TED Talk about the way that creativity comes about as the result of creative re-use of others' work. It's not just explicit remixes and samples -- everything from the iPhone to Bob Dylan's music are made out of other peoples' inventions and creations. Ferguson shows that our cognitive bias for "loss aversion" makes us willing to take others' ideas, but furious when others take our ideas and build on them (cue Steve Jobs saying "I've always stolen shamelessly from the best" and contrasted with his vow to "go thermonuclear on Android" because "It is a stolen product.") We rationalize that the stuff we take from others is just plumbing -- uncreative infrastructure to which we add our own special snowflakes of creativity. But everyone thinks that his or her work is a special snowflake and everyone else's is boring plumbing. The truth is, it's both. And copyright and patent laws, with their "awkward metaphor" of property, have it backwards. They make hypocrites out of all of us, forcing us to pretend that our inspiration arrived holus-bolus, as our brains were bestirred by mystical muses -- and to deny our participation in the ancient tradition of ripping off the best and making something that's ours out of what we take.

Embrace the Remix (via TechDirt)

Bain Capital buys profitable American plant, ships it to China; soon-to-be-jobless workers train their overseas replacements

In the Guardian, Paul Harris reports from Freeport, IL, where a profitable, competitive auto-parts plant has been bought out by Bain Capital, who have literally shipped the factory to China, and who have extended the "kindness" to the American workers who will lose their jobs of a few extra weeks' worth of work training their Chinese replacements. Mitt Romney owns millions of dollars' worth of equity in the Bain fund that is shipping good jobs overseas, and stands to make a tidy profit from this.

"I understand business needs to make a profit. But this product has always made a ton of money. It's just that they think it is not enough money. They are greedy," said Tom Gaulraupp, who has put in 33 years at the plant and is facing the prospect of becoming jobless at the age of 54.

Mark Shreck, a 36-year-old father-of-three, confessed he was one of the few workers not surprised at the layoffs, as this is the second time his job has moved to China. "I feel this is what companies do nowadays," he said. Freeport mayor George Gaulrapp

The Freeport workers have appealed to Bain and Romney to save their plant. The local town council, several Illinois politicians and the state's Democratic governor have all rallied to their cause. "This company is competitive globally. They make a profit here. But Bain Capital decided to squeeze it a little further. That is not what capitalism is meant to be about," said Freeport mayor George Gaulrapp, 52, pictured.

The anger towards Bain and Romney is palpable. Romney has become the target for the emotions of a community who built lives based on the idea of a steady manufacturing job: a concept out of place in the sort of fluid buy-and-sell world from which Bain prospers. "I didn't have a clue what Bain was before this happened," said Cheryl Randecker, 52. "Now when I hear Romney speak it makes me sick to my stomach."

'I'm sick to my stomach': anger grows in Illinois at Bain's latest outsourcing plan

BREAKING: Gunman shot multiple people at near Texas A&M

A gunman who opened fire from a home near Texas A&M University and shot multiple people, including police officers, has just been taken into custody. (CNN)

UPDATE: Three people, including the shooter, were killed. Three others were injured. More details at The Eagle

Michael J Nelson on MST3K and the heavily anticipated return of Manos: The Hands of Fate, and RiffTrax

In a sure sign that our dreams are really coming true, Manos: The Hands of Fate is returning to movie theaters for all of us to experience on the big screen. No, this won't be the restoration you've been hearing about -- it's the next RiffTrax Live event, and for the first time, the riffers and stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett will be revisiting a classic movie from the show in front of a live audience this Thursday night at 8:00 PM (EST). I spoke with Nelson about Manos and the mission to restore it, as well as MST3K, RiffTrax, and potential future riffs and live events.

Read the rest

If typists were robots (1935)


(via Weird Universe and Wishbook's Flickr)