Copyright? Why?

I’ve been meaning to get this discussion started for a while.  Most books I read, art I look at, music I listen to (independent, corporate, whatever-you-want-to-call-it, or otherwise) still bears that scarlet encircled ‘C.’ And, if doesn’t and no language to the contrary is included, the laws of America ensure that copyright applies by default. With my own book, I am lucky enough to have a publisher who very happily tucked a Creative Commons license among the opening ephemera (although, it is not the standard for the press). This choice seems like a no-brainer to me, and really the only humane way to go considering that state of the American legal system and the nature of art. My work (and your work) is a work of acquisition, collage, and community. I would like to see that idea furthered when I make it available to the public. (I’d also like to make it available – to the public – all of them.)

Also, with most of us (even those of us with agents and book deals) making little money off books sales, I can’t understand why someone would seek to limit the distribution of his or her book, unless, of course, the author aims to hit a limited audience. (This is actually, in a way, the case with my book, which includes drawings, that, so far, I have not decided to make available electronically, although, I know I will eventually to use it as a gateway drug.) By eschewing copyright on your work, you are opening up the channels through which it can be shared. Let’s face it, our problems with finding larger audiences are not based in impostors selling copies of our work under a different author’s name, it’s getting the word and the work out there.

I’ve talked with friends about this, and most seem to stick with copyright not by choice, but because it’s the default, it doesn’t take an active decision to do it. Others have publishers who insist on it, or other parties in their working agreement who demand its use. (I myself run into this problem with my own journal, Action,Yes, which includes no copyright language – hence, it’s copyrighted – because of editorial fears – perhaps, not my own – of displeasing contribs.)

So, I’d like to hear your thoughts on copyright. Why do you use it? Why don’t you? What do you expect of publishers – both of books and larger collections/journals in which you’re included in. I’m especially interested in hearing from publishers, and how they make their choices.

Go check out these sites to learn more about copyright. Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons.

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14 thoughts on “Copyright? Why?

    • This affects digital distribution more – which is easy and exact in its replication (although can also affect paper distribution). With a more reasonable license, people can fully and legally share digital work without challenge – spread the word. Also, the CC license on my book invites appropriation and collage based on my work, which contributes to a larger, more communal, body of work.

  1. I wonder whether people make a distinction between art that clearly depends on the work of earlier artists, and art that might more readily be described as original. A collagist who arranges images found on Creative Commons, for instance, might be distinguished from the artist who draws or paints an ‘original’ image on a blank canvas, and whose work is then used by the collagist who happens to find it on Creative Commons.

    The reason I mention this is because the idea of originality is so closely associated with copyright laws, despite the fact that its definition is not entirely objective.

    I suppose this question relates to the idea of sampling, in music. One thing I like about collage is that a person who might be unskilled technically, with a brush or pencil, can still bring to fruition some creative vision through the arrangement of readymade images. This kind of arranging might constitute an original talent in itself.

  2. One of the nice things about publishing things online is that it’s tracked and tagged by Google within minutes. You don’t really need a copyright notice, there’s an automatic record of who posted that sentence first.

    I have a book coming out in a few weeks and over the weekend I was holding it in my hand and realized I had forgotten to put a copyright information on it anywhere. I guess I might fix it, in the next printing? But I’m not sure anyone cares, including me. Maybe if I thought it was going to sell thousands and thousands of copies I might feel otherwise. But being stolen from would be really validating, in a way.

    • But in a way writers steal all the time, right? Some mention it, some don’t. Ruocco did in Mothering Coven. Shields did in Reality Hunger. I took from Elizabeth Bishop’s The Weed but didn’t say anything. I guess it gets into a Being Elizabeth Bishop quandary. But writers have also referred to others writers (and quoted them) and filmmakers to filmmakers, hommage. Is there a difference?

      Fitzgerald used Tender is the Night from Keats.

      Faulkner used Sound and the Fury (with two the’s) from Shakespeare

  3. John;

    The only publisher I’ve been able to convince to license my work Creative Commons is the same as yours: BlazeVox.

    When I asked the 88 innovative/experimental/avant-garde authors in the The &NOW AWARDS to consider Creative Commons, only ONE even discussed it with me (a well-known poet), before balking. Yes, many of these were reprints, and thus, already under the Copyright regime, but certainly not all…

    • Wow, Davis! That’s shocking. I would’ve expected that the thinking had shifted more over the past few years, but in grad school I witnessed an alarming amount of ‘property paranoia’ coming from supposedly Marxist-leaning avant-gardists.

      I’m interested in Geoffrey Gatza’s (BlazeVox’s publisher) take on putting CC licenses on books (my proofs had a copyright until I asked him to change it – which he did happily). He’s very author-friendly, so it seems to me that he follows the author’s desire. I wonder if he has a broader policy? I guess I should ask him…

  4. adam used creative commons for my book, which i guess is standard for him, and i think it’s awesome, for the reasons you mention in your post. creative commons stipulates attribution for use but i don’t even think that’s necessary. if my little words can somehow be used to make some art of yours, go at it, i’d happily give them to you.

  5. Yes, Geoffrey is great–and I think he is happy to have authors very involved in the book-design process. That opens him to CC and similar schemes.

    Indie presses, to respond to another link, are often smaller models of larger houses, and even when they adopt the language of alterity/innovation, this does not always extend to a reevaluation of copyright.

    Consider the most innovative texts, and an example here (that I wrote about in American Book Review), is Tom La Farge’s series–Administrative Assemblages–from Proteus Gowanus. These pamphlets offer a series of Oulipian-insprired “writhing” experiments, but still have what I consider to be a Draconian copyright notice.

    The only way to make the multiple is to build it into the book, to paraphrase D & G.

    This bears further examination.

    d

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