23 September 2012

Orcs and CROs

Edmund Wilson famously dismissed Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring in a 14 April 1956 review in The Nation titled 'Oo those awful orcs'.
... these bugaboos are not magnetic; they are feeble and rather blank; one does not feel they have any real power. The Good People simply say 'Boo' to them. There are Black Riders, of whom everyone is terrified but who never seem anything but specters. There are dreadful hovering birds - think of it, horrible birds of prey! There are ogreish disgusting Orcs, who, however, rarely get to the point of committing any overt acts. There is a giant female spider - a dreadful creepy-crawly spider! - who lives in a dark cave and eats people.
... the climax, to which we have been working up through exactly nine hundred and ninety-nine large close-printed pages, when it comes, proves extremely flat. The ring is at last got rid of by being dropped into a fiery crater, and the kingdom of Sauron 'topples' in a brief and banal earthquake that sets fire to everything and burns it up, and so releases the author from the necessity of telling the reader what exactly was so terrible there. Frodo has come to the end of his Quest, but the reader has remained untouched by the wounds and fatigues of his journey. An impotence of imagination seems to me to sap the whole story. The wars are never dynamic; the ordeals give no sense of strain; the fair ladies would not stir a heartbeat; the horrors would not hurt a fly.
Now, how is it that these long-winded volumes of what looks to this reviewer like balderdash have elicited such tributes as those above? The answer is, I believe, that certain people - especially, perhaps, in Britain - have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash. They would not accept adult trash, but, confronted with the pre-teen-age article, they revert to the mental phase which delighted in Elsie Dinsmore and Little Lord Fauntleroy and which seems to have made of Billy Bunter, in England, almost a national figure. You can see it in the tone they fall into when they talk about Tolkien in print: they bubble, they squeal, they coo; they go on about Malory and Spenser - both of whom have a charm and a distinction that Tolkien has never touched. 
I'm reminded of Wilson's sensible criticism in reading 'Cautionary Tales About Collective Rights Organizations' by Jonathan Band of Georgetown University Law Center, which centres on entities that are quite as scary as Sauron or the horrible horrible birds of prey and even more naughty.

Collective rights organisations (CROs) - aka copyright collecting societies - are an integral feature of Australia's copyright regime and despite criticisms that are sometimes both valid and painful have overall done a job.

Band has looked on the dark side, highlighting bad societies - scary and sharp-toothed beasts - in warning that
Collective licensing has been suggested as a possible solution for the obstacle copyright law places in the path of new uses of works enabled by innovative technologies. Collective licensing does have the potential to reduce transaction costs when a large number of works are licensed to a large number of users, thereby benefiting both rights holders and users. However, the actual track record of collective rights organizations (CROs), the entities that manage collective licenses, reveals that they often fail to live up to that potential. Although there are a wide variety of CROs operating under divergent legal frameworks, many unfortunately share the characteristic of serving their own interests at the expense of artists and the public.
The CROs are well-funded and well-organized, and have succeeded in promoting themselves and the collective licensing model. The objective of this compilation is to tell the other side of the story – to provide balance to any policy discussion that addresses collective licensing and CROs. The episodes collected below reveal a long history of corruption, mismanagement, confiscation of funds, and lack of transparency that has deprived artists of the revenues they earned. At the same time, CROs have often aggressively sought fees to which they were not legally entitled or in a manner that discredited the copyright system. While properly regulated CROs in some circumstances enhance efficiency and advance the interests of rights holders and users, policymakers must be aware of this history as they consider the appropriateness of CROs as a possible solution to a specific copyright issue.