1984:revisiting – on hold

April 5th, 2014 § 0 comments

This is how far this project goes for now. Twelve hours have past since the first commit.
And I prefer to freeze the concept instead of freezing the spirits by inducing my colleagues, friends and myself into a risky business of working with illegal material.
Luckily there is someone like Cory Doctorow, who rewrote 1984 for youngsters. He managed to get Little Brother published under a Creative Commons Non-commercial Share Alike, ready to remix.
So today I start a new project with a new repository: 1984:revisited.
But not without making a statement first.

To anyone who feels concerned, please read this note carefully before you proceed to action

Because I am an author based in Europe, where only 70 years after the death of the author there creations come into the public domain, I cannot work freely with George Orwell’s novel 1984. I tried to clear the rights before 4th April 2014, but I do admit I have underestimated the time it takes to do so.
Only in October 2013 I decided to get the idea going of ‘updating’ George Orwell’s novel by using git as a way to think through the question of surveillance, transparancy, control, data protection…. Only in February 2014 I started to look for the copyright holders, knowing that I wanted to launch this project on 4th April 2014. It took some time before I found the responsable and got hold of her. Then I was forwarded to another company, another person and for the moment, I am still waiting for an answer. So, as long as I don’t have a legal answer, I prefer to put this concept on hold.

Yes, I could move my workspace – virtual and physical – to Australia, Canada or India, where copyright expires 50 years after the death of the author. Or I could have postponed this project, but none of it felt right.
I prefer to take on this situation to make a statement, hoping to contribute in one way or another to a debate that might change the legal circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong: I love books and I love my publisher, De Bezige Bij Antwerpen, who dares taking risks on content level. But as an author and a maker I do not share the idea that the copying culture will kill the book industry, nor that working with an iconic copyrighted text makes me a pirate by definition.

So here I go:
“As long as we, the authors, are living, it is our right to get paid decently for the books we write. Writing is our work, it is what we love doing and will do, probably for the rest of our lives. Our main goal is to be able to find the time to work on the creation of new stories, even if it means having to live out of sync with the rest of the world.
Once a book is finished, we most probably start a new one.
It is very necessary that the people who take care of the final form of the book and its life thoughout this world, are being paid. If the book becomes a bestseller while we’re all alive, it is clear that the makers involved in the life of the book, get the royalties.
But there is something wrong with the organisation of the payment system as it is now. Paying for a paper book should not be the same as paying for an electronic book. They belong to different experiences, different practises, different uses. I can pass my paper copy onto my friend and she can read it freely, photocopy the entire book, and she can even scan it because she will have paid for it when buying the scanner (in Belgium Reprobel charges about 20% of copytax when you buy any scanner/photocopier). But I cannot use my electronic copy in its authentic form: as zeros and ones, destined to be read, changed, copied and pasted in our online networked lives.

And there is more: once we, the makers, have all died, why should there be still rights on using the text for new works? I would be happy to pay something like ‘archiving rights’ to make sure that my favourite classics are still available online and in physical libraries, but it does not feel right you would have to pass by my children or grand-children or even my great-grand-children in order to know whether you can use my texts for an artistic project, risking to get no for an answer, or having to pay a large amount of money that you don’t have.
The biggest honour for any author is being repeated, celebrated, cited, copied.”

Therefore I am violently happy to know a writer like Cory Doctorow. He is a hero: he is able to tackle these issues in his work, finds solutions, and his books sell very very well. Already in 2008 he published an ‘updated’ version of 1984, called Little Brother. He wrote it as a statement for teenagers, as an invitation to think, to discuss, to act. He managed to publish the electronic copy under a a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license, which allows me to use it and write him a cheerful mail full of compliments to announce him I will be using his texts for my revisiting experiments in a new gitorious project called 1984:revisited.

Many many thanks to Cory Doctorow!

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