Friday, January 22, 2010

Intellectual Property Stupidity I

I have often held (and I am far from being in any way original in holding this) that Intellectual Property law is currently so restrictive in its conception of Fair Use that it restricts the cultural conversation. But as Lawrence Lessig points out in his discussion in the book Free Culture on the Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft, it is often difficult to prove the impact of so esoteric a concept to policymakers. "What's the real impact," they want to know.

Well if you want to know what cultural conversation looks like when it's restricted by IP law, you can't look for a better example than this: Don Hall has been posting reviews of his newest show, and writing short responses to them. The purpose is clear: he wants to create a dialog between himself and the critics for the general enlightenment of the public. Don Hall is very courteous in defending his work (although it is at times a teensie bit defensive, I'm okay with that, because it's the blog of a creator and certainly we don't want him not to stand behind his own work).

But under the interpretation of the law put out by one of the papers quoted, this is somehow infringing on their "property". I don't often get to use the word "horseshit" but things like this really burn my canoli.

Anyways, law aside, it is clear that Don Hall did nothing "wrong" -- he didn't systemically reprint any one publication's essays, he simply made a review of one of his own works public, along with some notes. As part of the conversation, it was an interesting strategy, a bold move. From the non-stupidity angle, I kind of liked that Don Hall does this, and I hoped that I'd see more playwright's doing something similar. I'd love to see some of the big titans of the industry posting responses to Brantley or Isherwood on their blogs. Provided that people can keep the tone of the conversation as courteous as Don's, it would be a welcome new avenue of keeping a show alive during and after its run.

Instead, people are going to look at Don Hall's example and say, "Oh dear. I don't want to be a criminal like him."