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As serious as your life!

Val Wilmer tells of internet pillage with a happy ending.

I SHOULD HAVE been pleased that a "book" about the jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler had appeared on the internet. Information about the music's last real innovator is hard to come by -- as I well know, having been one of the few people to interview him. My 1977 book, As Serious As Your Life, includes a chapter on Ayler.

Now here was a great chunk of it, reproduced on a website as a kind of collective oral history. One Jeff Schwartz was even offering it for sale to a publisher! Yards of it came from my writings, reproduced without so much as a by-your-leave. There were footnotes, pin-pointing sources with some degree of accuracy, but I couldn't get over the fact that Schwartz has not asked permission to plunder the output of my thirty years of hard graft. To add insult to injury, there were misquotes and misattributions, not to mention a general misunderstanding of things I had written -- even of the world in which Ayler lived.

I contacted Mike Holderness, and we drafted a letter to Schwartz demanding that he acknowledge his indebtedness to me (in a form which I spelled out, down to the size of type) -- or take the item down immediately. Failure to follow my instructions, I assured Schwartz, would result in my taking further action through the NUJ and our US counterparts, champing at the bit for test cases to pursue.

The result was immediate: he followed my instructions to the letter. His planned revision will acknowledge quotes in the text rather than end-notes, and I have asked for a reasonable share of royalties should it find a market.

In this case, I didn't ask for cash up front. For me and other jazz writers, documenting this minority-appeal music was a labour of love rather than a source of income.

I got a fair outcome, thanks to the NUJ. Sadly, I feel that mine was a path few other jazz writers would follow. Resigned crying into beers would be their more likely response, if indeed they felt they had been copy-wronged -- thankfully, not the experience of those who believe in organisation.

BY Val Wilmer


May/Jun 1997

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