January 13, 2012

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:53

My latest column (not “lastest” as I foolishly typo-ed last week) on news from the Guild Wars 2 world is now up at GuildMag.com.

Google Kenya’s motto: Do <strike>no</strike> evil

Filed under: Africa, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:40

Someone at Google has some explaining to do:

Since October, Google’s GKBO appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so. As of January 11th, nearly 30% of our database has apparently been contacted.

Furthermore, they now seem to have outsourced this operation from Kenya to India.

When we started this investigation, I thought that we’d catch a rogue call-centre employee, point out to Google that they were violating our Terms and conditions (sections 9.12 and 9.17, amongst others), someone would get a slap on the wrist, and life would continue.

I did not expect to find a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent (falsely claiming to be collaborating with us, and worse) attempt to undermine our business, being perpetrated from call centres on 2 continents.

H/T to Megan McArdle for the link.

Update: BoingBoing got a response to their post on this issue from Google’s Vice-President for Product and Engineering, Europe and Emerging Markets:

We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites. We’ve already unreservedly apologised to Mocality. We’re still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we’ll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved.

Continuators: heroes or villains?

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:58

“What’s a continuator?” I pretend to hear you ask. Those are the folks who pick up the fallen pen of other (almost always greater) authors to write endings for unfinished works:

There’s a long list of great authors who have left work unfinished, often because of illness or death. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, to name but a few. An industry has grown up around them, of so-called “continuators” — writers eager to finish the stories that they began.

There have been a number of continuations of Austen’s Sanditon, including efforts by Juliette Shapiro and Reginald Hill, author of the Dalziel and Pascoe series. Austen had only got 11 chapters in when she stopped, enough to establish the characters, but leaving the continuators plenty of room for manoeuvre.

But why would a writer choose to finish the work of another author, rather than create original work? Surely that leads to pastiche?

It’s dangerous territory, suggests Prof John Mullan, who is currently writing a book on Austen. “What we expect when we read the work of Austen, or Dickens, or Laurence Sterne, is a particular voice, and that’s terribly difficult to bring off.”

It’s a risky strategy for an author, but perhaps it speaks to a profound need in all of us. The literary critic Frank Kermode wrote in his book Sense of an Ending about our deep-rooted need to be rewarded with conclusions.

John Sutherland, emeritus professor at University College London, agrees. “Kermode famously observed that when we hear a clock go tick tick tick, what we hear is tick tock tick tock, because we like beginnings and endings. We’re hardwired, like lemmings going over a cliff.”

My experiences with continuators has been quite mixed. I’ve never been able to read anything by Spider Robinson since he “finished” a novel from Robert A. Heinlein’s very early period. I hated it so much that it actually diminished my admiration for Heinlein’s entire body of work (I eventually recovered). On the other hand, I quite enjoyed Great King’s War which was a sequel to H. Beam Piper’s Kalvan of Otherwhen. John F. Carr and Roland J. Green did an excellent job of writing in the same voice as Piper and took his characters in believable directions.

Movie and music piracy: what’s the real economic cost?

Filed under: Economics, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:00

On the Freakonomics blog, Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman look at the actual costs of piracy compared to the ludicrous claimed costs:

Supporters of stronger intellectual property enforcement — such as those behind the proposed new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills in Congress — argue that online piracy is a huge problem, one which costs the U.S. economy between $200 and $250 billion per year, and is responsible for the loss of 750,000 American jobs.

These numbers seem truly dire: a $250 billion per year loss would be almost $800 for every man, woman, and child in America. And 750,000 jobs — that’s twice the number of those employed in the entire motion picture industry in 2010.

The good news is that the numbers are wrong — as this post by the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez explains. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office released a report noting that these figures “cannot be substantiated or traced back to an underlying data source or methodology,” which is polite government-speak for “these figures were made up out of thin air.”

More recently, a smaller estimate — $58 billion — was produced by the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI). But that IPI estimate, as both Sanchez and tech journalist Tim Lee have pointed out, is replete with methodological problems, including double- and triple-counting, that swell the estimate of piracy losses considerably.

Do you write fan fiction? You might want to check for plagiarists re-using your work

Filed under: Books, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:49

Plagiarism is a problem, but how do you react when someone takes your (erotic) fan fiction work without permission and packages and re-sells it?

After checking the author page for Maria Cruz, who that day had the top-selling erotica book in Amazon’s U.K. Kindle store, she counted 40 erotica ebook titles, including Sister Pretty Little Mouth, My Step Mom and Me, Wicked Desires Steamy Stories and Domenating [sic] Her, plus one called Dracula’s Amazing Adventure. Most erotica authors stay within the genre, so Sharazade was surprised Cruz had ventured into horror. Amazon lets customers click inside a book for a sample of text and Sharazade was impressed with how literate it was. She extracted a sentence fragment, googled it, and found that Cruz had copy and pasted the text from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Curious, Sharazade keyed in phrases from other Cruz ebooks and discovered that every book she checked was stolen.

[. . .]

It turns out Cruz isn’t the only self-published plagiarist. Amazon is rife with fake authors selling erotica ripped word-for-word from stories posted on Literotica, a popular and free erotic fiction site that according to Quantcast attracts more than 4.5 million users a month, as well as from other free online story troves. As recently as early January, Robin Scott had 31 books in the Kindle store, and a down-and-dirty textual analysis revealed that each one was plagiarized. Rachel M. Haven, a purveyor of incest, group sex, and cheating bride stories, was selling 11 pilfered tales from a variety of story sites. Eve Welliver had eight titles in the Kindle store copied from Literotica and elsewhere, and she had even thought to plagiarize some five-star reviews. Luke Ethan’s author page listed four works with titles like My Step Mom Loves Me and OMG My Step-Brother in Bisexual, and it doesn’t appear he wrote any of them. Maria Cruz had 19 ebooks and two paperbacks, all of which were created by other authors and republished without their consent, while her typo-addled alter ego Mariz Cruz was hawking Wicked Desire: Steamy bondage picture volume 1. 

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