Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Jonathan Lethem on Copyright

Jonathan Lethem, author and MacArthur Fellowship Grant recipient, recently was interviewed by Salon.com in which he discusses his new book, "You Don't Love Me Yet" and his opinions on copyright. An eloquent writer to say the least, Lethem is relinquishing the film rights to "You Don't Love Me Yet" to whomever can come up with the best script - giving them complete rights to his work. The stipulation is that after 5 years, the script will go back into the public domain. The book itself deals with a fictional indie band who has to deal with questions around content ownership. Pretty meta.

Lethem (who also wrote the extraordinary Ecstasy of Influence) bounces around in the interview from copyright law to David Byrne to art in general. It is an incredible read to say the least, but I have excerpted a particularly intriguing section below:
I make my living by licensing my copyright. Everything I've tried to say, in the Harper's essay and elsewhere, is that there is an enormous middle ground. It becomes one of those issues like, "If you don't favor wiretapping in the U.S., you must be for the terrorists." What I'm seeking to explore is that incredibly fertile middle ground where people control some rights and gain meaningful benefits from those controls, and yet contribute to a healthy public domain and systematically relinquish, or have relinquished for them, meaningless controls on culture that impoverish the public domain.
And my personal favorite:
Sure, but it wasn't strengthening of copyright control that allowed me to make more money after that; it was because I found some readers. Even if my rights were Kryptonite and lasted 1,000 years, if no one read my books, they wouldn't be worth a penny. The economy of human attention is a very precious one, much scarcer than any other. I'm lucky to be in the position of having anyone notice that I've given something away in the first place.

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