Tag Archives: commons

Rowling plagiarism row rattles on; the sound of a broken system

Blind Justice?Remember me mentioning a plagiarism lawsuit filed against J K Rowling, wherein some dude claims prior art of the Harry Potter books because of his self-published work, and tries to take her for a whole lot of money?

Well, it’s soon to arrive in court, and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden has a good summary of matters from the publishing perspective; in a nutshell, the guy doesn’t have much of a hope of winning, and most commentators on the case demonstrate a massive misunderstanding of the authorial process. Or, in other words, the likelihood of two authors coming up with a similar idea is pretty high, and so you can’t really sue someone for publishing a book that uses an idea you once used. Or at least you shouldn’t be able to; nothing seems to stop people from trying, though. [image by hans s]

The problem is, as I’ve mentioned before, that copyright law (like most law) tends to favour the party which can afford the better legal respresentation, and that in the case of written fiction, precedents for the roadblocking of vaguely similar works by an author or their estate (a la the late Salinger) are corrosive to the creative process that copyright law is nominally intended to protect; stealing the work of others is wrong, certainly, but is reworking their themes or ideas only to be permitted within the limited (though flexible) framework of satire?

The imminent ebook explosion and recent high-profile flaps about critically-acclaimed works which involve some degree of plagiarised content only serve to emphasise how badly copyright law needs a comprehensive overhaul for the age of digital abundance. Left the way it is, the only people who’ll see any long term benefit will be specialist lawyers to media moguls, and most of them are currently busy making sure we have no idea what’s being decided in the ACTA treaty

Kevin Kelly: omni-access is the new ownership

Thanks to organisations like Creative Commons, we’ve been hearing a fair bit of rhetoric about goods and services ‘held in common’. The notion of the commons is far from new, but the way the web facilitates sharing has brought it back to a new prominence.

Naysayers against the commons are, er, common enough, but they seem to me to always be arguing from an economic standpoint that can’t conceive of the commons in the way its supporters describe it – for example, they ask ‘who will build and maintain these goods and services?’ Kevin Kelly’s latest essay on the matter covers that question quite neatly:

As creations become digital they tend to become shared, ownerless goods. We can turn this around and say that in this realm of bits, property itself becomes a more social endeavor. Property may be less about title and more about usage and control. An idea can’t be owned in the way gold can; in fact an idea has little value unless it is shared or used to some extent. Its value paradoxically can increase the less it is owned privately. But if no one owns it, who gains the benefit of that increase in value? In the new regime users will often assume many of the chores that owners once had to do. And so in a way, usage becomes ownership.

Kelly’s big on ‘social’ as an ideal, but given the way the recession is cutting into the soc-net startups, ‘social’ might not be as strong a paradigm in another few years. But then again, if it’s the inevitable matter of social necessity that Kelly describes, perhaps it will… if work remains scarce, will people do more things for the common good as a result, or less?