Nevertheless, contracts is contracts (and I may have to talk to someone about mine soon), so I went to the bookstore and did what was expected of me. Fortunately, given my physical condition, it all passed like a slow, hazy dream. I remember very little of what went on there, or who I saw, or what I said. (On the downside, however, I may well have deeply insulted an individual whom I really shouldn't have insulted?but again, I'm not sure.)
In fact, it wasn't until the next evening, as I was talking to Morgan about what had happened, that I remembered something?a brief flash, like a few frames of old film. I remembered meeting a man who handed me his business card. I only spoke with him for a few seconds, but I remembered, finally, that in those few seconds, he had mentioned, almost in passing, that he had produced an audio version of my first book. He gave me his card and told me he would get me a copy.
Again, it wasn't until the next night?still feeling mighty poorly?that I remembered this and mentioned it to Morgan, who saw immediately that something was amiss.
"You mean he made an audio version that you knew nothing about?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's, uh, what he said. I think. Yeah."
The more I thought about it the rest of that night and into the next morning, the angrier I got. It wasn't the money so much as the fact that, well, I'd just like to know about these things.
Audio books are a tricky business?and by no means a given in the publishing industry. No matter how logical it seems?even if a book happens to be, in part at least, about losing your sight and not being able to read anymore?there's no guarantee that it'll be released on tape. The subsidiary rights department of the publishing house has to sell the rights to someone who puts out audio books, just as they sell foreign and paperback rights. As a result, most of the new audiobooks that come out these days are of the "guaranteed to be a bestseller" variety, in order to make sure that you're going to sell a few. Well, to be honest, my first book was not of that particular variety, so the audio rights were never sold. If they had been, I'd be in for a nice cut, and some future royalties.
But again?it wasn't about the money. Not completely, at least.
The day after I remembered what happened at the bookstore, I dug through my bag and found this fellow's business card. Seemed like a pleasant enough fellow. The card announced that he was with the American Federation for the Blind. I admit that upon seeing that, I was immediately suspicious. I'd had nothing but bad luck with various cripple organizations in the past?and now it looked like they might be fucking me again.
So, in a move that I am never completely comfortable with, I picked up the phone and called my lawyer to see if he could tell me anything. He went over my contract, then told me to call the publisher?warning me that there might not be a goddamn thing I could do about it (though he didn't phrase it in exactly those terms).
He was right. Not a goddamn thing. The friendly woman at the publishing house explained the situation to me, then sent me a copy of an amendment to the Copyright Law that the Senate had passed in July of 1996.
The amendment, to paraphrase, allows for the reproduction of "non-dramatic" literary works for cripples, if they're distributed exclusively in specialized, cripple-friendly formats.
"This applies to non-profit organizations or a government agency that has a primary purpose to provide specialized services related to training, education or adaptive reading or information access for these people," the fax read. I'm not exactly sure how my silly book fits into that scheme, but there you have it.
And even though each new cripple-friendly product has to contain a copyright statement and a warning that any other, non-cripple use of the material involves copyright infringement, there I sit, fucked by an organization that, in theory, was supposed to be helping me. Because now, as a result of this amendment, not only don't these organizations have to pay for anything, they don't even have to ask permission or tell anyone that they're doing it. They can just grab whatever the hell they want, bootlegging to their little black hearts' content. Certainly was news to me.
Now, granted, I always thought the book, given some of its subject matter, should be made available to the blind. I'm not disputing that. The thing that irks me is that this AFB guy knows that I live in New York, and knows that I write for this paper. How hard could it have been to drop me a line and tell me that this was happening? It would've been fine with me if he had just asked first.
After hearing everything that the lawyers and the contracts people could tell me, I sent this fellow a very polite note, asking if he might possibly be able to, oh, maybe, send me a copy, so I could hear what I sound like?
As I mentioned this predicament to a few other people, some suggested that it sounded mighty fishy to them, and that it was about time someone challenged the amendment in court. After all, Clint Eastwood challenged the Americans with Disabilities Act after he was sued for over half a million dollars by a wheelchair-bound man who couldn't get into one of Mr. Eastwood's restaurants.
But I'm not much one for lawsuits and court challenges. I think the nation is too absurdly litigious as it is, and I don't need to contribute to that. Not even after Bill Monahan suggested how much fun it would be to be able to stand in front of the tv cameras and say, "Now, being a cripple myself..." Besides?what would I be saying? That the blind should only have access to the books on tape that the publishing houses put out? I'd be condemning myself to a lifetime of listening to Mary Higgins Clark novels and self-help books.
No, I had a better idea. This whole "cripple bootleg" business sounded like a pretty sweet racket. Finally a way to get the books I'd always wanted to hear on tape, without having to squirm my way through legal loopholes, paying outrageous fees! Just declare myself a nonprofit organization, buy some blank tapes and a cassette dubbing do-hickey, and I'd be cookin' with gas!
I talked to my friend Gary about this notion of legal bootlegging. Now, Gary, he's been in the entertainment business most all his adult life. He knows marketing, and, knowing marketing the way he does, he had an idea.
Thing to do, he said, was target your audience. Got an audience full of cripples? Then get celebrity readers, sure?but get crippled celebrity readers. Like Kirk Douglas slurring his way through Dante's Inferno or The Naked and the Dead. Take Margot Kidder's medication away from her for a few days, hand her a book?any book at all?put her in front of a mic and let the tape roll. If she goes "off-script," well, that's all part of the charm. Have Jack Klugman read some long and beautiful literary masterpiece?like Gravity's Rainbow or Don Quixote?through that electronic voicebox thingee of his.
Well, the possibilities, as they say, are endless. Stephen Hawking reading Penthouse Forum, Christopher Reeve reading Death on the Installment Plan.
And all the profits would be funneled directly back into the business, to provide more bootlegs for cripples (well, that and to get more beer). And any crippled celebrity who refused would be publicly chastised as "cold" and "heartless" and "uncaring."
Maybe I'm getting what I deserve in all this. I've always distanced myself from any sort of "community." The blind community, the epileptic community, the former mental patient community, whatever. And now they're getting their revenge.