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Friday, 12 February 2010


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As much respect as I have for a man such as Harlan Ellison, there is a certain part of me that would argue that ignorance of a technology or its mechanics is no excuse.

If YouTube has, has he said, mis-appropriated his "jeremiad," then he should follow the proper channels to lodge a copyright infringement complaint with them, and surely the video will be removed.

Perhaps this is the tangled web we find ourselves in as technology advances with greater speed than the content creators can match, but this is also the reality of the digital world, and it has been so throughout the advancement of technology.

Coming back on topic, the moment a photographer puts his work on the Internet, he or she must take into consideration the various topics of watermarking, metadata, copyright notices, and all of the related techniques that will surely come around the bend in time. Not doing so results in misappropriation, and as illegal or immoral as such an act may be, the responsibility is that of the content creator to protect their interests.

Still, that is one killer note!

Of course now that you published his note, you have to send him another cheque, and it goes on and on...

Ever since I started reading your blog a year ago, Mike, I've thought that you fully deserve to be referred to as a mensch.

If I haven't done so before let me say that you brighten my day every time I dial in, which is most days.

I love this story. Having been a avid reader and fan of Mr. Ellison's work for decades I had the pleasure of talking with him on the phone once. He was so not the irascible man we'd come to assume. Polite, charming, entertaining--all in a matter of a few minute conversation. Plus, and I'll never forget this, somehow he managed to seamlessly segue into what his currently released project was, in case I hadn't bought it yet. The note is exactly what I've come to expect since then. Thanks for the story.

Thanks Lubo!


I'm not belittling Ellison, or anyone else. This is the Digital Revolution, perhaps a greater impact than the Industrial Revolution.

I've simply adjusted to it, and I'm 57.

What an excellent story! Good on you, Mike, for taking the time to track him down and honor his wishes. And what a reward!

"the ancient manual Olympus typewriter"

Just a clarification. Is it an Olympus typewriter, or an Olympia? I did a google search, and all I could find was Olympia.

You know us nerds.


Since when does someone hold copyright over videos made of them? Or any expectation of payment. If he really wants to get paid every time he says something, he should hold court and forbid being recorded.

Also, you should have sent the check to the people who made that film (and actually did the work), no? Whether they compensated Mr. Ellison for his time is their business.

Frame it!

I suppose when the postal service replaced personal couriers as the modern method of delivering correspondence, many (rich people who could afford the pony and the courier) bemoaned the loss of the personal touch in the tidal swarm of stamped letters.

Now that the digital revolution has reached even the decrepit ranks of the 57 year olds among us (you go Misha, dude!), it's always refreshing to recognize that few communications warm the heart like a personal note in the mail, written by hand.

For example, compare the feeling you get from looking at that note with what you might have felt if Mr. Ellison had posted his message on Facebook. The latter (like this very note I'm writing), lost in a cloud of blather, the former sitting on your desk, bringing a grin every time it catches your eye.

Some revolutions are better than others.

Well, my brain was thinking "Olympia," but my fingers are used to typing "Olympus" (and I just about did it again, in this sentence!). Anyway, fixed, and thanks for the correction.


If you want to be a real ass, put the note up on eBay. ;)

I wouldn't have thought to do what you did. But I do "subscribe" to your blog, so I'm glad that I've contributed to your ability to act the way you did. Making me think I'm spending my money well.

For other examples of Mr. Ellison's contentious nature see the recent postings at:

I have to concede that I see his point. I've been trying to write a novel, and yesterday I spent a solid 12-hour day moderating comments and dealing with email correspondence. It's getting so that there are occasions I have so much else to do that don't have enough time to write blog posts. Honestly.


He didn't have a claim to my $25. He just made it clear that's what he wants. The makers of the video didn't ask, at least not in a way that I was exposed to or that was made clear to me.


Being complimented by Harlan Ellison is worth far more than 25 bucks, indeed - but the principle here is worth even more. You may see your readership spike up a bit as sci-fi fans check out the missive from Ellison:)

Mike, what you did showed a lot of integrity and thoughtfulness.

Mike, the very morning after watching the wonderful Ellison jeremiad at your link, I got an email from a TV producer doing a short show on Drive-in theaters. They wanted to use pictures from my DI project and assured me I would "be credited."

With Harlan's rant ringing in my ears, I wrote a polite but firm note back saying that I would be happy to discuss licensing terms for use of my work in a television production. Needless to say, I haven't heard another word from them.

Maybe I should go out and buy Ellison's latest book (I've been reading his work for at least forty years).


Well done. And it's a wonderful note; very funny.

I had never heard of this fellow but did watch his rant when you originally posted notice to it. I've since learned he's a noted sci-fi writer, a genre I don't follow. But I now know his name and will probably take note when/if I see it on a book...that I might BUY. I wonder if this fellow has factored the free publicity into his anger?

I know that at the age of 76 it really doesn't matter. He's apparently accomplished much in his field and is very near the end of his road. But why go out so angry and bitter? I know people his senior who are delighted at exploring new media. They're not typewriting and mailing tiny notes in in the style of 1950's-1960's. They're "tweeting" (something even I have not cared to embrace at all).

Harlan, make your peace with the times! Embrace and use the new media. Stop snarling. YouTube videos would be a terrific way to draw a new generation of sci-fi readers into your fold!

Ellison entered the SF scene, long ago (even before me) as an "angry young man", and this seems to be a permanent part of his persona (as is often the case) even though "young" is no longer strictly accurate. But while he's had lots of semi-public feuds and arguments, I've always seen a steady stream of people reporting friendly and pleasant personal interactions with him.

I also suspect he's made a lot more of his living off of speaker's fees than most people I know, which will tend to accentuate his opinion on performance rights.

If YouTube has, as he said, mis-appropriated his "jeremiad," then he should follow the proper channels to lodge a copyright infringement complaint with them, and surely the video will be removed.

The problem is one of scale. It is just not possible for many individuals or small organizations to police their copyrights effectively on the entire internet. It's really a game of whack-a-mole where as soon as one file is removed, another is uploaded. And it's not just YouTube, but scores of other video sites, web sites, etc.

In order to get your copyrighted information taken down, you have to spend time and resources interacting with each site and of course following up with your claim. For a creative person who would really rather spend their time creating, this can be large burden to assume, and many are understandably upset that they are put in the position of being copyright police for their own creations.

Most web sites on the internet are not 'non-profit.' In the case of sites like YouTube, they solicit content from their users so they can sell advertising. Most web sites have some sort of revenue stream that depends on the number of visitors to their site being exposed to some form of advertising or affiliate program.

Why shouldn't a copyright holder, who will see nothing from that advertising revenue stream, be upset that his creation is being used in someone else's business model without his permission, with all the responsibility on detecting infringement move to the creator?

That's nice. No complaints here, but Mr. Ellison is known for taking care of himself. If he really wants to.

I remember an essay he wrote about a publisher who legally "owned" one of Ellison's pieces, and decided (as I recall) not to publish it. Therefore Mr. Ellison was hosed. He had no control over his own work.

Letters did not help. Telephoning did not help. He was ignored. So then he tried the "Ellison Technique", or what it should be called if it ever got a name.

He began sending even more letters to this publisher, and each letter was wrapped around a brick.

There was no response.

Ellison kept doing it.


Eventually the publisher went crazy, miraculously changed his mind, and transferred ownership of the piece back to Ellison.

I think this took well over a year. Something like that. But you can't do this any more. Too bad, I think.

Mr. Ellison can take care of himself, and now he's your friend too. It's just possible (I hope not) that you may need his services some day. Do not fear.

Mike -

Rather than blah blah blah what a great guy you are and how fantastic I always find this site to be (and, oh, how I could go on...), I will simply give a nod of the head in your general direction, and hit the tip jar on my way out.....

What's an "auk-turd?"

I'll remember to check one of his books at the library if I ever decide to read him.

This article has been twittered by Neil Gaiman. Congrats. That should bring you yet more quality readers.

Fantastic. Thanks very much for sharing this. And regardless of current ways of using content online, I think he makes a good point that everyone should get paid for what they do. John Scalzi was making a similar point in the last few months when he pointed out that Black Matrix magazine is paying less than a pittance at 1/5 cents a word for fiction. Sure, technology trends is one thing, but I think Mike got it right--we should respect the wishes of the author/creator.

"why go out so angry and bitter?"

I'm surprised he's even still alive, with the kind of anger he has been famous for displaying for half a century, I'd think he'd be dead now by ulcers, arthritis, and heart attacks.

I used to be quite angry, but I've worked on it, because it's just not worth it. Even if you think you have a justified cause, you usually get further with being pleasant, and you feel better.

I hesitated to mention this earlier because it is somewhat defamatory to Mr. Ellison's character (albeit as much so to the characters of his antagonists in the story) but he once (in 2005) shared the guest of honor spot at Foolscap (a book/writer convention) with the authors of a massive online comic, Penny Arcade. They had something of an altercation and they subsequently told the tale on their site.

I think that regardless of whether you are a whipper-snapper gamer who doesn't know who Harlan is or you are a sci-fi buff who detests "kids these days" I think the story itself is pretty entertaining. And, as I tried to disclaim, neither side comes out in a morally superior position: all parties end up striking me as being just a little rude.

Anyway, since the legend of Harlan Ellison as an angry persona remains a relevant topic, I offer to you the link to the brief retelling that the authors of Penny Arcade offered: http://www.penny-arcade.com/2005/9/26/ I hope those who read it share my enjoyment of the humor in it.

Gah! Don't call Ellison a sci-fi writer or you get seven years of technological bad luck. That's even worse than calling him a science fiction writer!

As Mike points out, he prefers "speculative fiction" (as do I, with my work); applying sci-fi as a label implies he only write in a small niche of literature. Speculative fiction encompasses huge swaths of the bookstore, from science fiction to horror to fantasy to Twilight Zone to historical "what if" fiction.

For those new to Harlan, I highly recommend finding anything the man reads...he is a consummate verbal storyteller as well as an author. And if you want a study of the effects of TV on society, the two "Glass Teat" books from the 60's & 70's are used in college courses across the country.

Mike, thank you for sharing that story. It goes along beautifully with several other Harlan stories, from the mail war with an editor (it started out with bricks) and the real reason he thought he was banned from Aggiecon in Texas.

I've been an Ellison fan for many years, too bad there hasn't been much output except for lawsuits lately.

I seem to recall that he trademarked his name a few years ago. Perhaps he's beyond that now.

For what its worth, back in the 1970s I had a dream that he ran off with my (now ex-) wife. Strange that I had that dream, stranger that I still remember it. Vividly.

You know that it is also very hip with the young to embrace the old technology. Like my teenage and young adult children who have talked me into an old olympia typewriter that is used by them for thewriting of novels and plays. It is easy to find many young people (including my children) starting to explore film and instant film.

Interesting, as they are very much a part of the modern age with their facebooking, texting, and tweeting. They like the tactile feel of these things and the process.

Perhaps Harlan is ahead of his time. That typewriter has outlasted many technological advances. Kind of similar to the large format color photographs of Russia from 1910. My friend in his 30's couldn't believe that they weren't produced with a digital camera and photoshop.

Mike, can you post your letter to him (if you had made a copy) that elicited this response from Harlan? Just curious.

- Ram

Mike -

I've been a fan of Harlan Ellison's since the 1970's, have many of his books personally autographed to me -- and some just generically autographed. He is a great writer, a pretty cool human being and a champion of the little guy in the little guy's fight against "the man." I wouldn't be surprised if he never cashes the check. You've made your point, he's made his. Apparently you've made his day too.

"...I used a photograph of Umida Akhmedova I got from the Radio Free Europe site. But I credited them and linked back to them. Is that enough? Hope so."

Why not ask them?

That's always been my approach when I needed to use a photo. If I didn't get a response or couldn't find the source, I assumed "no" and found something else.

I heard Harlan speak in his prime back in the late 60's or early 70's. He toured campuses and such and had stories to tell and yarns to spin… He belittled a lot of people that night, mostly his peers, but he was funny as hell doing it and you had the felling they would not mind. When the event was opened to questions from the audience he became embittered that someone ask him about some political movie he had a hand in that was a flop instead of his current flick, 'A Boy and His Dog' which was a very good flick for the time. He basically verbably crucified a poor young student who only wanted to ask a question in an open forum. Harlan can be quite charming and extremely demeaning in a matter of seconds for reasons that one can only say are his own. (Read that ego).
Many of us who enjoyed Harlan’s work are aware that he has had a 'writers block', as he calls it, for many years now. Some call it another thing but that is another story. For a science fiction writer to avoid ‘new’ technology is cause for pause.
I am glad that you ended up on his good side; the other side is not pretty at all. And heck, I like Harlan.

John Steven

Mark Evanier @ http://www.newsfromme.com/, has some similar comments as Harlan. Scalzi is mentioned.

It is very old style may be but to type it so that you can read it and handwrite a bit so that it is personal, such a good style and manner.

As regards to accept technology, well, if one should have the liberty to live a better and nicer world one think it is and they do not need to come out from the cave and serve a notice of DRM etc. so that others can take down the video posted on youtube.

Having said that, one may also note that most of the money is not lost as they are not going to pay you in the first place if it is charged.

In fact, one of my favorite upload is a TV show for a charity event in 1970s. I would not see it again without YouTube.

While it's true that it's unfair for creators to have to actively police their own copyrights online, there really isn't a good solution.

Assuming that YouTube is allowed to exist, it's difficult to make them responsible for user content, since the whole model is that anyone can pretty much post anything. It would be counter productive and expensive to assume that a website could vet all submissions for copyright infringement. So it's not fair for them, or the copyright holder, to have to deal with it.

It's really the fault of the person posting the copyrighted material, but enforcing any law against that is going to be difficult simply because of scale.

The alternative is for YouTube to be responsible for all copyrights, in which case YouTube probably wouldn't exist. Is that preferable? I don't think so, but I could see the other side.

Really, Mike.

The decision to moderate comments is all yours. Would a free-flow forum be that much different?

Get a reliable regular to delete the aggressively stupid and let the conversation flow. Trust your readers.

And write your novel.


Jim wrote:
"Why shouldn't a copyright holder, who will see nothing from that advertising revenue stream, be upset that his creation is being used in someone else's business model without his permission, with all the responsibility on detecting infringement move to the creator?"

This is precisely the gripe I have with far too many blogs and sites. No context that meets the real meaning of "fair use" or "criticism", simply a device to entice others to their own advertising-supported site.

The fact that TOP is not like this is not unconnected to my enjoyment of it :)

John Herndon: "For a science fiction writer to avoid ‘new’ technology is cause for pause."

I'd say the job of a science fiction writer is not to use new (or existing) technology, but to have interesting, or at least entertaining, things to say about it.

And as far as I can tell, Harlan Ellison still has those - in spades.

I'm another who has read and enjoyed the writing of Harlan Ellison over time and would recommend those who read looking at his fiction.

Really, it should not be necessary for someone to embrace technology, nor track down and interact with those who misappropriate his material in one form or another. Sometimes anger and dismay is not inappropriate, whether you like the source or not.

As far as being 'required' to embrace whatever technology currently is in the mainstream, that's silly: technology is extremely transitory, vapid in and of itself, or more simply a tool that quickly dulls and is tossed away for the latest, greatest tool, which in turn suffers the same fate.


I didn't see the video the first time around, but I heartily agree with him.

" Is that enough? Hope so." At least in this case I think so. Your original link cause me to sample the documentary, "Dreams with Sharp Teeth". In turn I downloaded a rental of the entire video via Amazon. Liked it so much I ordered the DVD and a copy of the books "Minefields" and "Angry Candy". I am of course assuming this generated some revenue for Mr. Ellison, shamefully probably less than the $25.00 you sent him. "Angry Candy" by the way is worth many times the price of purchase.

Unless an author is creating work of a distinctly autobiographical nature, how they live their life and what they choose to embrace or not embrace is in no way the reader's business. The reader is not being invited to vet their life nor do they have status or standing to do so.

Putting it bluntly, their life is not your entertainment.

Many science fiction authors do not engage various types of technology. Isaac Asimov, hardly an example of a technophobe, would not fly. Ray Bradbury was of the same persuasion until quite late in his life, and he has some very entertaining stories to tell about finally overcoming that fear. (Ray is a lot of fun.)

When it comes down to the act of writing, it's even sillier for a reader to think that *how* the author writes has anything to do with *what* they write. Some authors love the computer. Some much prefer the typewriter. Others prefer to write out their drafts longhand on traditional yellow pads. Samuel R. Delany is one of those. For that matter, although she is "merely" a technical writer, so does my housemate, Paula, and she is probably as technophilic as they come. Why do they do that? For the same reason that I go way beyond most people and consider any kind of the keyboard hopelessly archaic and inferior to voice recognition: because each of us chooses the way that works best for us to organize our thoughts into the written word.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 


I have had to fix the link to his article about once per year over the past decade, as the glacial drift of webpages broke each link in turn. I could have mirrored his article, but that would have been wrong, so I didn't.

I've also bought just about every book I've seen in the store with his name on it for the past thirty or forty years... sometimes multiple copies due to people not returning books I've loaned out... so I think I'm OK on the financial front.

Dear Michael,

Yes, a free-flow forum would be much different. There is no unmoderated forum out there that is not plagued by trolls and other borderline (or not so borderline) sociopaths or that does not erupt periodically into flame wars.

Some people are willing to tolerate that. Mike isn't one of them. For that matter, neither am I. I do not participate in unmoderated fora.

99% of the readership is trustworthy. The other 1% isn't. That 1% will poison it for a lot of people. Even this venue, which has an amazingly civilized audience, has its share of problem children that Mike has to deal with behind the scenes.

In theory Mike could offload some of the burden to someone else, and he may very well have to at some point as circulation continues to grow. But since it won't reduce the total amount of work, it has to be someone who's willing to show a substantial fraction of the commitment level that Mike does, in exchange for no compensation and no real ownership. (Such people exist, bless their altruistic souls. The CompuServe fora made substantial use of assistant sysops. )

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

To Ken and other non-enthusiasts of science fiction: Harlan Ellison is also a superb essayist and critic, as well as a superlative writer of speculative fiction. If you're not interested in making a foray into a genre which previously held no interest for you, I strongly encourage you to read one of his volumes of non-fiction.

Best wishes, Mickey

It appears Harlan has changed his tune a bit. In the past all he wanted was to be asked and then anyone can have any of his work for FREE as long as he was given some credit. See this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwyyJ3D3g1E Also Harlan would be happy to know that, if not for this article which is based on a YouTube video by the way and the exposure of he got from YouTube, I would never have heard of him or his work. See Harlan this dang YouTube thingy probably has sold some of your books and given you exposure you would have otherwise never have had. Don't bite the NEW hand that is feeding you and try on something a little different, like gratitude.

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