Matt writes the following (the first part is what I said, the second is his response):
(6) Intellectual property and copyright law is out of control and hindering creativity
I'm not sure if that's true. In fact, I would make the case that while the internet is fostering a sense of freedom and sharing, there is a point at which it tramples copyright law rather wantonly. In the age of open source, how does an artist have ownership of his or her work?
I'm glad Matt picked up on this, as this is a new idea for me that I've been playing around with for the last year, that has just begun to articulate itself, largely as a result of conversations Jonathan and I were having working on Their Back Pages for the salon, and this gives me an opportunity to flesh out some thoughts... so... here we go...
This might be a fairly radical idea to play around with here... but I don't think an artist should have ownership of their work in the conventional sense of the term. I believe that art is a gift we give the world. Cheesy, I know, but think through the implications of the metaphor. When you give a gift, you don't own it anymore. The receiver of the gift owns it. So if art is a gift we give the world, the world owns that gift, not us.
Now I'm not saying people shouldn't be paid for their work. They should. They just perhaps shouldn't have as much control over what happens to it once it's out there in the world. Because as artists, the giving activity is the useful, helpful, growthful one. Having control over that gift once it's out there is selfish.
When you give a gift, you don't get to control what someone does with it. If you did, it's not a gift. But with intellectual property law standing as it does right now, you get to give a gift to the world and then control exactly what happens with it. It hinders creation of new art and new interpretations of art. That's undeniable, just look at what Arthur Miller (and John Guare, assisting him) did with The Wooster Group, or the Becket estate. Now one can argue that that creativity should be hindered (I'd disagree, obviously) and legally one has the right do hinder it, but obviously the phenomenon occurs.
And if someone were to write a play with Mickey Mouse in it, they could easily get sued. Corporations use intellectual proprety laws to make sure that their brand can only be interpreted the way they want it interpreted. If we recognize that as a totalitarian impulse on the corporation's part, how is it not also a totalitarian impulse on the part off the artist?
Personally, I think that everyone needs to relax a little about this, even though that means some people are going to do really stupid shit like... I dunno... an all white Fences or whatever.
And it also means, originality being kind of meaningless, that artists will rip each other off. They should. "Theft" is a major part of the creative process. The issue should be what one does with the materials they have, not where those materials come from. Creativity, not originality.
This is absolutely necessary to having a vibrant artistic world. We need to be less protective about what we create, even if that means people will do things with what we create that we don't like.
This is a separate issue from the writer-director relationship. Obviously, if a director and writer are working on a project together, it is selfish of the director to trample over the author in order to get their way. And it's probably not helpful for anyone. Collaboration doesn't mean everyone gets their way, it means a creation of a group answer to the difficult question of "how the f* are we goint to do this?"
And Matt is absolutely right that the internet is going to change this. But I'm not sure how a local, temporal medium like theater will be impacted on by the internet in this way. Any ideas, reading public?
Anyway, I think I could go on forever, but the above pretty much sums up what I'm thinking about all of this.
In closing, I'd like to offer an extended quote on the subject from Chuck Mee, who is very much an inspiration to me in my thinking on this... Mee, who composes collages of plays taken from a variety of sources puts it well on his website's mission statement:
There is no such thing as an original play.
None of the classical Greek plays were original: they were all based on earlier plays or poems or myths. And none of Shakespeare's plays are original: they are all taken from earlier work. As You Like It is taken from a novel by Thomas Lodge published just 10 years before Shakespeare put on his play without attribution or acknowledgment. Chunks of Antony and Cleopatra are taken verbatim, and, to be sure, without apology, from a contemporary translation of Plutarch's Lives. Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle is taken from a play by Klabund, on which Brecht served as dramaturg in 1926; and Klabund had taken his play from an early Chinese play.
Sometimes playwrights steal stories and conversations and dreams and intimate revelations from their friends and lovers and call this original.
And sometimes some of us write about our own innermost lives, believing that, then, we have written something truly original and unique. But, of course, the culture writes us first, and then we write our stories. When we look at a painting of the virgin and child by Botticelli, we recognize at once that it is a Renaissance painting—that is it a product of its time and place. We may not know or recognize at once that it was painted by Botticelli, but we do see that it is a Renaissance painting. We see that it has been derived from, and authored by, the culture that produced it.
And yet we recognize, too, that this painting of the virgin and child is not identical to one by Raphael or Ghirlandaio or Leonardo. So, clearly, while the culture creates much of Botticelli, it is also true that Botticelli creates the culture—that he took the culture into himself and transformed it in his own unique way.
And so, whether we mean to or not, the work we do is both received and created, both an adaptation and an original, at the same time. We re-make things as we go.