Contracts and Copyright Tips

Gavel1_featuredThe goal of today’s post is to provide you with some information on writing contracts and copyright law, as a freelancer. I recently read a great book by Michelle Goodman entitled “My So-called Freelance Life”. Much of the information I am providing here is contained in Chapter 12 of her book, but I thought it would be nice to write up a short list of tips and provide some resources about contracts and copyright law. Michelle warns that without having a crystal clear contract, you could find yourself in a “time-sucking, money-losing situation”. So, what are some tips you can follow when working with contracts as a freelancer?

  1. Specify in the contract how many revisions you will allow for, and what constitutes a revision
  2. Specify who owns the copyrights to the work you’re creating
  3. Specify how you will be credited for your work, if applicable
  4. Never blindly sign a contract a client sends you without reading it from start to finish
  5. If you get to provide your own contract, then you can write one that is 100% fair to you
  6. Keep in mind that nothing replaces the counsel of a good attorney who routinely works with artists, writers, performers, and other freelancers
  7. Don’t forget that if you write a creative piece for a client who has “all rights” to your story, song, or video – then they can tweak your work without consulting you, and can resell your work anywhere they want without paying you

Now, let’s take a look at some website resources that are mentioned in the book, and a few others:

Website Resources:

www.creativecommons.com

  • This site “works to counter what the organization considers to be a dominant and increasingly restrictive permission culture.”
  • Defines copyright as: “in general, copyright law allows an author to prohibit others from reproducing, adapting or distributing copies of the author’s work”
  • This may be true, but of course, many starving artists do depend on those copyrights to allow them to earn a livable wage
  • However, the idea that there is a place to go where you can freely use and reproduce other people’s work is a good one. And so, if someone wants to allow their work to be used and adapted for free with their permission, then I see this as a good thing.

Visit this website to find out more about the copyleft movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/copyleft The U.S. Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO):http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/Home A short overview of Canadian copyright law written by a Canadian lawyer: http://users.trytel.com/~pbkerr/copyright.html www.nolo.com

  • A “goldmine” of free legal advice
  • An American site, but probably a lot of it would hold true in other countries as well

www.keepyourcopyrights.org

  • an American site that encourages people to hold onto their copyrights, and “take a more active role in managing the life of their creative work”.

www.starvingartistslaw.com

  • Self help legal information for artists and writers
  • Includes information on Music Law and Writers Law

*picture credit to: http://www.canyon-news.com/artman2/uploads/2/gavel.gif

Find me on Twitter: @jacbird and @masitblog

The Social Bookmarking Phenomenon!

Lately it seems that everywhere you turn, there is a new social bookmarking site of some sort. These sites are interesting, and serve an important purpose. According to Wikipedia, social bookmarking is “a method for Internet users to store, organize, search, and manage bookmarks of web pages with the help of metadata (i.e. tags).”

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

To me, these sites are useful in that they offer an alternative to search engines for organizing and rating content. It is actual web users who find and rate the content, not just a computerized search algorithm.

Below, I have chosen my top five social bookmarking and news sites that are competing and vying for your attention and time:

Digg.com

Digg2

what makes this site stand out?:

  • anyone can submit a Digg site, and anyone can comment on it
  • you can vote and comment on links and stories
  • you can “dig” and “bury” stories
  • an effective marketing tool for entrepreneurs

address: http://digg.com/

Reddit

Reddit2

what makes this site stand out?:

  • this is a social news site that allows users to post links to web content
  • has a “what’s hot”, new and controversial lists
  • the site has a really fun “feel” to it!
  • there is a WTF link at the top – hours of fun!

address: http://www.reddit.com/

StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon2

what makes this site stand out?:

  • allows you to take advantage of a vast network of dedicated Web searchers who are finding utterly brilliant sites, and sharing them with you. (see: http://websearch.about.com/od/bestwebsites/tp/freebookmarks.htm
  • the quality of the sites is amazing
  • a form of “channel-surfing” on the web
  • have fun clicking the Stumble! button over and over again!

address: http://www.stumbleupon.com/

Delicious

Delicious2

what makes this site stand out?:

address: http://delicious.com/

Slashdot

Slashdot2

what makes this site stand out?:

  • this site has a nerdy bent to it
  • a gathering place for computer nerds and geeks
  • features user-submitted and editor-evaluated stories about science, computer technology, politics, science fiction etc.

address: http://slashdot.org/

*picture credits to http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-bookmarking

Find me on Twitter: @jacbird and @masitblog

Medical Software Technology: “Expert Systems”

http://rhapody2000.free.fr/images

Arnie1 copyI work in the medical software industry, and quite often, people will ask me what is involved with that. In my mind, medical software involves many things, including image scanning, electronic health records, bioinformatics, and much to my surprise artificial intelligence technologies such as “expert systems”! Today, I would like to talk about this hot topic in the medical software industry – “expert systems”.

So what is an expert system? Wikipedia gives the definition that it is “software that attempts to reproduce the performance of one or more human experts.” And also, “an expert system uses a knowledge base (or rulebase) and an inference engine to simulate the reasoning process that a human expert uses to analyze a problem and arrive at a conclusion.” This might be accomplished using “confidences” or certainty factors that are meant to imitate the confidences humans use in reasoning, rather than use the strict probability rules of mathematics.

The architecture behind expert systems is not too complicated. Basically, an expert system just consists of a very large knowledge base (or rulebase), usually consisting of “IF / THEN” type statements, and an inference engine that might operate by using forward or backward chaining logic.

The end-user will usually be required to answer a series of questions, and the large knowledge base will then be queried in order to spit out some sort of conclusion. For example, the conclusion could be a disease diagnosis based on a number of symptoms that the patient has. Or, an expert system could be designed to alert a pharmacist of potentially harmful drug interactions when entering a prescription order.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea of these expert systems was met with quite a bit of skepticism. People might wonder how successful these systems really are in practice. In my mind, these systems could be very helpful to doctors and nurses in the decision making process, but should not be used to try and replace these experts.

Here is a list of some common pitfalls:

  • The systems are prone to making errors that humans would easily spot (i.e. lack of common sense)
  • The knowledge base has to be constantly updated and maintained to keep it up-to-date
  • Too many alerts and reminders could overwhelm doctors and nurses, causing the alerts to be ignored altogether
  • Workflow integration difficulties – will the system slow the physician down?

But here are some benefits:

  • Expert systems can catch things a human might forget
  • Provides consistency to patient care
  • Chances for negative drug interactions or wrong diagnoses can be avoided
  • The system can be kept up-to-date with the latest research and findings

Check out the resources I have listed below to learn more!

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

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

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

http://www.ciap.health.nsw.gov.au/hospolic/stvincents/1993/a04.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12925543

(full text)
http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=12925543

Technical “Writer’s Block”

As a Technical Writer, I often wondered about getting “writer’s block.” I mean, it’s not as if you have the choice to have it or not when you are at work. If the deadline is there, or you are working by the hour, you’ve just got to be productive and write.

I’ve seen the cartoons and the movies just like you. The frustrated writer sitting in front of a typewriter with a trash can behind them, and loads of crumpled and torn papers thrown into and around it.

The fact is, I don’t think I have ever suffered from writer’s block as a technical writer. It could be that the work is more black and white than say, creative writing. But even still, you have to think about the best and clearest ways to present complex information, so there is still a creative element. It could be that I do get writer’s block, but by doing the following have managed to mostly avoid it. So below, I will present you with my top ten list of how to avoid writer’s block as a technical writer.

These are things that have worked for me:

  1. Multi-shuffle your tasks. (i.e. if you get stuck on one task, have other tasks ready that you can switch to).
  2. Think about ideas in the back of your mind even in off hours.
  3. Start your work, then come back to it the next day, or even the next week (if time allows for it).
  4. Research for inspiration!
  5. Go out for a walk to free your mind.
  6. Bounce ideas off of a coworker or friend.
  7. Create an outline of your thoughts and ideas.
  8. Deal with the more complicated writing tasks first thing in the morning.
  9. Practice writing all the time, by writing in a journal or blog.
  10. Join a writing society or group where you can meet and learn from other writers.

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writer%27s_block
(includes a list of strategies for overcoming writer’s block)

http://www.essortment.com/all/howtoovercome_rsjm.htm
(this person says writer’s block isn’t real!)

http://thefuturebuzz.com/2008/12/03/how-to-overcome-writers-block/
(15 tips on overcoming writer’s block)

Find me on Twitter: @jacbird @masitblog