The night was as gloomy as a Borland stockholder. I had just solved another case–some guy in over his head in one-to-many relationships–and I was about to crawl into another bottle of Jolt Cola.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I was ripping off the twist-top cap when my visitor arrived. He had a pointed beard, longish hair, and was carrying a quill pen. I knew the type.

“Mr. Rowe,” he said, “my name be William Shakespeare, and I needeth thy help. I did write a play called Hamlet, and but two days after it did open, it appeareth on the Internet, in the alt.revenge.greatdane newsgroup, with naught my name attached to it.

“I ownth the copyright, sirrah, and must protect it. I hath worked hard, and now people be reading my play without e’en knowing tis mine.”

“And you’d like me to find…”

“Aye, sir, the wretched nave who hath done it.”

It’s not how I’d have put it, but we came to an agreement on price. As soon as he left I got to work.

I logged onto the ‘net and checked out alt.revenge.greatdane. Nothing called “Hamlet,” but I found Bill’s piece in an article called “Small Town, Prince of Denmark.” I checked who’d posted it. No surprise–it was Frank Bacon.

I sent the sysop a note, telling him to kill the article or I’d FTP him a couple of strong-armed viruses. Then I set out for Bacon, who I found trying to sneak out of a cheap dive on the bad side of the World-Wide Web.

“Hey, Frank,” I typed .. “Read that funny piece you wrote. You know, the Denmark thing.”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” He seemed scared.

I refreshed his memory. “Boy meets mom, mom meets uncle, boy meets ghost, everybody dies.”

“Oh, that. I got it on the Bloody Revenge mailing list. I liked it and wanted to share it.”

“Any idea who wrote it?” I asked.

“Wrote it? No one writes these things; they just appear.”

“Well, a guy named Shakespeare thinks otherwise, and he’s mad as a COBOL coder learning C++.”

“So he wrote it. Does that make it his? He should be flattered someone thought it was good.”

I was about to massage his I/O ports with a brass mousepad when Bill came busting into my office. “Good Rowe,” he cried, “I hath received it, again.”

I told Bacon I’d deal with him later, signed off, and gave Bill my attention. He explained himself. “Good Ben Johnson hath sent me E-mail this day, including a play he thought I might enjoy. Twas my Hamlet.”

“Know where he got it?”

“Aye. He doth subscribe to ye Oedipus Mailing List.”

Whoever had posted Bill’s piece knew what he was doing. I figured I’d better go see an expert.

Farewell, My Lawyer

The next day I paid a visit to Isa Tort, a cute little copyright lawyer who likes me–I can tell.

“Hey, baby,” I said, “if you help me out with a case, I’ll let you come over and rummage through my private files.”

“Buzz off, Rowe.” Like I said, I can tell. She waited a few minutes to see what I’d do. When I didn’t kiss her, she sighed. “Tell you what. I’ll answer a few questions if you promise to leave me alone.”

I told her about Bill and Hamlet. She shrugged. “Happens all the time. Tell ‘im the exposure will do him good.”

“Not likely, sweetheart. They didn’t bother to post his name.”

That got a reaction. “Really? Most people at least credit who they steal from.”

“I deal with the muck of the sewer.” Girls love that kind of talk.

“Well, despite what some people say, his copyright’s still good, even in cyberspace. He could sue everyone involved–assuming he has as much money as Paramount or Playboy.”

She was talking my kind of language. Then she added “Now get lost.”

I dropped in on Bill backstage at the Globe. “Bad news, amigo,” I told him. “About the only thing you can do is post a message wherever you see your Hamlet on the net. You’ll get flamed by the lunatics, but at least a few folks’ll read your name.”

“Pray tell, didst thou find the vile toad who did post it?”

“Sorry, kid, but that’s the toad that got away. No way around it, Bill; what happened to your Hamlet is a tragedy.”

I was feeling pretty bad as I left him. When I got back to the office, I decided to cheer myself up with a little quality time on the Infobaun. I checked into one of my favorite haunts, fic.detect.filmnoir, and grabbed a story that I thought would amuse me. It opened like this:

“The night was as gloomy as a Borland stockholder. I had just solved another case–some guy in over his head with one-to-many relationships–and I was about to crawl into another bottle of Jolt Cola.”

Whoever he was, he was working fast.

(A note to my readers: Within a week after my column 2001.267 appeared in Computer Currents, it was in at least three locations on the Internet–without my permission, the proper title, or my name. Please understand: I hold no animosity towards the vile, wretched toad who stole the fruits of my labors. I understand that you did what you did out of appreciation for my work, and I hold you in the same high moral regard as I do Microsoft’s legal staff.–Lincoln Spector)


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