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A murder mystery, set in a future where you actually are unable to see things that you haven’t paid a license fee for. Summary afterwards.

It starts something like this:

The flight from RIAA international in Washington to Paris was quiet and uneventful. There were a few films showing early, but I hadn’t paid the license fee for that studio so I couldn’t watch them. I connected my laptop to the Internet and tried to get some work done, and then read some Othello. I’d managed to get a lifetime subscription to Shakespeare’s works at a bargain price, so I had plenty of reading material. An hour before I landed, my editor called through.

“I’ve just got word from our parent company, they’re authorizing a large sum of money if you can get the exclusive rights to your interviewees portfolio. I’m sending you the details now. Do you know who his agent is?”

“He doesn’t have one.” I said.
“He doesn’t have one?” echoed my editor, “He’s the oldest man in the world, and famous for his anecdotes and he doesn’t have an agent? My 6 year old son has an agent, and the best content he’s created is a couple of finger paintings. Do you know I have to pay 800 dollars a year license fee to see them?”
“Really? We still haven’t appointed an agent for Clara and she’ll be 16 soon, old enough to get her own”
“Well, we sent Sam to a fancy school, and they insist on all their students having agents. Anyway, back to my point. We can get an agent for this guy easily enough.”
“He won’t accept one. I did some reading about him, he’ll give interviews to anyone even nonpress, but he always refuses to have an agent or to grant exclusives.”
“Crazy! Well, he might change his mind when he sees how much money we’re offering”
“I’ll do my best”

The plane was beginning its descent and I still hadn’t filled in the forms. Since this was purely a business trip and I didn’t intend to do any sightseeing, I filled in the one labeled Waiver For National Monuments License Fee. It would mean that the Rights Management System in my eye would stop me from seeing the Eiffel tower on the skyline or the Arch de Triomphe, but it saved the paper a bit of money, and I could always get a temporary license later if I felt like doing the tourist thing.

The hotel had a bit of an unreal feel to it. My room was decorated in the old style, but the furniture was plasticy and new. There were notices on the wall, written in French, unintelligible now to anyone except an academic. It was strange to see ordinary notices, probably about the price of breakfast written in the language of philosophical treatises. The old man who’d shuffled out to unlock the heavy front door spoke English to me, and Arabic to the elevator. I figured the notices were mainly for ambiance.

I lay down on the bed with a drawn out sigh, as I always do when I get to a new place to stay. The plan was to be away 3 days, and do two interviews. The first one wasn’t until the morning. Clara was due to play soccer fairly soon, so I used my laptop to connect to her schools video feed, and watched the game, occasionally sending messages of encouragement over the big screen. My subscription to the schools sports output only allowed me to send 2 messages per game, so when she scored after I’d used them both up, I had to pay a large add on fee to send my congratulations. Still, it’s extra income like this that keeps the tuition fees low, so I didn’t mind very much. Besides, I could probably claim some of it back on expenses.

And so it goes on. The murder probably hinges on the fact that the victim was unable to see something that it is taken for granted everyone has paid the license fee for and so can see. Current theory is that the murderer set up a room or a scene to look exactly like a famous painting in the louvre, causing temporary blindness. Perhaps the murderer is his younger wife who has been recording all his reminiscences and wishes to copyright them to herself. Their value in license fees is enormous. One incident is an artist who is creating a sculpture and before it is finished a rival has it declared a work of national art, and suddenly he can’t see the art he is creating because he hasn’t paid the fee. The interviewee is the oldest person in the world and his anti altzheimers surgery has given him a perfect memory of his whole life. The people who gave the surgery that had this unexpected outcome are sueing for some of the value of his reminiscences, to force him to charge fees and give them a cut. French died out because it was a dead language, and couldn’t adapt. Night time images of the Eiffel tower are already under copyright, which is why I chose France as the setting.

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