My friend and cousin, Andrea Lundgren, just wrote a very thought-provoking post on her blog Into the Writer Lea, called “Writing Matters: Copyright and Compensation” In it, she explores the question of whether copyrights are too restrictive or are a necessary protection for authors and creators. One of her examples of how our current system has been played out is G. Norman Lippert, who wrote a spin-off series of the Harry Potter books called the James Potter series. Because his series is in the Harry Potter world, he is not allowed to sell his stories for money, but J.K. Rowling allows him to offer his stories for free as eBooks. One of Andrea’s questions is whether or not authors should have the copyright to their created worlds and characters, as well as their own, specific works they created.
Here’s a link, also, to her own opinions on this question, in her post “Writing Matters: Copyright and Compensation, Part Two.”
It really got me thinking and I’m not sure exactly where I stand on this issue, but here are some of my knee-jerk thoughts, that might be slightly tangential to the issue.
It’s a very provocative issue. I definitely think writers ought to have the rights to their own, specific work, however I wonder about the rights of their characters and world they created. Art is imitation, expansion on previous themes, in a constant stream of building and connecting and referencing.
Composers (even the great Bach) notoriously steal musical ideas from each other and I wonder what would have happened if the world of Greek myths or characters were copyrighted. It creates a rich world that people can draw from that continues down the ages, without ever growing static, but will not automatically cause the original to be forgotten if it is truly great. There have been many stories about the siege of Troy, but still nobody will forget Homer’s Iliad.
Stories are always riffs off of other stories or characters or worlds and it seems like adaptations and sequels – rather than diluting appreciation for the original work – can increase it. I was just reading how the movie Mary Poppins actually caused an increase in the sales of the book by P.L. Travers.
And it doesn’t seem to hurt Jane Austen’s reputation that her books have been turned into Zombie stories, multiple movies of varying faithfulness, copied, imitated, updated, with sequels galore written to her books. None of them touch her greatness and she belongs to a world above it all.
I guess my thought is that no work, if it is truly a good work, can be hurt by imitations, adaptations or additional stories. The real work always remains, unique and inimitable….as long as the real, original work is protected.
And what if the riff is more memorable than the original. Most people remember Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” more than they remember the original work by Paganini. It might not be fair to Paganini, but it is true that the only reason I know about him is because of Rachmaninoff…and my music history class.
I suppose these are more off the cuff, non-conclusive thoughts on the nature of imitation in art than a theory on how copyright laws ought to be enacted. What are your thoughts?
Note: It is possible I might feel very differently as soon as I have a book published. 🙂