Miskatonic University Press

Boléro copyright bollocks

copyright music quotes

From a letter to the editor by Graham Chainey in the 3 March 2023 issue of the Times Literary Supplement:

When Maurice Ravel began to compose his “Boléro” in 1928, he certainly did not intend to make his brother’s wife’s masseuse’s husband’s second wife’s daughter a multimillionaire. But that is what has happened, and Ravel’s copyrights in the US are secure until 2032.

The section of the Wikipedia article on Boléro regarding it being in the public domain needs good reliable and accurate citations added. It’s confusing. If I improve it, I’ll use what’s below.

I looked around, and there’s this from “History has skated over Ravel’s partner, say heirs,” an article in the Times (21 November 2018):

Until 2016, when it fell out of copyright, it generated tens of millions of euros in royalties for a small group of distant heirs of the childless French composer. Now they are taking legal action to reclaim its copyright for another 20 years, arguing that Ravel did not write it alone.

In most countries copyright lasts for 70 years after a creator’s death, although in France it is often nearer 80. Ravel died in 1937, with his heirs having collected up to €100 million before the work fell into the public domain. They have only the most tenuous relationship to Ravel, right, instead inheriting the fortune through ties to a masseuse who married Ravel’s brother, Edouard, sole inheritor of the composer’s estate.

Evelyne Pen de Castel, a Swiss theatre director who is the daughter of the second husband of the masseuse, is believed to be the main heir. She is also one of the driving forces behind the lawsuit against the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers (Sacem), which determines copyright issues in France.

That makes the heir Ravel’s brother’s masseuse wife’s second husband’s daughter. Hmm.

This is from Paradise Papers: La saga des droits du Boléro de Ravel by Radio France:

Au décès de Maurice Ravel en 1937, le compositeur n’ayant pas de descendant, c’est son frère Edouard qui hérite de ses droits. Blessé dans un accident de la route, ce dernier aura recours à une gouvernante dont il va s’éprendre au point d’en faire son héritière. Une fois celle-ci décédée, son ex-mari avec lequel elle s’est remise en ménage, Alexandre Taverne, hérite à son tour des droits, avant de les transmettre à Georgette qu’il a épousée en seconde noces. Celle-ci a une fille d’un premier mariage : Evelyne Pen de Castel. C’est donc elle aujourd’hui l’ultime dépositaire de ces droits.

DuckDuckGo translates that to:

When Maurice Ravel died in 1937, the composer had no descendants, so his brother Edouard inherited his rights. Injured in a road accident, the latter will use a governess whom he will fall in love with to the point of making her his heir. Once she died, her ex-husband with whom she had restarted, Alexandre Taverne, in turn inherited the rights, before passing them on to Georgette, whom he had married for the second time. She had a daughter from a first marriage: Evelyne Pen de Castel. It is therefore today the ultimate depositary of these rights.

That makes the heir Ravel’s brother’s lover’s (?) ex-husband’s (second) wife’s daughter. Hmm.

Looking up the Alexandre Taverne name, I found “$4-Million Ravel Estate Passes to Nonrelative” in the New York Times (1 March 1968):

A Court of Appeal has ruled that royalties on the music of Maurice Ravel must be paid to a former barber who was no relative and apparently never met the composer. Barring a final appeal, the barber, Alexandre Taverne of Hendaye, will collect $4-million.

When Ravel died in 1937, his rights and his estate passed to his brother Edouard. The brother died in 1960, after naming Mrs. Taverne, who had been his governess-masseuse, as his heir….

Mrs. Taverne died during the five years of litigation and her estate—and the Ravels’—went to her husband.

“Governess-masseuse”?! Surely this job escaped from a French farce.

But the story continues in Poor Ravel by Jon Henley in the Guardian (25 April 2001)—and it’s worth noting the NYT story specifically says a court ruled the masseuse was not a nurse:

Unmarried and childless, the composer left everything to his brother Edouard…. All seemed in good hands until the day in 1954 when Edouard and his wife were involved in a horrendous car accident. In need of constant help, the couple engaged Jeanne Taverne, a 48-year-old nurse, and her husband Alexandre, a former miner and barber, who acted as their chauffeur. When Edouard’s wife died two years later, the Tavernes moved in, never to leave….

Jeanne Taverne became his sole inheritor….

So it was that, in 1970, when the last appeal judge ruled in Alexandre Taverne’s favour, Jeanne having died six years earlier, the former miner picked up £3.6m….

Taverne, who had since remarried, got his hands on all the Ravel contracts …

Then, in 1972, in a move that has never been fully explained, Alexandre and Georgette Taverne assigned a portion of their composer’s and publisher’s rights …

Georgette’s daughter told Le Point magazine last year …

So that makes (adding Ravel’s brother’s wife into the list for effect, since we can assume the masseuse worked on both of the injured couple) the heir Ravel’s brother’s wife’s masseuse’s husband’s second wife’s daughter. That’s where we began. Good!

But wait … what was that about the Paradise Papers? The daughter, Evelyne Pen de Castel and her husband, Michel Sogny, set up a company in Malta to manage musical rights, and some of its papers came out in that big leak.

Ravel composed “Boléro” in 1928 and he died in 1937. It’s now 2023. The work is still in copyright in the United States. Eighty-six years after Ravel’s death, his brother’s wife’s masseuse’s husband’s second wife’s daughter—and, I suspect, his brother’s wife’s masseuse’s husband’s second wife’s daughter’s husband—are so rich from their inherited copyright ownership that they set up offshore companies to manage their wealth.

And that was Graham Chainey’s point: copyright lasts ridiculously long, doesn’t benefit the creators, and can ultimately end up decades later feeding money to intellectual property corporations or people with no connection to the creators.

Sadly, late last year here in Canada, the government added twenty years and extended copyright to last for life plus seventy because of CUSMA:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act, the term for which copyright subsists is the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of 70 years following the end of that calendar year.

Chips Channon on shelving

libraries quotes

The 15 February 1936 entry from The Diaries: 1918–38 of Henry “Chips” Channon, edited by Simon Heffer. Honor is his wife, born Lady Honor Guinness; they have just moved into a new home at 5 Belgrave Square in London.

This morning Honor and I began to place our books on their proper shelves. All day we worked feverishly, and at 2.30 a.m. we had not yet finished. It is a colossal undertaking; but once a lifetime ought to be sufficient. It evoked sad memories, forgotten books, long-neglected treasures and friends who had given me them. Nevertheless a thrilling day, and exercise moving the shelves.

Brooker on the Group

alc art

From Bertram Brooker: Life and Work by James King:

Brooker’s relationship with the Group of Seven was complicated and conflicted. He was drawn to Lawren Harris (1885–1970), in particular, for his belief in the spiritual in art, but did not fully ascribe to the Group’s goals. In October 1929 Brooker publicly questioned the Group’s political agenda. He wrote that: they “are modern only in the sense of being contemporary: they are not ‘modern’ in the generally accepted sense of belonging to the special tendency in painting that stems from Cézanne.” Brooker almost certainly saw himself as part of this “special tendency.” For him, the modernist elements in the works of members of the Group were not truly avant-garde. They may have been superb colourists, but they were not what he considered cutting-edge.

That quote is from Brooker’s “Seven Arts” column of 29 December 1928 (I’ll try to find the full original). What a perfect distillation of the problem with the Group: “modern only in the sense of being contemporary,” not modern “in the generally accepted sense of belonging to the special tendency in painting that stems from Cézanne.”

Brooker was remarkable: artist, novelist, graphic designer, advertising executive, and more. For a recent deep dive into one angle on twentieth-century Canadian art, with a chapter on Brooker, see Adam Lauder’s Out of School: Information Art and the Toronto School of Communication.

(Brooker and the Group were friends, and all members of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.)

Ned Beauman and the books in his life

literature terry.pratchett

From Ned Beauman’s Books in My Life quiz in the Guardian:

My favourite book growing up

I devoured The Colour of Magic and at least 20 other Terry Pratchett novels as a child and consequently have never got over the feeling that there’s something pretty fundamental missing from nearly all “grown-up” fiction (ie jokes).

That got me thinking I need to read him, and this sold me:

The book I am currently reading

Being and Becoming may sound like a treatise by some pre-war German phenomenologist but it’s actually the very enjoyable autobiography of Myrna Loy, my favourite actress from the golden age of Hollywood.

I put a hold on Venomous Lumpsucker, his latest, at the library.

Digital Engagement Librarian position at York University Libraries

code4lib libraries york

A new permanent position is open at York University Libraries: Digital Engagement Librarian. Applications close on 31 March. I’m not on the search committee.

This person will be working at the library in the new Markham campus, which doesn’t exist yet. The plan is that people will start moving there in spring of next year (by which time it will exist). This librarian will be working at the Scott library (with the Media Creation Lab, I expect) until then, planning and preparing, meeting people, and so on.

Spring and summer 2024 will be at Markham getting people in place, the rooms set up, the gaming lab, the big wall of monitors, and so on. The library takes up one floor of the one-building campus. Getting the library integrated into the new courses there will be important: a lot of work on curricular integration has been done, and it needs to continue. Classes at Markham start in September 2024.

York University Libraries (YUL) seeks a collaborative and innovative individual with strong leadership capacity for the position of Digital Engagement Librarian located at the Markham Centre Campus Library. This is a continuing appointment position with a focus on advancing and disseminating digitally-mediated scholarly research at York University with a multi-disciplinary, inclusive, and community-engaged focus.

The successful candidate will join a diverse team of specialists collaborating in the areas of scholarly communication and publishing, digital scholarship, digital preservation, data visualization, open educational resources, virtual reality and media creation. YUL at Markham will expand to include gaming, makerspaces, and media creation facilities.

If you apply and are asked for an interview, I’ll be glad to answer any questions I can. My Interviewing at York University Libraries advice is still pretty good, but I’ll update it after the search committee I’m on right now has done its work.

Mark di Suvero's Sticky Wicket
Mark di Suvero's Sticky Wicket

My main advice for anyone applying is to address in your cover letter and CV each of the qualifications as they are categorized. Demonstrated means demonstrated, experience means experience, and knowledge means knowledge. The search committee will have a ranking sheet that lists all the qualifications and whether the applicant meets them, exceeds them, or is excellent. (Or doesn’t meet them, in which case the person is not considered.) Anyone applying wants the committee to check at least “meets requirements” for everything on the list.

Some of these qualifications are detailed and advanced:

  • Demonstrated: Application of digital research methodologies, tools, and approaches with experience using any of the following infrastructure environments: makerspace, media creation space, extended reality, and/or gaming/visualization wall.
  • Experience: Advancing curricular integration for digital and information literacy initiatives.
  • Knowledge: Aspects of media production workflows.

If you can mostly meet most of a qualification, consider applying, and show how what you have done and do know applies.

Take the requirement that people demonstrate they have applied “digital research methodologies, tools, and approaches” in a makerspace, media creation space, extended reality, or gaming or visualization wall. That sounds like a lot. But “digital research methodologies, tools, and approaches” is extremely broad, which means there are many ways for an applicant to meet the qualification (look at the table of contents for Catherine Dawson’s A-Z of Digital Research Methods, for example). And an applicant doesn’t need to have worked in all those environments, and their experience could come from personal projects, student work, theatrical or music performances, a variety of different workplaces, or whatever. Certainly anyone who’s managed a media lab in a library will stand out to the committee, but just because you don’t have direct experience in every point in a qualification, don’t let that stop you from piecing together what you have done to address the item. I think someone who got curious about 3D printers and began to make things at their local public library, and documented and critiqued it on their web site, would stand out to the committee; that doesn’t sound as big and formal, but it meets the basic requirements, and shows curiosity and initiative.

And for experience “advancing curricular integration for digital and information literacy initiatives,” if someone’s overseen the creation of a for-credit digital literacy program at another university, that will very much stand out too. But if you had an idea to start doing workshops on such and such, and made a plan, and got people to buy in to the idea, and did the workshops, and they went well, and the next year a professor made the workshop part of their syllabus, and that went well, then you meet the requirement. Sell that point and be ready to talk about it.

I can’t promise anything, of course. But I can tell you from experience that YUL search committees do everything they can to make the searches broad and inclusive, and someone who meets the basic qualifications will receive attention.

This librarian will have a very busy time getting ready for the new campus and then opening up the library there, but will be working with some very helpful and knowledgeable colleagues. The current dean is retiring at the end of June; the interim dean for 2023–2024, Andrea Kosavic, has been deeply involved in the Markham preparations and will also be a solid support.

(Do fill in the self-identification form, even if it’s to say no to everything. Do also consider how you’ll get to Markham!)

Its McDonald & Dodds


A screenshot from season three episode one of McDonald & Dodds, a British TV police crime drama, no violence, clues to be noticed, pieces to be put together with a big reveal at the end:

That’s Alan Davies playing a linguistics professor. (His Jonathan Creek mystery series is great fun with very clever puzzles; track down an episode if you haven’t seen one.) Notice the book he’s carrying.

The Handbook of Phonetic Symbolism & It’s Function in Contemporary Society.

It’s Function.”

Commands I use

code4lib unix

Inspired by Eugene Wallingford’s Commands I Use, which was in turn inspired by Greg Wilson’s Commands I Use, here are the commands I use the most, starting I don’t know when:

history | awk '{print $2}' | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr | more
  • ll (about 2400 times; this is my alias for ls -l)
  • cd (about 2000 times)
  • rm (about 600 times)
  • l (my alias for ls)
  • ssh
  • x (alias for xdg-open; I use it to open PDFs or Word files in the right viewer)
  • ipl (alias for get_iplayer, to get BBC radio shows)
  • mv
  • git (most of my Git commands are done inside Emacs)
  • more (aliased to less)
  • cp
  • gp (alias for gPodder, my podcast client)
  • make
  • vlc
  • mkdir
  • sudo
  • eog (the default Ubuntu image viewer)
  • nord (a wrapper I wrote around nordvpn from NordVPN)
  • emacs (I restart Emacs rarely; it’s always running)
  • ncdu (ncurses disk usage tool)
  • get (for easy copying of files from other machines; equals rsync --archive --progress --human-readable "$@" .)
  • file
  • scp
  • grep

I do a fair bit of file moving and renaming inside Emacs, but I don’t like the Emacs shells so command line stuff I do in a regular terminal window.

Emacs and Vigour


If anyone needs a name for a site about Emacs, as of today DuckDuckGo reports no results for “emacs and vigour” (nor any for “vigor”).

(See this idiom at Merriam-Webster for some explanation if needed.)

Terry Pratchett biographies


Two years ago I read Marc Burrows’s The Magic of Terry Pratchett: A Biography. I said in part:

Burrows has done excellent work here…. Apparently there will be an authorized biography that will use Pratchett’s personal papers, which will be well worth reading. Burrows is always on the outside, without access to anything private and no help from his daughter (or wife, who is barely mentioned). Nevertheless, it is a complete biography, insightful and well-written (except for the footnotes, which are overused) and will be of interest to any Pratchett readers and Discworld fans.

Cover of Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes
Cover of Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes

That authorized biography is now out: Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes by Rob Wilkins, who worked for and with Pratchett for two decades, as personal assistant, amanuensis, business manager, helper and more.

Wilkins knew Pratchett intimately and this biography is full of personal detail, especially about Pratchett’s decline and death from posterior cortical atrophy. How Pratchett handled that is admirable: he was open and honest about it, he got help, he kept working, he made documentaries about it, he contemplated how he might end his own life and made a documentary about that, he kept working, he kept working, up until he finished The Shepherd’s Crown and collapsed soon after. What he did while suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s is remarkable. The book also has a lot of details about the business of writing and publishing—advances and sales figures—which are interesting to see, and useful, because money was important to Pratchett.

Cover of The Magic of Terry Pratchett
Cover of The Magic of Terry Pratchett

But Burrows’s biography is better. He is on the outside and Wilkins was on the inside, but Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes isn’t as insightful, it’s not as well-written, and the even more frequent footnotes are tedious. (Every writer about Pratchett needs to decide about footnotes. Based on these two books I think the answer is: don’t use them.) In Burrows’s book Pratchett’s wife and daughter get little coverage, which is understandable. Wilkins’s is the same, which is not, at least not without some explanation. Lyn Pratchett spun her own wool in the seventies and made a good lemon drizzle cake. That’s about all we learn about her. It’s fair to keep a spouse and child private, but that treatment needs to be explained. As it’s done here it’s a strange void that makes obvious there are important parts of Pratchett’s life left out and analyses not made.

There’s no real treatment of the content of Pratchett’s novels, which are what really matter. This isn’t a literary biography, and Wilkins is not a critic or scholar. This is a personal memoir about Pratchett. But how can any book about Pratchett’s life not tie it to his writing? Burrows gives fine coverage of the novels and talks about one of the most important things about Pratchett’s writing: the anger and rage that run through these comic fantasy novels. Anger and rage about injustice, unfairness, bigotry, prejudice, abuse of power, discrimination and dishonesty. Wilkins describes some anger, but it’s usually directed at employees such as him or people at publishers.

There is no index! No bibliography! And somewhere—I’ve flipped through the book and looked at all the footnotes twice but still can’t find it, because there’s no index—Wilkins misquotes Chesterton. He says something along the lines of how Neil Gaiman put it, that fairy tales don’t tell children monsters exist—children know they exist; fairy tales tell them monsters can be killed. One needs to be careful with that quote. Here it is, from “The Red Angel” in Tremendous Trifles (1909):

The Chesterton quote
The Chesterton quote

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

I looked up reviews of the Wilkins book. Kevin Power puts it well in the Irish Independent in “Fan’s-Eye View of Pratchett Misses the Big Questions” (2 September 2022):

Advice to famous writers: before you die, enshrine in your will an adamantine clause that forbids your personal assistant from writing your biography. Especially if your personal assistant happens to be a major fan of your work…. Some biographers practise the higher impartiality—analysing and then withholding final judgement. Wilkins practises the lower impartiality. He makes no judgements at all. He notices nothing, explains nothing.

Here’s Colin Steele in the Canberra Times in “Following the Ripples of Terry Pratchett’s Life with the Inner Parts Untouched” (15 October 2022):

Rhianna, who became an author and video-game creator, recalls her father being more of a “big brother” while her mother “was the disciplinarian”. Wilkins quotes Rhianna reflecting, at the age of nine or 10, that her father was always very busy, but there is no extrapolation of this comment nor are there details of Rhianna’s life as a teenager. Similarly, Lyn almost disappears from the book after the 1970s yet she surely played a crucial part in assisting and facilitating Pratchett’s success.

Pratchett’s family life couldn’t have been perpetually idyllic, given Pratchett’s rigorous work schedule and renowned temper. Wilkins recalled being summoned on more than one Boxing Day to Pratchett’s house, so that Pratchett could escape what he called “all this family shit” for “a little light work”. Pratchett’s great friend Neil Gaiman, the co-author of Good Omens, recognised that Pratchett was not simply the “ jolly old elf” of PR creation.

Christopher Priest did a review in the TLS: A Middlebrow Cult: The Official Biography of the Bestselling Fantasy Writer. He starts off by mentioning Jonathan Jones’s Guardian hit a few months after Pratchett died: Get Real. Terry Pratchett Is Not a Literary Genius. I like Jones’s art criticism but here he’s a complete tosser, and I’ve Read Pratchett Now: It’s More Entertainment Than Art doesn’t help any.

Priest ends with:

It is neither surprising nor shocking to learn that this popular novelist should have feet of clay. (He gave that title to one of his novels.) In many ways he conducted himself professionally better than most, and his expectations of other people in connection with his work were human and simple. The pleasure readers derived from his books is also genuine and lasting. The Terry Pratchett phenomenon continues, several years after his death. The comedic and narrative effects of his fiction seem timeless. Wilkins has written a good book, one the fans will love, but there is still room for an unofficial biography, written and researched by an unconnected third party. Not everyone will be convinced. To adapt Bob Dylan: something was happening here, but you didn’t know what it was, did you, Mr Jones?

The Magic of Terry Pratchett: A Biography by Marc Burrows is there and waiting. In a decade a bigger, richer biography will come along, with access to Pratchett’s files but by an outsider. Maybe Burrows will do it, maybe some equivalent of Deirdre Bair or Hilary Spurling. Until then, it’s where to start, and perhaps to end.

Dirty Money


The final lines of Dirty Money (2008), the twenty-fourth and last of the Parker novels by Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark:

“If you leave me here,” the guy on the floor said, “he’ll kill me tomorrow morning.”

Parker looked at him. “So you’ve still got tonight,” he said.

Cover of Dirty Money
Cover of Dirty Money

There’s definitely more of Westlake in Stark in this last batch of novels, from Comeback (1997) to Dirty Money. The idiot white supremacists in Flashfire (2000) that save Parker—who’s just been shot clean through the chest—are definitely Westlake; they could even have appeared in a Dortmunder novel, though there they’d have been developed more, while here they’re just in one chapter.

Parker’s life is getting out of control in the last three novels. Too many people know who he is and where he lives. His long-established fake identities are burned and he needs to trust a gangster to help him get new papers. His woman Claire is involved in his activities, even acting as driver, and he tells her what is going on. This isn’t the Parker we knew, but then things are falling apart. Still, like always, he remains calm, moves fast, and is always pushing forward to what’s next, be it getting the money or dealing with people causing problems.

Westlake died on New Year’s Eve at the end of 2008. Who knows what he would have done next with Parker? Dirty Money is a great open-ended unintentional finish: some of his problems are over, but not all. Maybe he’d take a vacation with Claire waiting for his new ID. Then what? Another heist. More trouble. Parker sitting silently in a dark room, waiting.

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