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Creativity and Copyright, by Marilynn Byerly
May 1, 2012 | 8:05 am
One of the common reasons copyright foes give for the evils of long copyright or any form of copyright is that it stifles creativity.
Is this true?
My own feeling is that it doesn’t, particularly in fiction.
WHAT COPYRIGHT DOES AND DOESN’T COVER
Many don’t understand what copyright covers. They think the ideas within a story are copyrighted. They aren’t. Anyone can write a story about angst-filled vampires and the girls who love them, and many have, but if you write and sell a vampire story where the vampires glitter, the main characters are Edward and Belle, and the plot and setting are very similar to the TWILIGHT series, you can expect a call from Stephenie Meyer’s lawyers.
Any story or idea from other authors or sources can be used by an author as long as she makes the idea her own with her own characters, setting, and plot. I have read a CAPTAIN BLOOD retelling as an historical romance, a Klingons-in-love STAR TREK inspired futuristic romance, and a paranormal romance that billed itself as HARRY POTTER for grownups. None of these authors were sued for copyright infringement because they added enough of their own ideas to create something different.
A GOOD IDEA ISN’T HARD TO FIND
Those who aren’t creative believe that it’s hard coming up with new ideas for stories. If you ask any author, she’ll tell you that new ideas aren’t the problem; the problem is having enough time to use all those wonderful ideas to write books. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but writing time is priceless.
DO BOOKS OUT OF COPYRIGHT ENRICH OUR CULTURE BY INSPIRING AUTHORS?
But what of those novels and stories which have gone out of copyright? Have they enriched the culture by spawning sequels that will be remembered forever?
I’ve read, among many others, sequels to THE SCARLET LETTER, DOCTOR JEKYL AND MR. HYDE, several of Jane Austin’s novels, MOBY DICK, and none were worthy literary successors, won awards, or remained in print more than a few years.
The only novel I could think of that has been a sequel/prequel and a literary success, as well as having more than a few months of fame, is WICKED by Gregory Maguire which is about the Wicked Witch in THE WIZARD OF OZ.
The only true value most of these sequel books have, from a publisher and author’s perspective, is as a marketing hook so more books are sold.
If any of the sequel novels I’ve read didn’t have that instant recognition of THE SCARLET LETTER from the villain’s perspective or DR. JEKYL from the maid’s perspective, they probably wouldn’t have been published, and they certainly wouldn’t have had as many people buying them.
I know I will read any book that has Sherlock Holmes as a character even though most are poorly written and are certainly no compliment to Arthur Conan Doyle. If that same book was about a Victorian detective, I doubt I would read it, and unless it was by an established author, few publishers would publish it.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF SHORTENING COPYRIGHT?
So, what is the value of shortening copyright? None that I see except for free books, and you can read most books for free from the library.
Society almost never profits from a book out of copyright, and most of those who write the sequels create inferior books which have famous marketing hooks rather than literary value.
OTHER ARTICLES ON COPYRIGHT:
“Disney and Copyright,” Is it really the public’s best interest for Disney’s old cartoons to go into public domain?
“A Reader’s Guide to Copyright,” A simple explanation of what copyright is and what the reader needs to know.
“The First Sale Doctrine and Ebooks,” Is it legal to resell or share an ebook?
“The Death of Copyright,” What would happen if copyright was abolished as some copyright opponents desire?
[Reprinted, with permission, from Marilynn Byerly's Adventures in Writing blog.]