January 1st, 2016

Peter G

Ian Murdock, Rest In Peace

(NOTE:  There will be no cheap shots at Murdock here.  Yes, I was quite harsh on him during his days with OpenSolaris.  But this isn't a guy who was, say, stabbing puppies and running over orphans with a steamroller, this was ultimately a guy whose approach to a particular situation was different from mine.  As such, I feel that injecting such opinions into a memorial piece are woefully inappropriate, especially given the mysterious circumstances surrounding his passing.  I'm sure there are others who feel those days are the more important consideration and will happily supply the snark, but for the moment, it won't be coming from me.)

Ian Murdock has died.  He was 42.

...I wish I could say more, but we still aren't entirely sure what happened.

Born in Germany in 1973, Murdock is known for a variety of things, including his work on OpenSolaris, an attempt to open source Sun's Solaris operating system.  But most of us know him as the guy who brought much needed order to the Wild West of Linux distros.  At the time, Linux distros were highly disorganized, poorly maintained, and a lot of people were more interested in trying to monetize their user bases than actually work on fixes or advance the ecosystem.  The most popular whipping boy was Softlanding Linux, one of the original big distros.  Murdock decided Linux was better than that, and in 1993, started the Debian distro (the name was a combination of his name and his then-girlfriend's, Deborah Lynn.  They eventually married and had two kids before divorcing in 2007).  Railing against the casual opportunism and lack of discipline that permeated the field, he issued the Debian Manifesto that laid out a modular architecture and a fierce devotion to the principles of Free/Libre Open Source Software -- Debian forked the Firefox web browser into Ice Weasel simply because of trademark concerns that developers worried were counter to FLOSS.

Murdock graduated from Perdue in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science, and immediately became CTO of The Linux Foundation.  Then, in 2003, he became Vice President Of Emerging Platforms at Sun.  He was responsible for Project Indiana, a controversial attempt to bring the open source development model to Solaris.  When Sun was acquired by Oracle in 2010, the project was killed in favor of a new proprietary system, and Murdock left.

Murdock went on to become the founding Secretary of the Open Source Initiative, and also returned to Indiana to become Vice President Of Platform And Developer Community for ExactTarget.  In 2013, ExactTarget was acquired by Salesforce.  Murdock then moved on to San Francisco to join Docker.

Some of you may be wondering about the cryptic nature of my comments at the start, about "mysterious circumstances."  See, that's the problem.  On December 27, this past Sunday, Murdock was arrested by the San Francisco County Sheriff's Department, but no one is saying what for.  Monday, Murdock made several tweets about having a run-in with the fuzz, and at 2:13 Eastern time, he tweeted, "I'm committing suicide tonight...do not intervene as I have many stories to tell and do not want them to die with me."

I don't know what pushed him over the edge, but I'm sorry to hear about it.  It's really unsettling because Murdock, whatever your feelings on him, was upbeat, friendly, and genuinely excited about technology and where it could go.  He still had so much to offer.

And now, he's gone.  Rest easy, please.  May you find the peace you apparently could not find in this world.
Peter G

Star Trekkin'...Across The Axanar-verse....

I knew something was up when I started getting flooded with PM's, emails, and all sorts of communiques asking about Paramount, CBS, and if what they were doing was legal.  Blah blah blah Fair Use blah blah blah not making money blah blah blah....

For those that don't know, I have done a lot of study, writing, and IANAL-style advising on the subject of fan works.  Fan fics, fan films, fan games, etc.  From one of my first articles in Video Game Trader dealing with the legalities to one on one talks, I'm considered an expert.  How can I prove I'm an expert?  Because I give answers people don't want to hear.

Spoiler alert:  the bottom line is that you don't own the rights, whoever else is telling you not to does, and if they say stop, there's nothing you can do.  All fan works, no matter the medium or effort involved, exist at the whim and good graces of the rights holders.  It's the reason I always give a shoutout to Hasbro and make sure my Doctor Whooves fan comics remain G rated -- Hasbro can easily stop me. Doctor Whooves runs on Bleeding Cool, which gets thousands of hits a day.  There is no way in hell they don't know I'm doing this shit.  But they haven't said anything and allowed me to tell these stories.  They are playing nice with me as long as I play nice with them.  But if, for whatever reason, Hasbro suddenly said I couldn't use the Doctor or Twilight or whoever, or even if the BBC says I can't (it IS Doctor Who, after all.  There's a TARDIS and everything in the comics), all I can do is admit defeat and move on.  It's their's.  Not mine, their's.  QED.

Seeing "Paramount" and "CBS" in the headers made me take a logical guess and think it was something related to Star Trek.  Give the man a cigar.  It's about a little project called Star Trek Axanar, and to see why everyone is screaming bloody murder, we first need to see how we got here.

As I've said, fan works exist at the whims of the rights holders.  When Star Trek went off the air, Desilu and later Paramount didn't really care about it.  People wrote their slashfic and such, and it was so isolated, there wasn't much risk to the brand.  Not only that, but the brand wasn't being used anyway.  This allowed an air of casualness to develop about fan works.

Since then, proliferation of things like tape traders and such opened the doors to fan films.  One was made to give a proper "conclusion" to Space: 1999, for example.  After Doctor Who was initially cancelled by the BBC during the Sylvester McCoy years, an ambitious fanfilm called Downtime was made featuring actual actors from the show (it was actually given an official release this year, making it "canon".  This is where we first see the Brigadeer's daughter, who has factored into stories during Moffatt's run.  It's a major treat for those of us who have never fallen out of love with Elisabeth Sladen.  And on the eighth day, God created the region-free DVD player). Star Wars fan films. Batman:  Dead End.  All sorts of things.  And, naturally, Star Trek.  But since things were still done by tape traders, where you had to know someone, and not everyone wanted copies (let's face it, these are passion projects, so the talent and ability varies wildly), they were still allowed to exist, even as people who worked in front of or behind the Trek cameras started getting involved.

With the explosion of torrent sites and video hosters like YouTube and DailyMotion, fanfilms get more exposure than ever before.  On YouTube was a series called Star Trek:  New Voyages, which used unproduced scripts and novelizations about the original series (Paramount did request them to stop, but it was a simple, "Please don't do that," there was no lawsuit).  Among the individuals who found cult status was Alec Peters.  Peters decided to make a little something called Prelude To Axanar, set in the Trek universe and with pros like Richard Hatch involved.  He launched a crowdfunding campaign for $1 mil.  The entire time, he was very upfront that he could never profit from it.

Surprise!  Paramount and CBS have hit Peters with a C&D.  Peters is trying to work with them, but his official statement is that he isn't doing anything that hasn't been going on for decades now, why pick on him?

Simple answer:  doesn't matter.  He doesn't own the rights to Trek.  Paramount and CBS don't even have to give a reason, and they can be as hypocritical or inconsistent as they want.  They are the band, and if they stop playing, you stop dancing.

I personally think part of the reason for the C&D is what exactly the money bought.  Peters used the money to set up his own film studio, Ares Pictures.  He may have needed to create it to make Axanar, but what happens afterwards?  He can still make other movies with it.  Potentially, he has found a way to start his own film company on the back of Star Trek.  And others will be willing to do the same.  They wouldn't be profiting from the fan project, but they could profit AROUND it.  I can see why the studios would find this, at the very least, questionable.  (If Peters agrees to dissolve the studio once the project is complete and Paramount and CBS recind the C&D, we'll know that was a part of the problem.)

So, my stance for anyone asking is simple -- doesn't matter that it sucks, doesn't matter why Paramount and CBS are doing it.  The fact is, they can, and right, wrong, or indifferent, they call the shots.  If Peters can't work something out, he has to take his bat and ball and go home.