I don't know about you, but I have pretty much given up on expecting governments to do anything sensible. Furthermore, the big companies are motivated solely by proft, but then that is their raison d'etre, so it's no good complaining about that. And organised religion has shown itself to be deeply flawed. It therefore falls, it seems to me, to individuals to save the world.
One man who, in my opinion, is heading in roughly the right direction is the novelist Jonathan Lethem. He is the author of the novel Motherless Brooklyn, which I read with some interest a while back. And now he has just published a new novel, You Don't Love Me Yet. And in the case of this novel, he intends to deal with the film option and the ancillary rights in a rather unusual way.
To get the full details, you will have to read Jonathan's own account of what he is proposing to do, but basically he is offering film producers a free option on the book in return for two per cent of the budget (eventually) and an undertaking that, after five years, all the ancillary rights to the film and the novel will pass into the public domain.
'In other words,' says Lethem, 'after a waiting period during which those rights would still be restricted, anyone who cared to could make any number of other kinds of artwork based on the novel’s story and characters, or the film’s: a play, a television series, a comic book, a theme park ride, an opera – or even a sequel film or novel featuring the same characters. For that matter, they can remake the film with another script and new actors.'
Now this, you have to admit, is unusual. The question is, is it a smart move? Is it smart commercially, in the long or the short term? Because Jonathan does not make himself out to be a philanthropist -- he has to make a living. And is it smart in terms of reptuation, public interest, and creative interest? Is there a single film producer breathing who will not snort with derision at this naivety?
We shall see. In the meantime, it is certainly refreshing to find someone who is not so tight-arsed about copyright that he phones his lawyer every time someone quotes three sentences from what he has written.
Mr Lethem is also, by the way, the author of the most scholarly and fascinating essay that I have ever read on the subject of influence, copying, plagiarism, the use of famous characters in new works, et cetera et cetera. I particularly like his story about Muddy Waters telling how he 'wrote' the song 'Country Blues'.
'It becomes apparent,' says Lethem, 'that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production.' Think Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.
And, when you get to the bit about Jefferson and the American constitution on the question of copyright, you might like to compare it with the ideas of Macaulay.