“No man is an island…”

Two days ago, over 40 people, mostly Muslims, died in Beirut because of an ISIS suicide bomber … their lives: as important, as real, as human, as the people murdered in Paris last night. Two days ago, listening to the radio, I thought “that’s awful” and continued getting ready for work. Now last night, as I listened to NPR and watched CNN and absorbed exactly what happened in Paris, it impact me, to my shame, in a much more concrete way, as after all, I’ve been to France; I’ve been affected deeply by French literature, art, film, culture and food; and intellectually I am well aware, America wouldn’t exist as a country without French help. But that’s not good enough. I should have been more conscious about the Beirut attack 2 days ago too. These extremists, who actually don’t follow/honor the religion that they claim to kill in the name of, WANT to divide us into Us and Them. That’s the point of terror. So, I can’t help thinking right now of John Donne’s beautiful poem that we collectively don’t strike at the innocent in the name of revenge against the guilty: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

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Registering a work with the Copyright Office vs. the WGA

Unlike my previous posts which have had more personal content, this is just a pragmatic, public service post … of interest only to other writers, but if it helps one person, then I’ve done a mitzvah: I was relatively recently at a Dramatists Guild all day seminar on various business aspects of writing. I was rather surprised to hear a question – echoed by a friend of mine sitting next to me – asking which was better, registering a work with the U.S. Registrar of Copyrights or the Writers’ Guild.

I hadn’t realized that the WGA was now registering non-screenplays as well. I like the WGA, and even more, the Writers Guild Foundation. BUT Writers Guild registration is NOT a substitute for registering one’s work with the U.S. Registrar of Copyrights. The latter’s website is fairly easy to use now.

I know this not only from taking Law and the Arts taught by an attorney at Yale, but I’ve had day jobs working for and with lawyers, including intellectual property rights ones, for over 10 years. Finally, I’ve worked for 20th Century Fox Film Corp. in the legal and business affairs departments where dealing with screenwriters’ credits is a common issue – so I have direct and theoretical experience here.

Copyright exists the moment expression (not ideas, but the expression of that idea… likewise titles of a work are not copyrightable) is put into a fixed form, i.e. typically ink on paper. However, to enforce one’s copyright, i.e. bring suit for infringement, one has to have registered that work first with the Copyright Office.

Registering with the WGA is only necessary for screenplays, particularly in terms of determining film credit in WGA arbitrations, and otherwise should only be seen as a supplement to Copyright registration for both screenplays or anything else. It could be useful for instance as supporting what specifically is the date of creation in a more official way than mailing a script to oneself. But if you want to save money, yet do what’s absolutely necessary, just register with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Never submit a work until you’ve done that first.

Also, film companies typically require a clear chain of title, which includes U.S. Copyright Registration.

As far as re-registering after substantial changes have been made, that’s more of a gray zone decision. The
suggestion I’ve heard is to so again upon publication or that first production. There is a section on the form where you can specify that this is a previously registered work, and what changes have occurred since then.

By the way, the Dramatists Guild business affairs person was even more dismissive of a non-screenwriter doing anything other than registering with the Copyright Office, but I thought that was being too black and white myself.

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Patti Smith – Just Kids

On a day that I just had a common, but very uncomfortable medical procedure, yet one that diagnoses that disease which probably killed my uncle, my beloved grandmother and definitely struck (but did not decimate) my mother and grandfather, I am reading “Just Kids” by Patti Smith.

I’m starting again from the beginning, because so much life had intervened with my initial attempt at reading it, I knew I had to start fresh to find the flow of the narrative. My first impression then, that it is a book of poetry in the guise of prose, still holds.

And just as I’m aware when I listen to Patti’s music, I recognize that there is a self-consciousness, an awkwardness of an over-imagined phrase next to an original, achingly crystalline phrase in this book. (Though fortunately, the powerful lines far outweigh the none ones.)

But I’ve always ignored the self-consciousness in her songs, or more perhaps, forgave what potentially could put me back into my critical mind instead of experiential one BECAUSE of her envelopment into the totality of the song. An envelopment that enveloped me.

She tranced for me. She excessed for me. She fought god for me. (“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…”) She was strong – strong in voice and strong in not being afraid to make a mess of a song, but still so full of her sex to me (“See a young girl humping on a parking meter… oh she look so good, oh she look so fine… G-L-O-R-I-A”). These songs went to my heart and loins, together always together. In the 5 times, I’ve seen her perform (4 with the band, and once solo with only her poetry as accompaniment), that prophetic vinyl message (yes, first on vinyl, only latter delivered in bits and bites of digital code) was vastly reinforced.

In “Just Kids”, there is definitely a gauze of nostalgia, but much more it is a meditation on death and re-birth, both a celebration and an elegy of life in New York City and vice versa. And a life in art, and vice versa.

After all, the titular co-character kid is Robert Mapplethorpe – he who created exquisite images of often not overtly exquisite content and who then died young of AIDS. And Patti would lose her husband, her brother and one of her bandmates. All died young too.

I’m reading this book right now again because of Mz. Amuse – who bought this book for me as a Valentine’s gift. She said, “You’re recovering tonight – don’t run around. Drink liquids, rest. Read a book. Read the Patti Smith book.” She should know the right idea of recovery. She had breast cancer recently, at a younger than expected age.

Overtly, that explosion of wayward cells are all gone now, but the shadow remains. Statistics doing their statistically obfuscating thing go into overdrive in such circumstances where death is the prize. (Yes, I was the researcher – try to figure out the best course of action where numbers lie and tell the truth simultaneously. In the end, it was her choice anyway.)

Obviously, I’ve stopped reading to write this post. I needed the break to express. Too much loss and recognition. My losses, my recognitions of places the same or similar… but all different too, of course.

I’m sure my father’s death last month is only focusing my long standing profound sense of my mortality. I am only in, not of, the Zeitgeist as of this moment.

I don’t have the perspective, the distance from myself, to say whether or not Patti Smith is a great artist for the ages – I only know she speaks to me. She speaks to me.

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