Friday, January 08, 2010
That transformativeness thing
Peter Watts wrote a good story, The Things. It is a retelling of The Thing from the perspective of the Thing, and a commentary on what it means to be alien. (There’s a pun on “transformative” in there somewhere. Along with the body of a dog.) Apparently the first editor who wanted to publish it lost a fight with the publisher, who was extremely risk-averse. I think this was a mistake—too bad they didn’t get an opinion letter from the Stanford Fair Use Project or the like, but I doubt they knew it was a possibility. Publishers should take a cue from documentarians (and their insurers) and rely on fair use where appropriate. But the underlying problem is that conglomerate copyright owners’ attitudes towards their rights are too often a variant on H.L. Mencken’s definition of Puritanism: they are possessed by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be gaining utility from their work.