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The Fair Use Minefield

Fair use is a doctrine in law by which one can make reasonable use of copyrighted content controlled by other rights-holders in one’s own work. For example, one might review a book and quote a short passage as part of the review. Yet while the language in the law seems simple and clear, the fair use doctrine is a minefield of trouble without any bright lines to warn of the dangers. 

The Law and The Decider

The written law on fair use lies in Title 17, Section 107 of the United States Code. The statute in Section 107 acknowledges fair use “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research”. The statute also provides a set of subjective “factors to be considered” when deciding whether a given use is indeed a fair use. 

Taking Off One of my Community Hats – Oracle Scene

For the last couple of years I’ve been involved in “Oracle Scene”, the UKOUG magazine about all things Oracle. Click the link to see the current edition, which is free to view to everyone, member of the UKOUG or not.

The Book.

I’ve just added a picture to the right side of this site. It is for a book about SQL and PL/SQL. If you look at the image of the front cover, at the bottom is a list of authors and, near the end, is my name. It’s all finished and at the printers, but it is not out yet – It should be published in the next few weeks.

The British part of me wants to mumble and say “oh, yes, hmmm, I did contribute to a book… but I think you should concentrate on the chapters by the other chaps, they are proper experts, very clever gentleman and lady… I was just involved in a couple of lesser chapters…”

The part of me that spent weeks and months of late nights and long weekends writing it wants to scream “Look! LOOK! I damn well got it done! And it was way more painful than any of my author friends told me it would be as, despite their best efforts, I did not get How Hard Writing A Book Is!

Friday Philosophy – Tech Writing Is Like Religious Art

I’m putting together an article for Oracle Scene at the moment – I’ve delayed it for a couple of issues as we wanted the space for other tech articles, but my time has come. And I’m finding it very hard going. Why?

I’m not an expert on religious art (or religion… or art) but one thing I know is that with religious artifacts, especially things like sculpture, furniture, and plaques, they often differ from non-religious art in that the back of them is as well done as the front. I.e. if there is an ornate plaque to be created and put on the wall of a secular building, all the effort goes into the front. The back is likely to be simple or even rough. With a religious plaque, the chances are that the back will be just as well crafted as the front.

Don't Over-Capitalize!

Technical writers capitalize too often. I'm over-generalizing when I say that, but over-capitalization is a problem I see daily in my work as a book editor. It's especially prevalent among authors on Microsoft topics, and the solution lies in distinguishing between proper nouns and terms.

Here's an example sentence with some erroneous capitalization:

Microsoft is the company behind the Azure platform for Cloud Computing.

We capitalize the word Microsoft because it's a proper noun. We learn as children to capitalize the names of specific places, persons, or things. Microsoft is a company, a thing, a specific company, and thus a specific thing. So we capitalize the name.

Author Who Made a Difference

Writers are privileged sometimes by the depth and scope of impact they can make through their work. Recently I recounted a Book That Made A Difference. Today I want to recount an author who did the same. 

The author is Steve McConnell. His books Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules and Software Project Survival Guide came along at just the right time when I was struggling in an unwanted and difficult leadership role on a project gone awry. 

One-Sentence Paragraphs

One-sentence paragraphs are something I encounter often in my work as an editor. In skilled hands they are a tool for emphasis and driving a point home. But they can also indicate a need for a writer to put more effort into organizing content and providing context and transition to enable readers to follow in the author's thought process.

If one-sentence paragraphs provide emphasis, then a stream of such paragraphs gives a staccato effect emphasizing everything and thus nothing. The result is not unlike the old, Dick and Jane readers. For example:

Capitalize proper nouns. 

These include names of people and places.

Brand names are proper nouns.

Trademarks are a special case. 

Don't capitalize names of everyday objects. 

A Book of Friday Philosophies?

It has been suggested to me by a friend (not a publisher!) that I should do a book of my “Friday Philosophy” posts. I’m not sure. I’d like to know what people think.

If you read my blog but “Friday Philosophy” has somehow passed you by (how could they, most of my posts now are Friday Philosophies!) they are usually posted at the end of the week and deal with the non-technical side of working in IT. They are my thoughts and experiences on management, development paradigms, things that seem to still be wrong after 2 generations of programmers have painfully learnt the same lessons. Some have nothing to do with IT. The occasional one is about my life. Nearly all have an element of humour in them (even if it is only when I am laughing at myself and my own stupidity).

I’ve never really meant them to be more than a bit of light relief for people to read at the end of the week, but also to make people think.

Friday Philosophy – Content, Copying, Copyright &Theft

There have been a couple of things this week that have made me think about the stuff that some of us write and what other people do with it.