Monday, March 12, 2007

Jonathan Lethem Experiments with Freeing Culture

Novelist Jonathan Lethem has a thoughtful essay in Harper's (the Feb. 2007 issue) on copyright and culture; his sources alone are useful and informative, and the essay is a nice presentation of arguments (mostly familiar to readers of Lessig and Vaidhyanathan) that there are serious problems with, and interesting solutions to, contemporary copyright practice. For example, he observes
A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense. In this regard, few of us question the contemporary construction of copyright. It is taken as a law, both in the sense of a universally recognizable moral absolute, like the law against murder, and as naturally inherent in our world, like the law of gravity. In fact, it is neither. Rather, copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation.
Thinking apparently induced action, as he is also engaging in two experiments with some of his works. First, he is seeking a filmmaker to option his just-published novel, one who will agree, with Lethem
to release all ancillary rights to the film (and its source material, the novel), five years after the film’s debut.
And second, under the auspices of his "Promiscuous Materials Project," he's non-exclusively licensing many of his short works for adaptation as stage plays or films. No sign of copyleft anywhere, though.


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