Saturday, March 05, 2011

Cory Doctorow explains IP law to a Martian

Here. Predictably, my favorite part:
What is special about inventing this tiny piece of the chain that entitles it to special treatment and makes that which builds upon it less creative?
Umm, we say. Umm. Well. Uh, copyright recognizes expression, not ideas ....
But why does it recognize expression and not ideas?
Because no one would come up with expressions unless you gave them exclusive rights to them.

Except for fan-fic writers, who’ll risk censorship, fines, disapprobation and worse to create.
Well, fan-fic isn’t properly creative, not like a real story.

The Martian makes an awkward noise with hir suckers. I don’t mean to offend you, but that seems pretty circular. It sounds like you’re saying that we need to give exclusive rights to the kind of work that people who value exclusive rights typically make, and because those people won’t create without exclusive rights, they should get them?
But mightn’t there be a similar class of creators for all those things you treat as infrastructure? Maybe there’s someone who’d come up with a literary form as great as Cervantes’s novel if she could be assured that she’d get the exclusive right to it for life plus 70 years. Maybe there’s someone who’d come up with neologisms a hundred times as cool as ‘‘robot’’ if you’d give him the right to charge rent on those cool words. And if you discover such a wordsmith or form-inventor, it seems like consistency demands that you would treat his works as the real and valuable coinages and literary forms, and treat the stuff that people make for free as second-rate – demonstrably inferior because people are willing to invent them without exclusive rights!

In this vein, here's a great defense of the teen girl fanfic writer, who I wasn't brave enough to be:
One more word on that "stereotype" of fanfic as the domain of female teenagers -- of course it's an insult to adults who find fanfic to be a unique mode of criticism or a zero-g literary playspace or, sure, a sexual outlet; it's also an insult to female teenagers, a group who've seen enough insults, I think. The teen fic writer is finding her literary voice, learning to comment on mainstream fictions, finding a way to express her sexuality that's not entirely about recreating herself as a visual object for others' consumption. She is rarely a very good writer, because she's usually a very new one, but it's harsh to make her up into a symbol of writing as "fantasies" of "unlikely romantic pairings" and nothing more. She has an intellectual life, even if it's sometimes more potential than realized.

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