Fedora by Chris Green

It is often difficult for an author to appraise his own work. Sometimes a story that he thinks is the real deal, goes down like a lead balloon. Other times a throwaway piece of nonsense is acclaimed by readers as a masterpiece. There seem to be no rules. It can help the writer’s objectivity a little if, when he finishes a story, he puts it away for a couple of months and then goes back to reappraise it. This can offer a fresh perspective on the story. It is almost like reading someone else’s work. I have started to use this method as a means of quality control.

It is also beneficial to get someone else to have a look. With many of my stories coming from a male subject position, there is always the danger that one or two them might be a little sexist, so when I can, I like to run them past Jody to get a female perspective. Statistics show that more women than men read fiction, so there is no sense in alienating the female reader. It is common practice to get a second opinion on a written work. Some writers have a professional editor, some use a work colleague, others a close friend. Some are more unconventional in their approach. My friend, Dale Head, who you might describe as a bit of a loner, reads his stories to his macaw, Gerald, to get his view. It’s possible that Gerald doesn’t add a lot to Dale’s efforts. I can only guess but I think I may be the only one who actually reads Dale’s blog. I haven’t the heart to tell him that people don’t go a lot on stream of consciousness narratives these days.

I decide to take another look at a short story that I wrote back in February. It’s called Fedora and it is a mystery thriller. I read through it carefully and am pleasantly surprised by how well it reads. It has some inspired turns of phrase, the characters are believable, the dialogue is crisp and the theme is topical. It has intrigue, mystery, tension, and subtle humour here and there to break up the tension. Most of all, out of the blue, it delivers a clever twist. I think it might even be one of my best. It is surely a contender for the lead story in my next collection. To my surprise, Jody agrees. She waxes lyrical about the sexual tension that runs through the narrative. She keeps using the expression, frisson. She particularly likes the bit at the end where the mystery man in the hat appears unexpectedly out of the haze. It is archetypal, she says, although as a Jungian therapist, she does see a lot of things as archetypal. However Jody is my fiercest critic and if she likes Fedora that is good enough for me to post it.

I now need a dark, mysterious picture to use as a cover to attract readers to it on my website. The aim of my site is to try out my stories to see how they go down with readers, before presenting them for publication in printed form. Without this safeguard, self-publishing can be a bit hit and miss. When the time comes, I know I will have to come up with an original image for the book cover. Copyright considerations are paramount when it comes to the printed page. You can’t just use someone’s picture without permission. But, on a website these days, copyright with regard to images seems to count for very little. Anything goes. Very few writers create their own artwork from scratch and there are billions of images on the internet to choose from. When you search google images it’s almost impossible to judge which ones require licences. After all, their just being there for you to download, often from a number of different web addresses, is probably in itself an infringement of someone’s copyright. These people can’t all be licenced to display all the images.

What I am looking for is a striking image of a sinister figure. Alas, all the pictures of men in hats on the web seem to be of film stars or models posing and they all seem to be wearing either Homburgs or Trilbies. I cannot find a single photo of a nefarious character wearing a Fedora. While this detail may not matter to the average Joe, sartorial accuracy is something the writer takes seriously. A Fedora must be a Fedora. I briefly consider changing the style of hat in the story to a Homburg, but I decide I don’t really want to. The type of man that wears a Homburg is altogether different to the one who wears a Fedora and a Fedora definitely suits my character better.

Finally, after a few frustrating hours, I manage to come up with a picture. It is not exactly what I am looking for but with a little cropping and manipulation it might be OK. I get to work on it in Photoshop and end up with a dark foreboding image of a tall man in a long overcoat and a black Fedora hat. He hovers menacingly in the shadows with his back to the camera. It is reminiscent of the famous shot of Orson Welles in The Third Man. I add the title of the story along with my name in a nicely-kerned Gothic font in white and post it as a link to the story on my website.

In the first couple of hours of putting a post up, I like to keep a close eye on its progress. In no time at all, Fedora racks up an encouraging number of views and half a dozen likes. ‘Okay, I give up. You win,’ comments BravoYankee, a sporadic visitor to my site. ‘I could never imagine anything so clever. This is the best story I’ve read, on or off the internet, in a long time.’ BravoYankee’s words are indeed encouraging.

The email I receive just after lunch comes as a bolt out of the blue. It is from a Corey Hicks from Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire and it reads: ‘It has come to my attention that you have used my image Man in a Fedora Hat as the cover image for your story Fedora. I have no record of providing you with a licence to use my image in this way. Please let me know where you sourced my image and what rights you have to use it.’

I email Corey back to apologise and say that if there is a breach of copyright, it was an honest mistake. I point out that his image and others like it are available in many locations through a google image search.

Corey emails back almost straight away to say without prejudice that this is not the case. Man in a Fedora Hat was and is only available, he says, on two websites, one is an agent that provides commercial licences for the image and the other site is the one that manages his portfolio. His portfolio site clearly references his copyright and provides a means to discuss potential uses of his images with him. He says that I have used his image to promote my work without any discussion with him, no notification whatsoever, no acknowledgement of his work, no licence to do so and certainly no payment. In addition, I have taken the trouble to crop his watermark from the image that I used in order to hide the provenance. He offers me the opportunity to pay £250 to settle the copyright infringement out of court.

By this time, I cannot remember exactly which site I found the image on and now I cannot find its source at all. Half an hour’s trawling through the internet with a range of different search terms does not locate it. I am now panicking a little. I wish Jody were here to put a reassuring spin on things but she has a two-hour dream interpretation session with a troubled client. I do not feel I can interrupt and she is hardly going to respond to a text. But, I don’t feel I can leave the matter up in the air so I email Corey back to say that he is being a little dramatic and that in any case £250 is excessive. In his next email, he offers the location of the site and he has mapped out where and how I have cropped the original image. I see that I have only taken a small proportion of what is a much larger picture, so I let him know that this is the case. He is quickly back saying that the amount I have used does not matter in the slightest. He attaches reports of some legal case studies where thousands of pounds have accrued in cases where a small percentage of the original image were used. I get the impression that Corey Hicks has done this before. He is practised in the art. Perhaps this is even his main source of income. I scan through the attachments he has sent and slowly come to the realisation that he is right. The settlements mentioned involve colossal sums. And most of the cases involve self-publishers who appear to have made a genuine mistake. Under the circumstances, it seems to me that fighting the case would be foolhardy. I don’t have that kind of money to lose. In the cut-throat world of copyright law, £250 for an infringement is apparently small potatoes. I settle.

If my book sales pick up a bit, I should be able to recoup the sum in five or six years. All I can say is, please buy my books.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved


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