Litlets

October 29, 2009

Modernist poetry and copyright maximalism

Paul Zukofsky, heir to poet Louis Zukofsky and his copyrights, thinks he gets to decide what “fair use” is — and it doesn’t include quoting his father, even for an academic dissertation, without Paul’s permission and, in many cases, a fee. He says he generally waives the fee for dissertations, but you are then forbidden to publish the dissertation.

A few things strike me about this copyright notice, in addition to the overreaching.

  1. I’m a poet myself. A poet’s son should realize there’s little money in poetry. Maybe a bit in greeting card verse, but that hardly describes the works of Louis Zukofsky. (But according to Paul, his father didn’t realize this economic truth, either. A triumph of hope over experience? Or did he, as Paul implies, actually transmute enough verse into cash to leave a comfortable inheritance to his wife and son?)
  2. If Paul Zukofsky really wants to profit from his father’s work, he’s going out of his way to eliminate free publicity and destroy goodwill in the literary community. “I urge you to not work on Louis Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not.” That’s one of the milder statements, with no mention of lawyers or courts or lifelong enmity.
  3. This might be a case of imprecise wording, but Paul seems to think he can collect a toll even on references to his father: “I hardly give a damn what is said about my father (I am far more protective of my mother) as long as the name is spelled properly, and the fees are paid.”
  4. I get the impression that Paul Zukofsky doesn’t think highly of the arts. He refers to interest in music and literature as “misguided,” and to a career in the arts as a “so-called profession.” I won’t speculate on possible biographical reasons for this distaste; I only note that he’s happy to profit from somebody else’s work in the literary field.

(Climbs on soapbox)

My father was a TV repairman. I’m not getting paid for work he did. I’m not even getting paid for work I did thirty years ago. Since the stated purpose of copyright (in the USA) is to promote the useful arts and sciences — in other words, to encourage creation — copyrights should be neither hereditary, nor too long-lasting. I propose a compromise: let copyrights be inherited, but give them an expiration date of 20 years. That’s 20 years from creation, not from the death of the author. If he lives longer than that — well, he won’t be the first parent ever to outlive his wealth. I’m not guaranteed an income from my own labor, much less somebody else’s.

And by the way, I usually publish my poetry under a Creative Commons license.

(Off soapbox)

Credit where it’s due

I originally found this story on Harriet the Blog, which notes that — perhaps in response to Paul’s copyright notice — an unauthorized electronic edition of Louis Zukofsky’s most famous work, “A,” has appeared online. I don’t condone this act of piracy, but I understand the provocation.

External links

1 Comment »

  1. [...] Modernist poetry and copyright maximalism Paul Zukofsky, heir to poet Louis Zukofsky and his copyrights, thinks he gets to decide what “fair use” is — and it doesn’t include quoting his father, even for an academic dissertation, without Paul’s permission and, in many cases, a fee. He says he generally waives the fee for dissertations, but you are then forbidden to publish the dissertation. [...]

    Pingback by Links 18/11/2009: KDE 4.4 Gets Date, Google Phone is Coming | Boycott Novell — November 18, 2009 @ 4:43 pm | Reply


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