Re:[rumori] Cheatahs? (literature, lifting and the law)

Steev (
Fri, 9 Jul 1999 17:17:48 +0000 ( )

this bounced to me....


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 09:54:00 -0700
From: kristie <>
Subject: Re:[rumori] Cheatahs? (literature, lifting and the law)

>>perhaps we americans, or maybe just me, are more idealistic that way.
>>Laws, ideally, should serve our interests. if they don't they shouldbe
>>changed, and they can be. perhaps europeans are more cynical, and admit
>>that laws will never ever really be in citizens' interests, and so they
>>should just be ignored. anyone else care to comment on this?
>Sure, I'll take a shot. Has anyone else wondered why it is legal to
>"sample" >others intellectual works for, say a college term paper, or
>thesis or >dissertation, citing sources (or not as the case may be) and
>yet it is >"illegal" to sample musical/artistic sources? Seems like they
>are cut from the >same cloth to me. And many people go on to publish their
>dissertations and >theses commercially, so it can't be strictly a money
>issue. I never paid the >sources in my papers royalty fees.
>Why is it that a writer can take a well known and beloved story and
>re-write >it, from a new perspective, and it is sanctioned.

oh, yay, an excuse to join the fray! a collection of thoughts from the
realm of the writerly:

sometimes it is & sometimes it isn't. hence the debate over the italian
woman and her novel "lo's story" (i think this is the title) which retells
"lolita" from lo's point of view. nabokov's estate took her to court to
cease publication (sucessfully, at least initially) claiming she had lifted
enough of the plot that it was plagiarism or theft or some such. there has
been an out of court settlement which will allow the book to go forward,
but it was a huge debate in the literary world.

there is a big difference between

1. reinhabiting the imaginary world a writer creates. an example is the use
of Oz in "Wicked", the metafictive novel you mention below. this is
generally protected as free speech.

2. borrowing the plot an author creates. this is a source of litigation in
the playwriting and screenwriting arenas, isn't it? there is at least
enormous controversy ie tarantino (as writer/director) lifting the end of
reservoir dogs from a hong kong film: homage or theft?

3. lifting language from the work of another writer. this is plagiarism if
you don't give credit to the original source, citation if you do credit.

my own recent writing has been in the third vein. however, i do not think
of it as theft. more as silent collaboration. i not only am ok with
documenting my sources, i am fiendish about it. in doing so i strive to
make evident that intertextuality (the idea that all/most/lots of
literature is inextricably linked as a constantly inter-referential body of
work/ideas) IS. to make my work a sort of silent collaboration with the
original authors. to create a community of ideas within my pieces. to show
in the work how the ideas came to my head, to present the food/spark which
got me there. somehow this is more ok for a writer than a musician. it is
supposed that we are working with ideas (which are shared), and that y'all
are working with "sound" (which can be owned). as if language wasn't a
sound, and music can't be written. ?!

tangent 1. interestingly, this sharing of ideas thing is different in the
realm of science. in a realm when there are enormous grants & nobels & such
at stake, and the idea is the entire product being created, it is necessary
for a scientist to give credit to every idea that she was offered by
someone who she bounced her work off of. this is why collaboration among
different teams of scientists is so lauded in the press, ie the human
genome project. it is the exception to the rule.

tangent 2. it is generally ok for a writer to borrow language, as long as
you credit the original piece, and you aren't borrowing more than some
certain portion of it. but we still have to get permission and pay to use
musical lyrics. since this is a complex process which doesn't take place
until the work has been accepted for publication, if the rights don't do
through, the writer is fucked.

tangent 3. also, there is the issue of plays as text/language/act. samuel
becket will not grant performance rights to anyone who wants to change a
SINGLE WORD of one of his plays in the act of presentation. they pulled
rights not too long ago from a group which had kept the words, but reversed
the gender of all the characters. sad, as this reversal seemed very

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