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Christmas and Easter nihilists

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

16 Comments

  1. Matt Marshall
    October 21, 2015 @ 1:25 am

    I find it crazy how Sherlock Holmes was under copyright in the UK and not the US given how the US enjoys extending copyright protection (for Disney, now there's hypocracy!). Apparently War of the Worlds is still under copyright in the UK until next year!

    I think you're a bit harsh on some aspects. The ability to copyright a work and enjoy protection is integral to the ability of an author to be able to create new works, especially if they make a living off them. If dozens of people took every one of your posts on this blog, for example, and posted them on their own site with nothing you could do about it, I imagine that would torpedo your interest pretty quickly and we'd see no more Trek analysis.

    That said, the current copyright rules of after author's death plus what, 70 years, is crazy. I understand the need to support ones family, but I feel that copyright should lapse about 20 years after death. Any more than that gets ridiculous.

    It's fascinating how all these big creative companies became rich off adapting public domain work, and then campaigned so hard to continually extend copyright so that their own stuff never becomes public domain. And by fascinating I mean disgusting.

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  2. SK
    October 21, 2015 @ 2:46 am

    This is especially dangerous for stories like Sherlock Holmes, or indeed Star Trek due to their long history and status as iconic and ubiquitous polyauthored cultural artefacts

    Ahem. Sherlock Holmes is not a 'polyauthored cultural artefact'; he has one singular author, namely Arthur Conan Doyle.

    There are some cultural figures it is possible to claim arose from a sort of communal telling and re-telling of myths and therefore were not 'created' by any one person (King Arthur, Robin Hood being the frequently cited examples) but without Conan Doyle, there would simply be no Sherlock Holmes at all.

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  3. Adam Riggio
    October 21, 2015 @ 5:39 am

    Now, SK, don't go on reducing such a complicated cultural work to its origin. Yes, of course, there wouldn't have been a Sherlock Holmes without Arthur Conan Doyle. But it's not as though Doyle's own stories are always and forever the only Sherlock Holmes stories that exist. The character may have originated with one person, but it legitimately appears in new stories that are quite different from what Doyle himself wrote. We're all still writing stories with the character Doyle made.

    That's the meaning of 'polyauthored.'

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  4. K. Jones
    October 21, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

    As a writer and artist and all-around creator and someone who always has been and can't imagine not doing those things, the notion of you know, being able to feed myself through my work has always been rather at the forefront, even if I'm philosophically opposed to physical limits being placed on abstract notions. Not that it's easy to craft something with mass appeal and lasting appeal. Or not that I've found much great success in doing so.

    Of course I'm the sort of cad who even if I did profit greatly from a timeless masterpiece would tell my kids to get a job and make their own damn money. Estates as entitlements are as abstract a concept as legally copyrighting ideas, or policing thoughts, and money is for feeding and entertaining yourself and bettering the world for people with less than you, not people who as their default have more than you grew up with.

    These are a lot of overlapping dilemmas.

    It's a pretty good Barclay episode as well, and it's nice to see him play in more of an ensemble piece than a "Spotlight on Barclay" situation.

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  5. Kevin Carson
    October 21, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

    I get roughly half my income from freelance writing and every single thing I publish is open for free distribution without restriction (other than the basic good manners of attribution).

    And it's entirely possible to make money creating content without the content itself being copyrighted, by bundling it with naturally scarce things that can be monetized.

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  6. K. Jones
    October 21, 2015 @ 3:14 pm

    Like paper and beautiful leather bindings and covers, for instance.

    Books are beautiful relics. Stories are ephemera.

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  7. Kevin Carson
    October 21, 2015 @ 4:21 pm

    Another example is Linux distros that make money off free software by selling customization services and customer support, Phish using free music to sell concerts and merchandise, etc.

    There's also a natural scarcity rent involved in the transaction costs of setting up a competing edition for print, even absent copyright. If you have modest sales and only charge a modest margin over printing cost, it probably won't be worth anybody else's while to go to all the trouble just to undercut you by a buck a copy.

    Abolishing copyright might eat into the revenues of giant blockbuster creators like Stephen King or rock supergroups, but for little guys like me making free pdfs of everything available online and allowing restriction-free copying is a net win. It's free advertising directed at people who wouldn't have bought a hard copy anyway without being able to look through it first, and a lot of people who have access to the pdfs will be more likely to buy a hard copy just for convenience. If anything I think it increases sales.

    I can't recall the specifics, but Techdirt linked to a study a few years ago showing that file-sharing had indeed drastically cut music industry revenues, but that the amount of money going to artists themselves was largely unaffected — it was just rendering the middlemen and their gatekeeping rents obsolete.

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  8. Froborr
    October 22, 2015 @ 8:04 am

    Copyright is a legal fiction created to give artists a means of selling their labor, because if you can't sell your labor then capitalism kills you. One of the fringe benefits of a true post-scarcity, socialist society would be freeing artists from the necessity of selling their labor, thus permitting more people to spend more time on their art, as well as freeing them to create transformative and derivative works without having to metaphorically file the serial numbers off first.

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  9. Andrew Hickey
    October 22, 2015 @ 9:43 am

    Minor point, but Sherlock Holmes wasn't declared public domain in the US until 2013, and the last Holmes book, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, still contains some stories that are in copyright.
    The Holmes stories started going out of copyright in the UK in 1980, and the last ones went out of copyright in 2000, but in the US the post-1923 short stories remain in copyright until at least 2023, and the Doyle family argued that this meant that the characters of Holmes and Watson were also in copyright in the US until the last story went into the public domain. It was only in 2013 when the writer Leslie Klinger took the Doyle estate to court that it was declared that only those elements in the last ten short stories remain in copyright in the US, but everything else can be freely used.
    Notably, Moriarty doesn't appear in those late stories, so the Doyle estate had no claim on him, even while they still apparently had one over Holmes and Watson.

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  10. Ross
    October 22, 2015 @ 10:19 am

    "created to" are the most important words in that sentence. Because it's been decades since copyright had fuck-all to do with artists. Copyright is a legal fiction which currently exists to give media conglomerates a means of rent-extraction from the labor of artists.

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  11. K. Jones
    October 22, 2015 @ 10:28 am

    I've read some of those studies on file-sharing.

    It also rather reminds me of Neil Gaiman's argument for not taking a hardline approach against the file-sharing of comics, books, or entertainment, which I should probably find a link to. And after all, what is a library if not a (coincidentally socialist) place for file-sharing?

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  12. K. Jones
    October 22, 2015 @ 10:29 am

    This makes it a pretty intensely meta and appropriate thing for Star Trek, specifically, to delve into. I was trying to wrap my head around why it works well here and that's the piece I needed.

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  13. K. Jones
    October 22, 2015 @ 10:32 am

    After all, look how "well" (cough, ahem) Star Trek itself has been faring as a mega-media corporate franchise in this current status quo.

    Or the insane irony of the fact that the television landscape is now primed for the kind of show that Star Trek should be, completely owning serious drama over the limited scope of movies, and yet they've counterintuitively tried to sell Star Trek as popcorn blockbuster material, when frankly it should have been airing on like, AMC after Mad Men.

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  14. Daru
    December 19, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

    "Through copyright and intellectual property, capitalism dehumanizes stories in the same way it dehumanizes land and water (and other people) by rendering them property that can be bought, sold and fenced off from others. Just as with land and water, which used to be a shared commons belonging to everyone and everything as part of nature, turning stories and mythology into property selfishly takes them away from the rest of the universe and stifles their power."

    Completely agree with the idea that through the conglomerates and the creation of copyright that stories have been dehumanised, and largely taken away from people. Stories themselves were the cultural currency that aided with the flow and circulation of inspiration within society. For example in the Scottish Highlands where you had such figures as the Seannachie, who not only knew the epic tales and poems but also knew in memory, and could narrate the whole lineage of the tribes and clans. Stories when most alive, live through people.

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  15. Daru
    December 19, 2015 @ 11:34 pm

    Again one of my fave stories!

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  16. Daru
    December 20, 2015 @ 9:39 pm

    And Josh, I want to express deep thanks for what you say about stories and the need to free them up for their own power and agency – and the suggestion at the end that Picard makes about how what is true for Moriarty may also be true for their crew blew ma away and is my absolute stand out moment in all of Trek. Better than space battles any day, and the whole reason I love the shows.

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