Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Life in the Real World...

At long last, I have joined the ranks of the professional world. I started my summer associateship at a law firm in Orlando on Monday, and thus far, although I'm quite exhausted, I am very happy.

Working in law is very different from studying it. Law school questions always revolve around "what would you do if..." whereas here at work, questions deal in realities, "what WILL we/they do," or "what IS the answer." I am enjoying my work in a way I have never enjoyed any kind of studying.

And, joy of joys, my very first assignment involves Copyright! For obvious reasons, I can't go into much detail, but it is a very broad question in an area that I find incredibly interesting, and involves a great deal of learning of material before I can even begin to write my answer to the questions. I am loving it. And wondering why we never had to read Nimmer on Copyright treatise in my Copyright class, because I'm learning more from it than from the textbooks!

And that is all, I must return to billing hours. I've also noticed some very interesting things pertaining to Lewis Perdue's Da Vinci Code suit, which I will post on when I have a little more spare time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Q&A With Jocelyn The Writer...

Filched from Paul Guyot...

1. What time is it? 1:59 am
2. Were you named after anyone special? A little girl in a grocery store. Not kidding.
3. Nickname? Joce, Jdog, "that mouthy bitch"
4. What is the last movie you saw in a theater? Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
5. Eye Color: Blue
6. Favorite Food: Beef Stroganoff a la my Da
7. Ever been to Africa? No
8. Ever "tee-pee'd" someone's house? No
9. Ever cried after being dumped by someone? No
10. Favorite car you ever owned: Never owned one
11. Croutons or Bacon bits? Croutons
12. Favorite Day of the week: Saturday
13. Favorite Restaurant: Outback Steak House
14. Favorite Sport to watch: Olympic track & field
15. Favorite sport to play: Indoor football. Preferably tackle.
16. Favorite drink: Mountain Dew
17. Disneyland or Universal Studios? Neither. Busch Gardens, Tampa.
18. Favorite Fast Food: Chicken McNuggets. Yeah, I said it.
19. Favorite TV show of all-time: Law & Order (SOB! Lenny...)
20. How many times have you failed a driver's test? Once
21. PC or Mac? PC
22. Name three stores where you would max out a credit card: Anne Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Godiva Chocolatier
23. How do you fight boredom? Reading and/or writing. Sometimes both at once.
24. Typical bedtime: Sunrise. Not a joke.
25. Last person (outside your family) you went to dinner with: My friend Jen, fellow G&S thespian and costumer extraordinaire
26. Favorite 80's band: I'm sure I have one but I can't remember its name.
27. How many tattoos do you have? None
28. Lake, river or ocean? Ocean If it's a river, the Potomac.
29. Favorite NFL team: None. NONE.
30. Favorite video game: Er...Spider Solitaire?
31. Favorite book: Can I only pick one?! Okay...A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King
32. Pet Peeve: Religious fundamentalists who think they have the right to dictate what everyone else thinks, reads, and sees.
33. DC or Marvel?Marvel
34. Who's better than you at what you do for a living? if law studenting is a living...about 75% of the population of Georgetown Law.
35. How many questions is too many? None. I have a big mouth.

On Child Pornography and Fanfiction...

By request of fandomjam, I am examining Canadian child pornography law...

Section 163.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code defines child pornography as follows:

(a) a photographic, film, video or other visual representation, whether or not it was made by electronic or mechanical means,
(i) that shows a person who is or is depicted as being under the age of eighteen years and is engaged in or is depicted as engaged in explicit sexual activity, or
(ii) the dominant characteristic of which is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of a sexual organ or the anal region of a person under the age of eighteen years; or
(b) any written material or visual representation that advocates or counsels sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years that would be an offence under this Act.

This discussion started out of ponderings about what can be done to stem the amount of "kiddie porn" fanfiction out there, in which some particularly perverted individuals portray child characters in pornographic situations.

I was surprised by how specific the definition is. In the US, child pornography is defined in federal law as the visual depiction of minors engaging in a sex act.

Comparing the two, as far as I can tell, there may not be much of a recourse under US or Canadian child pornography law for "kiddie porn fiction."

Reason? Both definitions have huge legal holes in them.

In the US, attempts to outlaw "virtual kiddie porn" in which the images are entirely artificially-created with computers or in which adult actors pretend to be children, have been struck down repeatedly by the Supreme Court. American free speech doctrine requires that the government show a compelling interest for the stifling of any expression--namely, the government must show substantial proof that the type of speech they want to ban, "causes harm." Of course, the compelling interest for banning REAL child pornography is that children are exploited and harmed in its making. But the problem the government keeps running into with virtual porn is that in the act of the speech itself, no children are harmed.

And the Supreme Court has found that tittilation itself resulting from virtual porn is not a compelling enough reason to ban virtual kiddie porn. Go figure, eh? This stems from the long-held ideal in the US that a person cannot be punished for what they THINK. No matter how repulsive the thought.

Furthermore, the US law is defined solely as "visual" depictions, which completely eliminates mediums such as fanfic. Of course, if a writer describes in detail a "nonfiction" account of his exploitation of a minor, he can be nailed that way for the ACT of the exploitation (with the written work used as proof regardless of whether writing it is a crime in itself) but fanfic falls well outside the US definition.

Although the Canadian law's definition includes written depictions, there's a rather monstrous loophole here: the word "person."

I'm not as familiar with Canadian court interpretation of their statute, but in the US, any lawyer worth their salt would pounce all over the term "person" and argue that fictional depictions of characters or "virtual porn" does not meet the legal definition because fictional characters or computerized representation are not PEOPLE.

The definition says "shows a person," not depicts or portrays a person. The term "show" implies that the person is real.

There's a possibility that a written child pornographer could be nailed under Canadian law's Paragraph (b), with the prohibition on written material that "advocates or counsels" sexual activity with a person under the age of 18.

But even here, there are hurdles:
  • You would have to prove that the writing was actually advocating or counseling--it is a possibility.
  • And that--in the case of fanfiction--the writing was speaking of a person. Once again, does that pesky definition include fictional characters who undeniably DO NOT EXIST?

Sorry, folks. I really do wish the law were more encouraging. Liberal as I am, I do think that tittilation with the CONCEPT of sexual abuse of children should be a harm great enough to justify government action against virtual porn.

So believe me, I'm not skewing or twisting words to make the law out the way I want it. That's the way legal analysis works. It's damn frustrating!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Short And Simple Guide To A Complicated Issue: Fanfiction

As most who visit my blog know, I am a fanfiction writer (or "fanwriter" as I prefer it.) I decided to start this blog to deal a little more professionally and less personally after a number of major debates on various other blogs over the subject.

I shall post more detailed examination of certain issues pertaining to fanfiction in the future; to post them all here and now would take several hours, and I'm trying to start going to bed before 3 am.

The Basics of Fanfiction

  1. What is it? Fanfiction is a derivative writing based on a book/movie/television show/video game/pretty much anything, by (surprise) a fan. Fan takes his/her/its what'ifs/speculations/fantasies/twisted ideas about the original story and writes a story of their own about it. Usually without the original story author/creator's permission.
  2. Where is it? All over the Internet. Its birthplace is generally considered to be Star Trek fans, who back in the days before the Internet would write stories based on the show and circulate them in free magazines (called "fanzines.") Many major shows, especially in genre television, have multiple or "official" fanzines in addition to the Internet story archives.
  3. Who writes it? Fans of all ages and walks of life. On the whole, based on limited surveys done (fanfiction is still new in the eyes of the academic world, and only now is it starting to get major studies done on it) the majority of fanwriters are female and between the ages of 15 and 30.
  4. Is it legal? (This is the question that spawns all those debates) That is still VERY up in the air. Copyright law doesn't directly address fanfiction, and there is a fair-sized body of law both for and against the legality of it. Some authors issue a blanket approval for it, making life easier for fanwriters, and others send "Cease and Desist" letters to fanwriters.
  5. What kind of stories is it? All kinds. Some stories speculate on the conclusion of a cliffhanger or write the romance between two characters the fan wants to see together or try to write the "missing moment" that happened between the lines/behind the scenes. Yes, some of it is downright pornographic.
  6. Is it child safe? Unsupervised on the Internet? NO. Didn't expect to hear that from a fanwriter, did you? Some archives of fanfiction, depending on the show/book/movie, have careful ratings requirements and moderators who supervise what gets posted to make sure it's all family-friendly, but many DON'T. If your kid just ADORES Harry Potter and wants to read fanfiction while he/she waits for Book 6, check out the sites VERY CAREFULLY. It's hard to tell at first glance which online archives are safe and which have porn mixed in. Such are the risks of the Internet in general.

So there ye have it. The bare bones. I know that one group of concerned parents attempted to create a blog where they could discuss the potential risks and legalities of fanfiction and wound up buckling under a horde of trollers.

SO...I invite you now. I have a thick skin, respect for differing views, and an open mind. I have also been reading and writing fanfiction since I was ten. If I don't know the answer to your question/concern, odds are that I know someone who does.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

File Under "Huh?!"

Tono, honey, baby, what ARE you smoking?

The following appears on Lee Goldberg's blog from Tono...

I am extremely complimented by all your murderous words and fatal thoughts. It's great fun to be a martyr for writing a book. How apt a title, it turns out! And
many others before me have run into this same dilemna. That means I must be
doing something right, to incur so much wrath, so much hatred.
When you look over the totality of it, each one of you, what is your individual opinion of yourself? Any better than your separate expressed opinion of me?
I'm grateful for this experience because it once again reminds me how cruel children can be towards one another except I expect we're not children here, so what is our excuse?
Yes, you've all had a great deal of fun at my expense, you suppose.
But you've all just fueled the fire of my commitment to persevere, calmly.
I wonder just how productive you individually have been in the arts, what
resounding pieces of prose, poetry, painting, music, literature, what towering
pillars of work you've amassed? I expect the weak and the unaccomplished are the most vile, the most envious.
But here's the thing...there has been no activity on that blog entry for almost five days! Granted, some of the previous comments have been less than complimentary of Tono's blog's contents, but still...the martyr complex and corporate conspiracy theories are a bit much. (We've got enough conspiracy theorizing going on over in Perdue v. Brown--on BOTH sides of the case.)

After all, Tono, it was YOU who brought your stuff to Tod Goldberg. It was YOU who chose to announce your presence and your dispute with Tod to the entire blogger world by posting your rant on Tod's blog.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Muse Attacks

Until I read Paul Guyot's post about being 70% through a project and then becoming obsessed with another story, I thought that was a habit unique to me and I was just a slacker who couldn't get things finished.

I guess it's just a writer thing.

I call them "muse attacks," where I become absolutely consumed not merely by the prospect of a project, but by the STORY. The character or the setting or something that just goes round and round in my mind like a runaway train and refuses to stop until I start writing.

Sometimes I can keep it at bay (especially when I have daytime obligations like, say, exams!) by jotting down a quick outline. Othertimes--no dice. Nothing will do but to write it. All of it.

The most recent attack I had was started by a dream, in a sci-fi-ish setting that I think is going to give rise to my first straightup sci-fi project. This is very exciting. I love sci-fi and fantasy but could never write one of my own because I couldn't come up with enough background detail. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing, that's why I do well with historical/mythological stuff. But for the first time, I feel like I have enough material out of the blue in my head to write a sci-fi story.

And that's just plain neat.

Now, as with Guyot, I have a dilemma. Do I continue with my historical fiction novel, even though it's still in the early stages of drafting, since I at least have the story in my head put together? Or do I jump straight into my sci-fi tale and see where it takes me? (And there's that Biblical fiction thing that I'm still hashing out the outline, but every time I read an article about Mary Magdalene and/or the Da Vinci Code, I get excited about it again.)

Friday, May 13, 2005


And my first post falls on Friday the Thirteenth. Along with my First Amendment take-home exam.

Good thing I'm not superstitious. (Not that much anyway.)

So I picked up the exam this afternoon, opened it to the first page, and my eyes popped out of my head. I'll explain why when the exam period is over.

Among other things I'll do when exams are over, I'm going to re-read the Brown v. Purdue copyright infringement case memos, because that's the most interesting case I've ever seen--and I sure wish it had been better-known when I took Copyright last semester.

I'm also going to make it my mission to hook up with some historical fiction/fantasy-writing bloggers. I spend a lot of my online time poking around the blogs of Lee and Tod Goldberg, Paul Guyot, and David Montgomery, but as much as I like crimefiction (and their blogging styles) I don't write it myself. There have to be some blogger-writers out there who write in my genres!

Book Research Question of the Day: Does anyone know when the olive harvest is in central Italy? As in, what season?