Friday, April 25, 2008

the copyright one after the last one...

Pondering transformative copyright, I found myself thinking about this:

It's Abi Sutherland's reworking/retelling/translation of my poem, The Day The Saucers Came, into LOLcat. I like it better than the original, but I'm not sure that it would work if it wasn't informed by the existence of the not-LOLcat one (if you see what I mean). (Here's me on YouTube reading the original at Yale:

And two from the mailbag:

I am a lawyer. I co-authored an article on fair use that was published last summer in the Journal of the Copyright Society of the United States. A large section of it was a wordier version (punctuated by many many legal citations) of what you wrote in your journal today. In practice, the most important single factor in determining whether a fair use has occurred is not money, it is how transformative a work is. You have a good grasp of copyright.

Moreover, you have a good grasp of the trickiness of copyrighting derivative works. The legal answer regarding that King James concordance is that the person who owns the copyright owns a "weak" copyright. (The more original creativity in a work, the "stronger" the copyright. If this concordance is completely uncreative - if it is really just a list of words that a computer could generate - there is no copyright whatsoever. If, however, the author has organized the concordance in a way to show some creativity, there is a "weak" copyright.)

Unfortunately, in practice, a "weak" copyright is pretty strong when owned by a powerful company. For example, the woodcut illustrations in the original edition of Alice in Wonderland are in the public domain and have no copyright protection. Disney's depiction of Alice - clearly a cartoon version of the public domain woodcut Alice - is, however, copyrighted. Technically, this derivative work should be a "weak" copyright. However, when the video game Alice by American McGee came out, American McGee's Alice was a brunette who looked nothing like the Alice most people think of. American McGee should have been able to copy the public domain Alice, just like Disney did, but I assume that American McGee didn't want to risk taking on Disney. (That was probably not the only consideration that went into it - they probably also didn't want little kids buying the game by accident, either - but Disney's copyright in the derivative work must have been something they considered.)

I really appreciate the fact that, despite being a writer, you do not seem to have a rabid approach to copyright. I think many readers, who feel defensive on behalf of their favorite authors, don't understand the benefits of having copyrights that are not absolute and that expire. The creative sphere as a whole gains something from a public domain and fair use. (Author's heirs are often anything but open to creative reimaginings, or even creative criticisms, of a work - the highly litigious Margaret Mitchell estate comes to mind.) If our modern attitudes towards copyright had always existed, you would not have been able to freely quote Shakespeare (who never had copyright protection) in Sandman, and the story would have lost some of its richness. Similarly, it would be ridiculous if you had to have Rudyard Kipling's heirs sign off on The Graveyard Book. Copyrights should not be powerful to the point where they suppress new ideas or criticisms.

I very much look forward to The Graveyard Book.

- Anne

and also

Your latest blog entry about legal court cases inspired me to put up a bit of information on my personal blog that goes into aspects of the joint authorship elements of your case, and the transformative works issues that will be important in J.K. Rowlings'. If you are interested you can read it at:

I did link to your posting so my readers could reference it. I hope you don't mind.

Christopher Schiller

while Scrivener's Error pointed me at
and the hypothesis that this is primarily a trademark, not a copyright case.


Considering your latest encounter with a large metal pole, I got to thinking about health insurance. As an author and one who is more or less self-employed (right?), how do you go about getting decent health insurance not only for yourself but for your family? Wouldn't it be much easier to move to Canada or back to the UK where they are reasonable enough to have universal health care?



How? I write movies.

True answer, even though it sounds silly. As long as I have a certain amount of income coming in from Hollywood, I'm covered by the Writer's Guild which had very good Health Insurance when I became a member, and has significantly less good health insurance these days, but it's still an awful lot better than having no insurance for me or my family.

(Occasionally friends ask why I'll write movies -- they're a huge drain on time and emotion, most of the scripts one writes simply do not get made, and when they do get made it's all-too-often nothing like the thing that you thought you were writing, and unlike novels you've given up control from the outset, you can find yourself being lied to or fired or cheated, and while I make a lot of money writing scripts I make a lot more money writing books, which I own and control for ever, and from which I get foreign income, and so on. And I say "Health Insurance," and if they're from America they normally get it, while people from countries that regard healthcare as a human right, like education, think I'm mad.)

Why not move? I like my house, and my youngest daughter loves her school and friends (my older daughter has already moved back to the UK) and I'm happy to write an occasional movie and get healthcare as a side-effect. (Also, I quite like writing film-scripts. It's everything that goes with them I put up with.)

(Incidentally, the pole was a heavy PVC pipe,and not metal, I'm glad to say. Otherwise my face would have been far more banged up than it was. Right now the black eye's mostly gone, the nose has mostly healed, and there's a cut on the lip that would heal better if I didn't keep talking...)


Mark Buckingham and Shelly Bond and I have been plotting and planning over the last month. We've been planning a Sandman 20th Anniversary poster, with as many of the pencillers and inkers who drew Sandman as possible coming back to draw a character or two. We pondered a couple of different ways of doing it, decided that a party would best, and Mark laid out a party and where everyone would be...

Most of the forty-something artists on Sandman who are still alive and drawing said yes -- a handful were simply too busy (alas, no Matt Wagner or Michael Zulli) and there are a couple that we're hunting for.

But the first piece of art came in. It's from Sam Kieth, and is the first time he's drawn Morpheus professionally in, well, twenty years. (And the first time he's drawn Daniel, ever.)

I think it's going to be a fabulous poster.

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