Doctor Cleveland's picture

    The Big Keep (Or, Intellectual Property Blues: Hard-Boiled Edition)

       Raymond Chandler’s legendary private eye, Philip Marlowe, will be back in bookstores next year. Chandler’s estate has authorized a new Marlowe novel from John Banville, alias Benjamin Black. But the real news is not that Banville gets to write the book. It’s that no one else is allowed to write one.

        The copyright laws during Chandler’s lifetime decreed that his first novel, The Big Sleep, would enter the public domain by 1996. When it did the book’s rueful hero, Marlowe, would become public property as well, just like Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn, or Tarzan. But in 1978, nineteen years after Chandler died, copyright terms were extended to fifty years beyond the creator’s lifetime, keeping Marlowe corporate property until 2010. In 1999 another copyright extension lengthened terms to 75 years after the author’s death, so Marlowe will belong to someone else until at least 2035. If today’s laws had applied to Sherlock Holmes, he would not have become public domain in the United States until 2006. Tarzan would not be public domain until fourteen years from now.

        The new Philip Marlowe mystery takes advantage of the extra quarter-century during which Chandler’s heirs will enjoy artistic control and exclusive rights to profit. I don’t grudge Chandler’s grandchildren a few royalty payments, but he has no grandchildren. Raymond Chandler, like so many of his characters, died lonely. His estate went to his agent after a fight in probate court with Chandler’s secretary. Philip Marlowe is Chandler’s only child. Banville and his publisher will have to pay a cut of the new book’s profits to the Chandler estate, but that money won’t go to anyone Raymond Chandler ever met.

        In practice, the publisher is paying the estate to keep other writers from using the character. Banville will definitely write the best Philip Marlowe novel next year, because he’ll have no competition. Banville is a very reasonable choice for the commission, who will turn in painstakingly crafted work, and I wish him success. But we will never know if he was the best choice. He’s surely felt Chandler’s influence, but so has nearly every mystery writer, and his understanding of Chandler isn’t necessarily truer or more authentic than anyone else’s. A lesser writer than Banville might make a better Chandler.

        There’s no way to predict which writer would use Marlowe best. The results can only be judged once they’re on the page. And the Chandler estate is no more likely to pick the best literary successor than anyone else is. Fifty-three years on, his heirs have no exclusive insight into what made Chandler’s writing sing. They’ve never met him. Out among the many readers Chandler has influenced there may be a writer or writers whose intuitive feel for Chandler’s prose and Marlowe’s character could lead to a better novel than anyone has a right to expect. The best way to find such people, if they exist, is to let them pick themselves. If we ever read another great Philip Marlowe novel, it’s more likely to be a personal labor of love than a commission.

        Two of the reasons given for repeatedly lengthening copyright terms is that private ownership maximizes a work’s economic value and protects its artistic integrity. But it’s not clear that one authorized imitation of Chandler, shielded from competition, creates more value than would a marketplace where several “Chandlers” worked to outdo their competitors. Protection from the market does not always spur creativity. Nor would Sherlock Holmes have been better used if Conan Doyle’s estate had kept veto power into the 21st century.  But Chandler’s books have drifted into that period of limbo when an art work’s proprietors have lost any connection with its original creation but the work is still kept out of most living artists’ hands. Our current laws focus on prolonging that limbo, placing writers’ distant heirs ahead of their creative legacies.

        Fifty years after a writer’s death, the free market can make a better protector of their art than inheritance law. Anyone who reads detective novels knows what trouble inheritances can be. The best hope for a great Philip Marlowe novel is a lot of Philip Marlowe novels, by many hands, until trial, error, dedication, and talent can make him live again. We should let Marlowe back out on the streets. He was always too independent to work for a big firm. And Sherlock Holmes is waiting.


    I don't know, Doc, I'm feeling a little icky about this.  I'm afraid I can't buy your argument here, that it's okay to purloin an author's character and pretend that character is still that character, when we all know it can never be. 

    I hate the idea of another Philip Marlowe, and I'm not even a fan.

    Because, you see, Raymond Chandler created Marlowe and no matter who wins, the fact is, Chandler's Marlowe will always be somebody else's imitation. Chandler's Marlowe will be pimped and prostituted, and instead of calling the cops, crowds will be hailing the violation.

    It's outrageous that you're willing to go along with this.  I'm stunned. 

    Now say you're sorry and get outta here, you big lug.

    Well, talk to his estate, Ramona. They licensed the knockoff.

    I certainly believe that the original versions of a character or a text deserve respect. I wouldn't change the ending to Romeo and Juliet.

    But after a while that character becomes fair game. Like Romeo. Like Juliet. Like Sherlock Holmes and Hamlet, like Robin Hood and Tarzan. It happens eventually. And it's not wrong. It doesn't take the "originals" away.

    I think a 56-year window was very fair. I think life + 50 was more than generous. When we're talking about windows of 80, 90, and 100 years, that's excessive.


    I'm thinking as a writer.  if I create a character that resonates to such a degree that his/her very name brings instant recognition to millions of readers and non-readers alike, I don't see anything excessive about expecting at least a hundred year delay before the literary knock-offs begin,

    I can watch "Shakespeare in Love" or "Young Frankenstein" or Rathbone's or  Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes and not have a problem whatsoever.  There is no pretense or infraction of authorship.  But if some writer decides Tom Joad escaped and lived a life beyond the Grapes and gets permission from the Steinbeck estate to write what would essentially be a sequel in Steinbeck's voice (else why write it?), that's so clearly wrong I shouldn't even have to explain why that is.

    Someone tried it with "Gone with the Wind" and it failed miserably, as it should have.  Create your own damn characters.  Write your own damn book.  I have absolutely no respect for dilettantes who ride the coattails of another author in order to make a name.  And shame on the estates for allowing it to happen.  When it comes to art sometimes it's just about art.  It's not always about money.

    50 years after death it shouldn't matter. The 1st sequel to Gone With the Wind was written 42 years after her death and approved by the estate, a minor hooplah. Even by 1999 (50 years after) I think few would have cared, as the 2nd one came and went with hardly any notice.

    Plus Mitchell died only 13 years after her novel - most authors die significantly later.

    Ancient tales were revisited time and again, some successful, some not. If 50 years after an author's death someone can revisit their work without sounding incredibly foolish or anachronistic, hats off.

    Not  that originality wouldn't help, but if an author can rehash the same character 30 times, I'm less than sympathetic.

    I don't know.  Fanfiction seems to be a very popular pastime. It's also a great way for writers to hone their craft and even be discovered by publishers. And sometimes their sequels turn out as better stories than the original authors'.  

    Besides, how many authors can honestly claim to build their characters out of thin air?  Aren't they usually mashups of real and/or other fictional characters?  

    The real shame is that so many quality authors who are true artists have to write for the money and not for the joy of it.



    I agree Ramona. Its not the character that's important its the writer that created that character. I just read a "new Asimov" robot novel by some hack about the early life of Susan Calvin. Calvin was always one of my favorite characters in Asimov's robot novels. This new book stank imo. The Dune novels after Herbert died were crap. Most of the time when I read one of these estate sanctioned books they are just not nearly as good as those written by the original author. I think its just a way for some hack to sell a book riding on a great author's name with a payoff to the author's spouse, kids, estate. I imagine if I was an author I'd be happy to see my spouse or kids get a few bucks off my name after I died, if people are stupid enough to buy it. But with my experience with estate fiction I'd never buy one of those books.

    I loved the playful nature of Nicholas Meyer's new adventures of Sherlock Holmes, (The Seven Percent Solution), but, as a writer, I'm in agreement with Ramona.  It's my character, I created it, I gave it life, it may be the one legacy I leave the world, and then somehow it's okay for someone to come in and, in effect, re-draw my character, appropriate all the work I did to create the world that they inhabit, and put their own name on it, wiping me out of my own creation?   I don't think even 75 years is enough.  Let the new people create their own damned characters.  It's like those lawsuits a few years ago involving commercial licensing of personal images of dead movie stars.  I don't care whether or not the movie stars have descendants or just an unrelated estate, why should anyone, other than someone approved by the person's estate, capitalize on the image they spent a lifetime cultivating?  James Barrie left all the royalties to Peter Pan to an orphanage, why shouldn't they continue to profit from the continued interest in the character?    

    Kinda like the argument over businesses & taxes - they didn't build it, at least not all of it. I'm sure 90%+ of authors stole a good part of their ideas from writers who went before, but nicely added to the inheritance. Is "Hunger Games" significantly different from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"? How much did "Harry Potter" rip off from "Lord of the Rings & Narnia and Once And Future King"? Nirvana and Oasis have Beatles written all over them, Beatles had Chuck Berry written all over them. 

    At what point to we pay back to Shakespeare and The Bible and Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe everything we've absconded with? Oh wait, we can't.

    Reality is, you can paste "Poirot Returns" over whatever you write, and unless it's really decent, people will ignore you. "Return to Secret Garden" was crap, but in no way affected the original book. How many legacy franchises will support new versions? How many people are still reading fiction anyway? Will it go the way of poetry?


    "I'm sure 90%+ of authors stole a good part of their ideas from writers who went before ..."

    What makes you so sure?  I suppose you can make that otherwise unfounded generalization if you consider writing to be nothing more than a collection of words and a variation of the 5 basic storylines.  But that's kind of like saying that painters all work with the same palette of colors, and therefore all paintings are alike.





    I said 90%, not 100%. But what is education if not drilling in writing patterns and creativity from others? Would I have a book without my trips to the zoo, vacations, summer reading list...? Some books seem 100% derivative, others seem imaginative, but look close and what % might that be? Even Burroughs stole a lot from Gysin and the dadaists. Kesey credits Shakespeare, the Bible and Sherwood Anderson. Garcia-Marquez was fascinated by Kafka's Metamorphosis and Mark Twain's Huck Finn.

    So what exactly are you telling me?


    Education is learning the ability to reason, and how to acquire and evaluate input in order to make decisions on your own, not about "drilling in writing patterns" and teaching how to replicate the work of others in order to steal their creative output.  

    Your premise here is flawed.  You seem to think that because a writer is influenced or even has included themes touched on by other writers that they are, in essence, offering nothing creative of their own.  Shakespeare blatantly stole most of his plots, but I defy you to tell me that he was merely stealing from Plutarch or some other earlier writer and that he did not leave a distinctive mark all his own on his work.   

    P.S. Your attempt at snark at the end of your previous post,  re: nobody reads novels or poetry anymore, indicates that you believe that if Art is not popular it is not significant and that popularity equals quality.  More people have read Valley of the Dolls than have read Remembrance of Things Past.  Does that make Valley of the Dolls a greater work of art?

    The circles you travel in may be ones in which poetry is no longer read, but I assure you poems are still being read and appreciated by great numbers of people around the world, who glean insight and experience emotional catharses from them every single day.   



    "You seem to think that because a writer is influenced or even has included themes touched on by other writers that they are, in essence, offering nothing creative of their own."

    I said in general as a rough guess 90% derivative, which was probably being kind considering the total works published each year. Which doesn't mean Shakespeare was 90% derivative, but he sure liked drawing on the classics, so what do you think his creativity ratio was? Obviously less than 100%, right?

    "re: nobody reads novels or poetry anymore, indicates that you believe that if Art is not popular it is not significant and that popularity equals quality"

    No, my comments were made based on probability and statistics based on the premise of this post - if 95% of what's put out is fairly generic pap with only 10% originality, then defending author's rights for longer than 50 years past lifetime is fairly ludicrous.

    The circles you travel in may be ones in which poetry is no longer read, but I assure you poems are still being read and appreciated by great numbers of people around the world

    Bravo for you, but in 2009, poetry reading was at its lowest in 16 years:

    (fiction having received a rare uptick that year)

    Book publishing is exploding - over 1 million new titles a year - but few have time to read these, half of self-publishers make under $500, they're mostly trying to reach their circle of acquaintances, and the vast bulk are reprints, scans, etc. So anything that encourages real reading - such as mashups potentially, which actually helped the music industry - might be a good thing.

    What's greatest art? Or Art? Likely Rememberances of Things Past, or something by William Gaddis or Kazentzakis, etc. But what will keep those alive, past a bad movie version of the book?

    Sorry if I rained on your parade, but survival for the publishing industry is pretty dour.

    And from Bowker, more depressing news (which includes the many adults who read Harry Potter):

    New Providence, NJ - September 13, 2012 - More than half the consumers of books classified for young adults aren’t all that young. Fully 55% of buyers of works that publishers designate for kids aged 12 to 17 – nicknamed YA books -- are 18 or older, with the largest segment aged 30 to 44. Accounting for 28 percent of sales, these adults aren’t just purchasing for others -- when asked about the intended recipient, they report that 78 percent of the time they are purchasing books for their own reading. The insights are courtesy of Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, an ongoing biannual study from Bowker Market Research that explores the changing nature of publishing for kids.

    Yes, all of those books you cite are significantly different from the others you compare them to.  They're not using the same settings, the same characters, the same voice, or the same mood.  They're not hanging some other author's name onto their books.  They're nothing at all like each other, except in some vague plot line.

    Comparing Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings, etc., seems a little odd.  I'm not seeing it, myself.  The little guys vanquishing a seemingly all-powerful enemy may be a shared theme, but you could say that about thousands of other stories, too.

    We're talking here about building a book on someone else's characters, settings, story lines and reputation.  Different discussion completely.


    Sure, "Hunger Games" mixed a bit of Lottery with "Running Man" (originally a Stephen King story when he wrote under pseudonym) and maybe a couple of other influences.

    Here's a note on all Rowlings' major influences:

    And a piece on similarities between Rowlings & Tolkien, a not infrequent comparison:

    Though one insightful & creative critic at IMDB believes Tolkien actually ripped off Rowlings:


    Sigh. . . Once again, pp, we're not talking about influences here, we're talking about actual knock-offs.  A specific someone using a specific author's reputation and legacy, not to mention characters and settings, writing a book that tries to mirror the original writer's own work for no other reason than to profit from the original writer's prominence. 

    Not the same thing.

    Not the same thing.

    And again, not the same thing.

    My point being, if the "creative" works are so derivative, why do I care about knockoffs?

    As far as I could tell, Alec Guinness was playing Gandalf in space. What do I care? Occasionally there's a really original work, must of the time we're just recycling. Kinda like doing scales until we have something real to write.

    Does it matter that Marlowe has been imitated a million times without calling him Marlowe? Will it matter if someone calls their fake "Marlowe"? Can't I tell the difference? Don't I know Chandler's name to see if a real one or a revisionist?

    So writers shouldn't worry about someone knocking off their works because they're such thieves themselves?  I'm glad you're not in charge of the copyright office.

    How about putting yourself in the writer's place?  Let's say you're a famous writer who made sure your works were copyrighted.  Say I like the way you write so after you die I latch onto your fame by writing a book, using this author line:  "Ramona as Peracles Please". 

    Whatever I've written under your name is actually mine--a poor, incorrect imitation of you, because you're inimitable.  And I'm not.  But now the public associates me with you because I stole from you.  (I realize you're dead but your heirs want to make more money off of you and they see a cash cow in this--even though you originally copyrighted your work and protected your name because it was yours and yours alone.)

    Is that okay?

    No one should be able to take my name off my work, or claim they created a character when I created it. (I see no evidence they're letting people write as Raymond Chandler, though Nancy Drew books were written under an alias by different writers)

    Other than that, if my descendants can wring nickels out of my work for the next 40 years (inch'allah) plus 50 years after I've kicked, well, I've won.

    Sometimes it sucks - like Kenny G overdubbing his clarinet over Louis Armstrong works. And he was roundly criticized for it. 

    So really, how often do you think this will happen, how successfully, and in what century? Do I really think it likely someone will frequently come along 70-80 years after a book's been out and copy the ideas? Usually this is the idea of greedy estate holders who try to sell off the author's name.

    We'd be better off wondering how writers will make any money at all in the age of easy copying, Google books and just the trend towards video over text. Newspapers are having real trouble staying alive. Dead tree books are slipping into digital - what's the net effect?

    When Chandler's creation, Philip Marlowe, is handed over to someone else, they've given him Chandler's persona.  Might as well have given him Chandler's name.

    Nancy Drew books were always written by a stable of anonymous writers.  There was no Carolyn Keene.

    You said: 

    We'd be better off wondering how writers will make any money at all in the age of easy copying, Google books and just the trend towards video over text. Newspapers are having real trouble staying alive. Dead tree books are slipping into digital - what's the net effect?

    Maybe, but that wasn't the point of Doc's post. 

    I answered Doc's post, to which you're welcome to disagree.

    What? No Carolyn Keene? Next you'll be telling me that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't write all the--oh wait, never mind.


    Wait.   Kenny G over-dubbed his schlock-y alto clarinet playing over LOUIS ARMSTRONG?! 

    Sorry, but that really IS a sacrilege. 





    I'm glad you see the horror.

    You know, your brilliant jazz critique loses some cred when you can't tell the difference between a soprano saxophone and a clarinet.

    My street cred loses nothing by not paying attention to Kenny G.

    And I play a metal clarinet - not well - so likely I do have some confusion between the 2 instruments (while most people don't realize there are metal clarinets)

    There are lots of light jazz/pop players out there. Kenny G just happens to make a lot of money doing it. That makes him a good whipping boy for some of those with much greater ability who make less money. People who want to appear sophisticated echo that critique. Its akin to looking down your nose at people who read Harry Potter because, dammit, I read Shakespeare. Most musicians don't play that game. You like rock? There's not a single rock guitarist that can play at John McLaughlin's, or Joe Pass's, etc. level, not Santana or Beck or who ever you think is the best rock guitarist. Yet they all make more cash than McLaughlin. So why pick on Kenny G?

    The sax overblows an octave, an eighth, so the fingering for a C will be basically the same in the low and middle register, with the addition of the octave key. The clarinet, a very unusual instrument, overblows a 12th. So the fingering of C is basically the same as the fingering of the G a 12th above it, with the addition of the "12th" key. As you are aware of if you play the clarinet. Whether metal, wood or plastic, the harmonic structure of an instrument that overblows a 12th creates a sound that is distinctive.

    Actually I didn't know Kenny G did an overdub with an Armstrong tape. I don't listen to everything he does, but since I've never heard him play the clarinet I was intrigued. So I did a search and gave it a listen. He's clearly playing a soprano sax.

    Either you didn't listen to the song and are just echoing some other musician's complaint or you can't tell the difference between the sound of  a sax and a clarinet. Neither of which garners you much respect as a jazz critic.




    If I'd thought about it more than 2 secs, I might have caught the mistake, but I was just blogging under auto-pilot.

    I don't care what Kenny G does on his own - I like Top 40 & pop as well as underground music, and I learned long ago that people will like music I don't care for, and it's perfectly fine (especially when I don't have to listen to it - I'm over-sensitive to music torment) and occasionally I come to appreciate it later (examples like Elvis Costello or AC/DC).

    I saw the ad for Kenny G's Louis Armstrong bit and thought it sucked. Whether I had the feeling it was an atrocity at the time, or got the attitude from Pat Metheny's interview, I don't know:

    (note: I have about as little use for Pat Metheny as I do Kenny G, but that's just personal taste, not an evaluation of the quality or aesthetics of his music. I used to even like fusion as played by some artists, but haven't felt that need in decades. Maybe in the right mood I could get into it, but I'd rather listen to something more driving and irreverent (NSFW).

    Hmmm, apparently Metheny really hates Kenny G. Of course K doesn't compare favorably with Parker or Coltrane, he couldn't and he's not trying to do the same thing. One can't really compare all the different types of jazz, that's 100 years of music. You can't even compare the "serious" jazz musicians. How would a dixie land player like Armstrong compare to an avantgarde player like Steve Lacy? Or a doo wop rocker with Lady Gaga?

    The simple reality is the average listener doesn't have a trained ear sufficient to understand the most sophisticated jazz, just as I and most average "lookers" don't have a trained eye sufficient to understand why Picasso is a great artist. I'm happy that there are those who produce music for those who spend the time and study required to "get" the sophisticated and complex music. But they aren't going to make the kind of money that comes from appealing to either the jazz or the rock mass audience. And there has always been a strain of jazz that tried to appeal to that mass audience. 

    Sure as a music lover I wish there was more support for high quality music, just as I suppose visual artists wish the public had a greater appreciation of quality art and movie lovers wish the average public wasn't so entranced by bigger and bigger explosions and more brutal bloody murders in horror flicks. Alas, none of those is likely to come to pass.

    What's amusing in metheny's defense of  "the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived" is in his time, for the bulk of his career, Armstong was Kenny G. Armstrong's first 15 years were so creative he virtually single handedly redefined jazz. the next 30 produced nothing new or creative for serious jazzers. He became a showman, mugging for the audience, singing all his most popular hits like Hello Dolly. and replaying the same fanfare like trumpet licks over and over again. Hard core jazz listeners ignore the last 30 years of Armstong's work as trivial. But if you ignore the first 15 his output is comparable to K G. Simple repetitive music for casual listeners. Show boating and schmaltzy emotionalism played directly for the entertainment of the audience. This isn't a personal opinion. Do some study and you'll find most serious jazzers agree with this assessment of Armstrong's decades long career.

    Music is many different things to different people and there's a place for all of it imo. I can enjoy all the different forms without getting all judgmental. I can get into an improvised or memorized rock solo from songs like Hotel California without comparing it to Charlie Parker, Chick Corea or Dizzie Gillespie. I mean really, if one is going to get all uptight about it, the guitar solos in Hotel California don't compare any more favorably with the guitar solos of John McLaughlin than K G's pop/jazz solos compare with the serious jazz solos of Parker or Coltrane.

    I don't criticize John Denver, I don't criticize Eagles, I don't criticize Chick Corea. It's all music. I've had periods where I've liked most any style.

    I think you do injustice to Louis Armstrong. He was 46 when he started the AllStars, big band was out of favor, his lips and fingers had medical problems, but he turned around a new show including focusing much more on his singing. Sure, it was more conservative and campy than his early stuff, but he was trying new styles, and more out there than Kenny G. (such as playing with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitgerald). And it wasn't until he was 63 that Louis recorded Hello Dolly (his only #1 record, but a letdown to jazz purists).

    Plus, Charlie Parker only lived to 35, Coltrane died at 40, Roland Kirk at 42. Monk's career went downhill after 47 (and he only wrote 70 songs total). Miles Davis pretty well gave up at 48, only to have a short revival at 60. 

    As for Kenny G, my only real issue is still his overdubbing Louis, same as Metheny's. He backed up lots of studio recordings, no more annoying than a lot of sweet jazz in the 70's, etc.

    More sympathetic description of Armstrong's All-Star years.

    Also, and then some. . .show me a writer who hasn't been influenced by those who went before and I'll show you a conceited, narcissistic hack with absolutely no future.

    There's a lot going on here, and I'm short of time, so let me sum up a few points:

    1) The hundred year minimum that Ramona thinks of as a natural and decent minimum has never happened before in human history. Let me repeat that:


    In Human.


    There has never, ever been any exclusive legal right to hold onto a creator's works of literature a hundred years after the creator was dead. That is not the way things have "always worked." It is a new and radical thing, which threatens drastic changes to the way things have always worked.

    2) This is not about author's rights. We're talking about authors who have been dead for a long time.

    (And frankly, if one of my pieces of fiction became an improbable hit, I'd want all the profit and control during my lifetime, and I'd want my heirs to see some money, too. But I would not give a damn what happened a century after I was dead. Really.)

    This is, and has always been about PUBLISHERS. By which we mean, in 2012, BIG CORPORATE PUBLISHERS. Publishers always talk about authors' rights when they're really interested in their own stuff. They've been using authors' rights as an excuse for three hundred years. But that is just PR (or BS).

    3) Although Ramona is upset about people who are not the author writing books using the late authors' characters, and seems to associate this with my call for books to enter the public domain. But the books that upset Ramona are licensed by the author's estates.

    The Chandler estate has licensed Marlowe novels before (from Robert B. Parker, who was a well-nigh slavish imitator of Chandler, and did only a so-so job). The Gone with the Wind sequel was likewise licensed by the Margaret Mitchell estate. The Puzo estate licenses a whole series of Godfather sequels, prequels, and not-remotely-equals. That's not the result of works lapsing into the public domain. It's a result of works being kept *out* of public domain.

    The idea that longer copyright terms protect works from meddling and interference is clearly a lot of corn. It just allows a particular large business interest to do the meddling and interfering. It doesn't protect the integrity of the author's work any more than a shorter and more reasonable copyright term would. It simply makes it much less likely that the knockoffs, rip-offs, and homages will be the result of actual artistic inspiration.

    Doc, I don't like seeing any writer's works being manipulated and exploited.  That's what I'm objecting to.  I think I said 100 years from publication, but it doesn't matter.  All limits are arbitrary and everything comes to an end.  I take advantage of public domain freedoms as much as anybody, but I want to know when I'm reading something that it's an original work, still intact, with nothing changed.  Just the way the writer wanted it.

    My gripe is with the loss of purity of a writer's works.  I feel the same way when works are published that the writer, for whatever reason, didn't see fit to have published.  It's like taking a piece of somebody's identity and changing it, willy-nilly, after they've worked all their life to establish it. 

    I may have steered away from your original intent, and if I did, I'm sorry.  You're right that publishers push for these things, but someone controls the estates before they go into public domain, and it really does sicken me when they choose not to consider how the writers would want the world to remember them.


    Well, I hear that, Ramona.

    One of the odd things about extremely long copyright terms is that it allows copyright owners to take the original, authorized version off the market. They can replace it with a different version if they like.

    Once a famous work enters public domain, and a number of rival publishers put out different editions, you almost always see a strong emphasis on publishing the "authentic original version."


    Good piece, but as an author, I have mixed feelings. The big publishers have plenty of failings but taking gobs of money from readers' wallets isn't one of them. As an author struggling to make a living, I wish that publishers were making a bit more money these days so that they could be less tightfisted with the authors. So if extending copyright helps them to sustain their dwindling profit margins, I don't really begrudge them that.

    Moreover, while a few more Philip Marlowe novels would not be a bad thing, I don't see how they would enhance American literature any more than the detective novels with all new characters that they would invariably displace.

    Fair enough, G. But for midlist writers, like me and thee, what super-long copyright probably means is that our work will go out of print entirely and not come back. There are already problems with works that are "copyright orphans," old books that cannot be republished because the legal owners can no longer be located. (Worse yet, there are fragile old films whose restoration is being blocked because they're still under copyright.)

    I also don't necessarily buy the "displacement" argument. Market shares grow and expand. Popular work in one genre often creates more room for others in that genre, rather than simply taking up one of a fixed numbers of slots.

    The book market is constantly growing, and specific genres trend up and down within it, but I don't see how broader growth will be be increased if older books come out of copyright. New Marlow novels will increase the number of Marlow novels and (if very successful) might increase the number of detective novels, but they won't have any appreciable effect on the number of novels overall. In any given year, publishers only produce a relatively fixed number of books. If they print a new Marlow novel, they are likely to choose it over another submission.

    On the orphan point, I completely agree, but I think that copyright law is not the best place to address the issue. There are a tremendous number of orphaned books written in the past 50 years, well within even a reduced copyright window. What we need is a streamlined process for making out-of-print books available, presumably in digital form at a reduced cost.

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