Friday, November 5, 2010

The Public Domain Illusion

Most of you have no doubt heard of the brouhaha surrounding Cooks Source Magazine and writer Monica Gaudio. If you haven't, take a moment to read this fairly complete article or stop by Monica's Livejournal for the scoop straight from the victim's digital mouth.

The bit which really frightened me, as a writer, was Cooks Source managing editor Judith Griggs' response regarding the web as public domain:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain"...

I thought only my students were so asinine. The good news, I suppose, is my students are still learning about things like copyright, intellectual property, and plagiarism. (I hope.) The bad news, for all of us trying to carve a niche in the business of "content creation," is such concepts are a hard sell for the next generation.

They've grown up with free. The internet has made "everything" free; granted, I'd argue most of the "everything" is of less value than premium content. A downloaded mp3 file may be corrupted. But what about fiction...Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Tor.com...a number of top tier genre venues are free to read. Yes, they pay their authors, and pay them well. If the web was public domain...hell, we could all create POD copies of The Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction and fill them with stories from these online venues. Public domain my ass.

I've happily posted stories (mostly flash fiction), novel excerpts, and more for "free" online. Excuse me: to read for free online. Does it cheapen my work?

I don't know. I think I know how J.A. Konrath or Cory Doctorow would respond. Maybe.

A comment to one article (from The Guardian) scared me more than any suggestion of "public domain". I believe the author of the content is Todd Howe; he goes by tehowe42 in the comments:

I'm now even more dubious about the legitimacy of copyright law in the way it stifles the sharing of information when no actual physical commodity is stolen.

I could hear my students' voices in that comment. Be afraid, folks. Your thoughts and expressions are no longer your own. That story you just wrote? The "world" owns it. Make sure to send the royalty checks on time. If you understand anything about the history of copyright law, note it was, in part to encourage artists to create and feel safe that they would reap the financial benefits of their work if it was successful (at least for a limited time). Before copyright law, creative ventures were there for the stealing. (Um, why do you think some people question Shakespeare's authorship of his plays?) I, for one, don't want to return to a world of cut-throatery where the most devious could steal bread from the table of the most creative and prolific.

And yes, cut-throatery is not a real word. Yet.

15 comments:

Barry Napier said...

grumble grumble Konrath grumble grumble

I have always enjoyed it when you post the samples/free reads. Now, however, I'd be afraid to attempt it. This truly does a)frighten me a bit and b)remind me how dumb some people can be...

L.R. Bonehill said...

What an appalling response from the editor, especially ‘…you should compensate me.’ This is scary stuff.

Martin Rose said...

For more extensive read on our constitutional rights and how it ties into copyright law, anyone interested should read Lawrence Lessig's free e-book, Free Culture. He helped begin the Creative Commons licensing we have today.

I'm afraid the incident with Cook's Magazine confirms my sad observation that at the elite levels of business, people are promoted based on who they know, rather than the merits of hard work. This editor does not deserve her position if she cannot grasp the basics of copyright law.

Intellectual property is not for free simply because it can be stolen.

Aaron Polson said...

Barry - I'll keep doing it, but...yeah. People are nuts.

L.R. - Ha! I know, right? Yes, editors should be compensated (but not by the author unless the author contracts for editing). But really? Really?

Martin - I enter every new endeavor with rose-colored glasses, assuming hard work and talent mean something. I always learn otherwise...not that hard work/talent is unimportant, but other factors, well...

I love that last line. I think I might steal it. ;)

Martin Rose said...

I'd be honored to be the victim of your literary mugging, Aaron. :)

Katey said...

The absurdity makes me want to puke. Ugh.

(Hey, now *I* sound like a high school student!)

Aaron Polson said...

Cheers, Martin.

Katey - I sound like one every day.

Natalie L. Sin said...

That editor is a douchebag. I worry about this country. The fact that it's the attitudes weakening the laws, and not weak laws themselves, is truly frightening. Makes me realize why countries with much different cultures can get by with less legal protection for writers.

Rabid Fox said...

I read that the other day and was gobsmacked--not as fun as it sounds.

The idiocy demonstrated by said editor is astounding on a level I thought only existed in archetype villain characters from stories like The Devil Wears Prada.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

Let me be the first to say:

LiveJournal? Huh? What's next, Geocities?

Anyway...

(I just wrote two paragraphs and deleted them in favor of this more concise comment:)

Remember Valentine Publishing from last year? Yeah. Plagiarists should be fucking kneecapped.

Milo James Fowler said...

Here's the Washington Post's HILARIOUS take on it:
Washington Post: Cooks Source Editor Response

Aaron Polson said...

Natalie - I worry about this country, too.

Gef - Maybe the editor is an arch-villain?

Jeremy - Har! Hey...I used to have a Geocities page. (and the knee-capping gives me the shivers)

Milo - Very nice. Thanks for the linkage.

Andrea Allison said...

I'm just getting clued in on all of this. I've had something similar to this happen to me concerning my Ghost Stories blog. It wasn't a magazine but a website or rather a couple of websites. Published the entire articles with my name but didn't ask if it was okay.

It does make me a bit weary to publish anything on the web. This certainly doesn't help with my trust issues.

Cate Gardner said...

It's the complete arrogance of the editor I find so unacceptable. No sorry, no retraction. Makes me so mad.

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