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VERSeFest: Sharing vs. Ownership in Literature

On March 11th at the poetry fest Marcus McCann gave a talk on what our relationship is to other people’s work. How do we relate our words to the ideas of permission, attribution? Plenty of interesting questions were raised including those around what copyright is supposed to do? By it, are we asking corporations to regulate art? He quoted The Frontier Foundation‘s byline which is: because not everyone has the same idea of copyright as Disney. How much is sharing and how much is stealing? Is the social contract being renegotiated? A bottom line in the debate on proprietary protection of language versus exchange of ideas and collaborative culture comes down to this according to McCann: Ideas can be widely available or tightly controlled but not both.

What is our practice or a reasonable practice for attributing source? How far do we go? Just say who, or also when and where so others can find the original context? Do we keep the original intent of what we quote or subvert it? Do we tell the person we are quoting or seek permission from whoever has copyright? What if they say no? When there’s a disclaimer in a book of ‘permission or attribution where possible’, what does that mean? We went thru all possible media and channels to reach a person, or called up to ask over tea to use their words, but they were out so, shrug? Or our clairvoyant tried to make the connection but failed?

If we quote someone, do we just attribute who said it as in an epigraph or in a news story quotation? Do we need or want to footnote academically? I recall this debate going up around Michael Lista’s Bloom. How much is sufficient?

We can quote in many forms

A Glossa is a form of using pre-written text as an homage. We take a piece of writing and write our own words to infill and work towards the spaces we put between the source text’s lines. The source author is attributed.

Plunderverse is where we use only one original material in the original order but erase some to make a new thing that works with or against or adds to the source content. The text mentions what and who was plundered.

Cento uses lines from many sources (no more than one line per author) cobbled together to make a new word quilt with its own character. (He said it is conventionally 20 lines long.) Usually the result has attribution in the notes.

A Found Poem is another case where no new words are added but the framing is changed, perhaps relineating from prose to poem-lines and the poet acts as a sort of curator of ideas more than creator.

Flarf where the content is generated by digital cut-ups, the process of plugging in a search string and collating the (pre-written) results as they come without an eye for creating a narrative. There’s no attribution of source material or and no permission of authors and no problem. Language is the material. It is like scrapbooking. Again one is more in a curatorial role but with no new material added and attaching your name as author of the context.

Literary Allusion is where one is openly stealing ideas from other writers except hoping to get caught because the recognition of a shared cultural talking point is part of the point. It is part of the economy of the form that it resonates with memory of other literary works.

When we do other forms of expression, do we attribute? Does an architect mention in the cornerstone, inspirational buildings or architects or where the cornice was ripped off from? When we quote a politician in the media, do we seek permission of the office for quoting and let them know it was done? When we blog we build in pings and plugins that notify and can set up google notification to increase the dialogue.

If we are giving nods to our predecessors or peers, should cash change hands? Wouldn’t that set literature apart from other arts and sciences? If we cite a scientific study and build on it, does divvying research grant get involved?

How do we compensate and get compensated if our commodity of a book is rolled into someone else’s commodity of a book? Or If we photocopy and teach another’s literature, should that writer get a cut? What is the role of sharing, of libraries, of fair use in reviews? Or remixing? What limits should Access Copyright have? When is it assisting and when is it a barrier to culturally cooperating to make new works?

On one hand, one wants to enter culture and yet also table needs bread. Do you know where the line: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; /Weep, and you weep alone” comes from? Is it better to attribute or when something is in collective conscious, we can stop sourcing? It was poetry from Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850–1919), an American author and poet. Her best-known work was Poems of Passion (which is a free download on Kindle). Her most enduring work was in her collected works, “Solitude”, published 1883 for which she was paid $5. it contains the lines above. Who knew that the words had a source? (Crowd wisdom of wikipedia for one collective did.)

In the Q&A there was the question of how much change need happen before it is a new cannabalized work? Just swap in synonyms and openly say what the source was and frame it ironically or post-modly? I did such myself here.

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