Hands off, that’s mine!

A man protests Digital Rights Management in Bo...

A man protests Digital Rights Management in Boston, USA as part of the DefectiveByDesign.org campaign of the Free Software Foundation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a saying in England that possession is nine tenths of the law. Today where we live surrounded by consumerism, ownership has become a very important concept. Whether we like it or not, society almost defines us by what we own. Against this backdrop, it seems bizarre that these days, ownership of many things has become a good deal more ephemeral.

My first experience of gainful employment was a paper round. I worked 7 days a week lugging around a paper bag that, at the outset of my round at least, weighed almost as much as I did. The worst day was Sunday where newspapers ballooned to 6 or 7 times the size thanks to all the supplements that came for free. The first thing I did when I got paid was head down to town where I foolishly blew my first week’s wages on some records.

My mum was less than impressed with my new acquisitions. She wanted to know what I was going to do for the rest of the week with no money. To me, the answer was obvious, listen to Dire Straits and Bananarama. I had no money the week before when I didn’t have a paper round, so I didn’t appreciate why it was so bad to have no money this week.

I feel sorry for the poor sod who has inherited my paper round today. Not only are the newspapers twice as big as they were, but when he foolishly blows his wages on music, the chances are that he won’t even own the titles he chooses. He will hand over his hard earned wages to some dot com or another in exchange for a license. OK, so that license will allow him to listen to his music. It won’t, however, allow him to lend his music to his friends. He won’t be able to sell it on, nor will he be able to leave it to his kids. In short, he never owns anything.

I have a number of books, but I have even more in electronic format. Most of these titles are protected by digital rights management software. Because I am a big fan of one particular publisher, more of my titles come from that company than any other. A few years ago, that company decided to exit from the electronic publishing industry, taking all their titles with it.

Suddenly, all my eBooks disappeared. Without apology or refund, the company rescinded my access to those titles I know and love. I checked the license terms and they were quite within their rights to do so. If you are going to put a button labelled “buy now” next to some kind of electronic product or another, then give me what you are advertising. Otherwise, the wording should be changed to “license now temporarily with limited rights”.

My writing career so far…


WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

It never occurred to me that I could write.

There was the odd success at school, but nothing to suggest that I ought to forgo all other careers and take to life as a wordsmith. A couple of years ago, I started to write updates for my department at work. Encouraged by feedback, the update email blossomed into a blog. A few people suggested I blogged for a wider audience and I began the Finextra.com blog.

It was only a few months ago on a trip to Cornwall that I picked up a writing magazine purely on a whim. As luck would have it, that particular magazine was all about electronic publishing and I spent much of the holiday tapping away on my keyboard setting up my brand new wordpress blog.

WordPress.com is superb and thanks to the ease with which you can set up your blog and publicise it, I soon had a regular following. WordPress is heavily gamified and you find yourself glued to your stat’s page watching the page views creep up. I still remember my first “Like” and when I excitedly told my wife that my first comment had arrived, she looked at me as if I was mad.

Since then I have joined a local writing group made up of an eclectic set of individuals. Collective imagination is so much more powerful than anything an individual could conjure up and we have had some fun with some group writing. One such exercise has the first person starting a story with one sentence. The second person has three sentences to develop the story. The third person has to either finish the story or bring it to a cliffhanger with only two sentences. At the end of the exercise, we had twelve stories; two or three of them were brilliant, half a dozen were very good and only a handful were ropey. Not bad considering we only had ten minutes.

I have also submitted some short stories to a publisher, thinking what’s the worst that can happen? Ignoring success for a moment, in order; silence, then “Thanks, but no thanks”, after that “No thanks, but here’s some feedback”. I was chuffed when I was rejected with feedback – at least I could learn from the experience.

All in all, I have enjoyed writing immensely. I’ve been humbled by some of the people I have met in the process and cannot believe I have had hits from 58 countries.

Somehow I doubt it will replace the day job, but you never know…