Tag Archives: intellectual property

Who’s story?

Yesterday I was in the city to see The Book of Mormon at the lovely old Academy of Music, using some extra time to snap photos along the Avenue of the Arts: the Walk of Fame, the Wilma and Merriam theaters, the Kimmel Center. It was a mood, delivered in large measure by participants from the pride parade, a sporadic rainbow, joyfully controlling their own narrative.

Now in The Book of Mormon there’s this matter of story-telling, myth, and whether it’s perfectly fine or even admirable to mix a little Star Trek or maybe a hobbit into the otherwise perfectly reasonable epic of Christ’s American stopover, just to help get the point across. Reminding my admittedly addled brain of some recent Internet rants against those entitled,  interloper superfans who think they know what should have happened in the Star Wars movies and GoT, and are actually demanding rewrites. I mean, who do they think they are, anyway?

Now listen, I write with specific ends in mind, and they are not to be questioned. This is sacrosanct.

But at the same time, I have creeping, premonitory doubts about all this. Obviously, no one creates in a vacuum; communities do determine narratives, and there are plenty of national epics to prove the point. The input of the world is everything, only it hasn’t quite got it together yet, so we’re able to flatter our little egos. 

This is where the Internet comes in. What it does is, it builds and gives voice to powerful communities, whether incel or #MeToo. The world, the society, is starting to speak.

So what happens to this concept of the individual? You remember, that other modern invention that thinks it has rights and can own intellectual property, all those barriers to communal will? That proud individual who, almost by definition, disowns the ignorant community? 

And then there’s this whole notion of Art, you know. Does it ultimately belong to the people, and serve them, particularly when it hugely influences the zeitgeist? It’s all about that tired communitarian versus libertarian argument from philosophy and political science classes.

So who really owns the narrative? It’s clearly a collaborative dynamic. We can’t escape each other, but fortunately we don’t need to, because right this minute there’s room to expand and experiment with  fan fiction or just fan complaint. We’ve managed to construct an entirely new dimension, one with ample room for leniency and even acknowledgement.

Anyway that communal voice is gaining strength, so best to start paying attention.

But still I insist the originals remain inviolate, especially mine, because they express evolved intentions born out of whatever mutual impulse it was that birthed them. Mine are copyright, all rights reserved.

What if the story really never ends?

If you’ve checked out your Kindle download list recently you’ll have noticed any number of books that have an Update Available.

Writers who work through Amazon they can alter their content at will, using a phone if they’re not too busy making movies with it. I know, because I’ve done it myself, and I think it’s interesting and then some. Oh, not that an author made a minor correction of some sort, but that they could, quite easily. So I have some thoughts, or rather some undisciplined musings suitable for a blog like this.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I’ve been reading about amateur film re-editing: the creation of essentially new movies out of downloaded commercial films using widely available and reasonably priced editing software. Initially taboo, these products are gaining acceptance even from the first filmmakers, and why not when they often demonstrate exceptional expertise and imagination, reveal new aspects of a work, and overall enhance rather than diminish or cheapen the original?

And then there’s fan fiction, and wow, there’s an exploding universe for you, a wonderland of derivative creativity. It’s the people’s art, sectarian mythmaking on a global scale, electronic Homer –  stories the public wants told, just as it often wants the truth to be other than it actually is and pushes back on fact. And the public can do that, because the Internet grants superhuman strength.

And now books, electronic and print both: text is finally free, liberated from the page, but it’s escaped from the author as well. And what’s to stop the critical reader from downloading and playing around with their favorite author’s precious text? It’s done all the time anyway: reframing a story from a different point of view, writing a sequel or origin story. Why not just revise the thing itself? I’m sure it’s far from perfect and could use some reader refinement. And aren’t all great stories reshaped by the community, the tribe, the country, and now the community of us all?

And no use getting all hung up on issues of integrity and the highfalutin elitist author’s sacred words. It’s not like the source material wouldn’t still exist, there’d just be other versions, and those in turn would redirect interested readers back to the (probably stuffy and unpopular) original. Okay, maybe. 

For books, there are definite obstructions: you don’t need to officially register a copyright anymore, but the Library of Congress still wants mandated copies, and if you do register you can’t make substantial changes to your work. As for Amazon, at the moment you can’t alter more than 10% of your current page count.

These measures reflect the purpose of intellectual property law. If you make your living writing, filmmaking, or otherwise creating you require protection, granted. But IP laws are also designed to encourage competition and thus inspire continuing invention, and in copyright law there’s such a thing as fair use, which takes cognizance of, among other things, whether the use in question is commercial, and its effect upon the market value of the original. These considerations invite negotiation, the obvious and inevitable way forward, the one strategy capable of directing although not halting the coming flood. Good thing, as it would be extremely unwise to curtail the public’s right to tell its own stories. It’s always better when popular myths remain in the light.

(NOTE regarding Worthy of This Great City: before buying the book please read the Reader Alert on the Home Page, then the full Prologue on the Excerpts page. Or else don’t blame me.)

Photo credits: ActuaLitte, Lecteur ebook + livres papier (CC BY-SA 2.0) / Tim RT, Good Friday (CC BY-ND 2.0)