Our Ansible is Missing – Intellectual Property Theft in Science Fiction

In 1985, Orson Scott Card published Ender’s Game, a book that relied heavily on the use of a faster-than-light communication system called the Ansible. Card needed the Ansible (or something like it) because through this faster-than-light communications system, his brainy, gifted children were able to destroy the evil Buggers in real time, even though they thought they were only playing video games. You all know this.

What you don’t know is that the Ansible (the name and the concept) was not invented by Card, but was stolen, without attribution, from Ursula K. Le Guin. Nowhere in Ender’s Game does Card give her credit for the Ansible–at least in the original edition of Ender’s Game which I have. You might not think this is a big deal, but it is.

Le Guin first mentions the Ansible in her novel Rocannon’s World, published in 1966, and the invention of the device itself was a central motif to her 1974 novel, The Dispossessed. The main character of that novel was the inventor. Card, either through laziness or lack of imagination, appropriated Le Guin’s device full-bore and for reasons that have escaped me over the last thirty odd years, is that no one’s complained or cried foul. Indeed, other writers since then have also used the Ansible for their FTL communication needs.

If Card had stolen a tune from a song and incorporated it in a song of his own (and consequently made a boat-load of money) without sharing the credit with the original songwriter, he’d have his ass handed to him in a sling in court. This is what happened to M.C. Hammer when he stole a famous riff from Rick James in 1990 for his song, “U Can’t Touch This”. The riff that made the song a world-wide hit (and made Hammer’s career) came from the creative mind of Rick James and it was only after a lengthy court battle did James end up sharing credit for Mr. Hammer’s song. Did Hammer say in court that it was a homage to Rick James? No. Did he say that everyone steals from everyone else in the music business and that it’s no big deal? No.

And did Rick James shrug and think it was a compliment given to him by a younger artist and let it go? No. He sued and won a lot of money–and had his career rehabilitated because of that theft. (And it made M.C. Hammer a multimillionaire.)

That’s what it was. Theft. You don’t take other people’s ideas and make them your own. Here’s something else most of you don’t know: When Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and movies hit big in the mid-Sixties, Fleming collaborated on a screenplay with two other men that later became the movie Thunderball. The early novel versions of the book had Fleming as the sole author (I have one such copy), but he was later sued by his co-authors and the novel is now co-credited to Kevin McCloy and Jack Whittingham. It’s the only James Bond novel that has multiple authors. Like Rick James in the music industry, McCloy and Whittingham in the movie industry did not sit back and think that it was okay for Fleming to write a novelization of their joint collaboration. Nor did they think it was a friendly homage to their friendship and their days of boating and snorkeling in the Caribbean. Fleming’s novelization was, in part, based on their ideas. They didn’t let it pass. They demanded credit for it in court and they won.

Now,I know what you’re thinking: What’s the big deal? It’s just a science fiction book. No biggie. So what if Card used the Ansible without permission? Back in the early Eighties (which you might not know or might have forgotten) Orson Scott Card was the rising star in the field. He was friends with everybody. Treasurer of the SFWA. Publishing in OMNI just about every other issue. Making scads of money. (At one point in the Nineties he was referred to as “beloved” by several Young Adult book critics who much admired Ender’s Game. Even news releases about the upcoming Ender’s Game movie refer to the book as “beloved”.) So what’s the deal? It’s even sort of cool, isn’t it, to put into your novel an idea created by another science fiction author. We know what’s going on. We’re all friends here. What’s the fuss?

The fact is that if you tried it today, you’d be stopped cold by either your agent or your publisher. Your book would never make it to print. Here are some “for examples” in case you think this is a trivial point. Think about it. The fact is that you could not publish a book if it had giant sandworms that were specifically called the Shai-hulud. The name comes, as you know, from Frank Herbert’s Dune series. That name, those creatures, all belong to Frank Herbert’s estate. They are products of Herbert’s mind and imagination. They are also the the product of his physical labor at the typewriter. No publisher would let you go anywhere near giant sandworms called Shai-Hulud or mention stilll-suits or ornithopters. You would never, ever find an editor (at Tor, at Baen, at Pyr, at Ace–anywhere) who would allow you to publish such a book.

You could not write about giant, space-going intelligent war machines specifically called berserkers. Berserkers are the intellectual property of Fred Saberhagen. You could not write a story or novel about incredibly intelligent, self-directed tanks called (specifically) bolos without explicit permission from the Keith Laumer estate or from Baen Books.

You say that these things are part of a shared-world literary environment in science fiction.  And I’ll say: All shared-world books are sanctioned by the person from whom the main vision of the stories derive. There are shared-world stories galore. Larry Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars are sanctioned by Larry Niven, even if they are written by other people. And nobody can write a Star Trek or Star Wars novel without official sanction from the Gene Roddenberry estate or from Disney, who now owns the Lucas material. Try Conan the Barbarian or Tarzan of the Apes. No go. How about writing your own Doc Savage novel? Conde Nast still owns the rights to Doc Savage and they aggressively troll the internet to make sure that those of us who are Doc Savage fans are not writing Doc Savage novels (which many of us are itching to do). Only Anthony Tollin is allowed to reprint the Doc Savage novels and Shane Black has the rights to write a screenplay. That’s it. Doc Savage is locked up.

But you say, the Ansible is such a little thing. Well, in Ender’s Game it’s the device that allows the children to defeat the Buggers in real time light years away. It’s not a trivial matter. It’s absolutely crucial to the novel.

Obviously Orson Scott Card needed a faster-than-light device for his novel. But did he employ Le Guin’s Ansible because it was the only form of FTL radio transmission allowed in science fiction? If you’ve been reading science fiction for the last 50 years, as I have, you’d know that most science fiction writers invent their own FTL communications systems. James Blish has the Dirac Communicator and A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes’ series has the Carlotti Device. Stephen R. Donaldson, in his Gap cycle, uses something called the Symbiotic Crystalline Resonance Transmission. There have been sub-space communicators (E. E. “Doc” Smith) and hyper-space communicators (Asimov and a hundred others). Card could just as easily made up his own name for his FTL communications system and we’d all get it. He didn’t even need the Ansible. He could have called it the Klinghoffer. He could have called it a wonky. But he didn’t. He stole the concept from another writer and used it specifically by name. He stole it. There is no other word for it.

Let me get legal on you in case you aren’t convinced. When I got my doctorate at the University of Utah, my dissertation committee had to go over everything I wrote, including my dissertation, to make sure that none of it was stolen; that it and the content of my written exams were my own intellectual property. In other words, they “vetted” me. Every university does this to its doctoral candidates and have done this for hundreds of years. That’s how universities maintain their accreditation. That’s what gives their degrees intellectual heft. Intellectual property theft and plagiarism are not accepted on any level in the university system in America. Or the world, for that matter.

What about publishing? Well, my publishers did the same thing. Every novel I have ever sold has been gone over for words or phrases or concepts that might have caused them legal harm. My books were vetted. When properties are purchased for movies, they also have to be vetted. They are gone over by lawyers to see if there are any liabilities by way of possible copyright infringements. We know that James Cameron, after years of fighting Harlan Ellison, had to acknowledge Harlan for his contribution to The Terminator because the idea was basically Harlan’s. (I remember seeing the episode of The Outer Limits–or it may have been an episode of The Twilight Zone–where two warriors come from the future to fight it out in the present. I remember that Michael Ansara was one of the warriors. Harlan was rightfully angry because The Terminator really does spring creatively from his original idea. He fought back in court and won. Which was the right thing to do.

But Orson Scott Card gets a pass. He is “beloved”. (Pretend for a moment that the current whoop-de-doo about the Ender’s Game movie isn’t happening. That’s not part of this discussion.)

Perhaps you think that this is just a tempest in a teapot, that no harm, really, has been done. Is that true? Why am I held to a higher standard than Card? (And I’m just small fry compared to him.) Card did it (I think) probably because it had never been done before. Or perhaps it was because his publishers thought it really was a kind of homage to Ursula K. Le Guin and that she would be cool with it. But nowhere in Ender’s Game is there a note from her saying any such thing.

Perhaps Card has explained all of this in one of his many “author’s authoritative editions” of Ender’s Game. Ever so, explaining why you did something after-the-fact doesn’t change the reality that you stole the idea in the first place. Card should be held accountable for this, but I know he won’t. That book has made him a multimillionaire and the movie will only give him more millions to roll around in. Which is too bad. It sends out a very discouraging message. Card got away with something no one else could.

I guess there are perks to being “beloved”.

–Paul Cook

 

 


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55 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Steve Davidson
    July 22, 2013, 6:26 pm   / 

    COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED ON THIS TOPIC.

  2. Profile photo of Andrew Zimmerman Jones
    July 22, 2013, 3:24 pm   / 

    Paul,

    I think the issue here is the intentionally provocative tone of the essay. You are trying to make a point that Card was wrong in his use of the term ansible, and in doing so are using rhetoric that makes it sound rather like he clubbed poor Ursula K. LeGuin upside the head and stole her purse.

    The issue becomes highlighted if you apply the thinking to another term which doesn’t focus on one case, but is a broad case of the exact same kind of “theft.” Under your argument, the term “robot” for a mechanical creature would have been the exclusive intellectual property of Karel Capek. Capek died in 1938, so under current copyright law, “robot” would have been owned by the Capek estate and only entered the public domain in 2008! That’s 70 years where a perfectly good term is available, but each and every person who has a mechanical being in their fiction, film, etc. has to either seek Capek’s estate’s permission to use “robot” or has to come up with their own term.

    The confusion that I think you’re having is over what is legitimately intellectual property under copyright law and what is not. The example of calling something an “ansible” is to focus on the name itself as if that means a lot. By the time Card wrote the novel, he makes it clear that: “The official name is Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator,” explains Colonel Graff in Ender’s Game, “but somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere.” If Card had, in his 1977 short story, called this device the “PhiloPhone” or something, there would be no basis for calling this was intellectual property theft.

    Generally speaking, the name of a thing is not protected under copyright law, it’s protected under trademark law instead. Trademark is not an immediate protection granted upon creation, like copyright is, but rather something that has to be filed for by the person who wants to own the trademark. Even if filed for, trademarks have to be protected, else they lapse. Your right for a website called Amazing Stories that exists solely because trademarks are not granted to the creator upon the moment of creation and held in perpetuity.

    I hazard to guess that Ursula LeGuin never trademarked the term “ansible” as the name of a long-distance communication device with the government.

    You mention a few examples, but I’m not sure that they really hold up. To be sure, ornithopter is a failed example, since these are real things:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ornithopter

    You can certainly make the case that using the term “ansible” was lazy, unprofessionally handled, and perhaps even rude, but I don’t think that it was criminal, because I don’t think the term can be owned … at least not without someone filing a trademark application for it.

    That having been said, when I was writing a short story about a scientist discovering a brainwave pattern consistent with the human soul, I contacted science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer and asked permission to use (with attribution within the story) his coined term “soulwave” (from his Nebula-winning THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT). He politely declined and I called it something else. To do otherwise would have been rude and unprofessional. So I do agree with your overall point, just not your rhetorical (and legal) excesses.

    • Profile photo of Andrew Zimmerman Jones
      July 22, 2013, 3:27 pm   / 

      Apologies for the typos. Was multi-tasking and didn’t do a proper proof of this before hitting submit.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 22, 2013, 3:38 pm   / 

      Andrew, I’m not confused at all. Card used the word and the concept ansible for a major trope in Ender’s Game. I’m not confusing copyright law here or some other legalism that would still allow Card to use the Ansible. In actuality, Le Guin’s novel, Rocannon’s World, was copyrighted and the Ansible was covered (and protected) by that legal umbrella. You’re saying that because Le Guin didn’t trademark the Ansible, it was okay for Card to use it . . . which would mean that any writer could use any other writer’s tropes, themes, memes, and ideas. You know this isn’t how it works. Ellison sued Cameron for exactly such behavior.

      But as for you, good for you that you contacted Sawyer; and equally good for you that you made up your own name for your concept. (My guess is that your editor would have caught it, had you not known about it, told you about it, and it would have been changed anyway.) Sounds like an interesting story!

      But the sad fact is that Card shouldn’t have used the ansible. It wasn’t his to use in the first place.

  3. Profile photo of Mike Glyer
    July 21, 2013, 4:48 pm   / 

    Paul Cook used the word “homage” several days ago, and that’s what Card’s use of ansible was in respect to Le Guin. If it was his intent to hide the source of the idea, he would not have carried over Le Guin’s name for it.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 21, 2013, 5:27 pm   / 

      No, Mike. A homage is something different. One online dictionary calls it: “something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another.” Synonyms are: accolade, citation, encomium, hymn, paean, panegyric, salutation, tribute.” To say he sued the Ansible as a “tribute” or an “accolade” is beside the point because the anisble was the main device around which the entire novel turned: it’s how the kids killed the aliens. It was a major device necessary for the novel. A true homage in sf would be naming a space ship after a famous author, etc. This is not a minor deal. Card stole the name and _used_ it to maximum effect because he _needed_ it. My other thesis, which nearly everyone has looked past, is that by using it not only was he stealing, he was being lazy. He could have made up his own FTL communicator and it would have worked just as well. In fact, I might have liked the book more had he done this. (But there are other, more serious problems with Ender’s Game which John Kessel has outlined at: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~tenshi/Killer_000.htm which is the most important critique of Ender’s Game yet.) It is not a homage.

      Here are some examples of true homage.Many composers will pay a homage to an early composer by using a theme that that composer used. Shostakovich did it in his 15th Symphony using the William Tell theme of Rossini in the first movement. Frank Zappa pays homage to Stravinsky and Gustav Holst on his album “Absolutely Free” (I know he did because I wrote him about it in 1969; he wrote me back and I still have the letter); William Schumann pays homage to Charles Ives in his 4th Symphony; Morton Feldman pays homage to John Cage in “To Philip Guston”. Prokofieff pays homage to Mozart and Hayden in his first symphony. Robert Simpson pays homage to Carl Nielsen and Shostakovich–particularly his Eighth Symphony–in his 12th Symphony. This is how homage works. It’s a nod of respect, not a wholesale appropriation upon which the entire work depends. It’s a trope or a theme played once, then you move on. Card played it to the hilt in Ender’s Game. That’s not homage; it’s theft.

  4. Profile photo of Paul Cook
    July 21, 2013, 12:38 pm   / 

    Daniel Kimmel,
    The argument is not SO over–or it is only because you want it to be. Read Steve’s post just about yours. Read my post again. These are legal, well-reasoned positions. If the ansible is used commonly now, it’s only because Card used it first and others followed in his stead. You’re an OSC fan, a die-hard fan at that. That’s fine with me. But the issue is not over. Not by a long shot.

    • Profile photo of Daniel M. Kimmel
      July 21, 2013, 8:18 pm   / 

      The argument is completely over, the horse is dead, and you’re now stomping on the bones. You failed to convince. Numerous people have pointed out other examples of writers doing precisely what Card did. But you also lost this by doing two things:

      1. Here you make false claims about me. I am not a “die-hard” Card fan and haven’t been a fan of his in quite some time. Opposing a boycott to a movie based on his book does not make me a “die-hard fan.”

      2. Second, you show that this is a personal vendetta you have against Card when I raised the issue of David Langford’s fanzine ANSIBLE which actually predates Card’s book by several years. See http://news.ansible.co.uk/a01.html You pretend that that’s different and that it’s “homage” and not “theft” because it’s a fanzine. In fact, like Card, it fails to acknowledge LeGuin, and the notion that it’s strictly non-commercial is laughable given that Langford has received money for his SF and his factual writing about SF, and that ANSIBLE (now with over 300 issues and an ongoing website) is clearly a marketing tool allowing Langford (a perfectly delightful fellow, btw) to keep a high profile in the worldwide SF community where he is ALSO selling his works.

      So you hate Card. Everyone here gets that. You’ve made it very clear. But there is no “intellectual theft.” No “plagiarism.” No dishonesty — except in your claims against Card. There are are many strong arguments that can be made against him from his odious bigotry towards gays to the fact that the quality of his writing — in the opinion of many — isn’t what it used to be. But your hysteria over the use of a word? Nonsense. But if you think otherwise why don’t you get to the bottom of this and contact LeGuin and find out why she doesn’t share your feeling that this is the literary crime of the last century?

      • Profile photo of Paul Cook
        July 21, 2013, 10:20 pm   / 

        David,
        First of all, I do apologize if you got the impression I made my last remarks in my post (or my rejoinders) about you or that my counter-argument to your claim was instead a personal attack on you. I did not intend that. I never would attack you personally. On any grounds. This is just about the argument I have made in my essay. Secondly, yes, I do have an axe to grind with Card; this issue is one of them.

        Thirdly, Ender’s Game, the short story, appeared in Analog in 1977. David Langford’s Ansible fan-based newsletter appeared in 1979. Nonetheless his use of it is very much a homage. Card’s use is theft. Intellectual property theft. Finally, hyperbole (in your last comment/suggestion) does not enhance your argument. Card stole the Ansible from Le Guin, clearly without her permission and he used it as the main conceit to bring his novel to a conclusion. That’s just plain lazy. And thievery.

        The argument is not over because you want it to be over. It’s a material fact that Card stole the Ansible.

  5. Profile photo of R.K. Troughton
    July 19, 2013, 2:15 pm   / 

    Paul, you have to be getting close to the record for most comments on an article for Amazing. Glad I can contribute.

    Wikipedia has a nice write-up regarding the topic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansible

    RKT

  6. Profile photo of Deb Lentz
    July 19, 2013, 1:24 pm   / 

    Don’t forget that Elizabeth Moon also used ansibles in her newest Kylara Vatta book. I don’t believe Le Guin was credited there, either.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 22, 2013, 2:20 am   / 

      Deb,
      It does make me wonder if any other tropes or inventions by other writers are now appearing in other novels. I think the anisble is the only one, thanks to Card. A lot of writers have used it freely. But it may be the only example in the field. (And I could be wrong about this!)

  7. Profile photo of Kathy
    July 19, 2013, 12:02 am   / 

    If you really *are* an academic with an advanced degree, then you’re certainly aware that giving your article such a general topic in its title (“Intellectual Property Theft in Science Fiction”) and then harping on a single example over and over isn’t exactly the picture of intellectual rigor. Only in the comments is there any indication that other examples apart from Card even exist, let alone in the number necessary to form the recurring pattern suggested by your generic title. A little breadth would have been nice, but I suppose research makes essay-writing too much like actual work, and who wants that?

    I can engage in analysis, too. How about this: you’re desperate to jump on the anti-Card bandwagon, but you’re reluctant to just parrot the same old complaints. The benefits of the ansible issue are twofold: 1) it makes you look like an original thinker; 2) it addresses the sizeable portion of the audience that enjoys Card’s books and doesn’t care about the rest of it. By invoking a writing-related scandal, you see a chance to add a few of these people to the mob.

    The problem: if this is really an important issue, then it was important five years ago, or ten, or twenty; film or no film. Now, it may be that you *have* been harping on it all that time, and have only now got a public forum from which to broadcast (the article itself does suggest a certain level of obsession with Mr. Card). But even so, Ender’s Game is nearly thirty years old, and one of the best-selling SF novels of our time; to comport yourself as though you’re blowing the lid off some long-simmering scandal is not very becoming. You didn’t uncover anything. We all knew; we just didn’t care. And your condescending attitude and credential-dropping aren’t likely to win you many disciples among thinking readers.

    Do keep at it though. I eagerly await your pronouncements on the Iran-Contra scandal and Muhammad Ali being stripped of the world heavyweight champion. You know, as long as we’re going to be addressing issues at the height of their relevance like this…

    • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
      July 19, 2013, 8:00 am   / 

      Kathy,

      post titles are often written to entice.

      I also think that YOUR argument would have been a bit more compelling if you’d not adopted such a snide tone. We prefer to keep discussion around here directed towards the subject rather than the individual. I am breaking that rule here because you broke that rule in your comment.

      Another way to look at this post is that the current notoriety of Mr. Card due to the film of Ender’s current promotion raises related issues and awareness about all things ‘Card’.

      The success of the novel has no bearing on the argument; likewise, neither does the amount of time that has lapsed since its original publication.

      You might also want to take into consideration that this website is not “Amazing Academic Treatise Stories”.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 19, 2013, 12:41 pm   / 

      Kathy,
      Your criticism of my title (and the rest of your comments) do not address the issue of Card’s appropriation of a trope established by Ursula K. Le Guin in her novels. The rest of your article is a series of ad hominem attacks, also not to the point.

      • Profile photo of C E Martin
        July 19, 2013, 4:17 pm   / 

        And he busts out the SAT words “ad hominum”…

        What is the secret handshake for the Card Hate Club, btw?

  8. Profile photo of R. Jean Mathieu
    July 18, 2013, 5:37 am   / 

    And those Star Trek people really screwed over Asimov when they called Data’s brain ‘positronic’ without paying one red cent. Ditto for every hack that’s had a character jokingly refer to a ‘warp drive,’ or had a mad computer that enjoyed “Daisy.” And let’s not forget LeGuin herself!

    I’ve nicked plenty from Ray Bradbury, like calling a place “Applegate’s Grave” where his Applegate presumably died. Who am I to pay for my infringement-laced use of the word ‘android’? Do I owe Novikov money for citing his Self-Consistency Principle? I’ve criticized Strossian and Vingesque “Singularities” from a half dozen angles, how much do I need to pay each man to tell him I think he’s wrong?

    And those THIEVES over at TVTropes! How can we let them go on stealing words and phrases so? “And It Worked” from Girl Genius, “Muggles” from Harry Potter, “Spikification” and a dozen others from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Stolen, each one! I’m sure “Jossed” counts as libel, while we’re here and already filing the papers.

    Where, exactly, does it end? Is science fiction to resemble the computer industry, where double-clicking can be trademarked and spreadsheets patented? I heard that science fiction was “the literature of ideas,” but better if we respectfully keep our ideas under lock and key. Even if we know that, when those technologies exist, they’ll be *called* “ansibles” and “warp drive” and “sliding” because of the prior art and presence in the language, we certainly can’t portray it.

    I shall go on stealing. Cross-pollination seems a far better sort of approach than cold, respectful sterility. I must ask, though, what Ursula LeGuin thinks of Card? I hope she hasn’t sworn kanly on him, the Herbert estate are *fierce* about their copyrights.

  9. Profile photo of C E Martin
    July 17, 2013, 10:38 pm   / 

    Paul it sure seems like you’re trying to grind a rainbow-handled axe here. Any thing else you want gripe about with card?

    And are you as nearly wound up on the JK Rowling literary theft argument? How about J Michael Staczinsky’s claims DS-9 was a blatant theft from Babylon 5?

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 18, 2013, 12:57 pm   / 

      There actually is quite a lot to talk about regarding Card, but the theft, by name, of the ansible has always bothered me because of the reasons I listed in my article. And writers such as Starczinsky are perfectly entitled to take legal action (as are you) when they feel something of theirs has been appropriated without permission or payment. You are obviously a fan of Card’s writing, perhaps of the man himself. But the fact is, he stole it and he gets a pass. That’s not right. And it’s true that I might be grinding a rainbow-handled axe (whatever that means). Card is a multimillionaire and stands to make millions more even if Ender’s Game fails. Asia alone guarantees $100 million in sales for any CGI American blockbuster (see recent articles in the Atlantic and the New Yorker for the number spread). The movie will be a hit and his fans can got to bed at night with a smile on their faces that’s all is well in the world. He still stole it. He’s lazy and he’s a thief.

      • Profile photo of C E Martin
        July 18, 2013, 6:26 pm   / 

        Don’t like card, don’t dislike. Read ender’s game, once, many years ago. Can’t recall what i felt about it, but given i didn’t seek out his other work, i probably didn’t care for it.

        By rainbiw handked axe, i meant that i propose you’re more worked up on his stance on gay marriage than his writing- you’re looking for nits to pick. By all means, correct me if i’m wrong about that.

  10. Profile photo of David Kilman
    July 17, 2013, 3:01 pm   / 

    And sometimes it is just a homage…

    I don’t know about the short story, but the first reference to an ansible in the Ender’s Game book is as follows: “The official name is Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator, but somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere and it caught on.” That seems to me to be more homage than straight theft.

    Personally, if I were Le Guin, I would see this as a homage and would not mind seeing my term enter the common lexicon, perhaps to someday be used on a real device. For instance, if in a thousand years people use an ansible, Le Guin’s only significant footnote in history at that time might be that she coined the term. Everyone seems ok with using Capek’s robot. And Capek’s name will be remembered far longer because we do use the term robot.

    And for the record, lest you think my opinion motived by a love for the book, I read Ender’s Game after it won the Hugo for best novel. I felt I was too old for it at the time and did not understand why everyone liked it so much. It reminded me of some of my childhood fantasies and I always considered it more suitable for YA readers.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 17, 2013, 5:03 pm   / 

      Yes, I saw the same quote in wikipedia. But that quote is from Speaker For the Dead, which I remember distinctly. Card nowhere acknowledges the ansible being taken from Le Guin in Ender’s Game. That’s what blew me away. And the whole novel depended on it. It’s only after he’d gotten away with it, that he felt the need to acknowledge the theft (as a homage, as you suggest) in Speaker for the Dead. He still stole it, probably because he was too lazy to think up a device of his own. James Blish obviously thought up his own FTL communications system. Why not Card? It was easier to appropriate someone else’s idea.

      • Profile photo of David Kilman
        July 17, 2013, 5:14 pm   / 

        That quote appears on page 249 of Ender’s Game in the copy in my library. (Tor 0-812-55070-6) .

        I’m still thinking homage.

        • Profile photo of Paul Cook
          July 17, 2013, 5:20 pm   / 

          It’s still theft. My claim is that Card shouldn’t have called it the Ansible. It’s Le Guin’s idea. Blish called it something different. Others have, too. That’s my point. It’s not homage. It belongs to Le Guin. My other point is that you could not use someone else’s ideas in anything you published today. Why did Card get away with it? Is it just that simple? What if I wrote a book about a giant Ringworld circling a star and called it the Ringworld? Is that okay? Or have a planet called Arrakis with sandworms called Shai-Hulud? Is that okay? If it is, I would really like to know why–because I don’t think Larry Niven or Frank Herbert’s estate would let you get away with publishing a novel with their authors’ ideas (and I certainly know for a fact you’d never get your novel past an editor in order to get it published–it won’t happen). But Card got away with it.

          • Profile photo of David Kilman
            July 17, 2013, 6:59 pm   / 

            I think that if you dig a little deeper you will find other terms coined by science fiction authors that are used by other authors. I already mentioned robot. There are many more, so much so that the Science Fiction Encyclopedia in a list of “terms which either originate within sf or would be almost unknown were it not for sf” uses the phrase “. . . and so on through the alphabet” rather than complete a full list. Granted, not all of the terms they list were created by SF writers, but many were.

            I think it likely that Card was not getting away with something, but rather was following in a tradition of homage in SF (as evidenced by the quote from Ender’s Game). The SF community used to be a more fannish group of people with more tolerance for this sort of thing. But I will grant you that in today’s hyper-litigious climate, people are less likely to be in a sharing mood. Whereas once the term Hobbit was used widely in games, stories and songs, you are now likely to get a lawsuit in return. Now we get situations where companies like Disney sue day care centers for painting Mickey Mouse on the wall.

            My point is that I think Card did it as homage. You seem to think he got away with something no one else was allowed to get away with, but the history of SF says otherwise. What you say regarding what publishers would not allow you to do today is correct, but that was not as true in the past. We can’t write novels with foreknowledge of the legal climate decades in the future – not even science fiction writers.

            I suspect you want to discredit Card in every possible way due to current events. But I think you would do better to focus on the real issue (his stance on gay rights) rather than this one. My apologies if I have misunderstood your motive on this, but it is the impression I get.

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 17, 2013, 8:45 pm   / 

            David, this has nothing to do with the current mess Card is in. It has to do with literary theft. Sure, we have Robot–but what else do we have? The Ansible is a name-specific trope, used by Ursula K. Le Guin. Card stole it outright instead of making his concept up on his own which a number of other writers (including myself) have. I’ve always been bothered by Ender’s Game for this one reason–there are others but those are for another time. I know you’re a fan. I have no problem with that. But to say he did it as a homage is to brush away the issue. Could he or you used the Shai-Hulud/Giant Sandworms of Dune? I don’t think so? Perhaps you think the Ansible is a minor thing, like “robot”. Well, then you get to do that. I don’t and I don’t think Harlan Ellison thought that when Cameron ripped him off for Terminator. But you’ll never convince me that this is a minor matter or that I’m looking for all kinds of ways of getting back at Card because of what’s happening to him now. Not so. It’s a legal matter. It’s intellectual property theft. Nothing more.

          • Profile photo of R. Jean Mathieu
            July 21, 2013, 6:47 am   / 

            How about ‘worm’ for any large, elongated science-fictional creature, since you seem so intent on Dune? I’m sure Jack Vance owes royalties for the wormingers, and fortunately he’s still alive to pay them. Or let’s go with my other example, ‘positronic’ for any electronic brain. Asimov’s heirs must be up in arms. ‘Muggles’ for normal, non-special Mrs. Browns*? ‘Daywalker,’ now a slang term for redheads, originally lifted from the movie Blade. ‘Cyberspace,’ from Gibson. ‘Metaverse,’ similar concept, from Stephenson. ‘Singularity’ from Vinge. ‘Tannhauser Gate’ from Blade Runner, and ‘replicant’ from Dick’s novel. ‘Waldo’ from Heinlein. ‘Droid’ from Star Wars. ‘Esper’ from Bester, along with half of cyberpunk if we get right down to it.

            And of course, ‘Big Brother,’ ‘Room 101,’ ‘Ingsoc,’ ‘Oceania,’ ‘doublethink,’ ‘thoughtcrime,’ ‘Newspeak,’ ‘doubleplusungood,’ and ‘Thought Police’ from George Orwell. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but I worry not, for, Paul, I have faith in you!

            You can argue those, with the same tenacity and dedicated zeal with which you expose that devil Card’s intellectual infidelity, long may he suffer! That way, you cannot possibly be accused of having any axe to grind or playing any favorites. I wish you luck. Now, at risk of exposing myself to further accusations of intellectual property theft after all those examples above (which I neither asked permission to name, nor sought permission to cite, nor have any plans to remunerate the original authors for), let me just say: Paul, your name is a killing word. Long live the fighters of Paul Cook!

            *oops! I think I just stole, yes, STOLE the term “Mrs. Brown” from none other than poor, benighted Ursula LeGuin herself! I can only pray for her forgiveness…and you, as her appointed protector, of course.

          • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
            July 21, 2013, 8:03 am   / 

            R. Jean,

            I worked in Intellectual Property for over 11 years and wish to tell you that things are not as clear cut as your commentary suggests. Yes, copyright is extended to a particular presentation, but it has also been extended to include concepts (Ellison/Terminator). The distinction is very nuanced and individual case-related. In the Ellison/Cameron issue, Ellison was fortunate enough to have the smoking gun – Cameron’s admission that he had taken the concepts for Terminator from two Outer Limits episodes. Many writers in SF and Fantasy have experienced similar theft/borrowing but have lacked the admission and if any of them sought the advice of an attorney would have been told that their cases, as they stood, were unprovable/unwinnable.

            Your examples contain only specific words, out of context. If someone wrote a book about a magic school for kids and referred to mundanes as “muggles”, you can bet there would be a lawsuit. IP is very complicated and I can understand the confusion.

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 21, 2013, 12:34 pm   / 

            R. Jean Mathieu,
            When someone reads the words “thought crime”, they know (or should know) that it comes from Orwell. The same for ansible, which comes from the creative mind of Ursula K. Le Guin. You did not address the original issue of Card’s appropriation of the ansible for his own purposes in Ender’s Game. Like many others who have responded here, the rest of your response was (or were) a collection of snide ad hominem attacks. You can hate me all you want, but that’s beside the point. Orson Scott Card stole the ansible instead, as I claimed, making up his own FTL communications system as James Blish did, as Isaac Asimov did, as Henry Kuttner did, as Cordwainer Smith did, as E.E. Doc Smith did, et. al. Nothing of what you said belies that fact.

          • Profile photo of Daniel M. Kimmel
            July 21, 2013, 8:29 am   / 

            This argument is SO over. It is not “intellectual property theft.” The answers showing numerous borrowings by other authors prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. The references to “positronic” and “cyberspace” are dispositive. LeGuin coined a word. It’s gone into wide use as an SF concept and beyond. One can dislike Card and/or his works. One can wish he had somewhere acknowledged his small debt to LeGuin, but he did not take her plots or characters. He took a single word which she has not objected to and has been used by others.

            That is the end of the discussion. I’m not an enforcer, of course, and people CAN continue (unless and until Steve does something) but it will be beating a horse that is not only dead, but one that has already been rendered into glue.

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 21, 2013, 12:43 pm   / 

            I’ll post this here, as I posted it above:
            Daniel Kimmel,
            The argument is not SO over–or it is only because you want it to be. Read Steve’s post just about yours. Read my post again. These are legal, well-reasoned positions. If the ansible is used commonly now, it’s only because Card used it first and others followed in his stead. You’re an OSC fan, a die-hard fan at that. That’s fine with me. But the issue is not over. Not by a long shot.

          • Profile photo of R. Jean Mathieu
            July 22, 2013, 1:36 am   / 

            Paul, last I checked, following an accusation of ad hominem (“your response was (or were) a collection of snide ad hominem attacks.”) with an actual ad hominem (” You’re an OSC fan, a die-hard fan at that.”) was considered bad form. I may not be as well-educated or as established at you, but I can at least admit it when I’m wrong. I recommend it.

            And in terms of failing to address arguments…here’s mine, and let’s let you show just how much a better man than I am you are: HOW. IS. CARD’S. USE. OF. ANSIBLE. DIFFERENT. FROM. STAR TREK’S. USE. OF. POSITRONIC?

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 22, 2013, 2:13 am   / 

            By suggesting that you were a a rabid OSC fan, wasn’t meant as an ad hominem attack. It was snarky to use the word rabid (or any adjective) and I apologize. No excuses. As for Data’s Positronic brain in Star Trek: The Next Generation, you’re absolutely right here. I can’t say for sure but I suspect that Roddenbury’s people had gotten permission from Asimov’s estate at that time. And it was done in the spirit of homage _to_ Asmiov and the spirit of his Robot Stories. I remember several episodes where Data was in conflict with the Three Laws of Robotics. I do think there was no way that they couldn’t have done it without permission.

            Even so, Card’s appropriation transcends mere homage because it was so essential to how the children won the war. It’s intellectual property theft that could have been cleared up by a note in the beginning, in an acknowledgements paragraph. But my sideways concern was as a writer: why didn’t he make something up like all of the other writers in the field? That’s not an objection; it’s just a troubling thought because all writers try to be original. And Card’s writings are full of original details and tropes and themes. I grant him that. But in this case, he simply stole it, was given a pass (by a largely passive sci-fi reading culture) and I’ve never understood why. For I know that I would never have been able to get away with any kind of theft in any of my novels (which are also full of homages, especially my fifth novel, Halo, which is a full-blown homage to Doc Savage–which my wonderful editor at Bantam, Lisa Novak, understood and permitted.) And as I’ve said to another writer here, had Card not used the Ansible and used instead a device of his own, it would have been a much less troubling book for me. Truthfully, I don’t know why he did it. He’s not a stupid man. He’s well-read and very articulate. But in this one area, his deed is inexcusable. Again, my apologies for any snark on my part directed at you. It’s your argument and our dialog that’s only relevant here.

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 22, 2013, 11:54 am   / 

            As I’ve responded elsewhere (and please don’t shout when you ask questions), is that my guess is that Roddenbery’s people probably cleared it with the Asimov estate. And there are several episodes where Data is in conflict with the Three Laws. Everyone knows, of course, of the Three Laws, but I’m sure they cleared it with the Asimov estate.

          • Profile photo of Daniel M. Kimmel
            July 22, 2013, 11:59 am   / 

            “As I’ve responded elsewhere (and please don’t shout when you ask questions), is that my guess is that Roddenbery’s people probably cleared it with the Asimov estate. And there are several episodes where Data is in conflict with the Three Laws. Everyone knows, of course, of the Three Laws, but I’m sure they cleared it with the Asimov estate.”

            That’s a MIGHTY big assumption on your part given the subject matter and the utter lack of a scrap of evidence supporting it. I’m sure they did no such thing. Go ahead. Prove me wrong.

            And when you can’t, admit that your case against Card is precisely the same as the case against ST:TNG.

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 22, 2013, 12:11 pm   / 

            Daniel, I don’t have to prove it and even so it’s not to the point. What Card did, he did before ST:TNG. And before ST:TNG was the James Cameron/Harlan Ellison lawsuit over the Terminator. Hollywood has legions of lawyers who have to vet all kinds of properties. My point is still valid. Card stole the Ansible from Ursula K. Le Guin. It was not a homage; a homage is something minor. His use was major and vital to the workings of the plot. This has nothing to do with Star Trek. It’s literary theft.

          • Profile photo of Daniel M. Kimmel
            July 22, 2013, 12:34 pm   / 

            “Daniel, I don’t have to prove it and even so it’s not to the point. What Card did, he did before ST:TNG. And before ST:TNG was the James Cameron/Harlan Ellison lawsuit over the Terminator. Hollywood has legions of lawyers who have to vet all kinds of properties. My point is still valid. Card stole the Ansible from Ursula K. Le Guin. It was not a homage; a homage is something minor. His use was major and vital to the workings of the plot. This has nothing to do with Star Trek. It’s literary theft.”

            Sorry, I am trained as a lawyer and know something about how cases are argued. You have been presented with another example of someone doing precisely the same thing and are unable to distinguish them except to claim one is “theft” and the other “must” have had permission, although there is not the slightest bit of evidence supporting that. The burden of proof is on you — the accuser — to show they are different and you’ve just admitted you can’t do it.

            I accept your concession that you have nothing but your animosity towards Card. You can’t distinguish other cases. You can’t show LeGuin was the slightest bit upset. And you can’t explain why Card’s use of the word is “theft” but everyone else gets a pass.

            At this point you’re not even beating a dead horse. You’re having a tantrum.

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 22, 2013, 1:10 pm   / 

            This is not about Star Trek or any other possible use of literary property. I don’t have to argue any case by the one I’ve chosen. My argument is not demolished because I can’t demonstrate that Gene Roddenbury’s people have a signed document allowing them use of Isaac Asimov’s Robot material. This is about the material fact that Card stole the ansible. Period. You’re arguing from misdirection. You want this to be about Star Trek. But it’s not. I’m not throwing a tantrum, Daniel. Orson Scott Card appropriated an original name (though not idea: FTL communications are as old as science fiction of the 1920s) and used it to major effect in Ender’s Game. That’s not fair. It’s not right. He stole it.

          • Profile photo of D. Nicklin-Dunbar
            July 22, 2013, 12:37 pm   / 

            [quote]As I’ve responded elsewhere (and please don’t shout when you ask questions), is that my guess is that Roddenbery’s people probably cleared it with the Asimov estate. And there are several episodes where Data is in conflict with the Three Laws. Everyone knows, of course, of the Three Laws, but I’m sure they cleared it with the Asimov estate.[/quote]

            Guessing and being sure are not answers.

            This didn’t take me long to find, nor was it difficult to define the search:

            [quote]In his own view, Asimov believed that his most enduring contributions would be his “Three Laws of Robotics” and the Foundation Series (see Yours, Isaac Asimov, p. 329). Furthermore, the Oxford English Dictionary credits his science fiction for introducing the words positronic (an entirely fictional technology), psychohistory (frequently used in a different sense than the imaginary one Asimov employed) and robotics into the English language. Asimov coined the term robotics without suspecting that it might be an original word; at the time, he believed it was simply the natural analogue of mechanics, hydraulics and so forth. (The original word robot derives from the Czech word for “forced labor”, robota, and was first employed by the playwright Karel Capek.) Unlike his other two coinages, the word robotics continues in mainstream and technical use with Asimov’s original definition. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured androids with “positronic brains”, giving Asimov full credit for inventing this (fictional) technology.[/quote]
            (http://www.eloquentatheist.com/2012/07/famous-freethinkers-asimov-isaac/)

            Although it does look like Asimov and everyone else did rip off Capek. Perhaps Capek’s heirs should sue every modern science fiction writer. That was his IP after all. What’s that? The term has entered into the shared culture and so know one actually owns the word? Could such a precedent be applied to the word “ansible”?

            What, exactly, is the statute of limitations on the coining of words? Should anyone who uses the word “robotics” be required to pay Asimov’s heirs for its use? How about Capek’s heirs, are they entitled to royalties from everyone who ever wrote the word “robot”? The latter is patently absurd as I am sure all will agree, and the former seems just as unreasonable considering it’s widespread use well beyond that of science fiction.

            How long should it take for a neologism to become public domain? 14 years, 70 years, never? When does culture get the benefits of the genius of artists or should we always be denied them so that some petty, money-hungry author demands that his IP belongs to no one else in perpetuity? When do other artists gain the ability to create new and interesting works based on, remixed from or re-imagined from earlier works?

            It is also well known that Asimov was close friends with Roddenbury so he probably either gave permission to Star Trek to use “positronic”, or simply considered it a wonderful compliment that his friend would popularized it with a TV show. Asimov began writing at a time when authors shared ideas, coinages and plots amongst themselves frequently, an activity long preceding him. He was probably tickled pink that such a thing would happen.

          • Profile photo of R. Jean Mathieu
            July 22, 2013, 6:51 am   / 

            I’d check up on it, if it were possible. I don’t recall Asimov’s name being brought up, though. But it’s been a long time. Maybe Steve could help us out there.

            To address your argument, I find Card’s acknowledgement “someone dredged it out of an old book” (cited above) to be as much as necessary/expected to acknowledge the original author. As you yourself said, “When someone reads the words “thought crime”, they know (or should know) that it comes from Orwell. The same for ansible, which comes from the creative mind of Ursula K. Le Guin.” LeGuin may not have the same cultural impact as Orwell, more’s the pity, but someone within the fandom at the time Ender’s Game was written should have recognized the provinence, just as anyone in the fandom in 1989 should have recognized the provenance of “positronic.”

            I’m also confounded by the motive, too. As you said, his writings are full of iringal tropes and themes. Coming up with a new name would not have been difficult (he even did so, before abandoning it for ‘ansible,’ again in the above-quoted passage). The only reason I can think of would /be/ homage, in spirit if not in execution. IIRC, somewhere in “How to Write Science Fiction” he said something supporting this, but I can’t remember.

            Sidebar: One could almost make an argument, by the same logic as OP, that unless Asimov’s name was specifically invoked somewhere in the teleplay or credits, the Three-Laws episodes of Next Generation are as bad infractions (or worse!) than Card’s lifting the Ansible. The ansible was a device necessary for the plot to function, whereas Star Trek lifted entire Asimovian plots. It would not be hard to think of an Ellison/Terminator connection between, say, “Measure of a Man” and “I, Robot.”

          • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
            July 22, 2013, 7:31 am   / 

            I’m going to drift a bit off of this mainline here and speak in the abstract/hypothetical:

            In general, I think it would be a good thing for authors who create original concepts to be able to continue to benefit in some fashion from their originality. Perhaps that might be nothing beyond an acknowledgement somewhere in the forward. I think that one of the reasons that more of that kind of thing isn’t done on a routine basis is the fear of litigation. If you acknowledge that so-and-so’s story inspired your own, so-and-so’s attorneys may go looking for actionable items.

            I do know that I am interested in seeing filmmakers (Cameron, I’m looking at you) who “borrow” extensively to make their own product (and because they’ve got no original creative capabilities themselves – ooops, sorry, personal opinion slipping in there) acknowledge – at least in a general way – their sources. I believe that doing so would be an economic boon for authors. Avatar is a good example here. Anyone familiar with the field can easily pick out a dozen works that Avatar appears to have been based on (and can make really good cases for a handful of those). (As an aside, I’ll suggest that the attorneys, following the Ellison lawsuit settled in court and the settled out of court cases surrounding Titanic, probably said something to Jimmy like “If you’re going to ‘steal’, steal from a bunch of different works, that way no one can prove anything).

            It would be far better to have willing support and acknowledgement – to share things forward – on the part of all of the creative entities – rather than contention and guessing. Avatar could have been accompanied (in the credits) with a statement along the lines of “We would like to acknowledge the great works of science fiction, without which there could have been no film” – or, perhaps go one step further “This movie was inspired by the works of Ursula Le Guin, Alan Dean Foster, Harry Harrison, Poul Anderson, Boris & Arkady Strugatsky; if you liked this film, you’ll want to read their works”

            Such a methodology would in fact be directly acknowledging a key element of science fiction – it’s self-recursive nature. Rather than just having those references, borrowings, homages and thefts buried in the works, we bring those connections out into the economic sphere: “if you liked this book, you will probably like”…doesn’t create any legal endangerments so far as I can tell.

            That said, two other things: yes, doing something along these lines could lead to more litigation. At this point I have reached the limit of my legal knowledge/experience other than to recognize that I have and know that the wording and usages would have to be examined by attorneys eminently familiar with this area of the law. And, of course, in many ways, we are already doing some of this through various social network outlets and services (if you liked this…kind of things).

            I think the dividing line remains “proof”. I think the time to question someone is when they do ‘lift’ something whole from another work and also fail to acknowledge doing so. Decisions about whether or not someone stepped over that line remain case-individual. A perfect example of someone lifting, acknowledging (at least somewhat) and NOT being sued is Lucas and Star Wars. He’s on record as saying that he originally wanted to re-do Flash Gordon; he did not get the rights to Flash Gordon and so turned to his own version of it. The people at King Features (who own Flash) were certainly aware of Lucas trying to get the rights and I am sure a legal team from that company reviewed Star Wars with an eye towards infringement, yet no suits were brought. About the only things the two stories really share in common is the seminal “Hero’s Journey”. Perhaps EVERYONE ought to be paying Homer and Campbell (Joseph) a piece. The distinction between over the line and not over the line seems to be two elements: public disclosure of your source materials and the extent to which you change (or don’t) the window dressing.

          • Profile photo of Paul Cook
            July 22, 2013, 12:03 pm   / 

            And, in truth (really), I wish Card had gone the route of James Blish and all of the other sf writers who made up their own FTL communications device. I know he’s capable. I just don’t know why he did it. For me, the novel would almost have worked. The other problem I have is a personal/technical one regarding the way six-to-twelve year-olds speak and emote. I cannot read books like Ender’s Game where children that young speak with the intellectual acuity of fifty year-old men and women. They don’t have the wisdom, the speech articulation (the adroitness and musculature of tongue and mouth muscles), and they don’t have a whole lifetime of emotional growth to inform their wisdom. But the central figure in Card’s spiritual life is Joseph Smith and the young (and quite apocryphal) Jesus. They were rumored to be able to speak and preach and these are important figures to Card. His books are full of gifted and special children. That’s why they’re so popular among teenagers. But my argument is not with Card’s religious beliefs (which I would never attack–either his Mormonism or Christianity in general; he is perfectly entitled to his beliefs, as you and I both know). I want him (and my students) and you and me to be better writers. The field needs it. We just don’t need laziness. That’s all.

          • Profile photo of R. Jean Mathieu
            July 22, 2013, 6:52 am   / 

            Oh Lord. At three drinks I can still argue mostly cogently but I can’t spell any more. Sorry about that.

  11. Profile photo of B. Morris Allen
    July 17, 2013, 2:00 pm   / 

    When I first read Ender’s Game (or at least when I read the book, which was many years later), I remember wondering why he had used the same term. I didn’t recall that it was Le Guin’s books I had seen it in, but I knew I had seen it somewhere. I decided that perhaps it was a fairly common term (like FTL, though of course that’s only descriptive), and let it go.

    I think he was wrong not to, say, call it the LeGuin ansible (though he does acknowledge that the word was already in existence). But the re-use doesn’t bother me that much – in part because while it was a key gadget in Card’s book, I don’t recall that it was that essential to LeGuin’s. And while she used it in a number of places, she did not make it the core of other works. By now, I think it’s been used enough (without complaint) that it’s fair game for general use.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 17, 2013, 5:05 pm   / 

      But that’s the whole point! Just because Card stole it in the first place, that doesn’t make it all right for others to steal it or use it. It’s still intellectual property theft. And it’s lazy writing. As I pointed out in my article, other people have been sued because they stole an idea from another artist. Card got a pass. Why?

      • Profile photo of B. Morris Allen
        July 22, 2013, 12:45 pm   / 

        Here’s what Ursula Le Guin has to say:
        “v. The ansible
        …I’ve been happy to share the ansible with other science fiction writers and pleased when they use it. It’s a handy device for people who need to communicate plausibly across interstellar spacetime. An invention that has gained the honorable status of a common noun doesn’t need to be protected. The ansible, as (fake) information, belongs to anybody who wants to use it and knows how to. In the same way, Heinlein’s waldo became common property, and indeed presently became real, which I doubt the ansible will any time soon. Anyhow, the ansible is an Anarresti invention, and anarchists share stuff.”

        I’ve also asked Mr. Card to chime in if he cares to, but this seems to me to answer the question pretty definitively.

        http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Note-ArtInfoTheftConfusion-Part2.html

        • Profile photo of Paul Cook
          July 22, 2013, 1:14 pm   / 

          Yes, it does answer it. After the fact. The deed was done a long time ago by Mr. Card. He stole it and used it to major effect in Ender’s Game. It’s intellectual property theft ever if years after the fact Ms. Le Guin approved it.

  12. Profile photo of
    Marilynn Byerly
    July 17, 2013, 11:39 am   / 

    I should also add that a particular word isn’t covered by copyright, but it can be trademarked and Le Guin didn’t so Card broke no law of copyright or trademark.

    And the length of copyright had nothing to do with it. Card’s ENDER’S GAME started life as a short story in ANALOG which was published exactly ten years after ROCANNON’S WORLD.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 17, 2013, 1:19 pm   / 

      You missed my point. It doesn’t matter if Card broke no real law. He still stole the idea from Le Guin–and idea and concept that his entire novel depended upon. It’s theft. Plain and simple. And no one should stand for it.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 17, 2013, 4:57 pm   / 

      It’s not a copyright issue. He used someone else’s literary idea. The rest of the article details other sf writers who’ve used different names for the same concept. Card chose not too–my guess was that he was lazy. Today, no one would be allowed to do that. On any level. What was Card allowed to get away with it?

  13. Profile photo of
    Marilynn Byerly
    July 17, 2013, 11:34 am   / 

    Instant communication was already an established idea. It was used, for example, in the first season of STAR TREK which also started in 1966 so Card only “stole” the term, not the idea.

    Using words coined by another author is very common in science fiction, and some authors consider it a type of homage.

    Since Le Guin has never said anything, and she’s not shy about expressing her opinion, I doubt she’s as upset by this as you are.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 17, 2013, 1:21 pm   / 

      Marilynn, you’re still missing the point. The concept goes back to the late 1920s with E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensmen series. And, no, authors don’t do it all the time. If the Ansible is used by other authors, it’s only because Card did it first. It’s a terrible habit to get into and other authors have sued other authors for intellectual property theft. I had at least two excellent examples of such theft in my article. You’re a fan of Card’s, clearly, but he was wrong and intellectually lazy for stealing it.

  14. Profile photo of D. Nicklin-Dunbar
    July 17, 2013, 11:07 am   / 

    Part of the problem is that copyright terms are far, far too long now. Why should Conde Nast continue to profit from Doc Savage decades after his heyday? Why should Herbert’s heirs profit from his work for seventy years after his death? Robert E. Howard died in 1936 and yet Conan remains untouchable to those who would love to write new adventures (which is particularly weird considering the works of his contemporary Lovecraft are in the public domain).

    I can understand Mr. Cook’s point here, but only so far as it extends to living authors and their works. Yes, it was wrong for Card to rip off the ansible from LeGuin, and perhaps LeGuin should have done something about it (although she has never struck me as someone who would make such a mountain out of a molehill). It was lazy and unscrupulous. The current terms of copyright however, are incredibly long and are extended by avaricious estates and corporations every chance they get.

    Culture is enriched when literary and musical works enter the public domain. To continually and indefinitely extend copyright is detrimental to the creative arts. Conan, Doc Savage, Tarzan and even Shai-hulud should have entered the public domain years ago. Think of how barren the culture if, for example, Shakespeare’s heirs still held control of his works. Or Bronte’s, or Shelley’s, or Keat’s.

    PS: I also think that troll should be replaced with trawl. I know that most people consider them to be interchangeable, but they should not be. Trawling the internet for things (like fishing) is not the same as trolling the internet for kicks.

  15. Profile photo of Daniel M. Kimmel
    July 17, 2013, 10:14 am   / 

    The name I’m missing from your discussion is David Langford, winner of numerous Hugo Awards.

    http://news.ansible.co.uk/Ansible.html

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      July 17, 2013, 1:23 pm   / 

      Daniel, in this case I’d say the use of the Anisble for a fanzine (or a pro-zine, even) is definitely a kind of homage. I’d accept it here. And, thanks for pointing this out. I’d forgotten about Langford’s mag.

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