Tag Archives: playwright

They Want it How Long?

The Green Party and Copyright

There has been a small hoo-hah in the political wing of the literary community about a policy of the (British) Green Party.  Their 2015 manifesto is vague on the point, but their party policy  says

Specifically we will
a. […]
b. 
introduce generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years;

It’s that 14 years that is getting people hot under the collar.  For the purposes of this post, I shall assume that they really mean (as their policy implies) 14 years from the creation of a work of art to the expiration of copyright.

Now, it is possible to take a position that there should be no copyright whatsoever.  If you want to take that position, then I’m not going to argue with you. Instead I shall send you to Joanne Harris’s blog  and she will tell you why you are wrong.  No, the issue for this post is how long copyright should last.

Sonny Bono
Sonny Bono – from singing hippy to conservative senator

Under current British and most international law, copyright persists for 70 years after the death of the author (or the last surviving creator, for collaborative works).  American law is more complex, in particular due to the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension act, which extended the copyright on corporate works to 120 years from the date of creation or 95 years from the date of publication, whichever is earlier.  For simplicity, let’s assume the current law is life plus 70 years.

When a work is in copyright, the copyright holder (usually the author working through a literary agent or publisher) has the right to say what can (and what cannot) be done with the work.  Through that right, the author is entitled to financial benefit from the work.  When copyright expires, the work enters the public domain.  That means that there is no restriction on the work – anyone can do what they like with it.  Derivative works can be created without the permission of the author; plays can be staged without the need to pay royalties.  The author (or, in the case of current copyright law, the author’s literary estate) derives no further income from the work.

So, is the Green Party’s 14 years enough to achieve that financial benefit?  The aim of the Green Party’s policy is to promote creativity (implicitly through the adaptation and reuse of works whose copyright has expired).  I would argue that it would have the opposite effect.
In the past few weeks, my theatrical excursions have included productions of Chess (copyright 1986), The Beauty Queen of Leenane (1996), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Barefoot in the Park (1963) and A Bedfull of Foreigners (1973).  All of those (and all of their contemporaries) would be out-of-copyright under a 14-year term.  If you consider this from the point of view of a producing company (most of whom operate on very thin margins), then if the choice is between paying royalties for a ten-year-old script or no royalties for one five years older, then for the most part, the older work will win.  So where’s the incentive to create new work?  There will be some arts bodies sponsoring new works, but otherwise, where will playwrights gain an income?  Who is going to pay authors for new work when they can get fairly recent work free of charge?  This will lead to playwrights working for nothing as the only way to get their works to the stage.  And, since publishers will not be able to achieve a return, few works will get published.

On the other hand, what’s the point of life-plus-70-years?  Copyright for the author’s lifetime is reasonably easy to justify – royalty income as a long slow trickle, in lieu of a pension – but why 70 years beyond that?  This seems to derive from the idea of a single-earner household, in which the author dies young (it used to be tuberculosis) and his widow (because all writers are men married to housewives) has to subsist on his royalty income for the rest of her life.  With modern lifespans and working patterns, this is nonsense.  A writer creating a magnum opus at thirty might get fifty years of royalty income which then benefits the literary estate for a further seventy years.  Get your own jobs, you bunch of slackers!

A case can of course, be made for supporting real dependents (generally minors) after the premature death of a writer, but I would argue that this should only last for their minority; after that, they can get proper jobs, just like anyone else.  (Proper jobs, of course, include the paid creation of new artistic works.)  That argument creates legal complexity (how do you know whether or not a work is in copyright because it is supporting dependents?)  To simplify, I would suggest a copyright duration of (say) 30 years or the life of the author, whichever was longer.

(Disclaimer: as a publisher, I administer copyright on behalf of authors, including a small number of deceased playwrights.  I should therefore stress that I shall continue to uphold the current law, even though I disagree with it!  There are a few more notes about copyright here.)

Political Afterthought

Whilst my main purpose was to discuss the logic of this single issue, there is also an interesting political consideration in that some writers wanted to dismiss the Green Party and all its works over just this one issue.  This strikes me as odd.  All political parties offer baskets of policies and generally it will be difficult to find a party whose every policy you agree with.  On the other hand, as a member of the electorate, you may have some issues that are red lines for you, and would stop you voting for a party that took a particular position.  That’s fine, except that if you are considering voting for smaller parties, it is most unlikely that they will get a majority of seats; whilst they may have an influence on policy, they will be unlikely to be able to implement their whole manifesto.

My point here is not to encourage people to support (or dismiss) any particular party.  My point is that the decision needs to be thought through.

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What did you say, Mr Bamber?

Writing plays using speech recognition software ought to be even more difficult than writing novels that way.   In this guest post, playwright Geoff Bamber explains how he does it…
Geoff Bamber
Geoff Bamber keeping quiet.

I’d like to say that my use of voice recognition software was due my being my being up-to-speed/ahead of the curve and indeed technologically savvy but no – it was and, to an extent, still is mainly down to pure laziness.

Back in the days when I thought I was a novelist, the notion of typing out a hundred thousand words or more with two slow fingers on a keyboard attached to a steam-driven computer was a bit daunting.  As I never found stream-of-consciousness babble a problem, the idea of not having to physically write it all down was very appealing.  Short of morphing into Barbara Cartland, employing a secretary and dictating to her/him from a reclining position on a chaise longue in a room that looked like the inside of a marshmallow, voice-to-text was as good as it got.

I was enticed to start with IBM Via Voice.  If I remember correctly, the publicity material showed a sharp executive leaning back his chair with his feet up on his desk dictating a business letter which he would not need to check or proof read at all before it was fit to send.  As these were the days when people still sent letters with stamps on them he would probably have to sign it himself but the general tone of the marketing was that the communication would climb into an envelope of its own accord and that was the last he would see of it, thus allowing him to take the afternoon off for a round of golf.

Unfortunately real life isn’t like that.  The software had to be ‘trained’ to be better able to recognise the speaker’s intonation though a heavy regional accent would always be a problem.  Thus my first requirement was to tone down my northern vowels (best achieved by taking the flat cap off and making sure the whippet was in the other room) and speaking slowly in standard English.

I must say my early experiences were not particularly successful but the software has got better and so have I.  I have used two or three other programmes over the years – currently Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Like the original ViaVoice, it does ‘learn’ to follow my dictation but is by no means foolproof.  It seems happier with American pronunciation and thus has trouble with seemingly simple words like ‘ladder’ and ‘daughter’.

There is a tendency to over-compensate to the point where I speak unnaturally slowly and without any expression and end up sounding like Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesiser.  In actual fact ‘normal’ speech certainly fares no worse. Even so when writing scripts, my first draft is always written on paper with a fountain pen(!) before being dictated into the software.  I only normally dictate actual dialogue.  The speaker and any stage directions are typed in by hand afterwards while the various faux pas of the voice recognition system are hopefully being picked out and corrected.

Dictating straight from imagination to screen leaves me dangerously open to reading the material afterwards and having no idea what I said as the software has concocted something that doesn’t make any sense at all.  Things tend to go haywire when I speak too quickly and when the microphone is too far away to pick up dictation clearly.  (I use a call centre-style headset.)

A good typist may well probably not find the process any quicker than typing the whole script in manually but it’s a lot less wear and tear on ageing fingers, shoulders and neck and a similarly ageing keyboard.

Over the years my typing speed has got faster but not a lot more accurate.  For me voice recognition, even with me speaking slowly, sets out text at twice the speed that I can type and makes fewer errors.  At ‘normal’ speed (i.e. how the actors might be expected to deliver the lines) the time can be halved again with only a slightly higher error count.

The major drawback is being interrupted in mid-flow, either by the dog barking, other members of the family coming into the room or me answering the phone while neglecting to switch the mike off.

I would point out that my software programme, though I am quite happy with it, is from the cheaper end of the market and that more sophisticated and presumably more accurate versions are available.

I’m even lazier now than I was when I started using voice recognition software so I’d be reluctant to abandon it and would recommend anyone to give it a try.  Just work on that Californian accent and you can’t go wrong.

[The results, in the form of Geoff’s plays, can be explored here.]

The Ultimate Question

Why?(To which the answer is not  42)

Some visitors to Damian Trasler’s blog have arrived there as a result of existential searches.  Damian found the following inbound search terms in the blog’s data log:-

lazy bee scripts/why
why/lazy bee scripts

I have no idea whether or not the searcher (I assume this was one person, although the first search term cropped-up twice) found the answer, not least because I’m not sure what the question means.  It could be

Why should I buy something from Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why is there a company called Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why did Damian Trasler choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher? Or possibly
Why should I choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher?

The answer to the first one is simple: we’re offering something that really appeals to you at a price you can afford.  Go ahead and buy it.  (Go on, you know you want to.  It’s only a few clicks away.)

The second question is about company history and how the name came about.  Maybe another day…

The third and fourth questions are questions about value proposition: what is the value of Lazy Bee Scripts to an author?
The Lazy Bee Scripts web site demonstrates what we do for authors (we sell their scripts and collect performance royalties).  There’s also plenty of information on the publishing pages of the site about the way we go about it.  What we don’t have on the web site is a simple statement of our value proposition to authors.
We don’t tell playwrights why they should use our services because, in my view, that’s putting the question the wrong way round.  I’m very happy to tell you about our service, but I don’t want to tell you that you need it, because maybe you don’t.  We’ve been publishing Damian’s scripts for around ten years – so it would be fair to assume that our services suit his needs – but only Damian can answer why that is.  So, in my view, instead of asking someone else Why Lazy Bee Scripts?, the questions for the writer should be “what do I want from a publisher?” and “which publisher comes closest to offering it?”

Sometimes “Why?” is a question you have to answer for yourself.

The Name of the Game

One of seventy-sixI recently saw a stage production of Brassed Off, set in the South Yorkshire Coalfield, somewhere near Barnsley.  In addition to learning to impersonate brass band musicians, the cast, from the south of England, had clearly spent a lot of effort on their Yorkshire accents, so that the speech came across very naturally.  (Most southerners attempting northern speech get hung-up on the contraction of “the”, as in “I’m off down t’ pit.”  Because it’s unnatural to southern speech, that contraction becomes the most important word in the sentence, spoken as a whole word, rather than the least important.  It’s the equivalent of a glottal stop, almost swallowed or, commonly, joined to the previous word.)  The only glaring error I spotted was when one character said “house” as if she came not from Barnsley, but from Sheffield.  (Crossing what poet Ian McMillan has referred to as the ‘ouse / ‘arse boundary.)

Brassed Off has a very specific location, and whilst this may present the actors with difficulties, it should be easy for the playwright to be consistent.  On the other hand, some plays have  universal stories, so geographically, they could take place anywhere.  It is the universal plays that set traps for the writer – a name that you have always used for a particular concept turns out to be specific to your region.  This is most obvious across national boundaries.  A story about a dramatic society planning their ‘AGM’ caused puzzlement in an American production of Death in Character.  An AGM is the Annual General Meeting of an organisation with a formal constitution; normally the time of the election of officers and presentation of accounts.  (The play concerns the murder of a pantomime horse, over which the production didn’t seem to bat an eyelid.)

Then there’s the business of what rooms are called.  If a play is set in a lounge, what do you expect from the set?  If you are American, you are more likely to think of the common room for visitors to an airport or hotel than the main reception room of a private house.

This all came to the fore when we were editing Not Another Nativity by Paul Cockcroft and stumbled over a children’s game.  It’s the game where somebody is “it” with the role of chasing after the other players and touching one, who then becomes “it” and the game continues.  So, you know the game; now what is it called?  In the script, it’s “Tig”.  Nathan  had never heard of Tig, but for Sue, from the south west of England, that was the right name.  Nathan and Nickie from the south east called it “Tag” and, from the north west, I called it “Tick” (or sometimes “Tickie”).  Another part of this game is a neutral status or location where a player can’t be tagged.  In the USA, this is “base”.  Nickie called it “home” (though, interesting, her daughter – same region, different generation – calls the game Tag, but the neutral space is “the house”).  Sue called it “Cree” or “Creevie” (for reasons we couldn’t fathom) and for me it was “barley” or “barleys”, probably a corruption of the French parlez – with the obvious connotation of a truce.  Anyone got any others?