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A Few Last Words

I've just locked the comments section of the previous post. We've had about four hundred comments since the post went up last night, and the whole thing is about to collapse under its own weight. I suspect that someone or other has already said everything that can be said on the subject, so now we're starting to go around in circles.

Also, with this many comments, it's becoming obvious that some of the later commenters aren't actually reading what went before. I'm starting to get asked the same questions over and over again -- what about Suvudu? what about the Vance book? what about fan art? what about role-playing games? All fair enough questions, but I have answered all of them in responses to earlier comments. Some I have answered two or three times by now. I am not going to answer them four, five, six, or twelve times, sorry. So if you've posted a question that has already been asked and answered, your post will likely be ignored or deleted. (Yes, I know it's a pain to have to read four hundred comments. Tough. If I have to read them all, so do you. That's the price of taking part in the discussion).

Some comments haven't been unscreened yet. There have been so many of them coming in so fast that it has been hard to keep up. A few have been buried by now, especially comments on comments on comments. Ty or I will get to all of them eventually, I hope, and everything will either be unscreened or deleted.

I want to thank ninety-five percent of the people who took the time to comment. I appreciate your thoughts, and even more, I appreciate the relative calm and thoughtful tone of this discussion, which never degenerated into the kind of ugliness I've seen (and am still seeing) in the comments over on Diana Gabaldon's blog, where the discussion has long since been derailed. I don't know how many minds were changed here, but all the major issues were thoroughly aired, it seems to me, and I hope this generated more light than heat.

There were a few issues raised during the debate that I'd like to address a bit further.

A number of commenters suggested that I was wrong in my assertion that copyrights need to be defended, and suggested that I was confusing copyrights with trademarks. Perhaps so. This was raised often enough that it is obviously something I need to look into further. There were also posters who agreed with what I wrote, however, including some who identified themselves as lawyers or law students, so I don't think the issue is as clear cut as the "trademark" folks are claiming. I'll investigate this, and if I was wrong about this, I will come back here and say so (eventually, this is not my top priority in life). If I was right, I'll come back and mention that as well.

ERB v HPL. I never said that allowing others to play with the Cthulhu mythos was the ONLY reason Lovecraft died in poverty. Actually, I am a huge Lovecraft fan, and not much of a Burroughs fan at all (though Melinda Snodgrass and I did once work on the screenplay for A PRINCESS OF MARS). I know a lot about HPL. His work has been hugely influential on modern horror. But my point stands. I could write a Cthulhu Mythos novel tomorrow, and I would not have to pay a dime to any Lovecraft estate (if such exists) or get their permission. I would never dare write a Barsoom novel, though surely PRINCESS is in the public domain by now. (The later John Carter and Tarzan novels may still be under copyright).

A few people have quoted or posted links to the other side of the Marion Zimmer Bradley incident, the account of the fan involved. Fine, two sides to every story, check it out. At this point, twenty years after the fact, it all becomes she said/ she said. But the version I posted was hardly "urban legend," as one commenter called it. It was the version given by Marion Zimmer Bradley herself in SFWA FORUM, what she told the rest of the writing community. If you want to believe she lied, well, that's your prerogative.

More thoughts as I have 'em. Just now, I have work to do.


May. 9th, 2010 08:10 am (UTC)
Here goes. Might be a bit more technical than you want, but it supports a variety of legitimate arguments in favor of fanfiction and I've tried to word it carefully enough to avoid looking like a nut or anarchist. I ignore a variety of other (mostly terrible) arguments I see people using, including the utterly abhorrent "he has too much money" nonsense.

I think you've been saturated with culture telling you there's something wrong with it. I can't find any rational explanation to support restrictions like these.

Throughout history, I would not only be encouraged to retell Song of Ice and Fire verbatim with minor embellishments, but I would be allowed to profit from it. There are strong oral storytelling traditions in many cultures, and history's most famed artists stole from each other (and other musicians we barely remember) quite frequently. This was certainly good for freedom of speech and the spreading of culture. Unfortunately, it was bad for getting publishers to invest in highly expensive printing presses. As a result, laws were created giving authors certain temporary monopolies over the use of their creations in order to incentivize this very useful activity.

The idea that authors have an extra-legal right (or moral right) to copyright is contrary to both historical precedent and current United States law (as defined by the Constitution). Basically, any rights G.R.R.M. has exist because it's profitable overall to reward those who make stuff. Nonetheless, I still enjoy and support authors receiving money for the works they create, though seeing them abuse their rights depresses me about the state of humanity.

Any intelligent individual who has studied copyright with a fair and (moderately) unbiased mind will allow that it causes harm through its restrictions. To paraphrase an argument expressed much more eloquently by Thomas Macaulay when he successfully argued against a copyright extension in England some hundreds of years ago, real "moral rights" would never expire. If someone bought copyrights from GRRM's estate, he could legitimately lock them up forever and prevent all use. As Macaulay said, "monopoly makes all things dear". An extreme example like this shows that copyright can indeed cause harm, even if we find an inability to access some particular entertainment to be silly.

Once the restrictions are tight enough and the length long enough, those harms outweigh the good it has produced. I think our current laws have long overreached that point and need massive fixing. Until then, I'll support restricting copyright in undecided cases like fanfiction (though I'm not going to try and argue in favor of it under current law). An author's characters are not their children, no matter how dearly they may wish it! As much as I would hope these night terrors of slash fiction would stop preventing my favorite authors from writing more books, the fanfic authors are in the right here.

An exception would be the utterly insane idea of applying laches (defend it or lose it) to copyright inside the stated term, which GRRM and a couple others brought up.

I'll also note that plagiarism is fraud and scumbaggery and anyone who participates in it really does deserve to be kneecapped. (I have good friends who are artists..)


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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