Round up #232: B&N closings, get better Jeff Bezos

Round up #232: B&N closings, get better Jeff Bezos

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Jeff Bezos airlifted from the Galapagos for medical emergency

Things have had a positive outcome, but this was a serious situation. I mention that, because there is a temptation to do jokes about this, which I am going to resist. Jeff Bezos has had a big positive impact on my life, and right now, I just wish Amazon’s CEO (Chief Executive Officer) a speedy recovery.

Jeff was apparently celebrating the new year in the Galapagos Islands. I’ve been there: amazing place! According to this

USA Today article by Alistair Barr

and other sources, Bezos had a kidney stone problem, and was helicoptered out by the Ecuadorian Navy to where the CEO’s private jet could rush back to the USA.

No surgery was required, and things look good.

There are a lot of non-surgical ways of dealing with kidney stones nowadays.

Best to Jeff Bezos and family!

I will comment on one thing…according to the article (and again, other sources), Jeff said, “Galapagos: five stars. Kidney stones: zero stars…”

That may confuse some people. It’s a reference to the rating system at Amazon…but you can’t give zero stars there (you have to go between one and five). I’ve seen people complain about that inability to give a zero. Obviously, buying a paper towel holder can’t have a negative effect on you like having kidney stones can, so perhaps that was the suggestion here.

Round of Barnes & Noble closures

It was quite a surprise recently when a local Barnes & Noble closed! There hadn’t been a big sale or anything, as far as I know…it was just gone. There is still one not too far away, but this is the one I would consider to be most local. Doing a quick Google search, looks like quite a few closed at the end of 2013 (I’ll link articles):

  • Two closed in Fort Worth, Texas…one of them had been open since 1996
  • One closed in Pasadena, California after doing business there for about twenty years
  • One closed in Pleasant Hill, California after 19 years…according to the article, it was the last new bookstore (as opposed to used books) in that town
  • One closed in Gainesville, Florida after about twenty years
  • One closed in Kahala Mall in Hawaii (the link to the story didn’t work)
  • One looked like it would close in Royal Oak, Michigan…the city appeared to be looking for other tenants
  • Despite an online petition, one closed in Tracy, California, where, interestingly (but unrelated…it does no retail business), an Amazon fulfillment center recently opened

For balance, here is a nice article which quotes the manager of a Barnes & Noble that just opened in Princeton, New Jersey.

Is this the beginning of the end?

Probably not…Barnes & Noble has often closed stores at the end of the year. Most of these stories seemed to mention the rents going up. That’s something that is going to happen, particularly as some things in the economy appear to be improving.

However, that would have been less of an issue if they’d been stronger.

Interesting also how many of these opened about twenty years ago…

Is Sherlock Holmes in the public domain? Judge makes a statement

I’ve written extensively in this blog about copyright and public domain. The latter is what happens when a book is not under copyright protection (most commonly, because the term has expired). The book then goes into the “public domain”…it is owned by the public. At that point, anybody can do anything they want with the book, without getting the permission of the (former) copyright holders.

It gets much more complicated when a character appears in a series of books, though. There may be some books which are still under copyright protection, and some which are in the public domain.

The Conan Doyle Estate has been quite protective of Sherlock Holmes, and people doing new works based on the character (the Robert Downey movie, Elementary on CBS, the BBC series) typically pay the estate a license.


Leslie Klinger was concerned with what the estate wanted, and challenged the control (at least over the characters as they appeared in what are now public domain works in the USA, ones published before 1923).

Here’s an article that summarizes it:

New York Times article by Jennifer Schuessler

What the estate argued was considered to be a stretch by some, but it is fascinating.

As I understand it, they basically said that works written about Sherlock Holmes are based on the “completed” character, which has to take into account things written after the 1923 cut-off…even if they don’t mention specific events from the later books.

I think I’ve come up with a good way to explain the argument.

When Superman started out, he didn’t fly…he could “leap tall buildings in a single bound”, but not actually fly. I’ve always thought that it showed brilliant management that DC allowed others to add to Superman’s “definition”. I wrote about that here:

When Superman wasn’t so super

However, for the sake of explanation, let’s pretend (and this is not true) that the Superman stories before he could fly were in the public domain, and the ones where he could fly weren’t.

Now, let’s further imagine that someone writes a story about Superman. In the story, Superman “arrives on the scene”, but it isn’t specified how. Wouldn’t you naturally assume Supes flew there? Sure, because that’s the Superman you know. I suppose that the writer could even have Superman say, “I just flew in from Metropolis.” That could have been in a plane, right? 😉

That was the basic argument, from what I can tell. You can’t write about Sherlock Holmes without benefiting from elements that are under copyright, even without mentioning them specifically.

While I still need to read

Judge Ruben Castillo’s statement (pdf)

completely, the judge ruled against that argument (again, based on my understanding). The judge’s carefully ruled in favor of Klinger in regards to pre-1923 elements and against in terms of post-1923 elements.

I believe there could still be appeals here. We don’t have our next round of books going into the public domain in the USA until 2019, by the way…but that’s not true everywhere.

What do you think? Did your local Barnes & Noble close at the end of the year? If it did, will you miss it? While this is not at all the case here, how dependent do you think Amazon is on Jeff Bezos? If Jeff wasn’t able to be the CEO, what kind of impact would that have on the company and on your perception of it? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

9 Responses to “Round up #232: B&N closings, get better Jeff Bezos”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I was clearing out some old purses the other day, and I came across my Books a Million discount card. It expired in 2005. I’m not sure if that’s the date when the local store closed, but it was the first of the big chains to leave the area. Then Camelot. Then Borders. I didn’t get to Barnes and Noble this holiday season due to bad weather.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Bad weather certainly didn’t help brick-and-mortars this season.

      I’ll bet you had a few other chains leave, as well…Waldenbooks, Crown Books, maybe a Brentano’s…

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        LOL! Perhaps those -8 degree temps froze my brain as well as my feet! I meant Waldensbooks when I wrote Camelot. I realized after I’d logged out and shut the computer down, but no edit button anyway, and I figured you’d know what I meant. Even when both chains were open, I still got the names mixed up. Both stores closed locally at the same time. Since Camelot did sell music books, I wasn’t totally out in the cold. There were no Crown or Bentano’s locally. We’d already lost the local bookstores before the chains started pulling out.

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    First, let me wish you belated holiday greetings, and a happy New Year! (I’ve been taking a 3-week end of year vegitation — I’m just getting back into harness — I have a few comments stacked up on a few of your recent posts which I’ll get to in the fullness of time 😀 ).

    Second, (in regards to yesterday’s post) I hope you were able to change the password on your AOL account — I would hate to think of any of my private emails to you going astray (:grin).

    One thing that might govern the scheduling of BN store closures might have to do with store lease terms/expiration dates. My local BN (10 miles away) has been pretty moribund for several years now — I’m surprised it hasn’t closed — perhaps it has to do with it being the only BN for 40 miles in any direction.

    As to the Sherlock Holmes thing — what I don’t understand is why they don’t do what Disney has done and trademark the character name (Disney has famously trademarked Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, etc.).

    The interesting thing for me in 2014 vis a vis intellectual property will be the resolution of two cases before SCOTUS having to do with the patentability of software. When I started out as a programmer some 45 years ago, software was not patentable — one could, however, copyright it. I still feel this is the better approach. Two appellate courts have differed on the issue: one arguing from the patent law’s intent as stated in the constitution is that software is not patentable; the other arguing that given the innumerable software patents granted over the past 30 years, invalidating software patents at this late date would be inexcusably disruptive.

    In a recent post you touched on the failure of tradpubs to be very aggressive in releasing eBook versions of their backlists. This has always seemed like easy money to me.

    I have noticed that some still popular (although dead) authors were finding their way into ePrint. Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe) has been available in eBook form almost since the debut of the kindle. PG Wodehouse OTOH had not (although a huge swath of his oeuvre was in the public domain). Your post motivated me to do some spot checking on the backlist situation. They seem to be making progress — a lot of Wodehouse post 1925 is now available on the kindle as is all of Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey series.

    One area of particular interest to me were the Stratemeyer syndicate books. These were originally published by Grosset & Dunlap (now an imprint of Penguin); however, in the early 80’s most of the Stratemeyer syndicate properties were sold to Simon & Schuster. Some of the series (most notably the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew) are available for the kindle confusingly (at least to me) from Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin. Tom Swift Jr, however, is not.

    In doing a search for ebook versions of the Tom Swift Jr titles, I did come across a slew of PDF versions of the titles from a bunch of dodgy sites in Russia. One of these sites mentioned that the Stratemeyer stuff had passed to S&S, and these versions were being released as a kind of homage. I downloaded one, and began to read, the main characters all were present, but many of the secondary characters and the dialog seemed way too current; way beyond my recollected 1950’s usage. Suspicious, I ordered a used pBook of the same title: “Tom Swift and his Flying Lab” — as a kind of back-handed Christmas present 🙂 .

    I read both versions. The main characters, and the overall plot outline were the same. Secondary characters some technology, and language had all been updated. Some passages were identical with the original; some parts had been completely rewritten. The cover image with the PDF was the dust jacket from the original 1954 pBook, but the ISBN was for a paperback version of the title released in 1978 by ACE with a completely different cover image. The one major difference was the geneology presented for the Swift family. They stated the family was descended from Jonathan Swift (the gall!). Barton Swift from the 1890’s, and Tom Swift Sr from 1910-40’s was as in the original series, but then they insert a wholly new “Damon Swift” generation in the 50’s-90’s who worked on NASA’s shuttle, and was the father of the current Tom Swift protagonist — pushing the timeline into the early 21st century!

    My question is: is any of this legal? Can it be construed as “fair use”? In retrospect neither version has turned out to be particularly interesting to me — I guess I’ll let Tom Swift Jr lie. Maybe I’ll try the Hardy Boys again (:grin).

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Good to hear from you again! 🙂

      Here’s a quote from Klinger regarding trademarking Sherlock:

      “There is a very good reason why the Estate did not assert trademark protection: The Estate does not own any trademarks,” Klinger told PW. “They have applied for them, and there will be substantial opposition.”

      Here’s the Conan Doyle Estate on Holmes and copyright/trademarks:

      My intuition, here, is that they may not have filed for trademark status as early as they perhaps should have, maybe counting on copyright to be sufficient…until it wasn’t. Just speculation, though.

      I remember when various in-copyright works have been updated, but generally, by the copyright holder (I believe). For example, I think the Choose Your Own Adventure books came out with versions which included more modern technology, but were otherwise largely the original works.

      If that was the case with the ACE books, then that would be legal.

      If it was parody, it would be legal (in the USA…not in Canada, as I understand it).

      Otherwise, and you would get some arguments from some fanfic writers about this, it would likely not be.

      The Soviet Union (not the current Russia) was not particularly heralded as a guardian of Western copyrights. 😉 Famously, there is a parallel series of Oz books, which are quite fascinating, strongly built on the Baum books…but did not acknowledge L. Frank Baum when they were published (and were a success). Russia has, I believe, now lengthened copyright terms to the same as the USA (Life+70) for Russian works, and I think they follow the “shorter term” rule for foreign works (they go with the other country’s shorter term than the Russian one, if that applies). Don’t hold me to all that, though. 🙂

      I was able to change my AOL password…but it would have been possible for them to download e-mails from you before that, I suppose. Again, I’d be cautious about things that appear to have come from me.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        Just to be clear the 1978 Ace paperback version of “Tom Swift and his Flying Lab” was an authorized version of the original 1954 title. (ACE was acquired by Grosset & Dunlap in 1972.) G&D was subsequently acquired by GP Putnam which was later acquired by Penguin– so both G&D and ACE are today active Penguin imprints. Based on internal evidence, the PDF version was written much later: either late 90’s or early oughties. The quality of the writing and copy editing of both versions was comparable.

        Back to SH for a moment. Almost all of the SH titles are in the public domain — as they were written before 1923. Only a couple of short stories from “The Casebook of SH” were written after 1923 (Doyle strove mightily in his later years to put Holmes behind him). It seems to me that the heirs are arguing over scraps. I also seem to recall that there has been some controversy among the heirs themselves as to who has rights to what.

        I wonder whether Fox paid anything to the heirs for the two films they made with Basil Rathbone in 1939: The Hound of the Baskervilles”, and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”? Only THOTB was based on a Doyle story (written in 1901 –Doyle died in 1930).

        I’ve stated it before, and I’ll do it again here 😀 : I think the copyright terms are far too long.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        Just to be clear, there are ten original Holmes stories that aren’t in that public domain group. The status being addressed here is their status in the USA. This blog has, I think, the related court documents:

        This is Klinger’s blog:

        I know one of the elements of the later stories is Watson’s second marriage.

        I believe the ten still in copyright stories would be these, although I’m not positive (since it depends on publication dates in the USA):

        The Adventure of the Creeping Man
        The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
        he Adventure of the Three Garridebs
        The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
        The Adventure of the Three Gables
        The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
        The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane
        The Adventure of the Retired Colourman
        The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
        The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place

        As to copyright…well, you know I’ve explored the idea of permanent copyright (in part in exchange for looser fair use rules for education), and I still find that an interesting idea.

        Back to Tom Swift: if the suggestion here is that the story was rewritten without permission while the material was under copyright, adding new elements but still largely publishing the copyrighted materials, I would assume that would be an infringement.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        about 30% of the PDF version is word for word copied from the original; the remainder is newly written. The plot is identical. There is no mention or attribution as to who created this version. There is no evidence that these versions are authorized; there is plenty of implicit evidence that they are not.

        On intellectual property protection: my belief is that the original intent of these rules was to balance the needs of society in the longer term with the need to provide compensation (a living) to the creators of such property. I do not believe that there ever was any intent that these protections should exist in perpetuity (as they effectively do now). I think IP protection should only be available to the “intellects” that create the property. It should be available to the creators during their lifetime, and to the benefit of any minor surviving children until they reach their majority.

        Only “real” people should have the protection –IE corporations should not be able to hold patents or copyrights — only “real” people. Trademarks are a different matter.

        This view is radical to say the least and has no chance of ever happening, but I think it adheres most closely to the original intent of the intellectual property rules.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        Basing a copyright term on a condition of the registrant seems inherently unfair for me. I’ve always been surprised that someone hasn’t successfully challenged any Life+X years term on the basis of ageism.

        Here’s the issue: let’s say somebody publishes a book when that person is 25 years old. Another person publishes a book when they are 75 years old. Statistically, the younger person is going to be able to reap the governmental protection for a much longer period. That doesn’t seem fair to me.

        The same thing would be true if you base it on surviving children. “Okay, honey, the book should be done in about eight months…let’s make a baby, so we can make money longer!” Basing the term on the life (or even the likely lifespan) of surviving children discriminates against those who can’t or choose not to have children. Again, you run into the issue with age: a 75 year old’s children won’t likely live as long as a 25 year old’s children.

        Another real issue is going to come when software is recognized as the author of a copyrightable work: how do you determine lifespan then?

        Those issues, and to make it much simpler to tell if something is still under copyright, make me favor a discreet term (if any term is appropriate): 100 years, 50 years, the original 14 years…that sort of thing. Renewal requirements have also really complicated things in the past, but those don’t exist in the US at this point.

        I also don’t think you can frame current property rights around the property rights that mattered in the 18th Century. My understanding is that copyright was sparked in part by the need to protect map makers, who would finance dangerous expeditions to gather the morphology of a coast line, for example…and if they couldn’t control the distribution of the maps based on that voyage, would have a reduced incentive to do so.

        Regardless, the technology (and the inclination) didn’t exist for works to continue to have commercial value, the way they do now. Television in the 1950s gave a whole new life to works from the 1930s, for example (the Universal horror movies, The Three Stooges). I just think the landscape is very different now…I often watch works that are fifty years old or more, and read books that are over 100 (which I would have difficulty getting if not for digital availability).

        I think we are going to disagree on this one…even if my concept of permanent copyright is no more likely to happen than you think yours is. 🙂

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