Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The CoCo & Intellectual Property Rights

I've been studiously avoiding weighing in on this issue for about three years now. heh! :) But seems it's time to have a go at it. The issue is, of course, intellectual property rights (primarily copyright, but also includes Trademark and Patent) for CoCo stuffs. First some explanation...

What kicked this post off was, of course, the discussion about Hot CoCo. In a bit of odd timing, I also got a rather legal sounding email recently from a CoCo programmer who objected to one of his old programs being posted to a portion of the site. It was an accident (the files were mistakenly included in an archive of other stuff) and resolved amicably for all parties involved, but it's definitely not something we want to make a habit of having to deal with. To that extent, public announcement:

If an original author of a CoCo program (or anything for that matter) discovers something that belongs to them on any Club LTD Studios site, that shouldn't be there, email me immediately at I'll pull it off right away. I do not "police" the other areas of the site. I rarely use downloaded software on my CoCo or emulators, except for the modern stuff, most of which I buy. Most the older stuff is simply not of interest to me. CoCo MAx and Max 10 were great programs back in the day, it was a flash-back blast to play with them again (I own the originals) but I'll take Photoshop and OpenOffice now, thank you. Using those old programs is a chore. Occasionally I come across a program that IS still fun to use on the CoCo, like Musica II, in which case I acquire it for my collection by buying the original on eBay and running off of backups. That's about it. I do browse through the message boards, posts here on the blog, and the file areas, of course. But I don't examine them particularly closely if they aren't my bag of dough nuts. So, if you see something that should not be there, give me a shout. I'll take care of it. :) By the same token, if you WANT your stuff posted, drop me a note, as well. We'll work something out and I'll shout to the world that it's here!

So what's all this have to do with CoCos and intellectual property rights? Well, a lot of people want to preserve the CoCo and the publications and software that were produced for it. A noble goal, to be sure. Occasionally, though, there's a bit of a fight about ownership and in the enthusiasm to share, property rights can get pushed aside. And that ain't right. That fight always boils down to the "what should be" side and the "what is" side.

"What Should Be"

These folks basically argue that 20-30 (older) year old software for a defunct 8-bit computer should be released into the public domain. Most of it is abandoned (no attempt to conduct commerce using it and/or insufficient attempts to protect the rights) and none of it has any real commercial value any longer. As such, the law should reflect this "abandonware" and, after a suitable period of time, it should default into the public domain. The main reasoning is that without such a mechanism in the law, historically important information (including code, articles, designs, art, et al.) will disappear long before the property rights expire.

"What Is"

This group's argument is pretty simple. It's the law. The original creator of a work should (and does) have a right to do with it as they please. They own it and if they want to let it fade into oblivion that's their right.

I've been in content creation and media, in some form of another, my entire working life; frequently independently, as well as for the likes of America Online and The Borders Group. I've signed so many non-disclosure agreements and property transfer contracts I can't talk about half the stuff I know. Regardless, I have an acute awareness of intellectual property rights and how creators can get royally screwed if they aren't careful and diligent. As such, I'm a big supporter of intellectual property laws, particularly copyrights, and due compensation to the original creator.

Unlike trademarks (and to some extent patents), copyright is pretty much rock solid. Ownership can get muddled, but the rights themselves are firm. If you hold a trademark, you have to defend it vigorously and consistently. For example, if you've ever run a moderately successful website or published something in print, you've probably gotten the "proper use" letter from a company.
"In [publication] you used the term "clorox" as a generic adjective/verb for bleach products. Please be aware that Clorox brand liquid bleach is a trademark of [company]. It should always be used as a proper noun... etc." Annoying, but they have to do that and send out those letters to protect their trademark. The law requires that effort if they ever need to take legal action to protect their brand. Copyrights are under no such restrictions, though. To protect a copyright the owner has to do.... absolutely nothing.

A copyright (after 1978) lasts the life of the original copyright holder, plus 70 years. That's it. It doesn't fade, and there's no mechanism to change the duration. Copyright covers several aspects of a work, as well, including original presentation. To use a recent example from the CoCo world, you can't reprint Hot CoCo in print or digital form, without permission, because the copyright is still in effect. The copyright covers whatever rights the owners purchased, plus the original presentation including format and artwork. Copyright doesn't cover the title of the publication (that's trademark), but does cover the logo (font, colors, etc.) artwork used to represent that title. So, you can't reprint the original Hot CoCo (e.g. scan it cover to cover and release it) without permission from whoever owns the rights to the publication. But...

Hot CoCo had many authors in the form of contributors. How's that work? Well, the original publishers of Hot CoCo would have purchased rights from the original authors. That's the hang up with the current owners of the publication. They have no idea or records of which rights were originally purchased or from whom. And even if they did, they probably would figure out pretty quick that there would be no profit in digging up that information and sorting it out just to appease a few 8-bit computer hobbyists.

Lonnie Falk was in a similar situation when he was negotiating "The Rainbow on Disk" project. Any rights not originally acquired by the publication are, by law, still owned by the original author. The publisher has an obligation to do their part to protect those rights. Which means they can't just release the original publication into the Public Domain for free. The publisher never purchased that right. If they just release the author's work, included in their original publication, for free then they could be held liable to the original author for deluding their rights as copyright holders. (In other words, if the publisher gives away the work for free, the original article authors could claim damages because the potential to resell the articles, which they still hold the rights to, is greatly diminished, if not obliterated.)

Most common rights purchased by a publisher of a magazine, here in the U.S., are First North American Serial Rights. Most will also purchase, as part of the deal, non-exclusive Reprint Rights or First Reprint Rights. That's pretty much standard. That gives the exclusive rights to be the first to publish a work in North America, and the right to reprint that work as they see fit in the future. The author retains the right to sell reprint rights elsewhere, as well as the right to republish the article as they see fit, including internationally and in digital format. (Though it is common for publications to acquire digital rights these days, of course.) I remember getting the writers guidelines long ago from The Rainbow, and FNAS rights were part of it. I don't remember if others were specified, but if Lonnie was able to negotiate a deal then they obviously had some sort of Reprint rights as well. With Hot CoCo, there's just no record of those rights, but from the authors I've spoken to, it wasn't an "all rights" deal. The original authors can still authorize reprints to other formats, apparently. (Not a lawyer. Don't own the rights myself. Talk to appropriate counsel. Etc.)

As such, an enterprising individual COULD contact those authors, gather up Reprint Rights through some form of arrangement, and then reprint the articles in a NEW format. An "originally appeared in" notice would probably be required or appropriate, but as long as it wasn't the same format and presentation as the original publication, it should be good if the original author a) still owns those rights and b) authorizes the publication. (Again with the "consult appropriate legal council before proceeding, IMHO, etc.")

CoCo software is a slightly more straight forward. In most instances, software companies buy ALL rights to the original author's creations. There may have been limited distribution deals, but in most cases, the ownership is going to be pretty clear. Either the original author still owns all the rights, or the company that bought those rights still owns them. Tracking down those owners could be challenging, though. Some would also have some form of reversion clause, so that rights revert back to the author if, say, the company goes out of business or chooses to stop publishing the material. If not, and in the event the company is no longer in business, the rights would have fallen to one of its principles; the owner in a sole proprietorship, or one of the partners/officers in a partnership or corporation. Either way, those rights aren't going to expire in our lifetimes.

Confused? It can get messy pretty quick. The short version is: Copyright last Lifetime + 70. Period. Prior to that, if you're inclined to put on the Net something created by someone else, get their permission first. You might be surprised to find quite a few creators are more than willing!

Now the promised opinion part...

As I said, I'm a big believer in intellectual property. Sorry, but you don't have the right to do whatever you want with someone else's stuff. Whether you agree with what they do with their stuff or not, that's kind of the whole concept of personal property.

But that doesn't mean some changes aren't in order. I do support the notion that abandoned works, including CoCo software, should be defaulted into the public domain at some point prior to the copyright statute based on very strict criteria. Absolutely. It's insane that a creator would ignore a work that is useful to the public, or of historical significance, for 30 years and then suddenly start screaming when a few hobbyists start sharing it around. Time to move out of the 1980s there, ya know? They have every right to do it, but that doesn't make it right.

The problem is that there's no easy way to do that. To my mind, it is simply not possible and still protect creator's rights.

In particular, and here's the debate, it's been suggested 20 to 50 years as a good benchmark. If the work has not been reasonably solicited commercially in interstate commerce for more than 20 (or 30 or 50 or whatever) years, or has not been published or maintained by reasonable standards in that time, it defaults into some form of non-commercial use public domain status.

The problem with this is obvious. Let's say, for example, Bob created Superhero X for the CoCo back in 1980 and it quickly faded into obscurity. It's not published or used at all until 2008 when suddenly, Superhero X is the hottest thing ever. Hell, Spielberg options the rights, for cryin' out loud! Under the proposal above, Bob is screwed. He never sees any money or credit for his creation. Does it matter that he created it 28 years ago? Of course not. He made it, and if someone's enjoying it and making money from it, he should get compensation for his work.

But that's not going to happen with old CoCo software, now is it? Well... the chances are probably pretty slim. But that's why the copyright expiration is set where it is. After much debate (back in 1978, actually) the time line for defunct works was set. Life +70.

That built in difficulty between the two arguments is why I've done two things here at the CoCo Hut. First, I promote CoCo collecting as much as possible. Take care of your CoCos and that original software. CoCo collectors are the first (and in some cases only) line of defense against some of that stuff disappearing forever. Second, track down and encourage original authors to share their works with the CoCo Community. There are plenty of options to do so that should be quite equitable to the authors themselves.

CoCoists, don't just assume. It's not yours to redistribute, so despite what you believe, don't take it upon yourself to make a decision for someone about their rights. It's condescending and rude, you do not know better than they do. And it is illegal, of course. And authors? Don't be stingy. You know as well as anyone that there's little or no commercial value in old CoCo software and publications. Seriously. Protect your property. But work with webmasters and CoCoists around the world to get your work back into circulation.

Here's two proposals, though there are tons of other ways to do this:

Set up some sort of micropay system for your vintage CoCo creations. Easy to do with places like PayPal. For a buck or two (think iTunes model) CoCoists can snag old software. This is a particularly good option for those looking to start developing (or are developing) new software for the CoCo. Use that older stuff to build a fan and customer base. Don't think you're going to get a lot of people willing to pay $20 or $30 for old CoCo software. Or even $10 for that matter. Your competition is too tough. Old CoCo games are fun, but you can download better to your cell phone for $1.99. A buck or two is probably your best price point, and don't expect to sell many. The market isn't that big. However, at that price point, you'll get a huge number of the hardcore users supporting it (even some of those that have the originals!), AND you'll pick up some of the casual retro-gamers that pop in and out of the CoCo scene.

I'll even consider setting something like that up here if there's enough interest from authors. Takes a few buttons clicks, so it's not rocket science. (Good thing, too, cause... well... I'm an idiot.) The main goal would be to get that old software out there for people to enjoy (at a more than reasonable cost) and encourage more modern development by some of those same authors. I've maintained for ages that the CoCo Community needs some form of expanded commerce, or developers aren't going to develop for it. There's one way to encourage it and I'll be happy to help in any way I can.

Option 2 is pretty straight forward. Set up some sort of arrangement for a CoCo website to distribute it to the community for free. Doesn't have to be here (though happy to do it, of course!). There's plenty of sites that would jump at the opportunity. If you're not going to use it, you're not going develop it, and it's just a "it's mine, so there!" thing, give it up. There's just no greater gift to the entire CoCo Community than letting that old software free. It will be greatly appreciated and recognized, I assure you. Better, release the whole thing, source code, art, tools and all. Help others pick it up, develop it, and make something new out of it. You won't get monetary compensation, but I suspect there will be some hearty recognition and thanks for doing it.

Angel's Luck,

Friday, January 18, 2008

Some small stuff and a bit of rambling...

Greetings CoCoNutz, from the deep (freeze) south. Yeah, I know it's not as cold here as it is where some of you folks are, but, for Florida, it's damn chilly!! The CoCo scene's been kinda anemic lately, on eVilBay, and on the mailing list. Been some of talk about new CoCo's, virtual CoCo's, and even a resurrection of the old Hot CoCo fiasco and Rainbow on disk project (which seem to be dead). BTW, anybody know when C9 is going to release the SuperBoard? Last I heard was Mark saying they were going to try and push it out the door by the end of '07. Oh well... it'll get here when it does. There's also been some talk about copyrights vs. PD software and why some people have held on to their rights to 20+ year old software. Basically, a whole lot of useless, constipated conversation... Let me see if I can express my opinion on a few of these topics...

1. eVilBay and the mailing list: usually slow this time of year, nuttin' new here. It'll pick back up.
2. Virtual CoCo project: I'll believe it when I see it. There's bee so much prognosticating on this subject it's been hard to follow. The
Vcc emulator does much of what has been proposed and seemed like a good place to start, but, the project seems effectively stalled...
3. New CoCos: Well, sure sounds nice. And I like the idea of using a pic or other dev board for it. However, I doubt there'll be lots of people interested in this type of a project. I sure as hell would, but, lack the know how as of yet...
4. The Hot CoCo archive project (as mention recently on the list): I started to scan all of the Hot CoCos I have back in early 2007. However, I have since fallen very behind in this regard due to job and life related issues. Do I have anyone's permission to do so? Nope. I was going to archive them to DVD for my own use, as paper only lasts so long. I cannot for the life of me imagine why someone would object to an archival project like this.
5. The Rainbow on Disk project: it's a damn shame, dead in the water apparently.
6. The SuperBoard: great idea, want one really bad. Know I'll be one of the last to get one since I came so late... It'll get here sooner or later.
7. Software: hey, if the original author of the software still holds and maintains the copyright, more power to him/her. I don't really understand why it's such a big deal, though. I mean, regardless of what 'future' projects one has in mind for the CoCo, I don;t know why releasing code to PD would prevent that from happening. But, hey, who am I??

That said, let us turn our attention, or in my case, targeting array, toward an eVilBayer who has my undies in a bunch:

KP's Surplus

This link is to his eVilBay store with a TRS-80 search. Located just north of me in Georgia, he's got three items that appear to be in okay shape, tho the CoCo2 looks to be rode hard. HOWEVER, what the hell is he thinking with the prices? And the shipping? That MPI has been listed before and I emailed him inquiring about it's condition. I also informed him that the thing was way over priced when the recent selling prices of them were taken into account. He replied with a 'Thanks!' but apparently did NOT gt the hint. And for that, this guy gets my vBSOD.

Now that's over, let's get to some auction action.

Recent sales: (Just gonna hit the highlights...)

Early TRS 80 Color Computer Printer Manuals Modem + NR

Well, I certainly missed out on this one. This was a steal at the price it went for.

TRS-80 with Tandy Disk Drive FD 501

Good GAWD what happened here? Yeah, it was yellow, but DAMN!!! $8.00 with the FD-501?? Insane.

Like new TRS-80 Color Complete system

This is more realistic...

Vintage TRS-80 Mini Disk Computer Drive

Yep... this too...

Tandy 128K CoCo 3 , Disk Drives , Cassette ,and Extras

Another HOLY SH!T moment here... I paid more for my modified MPI than this whole auction went for. 5x more... That was a killer score, my congrats go out to the winner.

As for current auctions... meh.. nothing really interesting at this point. There are a few CoCo2's and I think one 3 right now.

On a personal note, it looks like I may be switching jobs shortly, I'll know for sure in a few weeks. Funding cuts at the fed and state levels have made it almost impossible for regional workforce boards to function effectively, and I work for one currently. If I do switch jobs, my only connection to the 'net will be... wait, I will not have a connection to the 'net. I kicked Bellsouth/ATT (both suck a$$) out back in November when they raised the price of dial up, which would only connect at 26k, to $23/mo. They were supposed to have DSL out to where we live by the end of 2007. I think they meant 2017... Liars.

Later all,

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Welcome to my second post in as many weeks!!!

Had a few spare minutes on the clock today and figured I'd post an update of some current EvilBay auctions and review some of last weeks sales, while listening to Nickleback. Heeeeeere we go:

Early TRS 80 Color Computer Printer Manuals Modem + NR

Not sure how I missed this one last week. Looks to be a very complete set up with a bunch of software. I did notice a Franklin Ace 1000 sticker taped to the top of the CoCo... hope someone hasn't taken my Apple II improvement plan and done the reverse... (not likely, I doubt they would have kept the chicket keyboard...). If this interests, you, better hurry up, only 10 hours left!!!

TRS-80 Vintage Computer Disk Drive Manual Tandy TRS-80

Here's a CoCo2 with what looks to be a FD-501 setup. Current price of $16+ isn't bad considering it includes the computer, drive and controller.

TRS-80 with Tandy Disk Drive FD 501

And here we have a decidedly yellowed CoCo2 with what appears to be a single drive FD-501. Just a little note from personal observations, the yellowed items tend not to be selling lately. At all. Says too me that most who are buying may be the hard core collectors right now.

Like new TRS-80 Color Complete system

This is a rarity... when an auction title actually represents (or is close to it) what is being sold. Here's a (mostly) complete, in original box, CoCo2 (Canadian), with a few gmes and joysticks. BBW: 16k Standard basic machine. The pic of the machine looks very clean. If I was in the market for it, I'd buy...

Vintage TRS-80 Mini Disk Computer Drive

Looks like a complete 26-3029 FD setup in it's original box.I'd be shocked if the price stays at $10.50, but you never know...

Tandy 128K CoCo 3 , Disk Drives , Cassette ,and Extras

Good starter setup for someone wanting a CoCo3 to play around with. Not sure about the shipping, tho.... seems a little high.

That's pretty much it for now. Looks like CoCo auctions are slowing for now. As I mentioned earlier, I have noticed that mainly the good or very good condition items are getting any $$ right now. If memory serves, this is the time of year for that to happen. I know I will not have any money until the end of this month so I'm out of contention for anything I find of interest. Even then, my wife has two grand worth of dental work that needs to be done so I doubt I'll be doing any CoCoCollecting for a while... Anywho.. lets take a look at last weeks auction and see if anything shattered the CoCo 'verse.

Vintage Tandy TRS-80 System Radio Shack Color + 2 Games

This auction and


are good examples of what I was talking about. The second one looked to be an awesome CoCo2, complete with box, and had fewer accessories (no joysticks) and very collectible. The first was in OK shape and had a few games, but, look at the price difference...

Tandy CM8 Coco3 Color Computer RGB

If you HAD to have a CM-8, $27 + (guess) $20 s/h is not a bad price. But, for less than that, you could get Roy's VGA adapter and be cocoing on an LCD...

TRS-80 Mini Disk, Keyboard, Dot Matrix Printer, Games

Not sure what held the price back on this auction, the shipping cost or the yellowed equipment. Though, the DMP-105 is kinda hard to get ribbons for...

REMIX Disk Drive OS9

Hmmmph.... $1.04 for this custom 2 drive setup... what a steal!!!

Tandy Color Computer Orchestra 90-CC

$11.07... guess that's probably an average price for one now. I paid $15 for mine, I think.

Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer + Extras VINTAGE NR!

Our beat up friend went for $10.49. Probably worth it just to check out what the mods were... of course I'm strange that way.

Color Computer Printer Interface

Went for under $5. Good buy.

Tandy Color Computer Disk Drive Lot

$62.89 is a very good price for this FDC & FDD lot, assuming it all works...

Printer interface for Tandy Color Computer

This printer interface went for a good bit more $$$ than the other one, $24.00. Good device, probably worth it.

TRS-80 Color Computer 3 CoCo 3 - Super Clean Condition

Nice CoCo3, sold for $41.00. Not a bad price at all for am incomplete but VERY clean CoCo3.

As I said earlier, things appear to be slowing down a bit. I'm gonna be keeping an eye on things to see what items are selling and also if it's the more pristine items that are getting all the attention. That alone may help boost the CoCoMod/repack scene a little bit if folks start picking up yellowed and neglected units on the cheap.

Till next time,

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Okay, well, not later in the week...

Sorry for the delay in getting back here... life interfered. I can sympathized with the good CaptCPU about that. Been busy as a politician during campaign season ;). Figured I'd stop in and see if anything was going on, other than Cris changing the geek moment. Prefer the TRS-80 commercial to the code monkey!!! Anyway, figured I'd check out EvilBay and see what's going on, CoCo-wise that is...

Vintage Tandy TRS-80 System Radio Shack Color + 2 Games

Here's a nice looking CoCo2. Appears to have all the normal manuals a couple xtras. Shippings a little tall since it's in Canada, but, still worth it to some.


Nice looking, mostly complete 2 and the price is right (maybe a little low considering that past CoCo2 have gone for a good bit more).

Tandy CM8 Coco3 Color Computer RGB

Looks to be a decent CM-8, with a little cosmetic blemish. Nice to collect, but, with Roy's VGA adapter I can't for the life of me think why you'd want to use a CoCo3 with this dinosaur.

TRS-80 Mini Disk, Keyboard, Dot Matrix Printer, Games

Looks likea chunk of CoCo equipment in this one. CoCo2, 3029 FD system, DMP-105... anything that can yellow looks like it has. I think the $70 shipping may be a bit overboard, tho...

REMIX Disk Drive OS9

Quite interesting custom drive setup. I'm pretty sure it'd work under DECB, but, only utilize 35 tracks instead of the 40. Not too shabby.Wish this seller posted shipping in his auctions...

Tandy Color Computer Orchestra 90-CC

Speaks for itself...

Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer + Extras VINTAGE NR!

HOLY BEAT UP COCO's BATMAN!!! Aftermarket keyboard, some mods... I'm curious to know what the cutout hole in the top is for... Things been rode hard and put away wet. :(

Color Computer Printer Interface

If you're looking to use your CoCo with an RS-232 based printer, here's your ticket...

Tandy Color Computer Disk Drive Lot

The mother load of FDD auctions... all would be worth having.

Printer interface for Tandy Color Computer

Here's a Blue Streak serial to parallel printer adapter. I have one of these units and it works great to interface my CoCo3 (2 or 1) to my Okidata 320T. (I think they all come with the black electrical tape down by the Centronics plug...)

TRS-80 Color Computer 3 CoCo 3 - Super Clean Condition

Good looking CoCo3. Starting bid is good, so is the Buy it Now if you're in a hurry for one...

Well, that was pretty much all I saw of interest this time around. Now let's takea look at some of the sales from my last post (way back in December.. yeah, I know, I suck at keeping up to date...)

Radio Shack TRS-80 color computer

CoCo2 went for $.99...

TRS-80 Color Computer Mini Disk with Color Controller

FDD and controller sold for $34.50. Not a bad price, tho mode is unknown.

Lot of 2 TRS80 Tandy Color Computers

CoCo2 and CoCo3 sold for $11.05. Good price.

That's about it for now. If life doesn't interfere, I'll check back next week and see what's interesting.

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