Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rowling a creative copyright hog? Oh please!

This from yesterday's New York Times - Joe Nocera has decided that Rowling is a "copyright hog" because she doesn't want to allow the publication of a Harry Potter encyclopedia (Harry Potter Lexicon) that won't even consult with her and her publishers about the content. She may want to publish her own lexicon some day (for charity). Oh man, she is just being so greedy. And what if she doesn't publish her own? Why should the Harry Potter Lexicon guy have the right to do so because he's turned his obsessive website (which she does allow) into a book? Just how is she stifling creativity by not allowing someone else to profit off her characters?

Here's the deal guys - it's her choice. Harry Potter came from her imagination; she wrote seven novels over however many years, and strangely she wants to be paid for work that is derivative of that - and, at least have some jurisdiction over it. Rocera likens this to a parent who was told to take a video of their baby off YouTube because there's a Prince song playing in the background - and although I personally think, what harm is there in that because there's no personal profit in posting something to YouTube I get Prince's point. Wasn't this partially the reason I just spent three months walking in circles carrying a big stick? Oh - I get it, Nocera's poor friend wasn't allowed to use a clip from 24 in a documentary and he's standing up for the little guy.

A few years ago I wrote a short play about two girls auditioning for "The Crucible" that used 63 words from the text because I was told that 75 words was the fair use limit; the whole thing really started as a playwriting challenge from a group I was involved with. When I found out that it was going to be produced at a major festival I sped up my efforts to get the rights to those words, to be fully on the up and up. I couldn't - Miller was sick, I couldn't get it pushed through his people, I was incredibly anxious I was going lose the production. I went back to the original Salem Witch Trial transcripts, hoping the words I had chosen were something Miller had pulled from there. He hadn't.

I rewrote it - "The Crucible" became inspiration and I didn't use a word of Miller's play in it. And you know what - I think version 2.0 became a much better play.

Deciding someone can't use a huge chunk of your creative work without compensation or permission doesn't have to stifle creativity - it can engender it.

Perhaps "fair use" needs to be defined as what the author/creator deems fair - not the other way around. It's a risk if you want to co-opt someone else's work - good thing Shakespeare isn't around anymore because he'd be up to his ying-yang in copyright lawsuits.

And now back to how Harry Potter has inspired my child.

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