Mar 25 2007
If you were expecting an ebook weekly article, come back next Sunday. We are taking a little detour today.
Last week Barbara Samuel put up a plea at Romancing the Blog for Readers to pay more attention to the RITAs. She titled her post “Why Readers Should Care About the RITA Awards.” I commented that readers don’t care because there is no personal investment in the process or the outcome for the readers. It was an industry award given by writers to writers and there was no place in that equation for the readers.
Samuel sparked off a huge debate on the internet, both at RTB and at SBs. There were over 300 comments at both threads with authors and readers weighing in. I was mentally exhausted after participating in the discussion. Later that day and the next, I thought about the RITAs and what it would take for readers to feel part of the award and the event.
One solution I thought of was to live blog the RITAs, much like the ladies at Go Fug Yourself did for the Oscars and like the Gizmodo lads do for Steve Jobs’ Keynote addresses. I hope to bring that to the readers this summer unless, of course, RWA won’t let me in with my laptop.
Another solution I thought of was to have a balloting contest wherein readers would guess who would win the RITA for each category and the one ballot whose was closest to being accurate would win a basket of the RITA winners. The books would be used because I don’t know that I could afford to shell out the cash for 13 new books, particularly if some were hardcover, but I figured the readers wouldn’t care. Free books are free books. I even had one author, Alison Kent, offer to help defray the expenses.
I ran it by my blog partners who liked the idea. I ran the contest by a fellow blogger, Sybil. She told me I was a fool and that I was just encouraging authors to assign blame to the readers that should really fall on the industry: the publishers, RWA, and/or the authors. That authors expect us to fix the problems ailing the industry even though its not of our making. And that by promoting the RITAs in this way, I was actually saying it was important to the readers, essentially contradicting myself.
I ran it by Ned who said, are you going to buy these books new? I said, no. He said, do it if you want to. Okay, the conversation was more detailed. He thought I should make sure to tell everyone that by running the contest, I wasn’t endorsing the winners in anyway, but simply trying to raise the awareness of an award as well as doing something fun. I thought we could also run a corollary contest: who should win the RITA. The results of this would be fascinating, in my opinion.
So I put up the RITA statuette and announced that we would be running the Reader RITAs. Saturday morning I received an email requesting that I remove the statuette
Please be aware that the name of the award and the statuette are registered trademarks of Romance Writers of America. While we have no objection to individuals and companies referencing the RITA contest in discussions and announcements, the statuette may not be used for any purpose in any publication not explicitly authorized by RWA.
Perhaps this could all go away if I simply went to RWA and told them of my plans and got “explicit authorization.” The problem is that by getting RWA approval means that they have input in the way the contest is run, perhaps even how I comment on the contest results or collate the contest results. I think that by seeking and obtaining (assuming I could) approval we lose some of the autonomy of the blog, or at least of the contest. It just rubs me wrong. Maybe my subconscious reasons is that I am a control freak, a megalomaniac or some other more selfish reason. Insert your own adjective here. I may be all of those things at one time or another. But I don’t think so in this case.
The fact is we don’t make any money on this blog. (Out of full disclosure, as part of Blogburst, we might get paid from Blogburst for letting them use our content if we are ranked high enough). It costs money to run the blog, to give away ebooks, to run contests to promote new authors, to mail books overseas. It takes time which is even more valuable than money. We do it because we love the genre and we love this interactivity with the romance community. It isn’t much fun, though, when we are slapped on the wrist for doing something we thought would benefit the community like raising the profile of romance authors who final and ultimately win the industry’s most coveted honor.
I haven’t decided whether we can run this contest without running afoul of the trademark law, but preliminary research seems to indicate that if there is no profit motive, the contest is not likely infringing on any trademark. The Lanham Act is designed to protect language “for the purpose of trade [or] to induce the sale of any goods or services” 36 U.S.C. § 380(a). At its core, The Lanham Act prohibits only “confusing uses.” 15 U.S.C. § § 1114, 1125(a)(1)(A). There are exceptions to the Lanham Act for “fair use” and for “non-commercial purposes.” 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)(4). The case of L.L. Bean, Inc. v. Drake Publishers, Inc., 811 F.2d 26 (1st Cir 1987) seems to approve a noncommercial use of a trademark in parody or satire. However, right now, the idea of promoting the RITAs leaves a bad taste in my mouth regardless of my legal rights to do so.
I realize that some of this post sounds like an “oh poor me” lament, and I am trying to avoid that. I thought I had to explain what is going on with the Reader RITA contest. Maybe try to gain more understanding. I don’t want to give up the autonomy of the blog to run a contest contest to raise reader awareness for an award that RWA gives out and for which their members seek to gain greater recognition. I guess it goes back to my original thought which was the RITAs don’t matter to readers because readers can’t be involved in anyway. Fill out a ballot, like Barbara Samuel suggests, and you’ll get a cease and desist letter from the RWA. Readers can only do so much and even that isn’t good enough sometimes.
P.S. The first person who can tell me the author of the book with the same title published in 1984, I’ll send you a $5.00 Fictionwise gift certificate (trying to make this tangentially related to ebooks :) ).