Books Publishing Writing

Those kids and their free culture

Things I am really tired of seeing knee-jerk GET OFF MY LAWN responses to from authors:

  1. The Times article about the German novelist who “remixed” (her word) or “plagiarized” (lots and lots of outraged posts) a novel published by another German writer, in a novel about remix culture. Do I think she should have credited the first writer if she wanted to remix his material? Absolutely. Do I think she should have asked him first? Probably, but it depends on how much material she actually lifted — if it was fair use, maybe not. (The extent of her borrowing seems to be under debate at the moment.) This particular author may indeed have made some stupid decisions, and some of that bad decision-making may certainly be related to the fact that she’s seventeen and in the public eye. Do I think that many, many professional writers in the US should read Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture — available as a free PDF at that site — before they go off on rants about plagiarism and these kids today? Hell, yes. Spell-check helps, too.
  2. The Google Books settlement. I didn’t have to choose whether or not to opt out, and based on the limited amount of reading I did before the deadline, it sounds like the Authors’ Guild’s response was almost as problematic as the settlement itself. I don’t currently have a strong opinion on this issue either way and would be willing to be swayed by persuasive arguments that honestly acknowledge what a horrible mess the current system of orphaned works really is. I haven’t seen many of those.
  3. Piracy. I understand that it’s a major problem for some writers. I also think that responses to piracy — or to the “remixing” author, etc. — that demonize a whole generation of readers are just not useful, even if they’re accurate. If you, as an author, can avoid that kind of demonization and can explain to your readers why piracy hurts you, in particular, more power to you. (Elizabeth Scott wrote a post that accomplishes this well a few weeks ago.) I think it’s important for readers to understand that their choice to torrent an author’s work can hurt that author’s future career. Based on my experiences teaching undergraduates, many of them genuinely do not know that. But my experience with these kids, and my own membership in Gen Y, makes me pretty certain that emulating the RIAA is SO not the way to go.

And now I’m going to flounce off and write some more dissertation. Happy Valentine’s day, everybody.

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