Saturday, September 8, 2007

Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle died last week. Ms. L'Engle was the author A Wrinkle in Time, a truly enchanting book that I thoroughly enjoyed in my youth. The NY Times obituary summarizes her masterpiece as follows:

Meg Murray, with help from her psychic baby brother, uses time travel and extrasensory perception to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from a planet controlled by the Dark Thing. She does so through the power of love.

As a child, I simply enjoyed the book and had no idea that this book was in any way controversial. However, while some have called her "one of the truly important writers of juvenile fiction...", it came as a surprise to me that:

Such accolades did not come from pulling punches: “Wrinkle” is one of the most banned books because of its treatment of the deity.

And as a testament to how difficult it must be to evaluate great books before they become acknowledged as such:

What turned out to be her masterpiece was rejected by 26 publishers. Editors at Farrar, Straus and Giroux loved it enough to publish it, but told her that she should not be disappointed if it failed.

You have to wonder what those 26 publishers were thinking. Or is it that it is much easier to appreciate a book that is already acknowledged to be great?

Friday, September 7, 2007

More on Fair Use

Vindu Goel of the Mercury News had an article on the Chris Knight v. Viacom saga that I referred to in my previous post on "fair use". His conclusion is that Viacom's use of Knight's video was "fair use", but Knight's posting of the Viacom's video on YouTube was not:

Alas, under the law, Knight is wrong ...

Viacom based its clip on Knight's work, but the show's commentary and editing made it something distinct, with its own copyright protection.

Legally, that means Knight can't post Viacom's clip without permission unless he adds something that would create yet another video - in effect, a commentary on Viacom's commentary. Got it?

"The problem Knight has is what he did with Viacom's work wasn't transformative. It's what I would called unadorned copying," said Anthony Falzone, executive director of Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project.

Now, I understand that if you add nothing to a copyrighted work, then it is considered to be "unadorned copying". But if you do add something to a copyrighted work (as Viacom did to Knight's original video), then is it okay? Consider the case of the Grey Album. has the following synopsis of the case:

DJ Danger Mouse remixed the vocals from Jay-Z's The Black Album and the Beatles' White Album and called his creation The Grey Album. He sent about 3,000 promo copies out, and was soon served with a cease-and-desist notice from EMI, who owns the rights to the White Album master.

DJ Danger Mouse clearly produced a transformative work. And yet EMI felt within its rights to serve the cease-and-desist notice. This case never went to trial since DJ Danger Mouse complied with the request (another example of the imbalance between the small artists and giant corporations). So we (or rather, I) don't know what the law would say here. But what DJ Danger Mouse did does seem very similar to what Viacom did in the Knight case.

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