Mark Helprin is a Greedy Man by mattsteinglass
May 21, 2007, 9:33 am
Filed under: Books, Law, Media

The right-wing hack and author of “Winter’s Tale” (which all my friends who grew up in New York seem to love) makes a plea to extend the duration of copyright privileges to…forever. This completely moronic idea, which would have every high school in the English-speaking world paying the far-flung relatives and heirs of Shakespeare every time they put on a production of “Romeo & Juliet”, is so extraordinarily bad that it seems impossible even to begin to describe its badness. Try this one on: if copyrights last forever, why shouldn’t patents? What makes the writer of a great novel more worthy than the discoverer of a miracle cure? Okay, then: imagine a society in which Bayer still had monopoly rights to aspirin, and it cost $5 a pill. Here’s another one: say I’m a young indie director and I want to make a nostalgic movie about my childhood in the early ’90s. What music should be playing in the background? “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, right? But guess what — I can’t put that in my movie. Not unless I have tens of thousands of dollars. Now, what the hell gives Geffen (or whoever owns the Nirvana rights these days) the right to prohibit me from making art about my childhood unless I pony up fifty grand? Copyright does. We tolerate the inhibiting effect of this limited-monopoly system on art about the recent past, because it’s necessary as an incentive to creators to make their art. But what Helprin is proposing is to extend this system to FOREVER. So no one will be able to make art about ANY period, ever, unless they strip it of all references to the media products which were circulating at the time, or pay every author and performer of every bit of art that’s included.

Let’s put this even more simply.

Dear Mr. Mark Helprin,

It has come to our attention that you are the author of a novel entitled “Winter’s Tale” (1983). As the legal representatives of the heirs of William Shakespeare, we hereby demand that you alter the title of your work, which bears an unacceptable similarity to the title of a work by Mr. Shakespeare, “A Winter’s Tale” (1610). Your work violates our clients’ long-established trademark in that title, creating a risk of confusion on the part of customers between the two works — a risk which, we contend, you are deliberately exploiting in order to increase sales of your own work. We further demand that you immediately recall all copies of your work currently distributed for sale. Finally, we claim monetary compensation for your past exploitation of our trademarked title, in the sum of 20 percent of all revenues from the work, as well as 20 percent of any revenues you have derived from the sale of rights to a motion picture adaptation of said work.


Perp, Etual, & Monopoly, Attorneys-at-Law

Dear Mr. Eric Rohmer,

It has come to our attention that you are the director of a film entitled “Conte d’Hiver” (1992)…


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