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Friday, 21 October 2011

Whither Copyright: In the Year 2525


There is much talk about whether the on-line, digital world threatens the copyright system. The emphasis here is on the ease of copying and distribution of such contents--as David Nimmer pithily observed over a decade ago--"The internet is one great copying machine." The emphasis here is less on whether the ability to control reproduction and distribution will ultimately affect the incentive system for content creation. But I wonder whether a future challenge to the copyright system might also come from questions about the author as the autonomous creator of his or her work.

I thought about this in connection with a recent conversation with an acquaintance of this Kat--Elaine Benton--who recently published a book of poetry here. Nothing especially unusual here, until one delves deeper into the circumstances of the book and its author. Start with the title--Parkinson's, shaken, not stirred! As described on the author's website here, the poetry is all about "living with Parkinson's and Gaucher's disease". It appears that both the medium and the message have been successful.

In talking with with the author about how it came about that she produced this maiden effort at publishing poetry, she made a fascinating observation. According to her doctor, there appears to be evidence that certain medicine taken for Parkinson's disease sometimes has the effect of enhancing the creative powers of the patient, resulting in creative achievements quite unanticipated before the medicine was prescribed. It is possible that the medicine may have assisted the author in bringing her creative efforts to a previously unexperienced level, to the mutual benefit of both the author and her readers.

Elaine Benton's literary accomplishments got me to thinking. Will we at some point reach a stage where external factors might so influence the creative act that it will no longer be correct to describe the work as being an original work of the author? After all, cyclists and track and field athletes are usually disqualified if their results are found to be affected by the taking of an unauthorized foreign substance. The reason for this seems to be that athletic competition rests on the notion of a level playing field, where the only variable are the abilities of the individual athletes. Any influence that violates this principle is considered to be a grounds for disqualifying the athlete involved.

Of course, the creative act and our willingness to attribute authorship is treated completely differently. If an author or artist claims inspiration from a foreign substance, it does not affect the legal position of the author's claim to be the original creator of the work. As long the work was not copied, our notions of authorship, originality and creativity are not affected by the possibility that external factors might have played some part in the creative act.

But will this always be the case? How about the day where one will be able to decide that she wants to be a murder mystery writer, so she goes to her local pharmacy and purchases a "murder mystery-enhancing" drug. Such a pill may not dictate the contents of the book to be written, but it will work in an integrative fashion with the author's creative personality to bring about the completed form of the work. Will we reach a point where the creative contribution of the author is overshadowed by the affect of the external substance? Or will it always be the case that whatever the external influences on the creative act, the ultimate determinant remains the author and her contribution? From that view, as long as that creative contribution is original, the work is original and authorship and copyright are preserved.

The iconic lyrics to the song, "In the Year 2525", by Zager and Evans, come to mind:


In the year 2525
If man is still alive
If woman can survive
They may find
In the year 3535
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies
Everything you think, do, and say
Is in the pill you took today
In the year 4545
Ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes
You won't find a thing to chew
Nobody's gonna look at you
In the year 5555
Your arms are hanging limp at your sides
Your legs got not nothing to do
Some machine is doing that for you
In the year 6565
Ain't gonna need no husband, won't need no wife
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube


I wonder what Zager and Evans would say about copyright. How about:

"In the year 5555, ain't any copyright, ain't any work,
it's all in the bottle, just ask the clerk."


More on "In the Year 2525" here.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an interview I heard with a writer or comedian suffering from (if I recall correctly) bipolar disorder. He was convinced that if he were cured of this disorder it would diminish him as a creative individual - suggesting the corollary of your "murder mystery pills", i.e. medication which deprives an author of the ability to create a work (or at least a particularly brilliant work).

kavin hill said...

. Will we reach a point where the creative contribution of the author is overshadowed by the affect of the external substance? Or will it always be the case that whatever the external influences on the creative act, the ultimate determinant remains the author and her contribution? From that view, as long as that creative contribution is original, the work is original and authorship and copyright are preserved.

jyotishi

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