A “Marxian” Analysis of Intellectual Property
Needing a laugh this past weekend, I picked up a copy of “The Groucho Letters,” thinking that nothing could entertain me more than the wit of Julius Henry. I got no farther than the second entry when I discovered a masterful rejoinder to a request from Warner Brothers for more information on their upcoming project, “A Night in Casablanca.” The film classic “Casablanca” was produced by Warner Brothers and they were clearly interested in projects that might effect their brand. As Snopes so informatively points out, there was no genuine threat of legal action on the part of Warner Brothers. It is likely that they never would have sued either. But this did not stop Groucho from making a big to-do over it and getting a tremendous amount of publicity in the process.
While the humor of it is ample, I was surprised to find in it an elegant offense against intellectual property. The first sentence speaks volumes! “Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own.” This juxtaposition of the violence of invasion with the use of force to maintain so-called IP was the first sally in a long siege to batter notions of copyright. What remains is a delightful tirade against the notion that only the Warner’s should be able to use the word Casablanca in a film title. The highlight for me is when Groucho challenges the use of Warner Brothers itself, allowing them first dibs on Warner, but reminding them that the Marx troop has been using Brothers for much longer and that there were even other Brothers before them!
As the “Public-Domain Playwright”, Charles Mee, says on his website, “There is no such thing as an original play.” This idea, of course, carries forth to every art, science, and creation of mankind. We are influenced by the culture and, in turn, influence it, leaving nothing wholly original. Mee’s work was introduced to me by a friend recently. So there is not much originality in my using him as an example in this post. However, as Mee points out, “…whether we mean to or not, the work we do is both received and created, both an adaptation and an original, at the same time. We re-make things as we go.”
The IP conflagration will continue to rage on, as we see in today’s news. Technology seems to have made much of the argument moot. Arguments in opposition seem to gain traction with regularity. Thank goodness no one patented the first monetary exchange or we would not even be arguing this! This trend of technology and culture leads to a bright future of creativity ahead, allowing for even greater possibilities as artists are able to have more and more resources at their disposal.
I hope you are able to take this post and spread it. Or take ideas from this post and adapt them to your own original usage and share them with the world.
Read Groucho’s letter here, and enjoy!
Robert Anthony Peters will be speaking at Libertopia Festival 2011 in San Diego