Thursday, October 1, 2009

Amazon Settle "1984" Lawsuit

The news of the day is that has settled the lawsuit concerning deleting copies of an illegal copy of "1984" from Kindle. [1] You may recall that my big concern over this issue was the possibility that it would open the door for the courts to prevent bloggers and other electronic content creators from deleting material they place on publicly accessible computers. Had the courts ruled in Justin Gawronski's favor, I still think it would have opened the door for people who link to our websites to sue us if we break the links they have on their websites.

This settlement isn't great for authors and content owners, but it's livable. Essentially, if puts your stuff on Kindle and you didn't want it there, they aren't just going to delete it upon your request. Instead, you will have to get a court order. That will likely require a lawyer and some fees, but if your lawyer knows what he is doing, he can probably convince to pay that. The good thing is that the courts won't be setting a precedence whereby we cannot delete our own content when it impacts someone else.

With the settlement being only $150,000, it looks to me that is just saying, "go away and leave us alone, we have better things to do." I suspect that most, if not all of that money will go for attorney's fees, so Justin Gawronski is unlikely to see any money. For a company like, that's probably burning through that much money every fifteen minutes or so, it's hardly worth mentioning. But blogging is still safe and Justin Gawronski has enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame, which may have been what he hoped to accomplish in the first place.

Don't Not Break the Rules

A few years ago, I was talking to this guy at work and I said something like, “It’s not uncommon to…” The guy stopped me and said, “So, you mean it’s common?” Somewhat flustered to have my thought pattern interrupted, I said “Yeah” and tried to continue what I was saying. After considering the conversation, I came to the conclusion that no, I didn’t mean that it’s common. I meant that it wasn’t uncommon.

You see the problem here. Not uncommon is a double negative. Your high school English teacher probably marked double negatives with red ink, telling you that you shouldn’t use them because they can cause confusion. But there’s a lot of space between common and uncommon. What if something is near the middle? It isn’t common, but it isn’t really uncommon either. The double negative solves the problem of stating this very succinctly.

Consider also the tautology. You’ve heard such phrases as “free gift” or “unsolved mystery.” If we did what we ought, we wouldn’t use redundant terms, but they tend to add emphasis. We talk about the free gift of salvation, for example. It isn’t that we don’t think that people realize that a gift is free, but we want to emphasize that salvation is free. Of course a mystery is unsolved, but we want to emphasize that we are still trying to solve the mystery.

The non sequitur, the oxymoron—they too have a purpose in both the spoken language and the written language. Don’t take this as permission to ignore these things, but to blindly rule out these things because they may cause confusion is to remove some of the beauty of the English language. It’s not wrong to make the reader pause and give careful consideration of the weight of your words. What is wrong is to follow the rules so well that your writing reads like a technical manual. So, don't not break the rules.