The Copywrights

The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination

Paul K. Saint-Amour
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Copywrights
    Book Description:

    They borrow from published works without attribution. They remake literary creation in the image of consumption. They celebrate the art of scissors and paste. Who are these outlaws? Postmodern culture-jammers or file-sharing teens? No, they are the Copywrights-Victorian and modernist writers, among them Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, whose work wrestled with the intellectual property laws of their day.

    In a highly readable and thought-provoking book that places today's copyright wars in historical context, Paul K. Saint-Amour asks: Would their art have survived the copyright laws of the new millennium? Revisiting major works by Wilde and Joyce as well as centos assembled by anonymous writers from existing poems, Saint-Amour sees the period 1830-1930 as a time when imaginative literature became aware of its own status as intellectual property and began to register that awareness in its subjects, plots, and formal architecture.

    The authors of these self-reflexive literary texts were more conscious than their precursors of the role played by consumption in both the composition and the consecration of literature. The texts in question became, in turn, part of what Saint-Amour characterizes as a "counterdiscourse" to extensive monopoly copyright, a vocal minority that insisted on a broadly conceived public domain not only as indispensable to free expression and fresh creation but as a good in itself. Recent events such as the court battle over the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which extends copyright terms by 20 years, the patenting of the human genome and of genetically altered seed lines, and high-stakes controversies over literary parody have increased public awareness of intellectual property law.

    In The Copywrights, Saint-Amour challenges the notion that copyright's function ends with the provision of private incentives to creation and innovation. The cases he examines lead him to argue that copyright performs a range of political, emotional, and even sacred functions that are too often ignored and that what seems to have emerged as copyright's primary function-the creation of private property incentives-must not be an end in itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5920-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Paul K. Saint-Amour
  4. Introduction: Intellectual Property and Critique
    (pp. 1-22)

    Once new expressions, ideas, and inventions appear, how are they best bestowed upon the public? With what rewards and protections should their creators be induced to share their creations? What varieties of creator and creation should warrant these rewards and protections? Which aspects of a new work should be protected, to what degree, and for how long? And how should these inducements for creative individuals be balanced with concerns such as free speech and expression, intellectual freedom, and future innovation?

    These are the crucial questions to which intellectual property law addresses itself. Its statutes and case law together tell a...

  5. [1] Neoclassicisms: The Tectonics of Literary Value
    (pp. 23-52)

    Diamonds are a value theorist’s best friend. Fruitlessly beautiful, they provide an extreme case among commodities whose value is out of all proportion to their usefulness. In his Wealth of Nations (1776), the classical political economist Adam Smith famously used the diamond to illustrate just this point: “Nothing is more useful than water: but it will purchase scarce any thing; scarce any thing can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it.”¹ While the invention...

  6. [2] Committing Copyright: The Royal Copyright Commission of 1876–78
    (pp. 53-89)

    Matthew Arnold, poet of ignorant armies, called it “a great battle.”¹ On the face of things, though, the Royal Copyright Commission hearings of 1876–78 were a civil-enough business: only the murmur of learned men in well-appointed chambers, the scratching of a secretary’s stylus. Certainly the witness roll could boast some titanic figures: a quorum of major names in British and American publishing appeared (John Blackwood, John Boosey, R. W. Routledge, John Murray, William Longman, G. H. Putnam, Alexander Macmillan), as did several prominent men of letters (Herbert Spencer, T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, and Arnold himself). The composer Arthur...

  7. [3] Oscar Wilde: Literary Property, Orality, and Crimes of Writing
    (pp. 90-120)

    In 1878, the year in which the Royal Commission on Copyright submitted its Report, a young Irishman named Oscar Wilde, then in his fourth year at Magdalen College, Oxford, was awarded the Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna. On June 26, shortly after winning the award, Wilde recited parts of the poem by invitation at the Sheldonian Theatre before an audiencethat included the University’s Vice-Chancellor; that same day, Ravenna was published as a pamphlet by Thomas Shrimpton & Son of Oxford, and offered for sale at 1s. 2d. Although not its author’s first published poem, Ravenna was his first monograph....

  8. [4] The Reign of the Dead: Hauntologies of Postmortem Copyright
    (pp. 121-158)

    One of the most influential pieces of U.S. copyright legislation in recent years has been the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which became law on October 27, 1998. Under the Bono Act, the already substantial copyright terms established by the 1976 Copyright Act were extended by an additional 20 years. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are now protected for the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years, while anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and “works for hire” created by or for corporations are shielded for 95 years from publication or 120 years from their date...

  9. [5] James Joyce, Copywright: Modernist Literary Property Metadiscourse
    (pp. 159-198)

    James Joyce’s stance on originality, literary crime, and literary property refused any foolish consistency. In discussing and defending his work, Joyce oscillated between embracing collective authorship and wrapping himself in the mystique and privileges of the individual genius. Though he claimed Finnegans Wake was being written by all humanity, it must be the first work of imaginative fiction in which an author complains about the copyright status of one of his previous works: the Wake reminds us that Ulysses, because of its alleged obscenity, was “not protected by copriright in the United Stars of Ourania.”¹ In 1937 Joyce took time...

  10. Conclusion: Copyright, Trauma, and the Work of Mourning
    (pp. 199-220)

    Luckily, James Joyce did not have to write and attempt to publish Ulysses under a turn-of-the-millennium intellectual property regime, as I imagined at the end of the previous chapter. Yet it is partly in the name of canonical writers such as Joyce, their cultural legacies, and their heirs and estates that the law has become so much more extensive during the last half-century. The result is that present-day artists have to work under maximalist or “thick” copyright constraints that were unknown to the very precursors in whose name the new constraints have been instituted. Not enough people are struck by...

  11. Appendix
    (pp. 221-234)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 235-268)
  13. Index
    (pp. 269-282)