March 20, 2007 | By Hugh D'Andrade

Bestselling Author Critiques Intellectual Property

If you're an independent filmmaker or dramatist, you may not have many chances to adapt the works of popular fiction writers. Intellectual property law doesn't make it easy, and the licensing fees alone can make approaching big name authors prohibitively expensive.

Jonathan Lethem, however, is one author who is eager to see his work adapted by others. The bestselling author of Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn has started a project called Promiscuous Materials, in which he has made several of his short stories available for adaptation into short films or one act plays by anyone who can afford the reasonable price of a dollar.

In an NPR interview, Lethem explained his reasoning:

What I'm doing is sort of saying, look, we give things away sometimes. That's part of our work, and... as it happens I'd like to do more of it. ...The reason this seemed so important to me is that... people talk about intellectual property as if it were an absolute concept with very easily defined terms, and I want to suggest that actually there's an enormous grey area. There's a really big spectrum between charging for something and giving it away...

Lethem takes his inspiration from the open source software movement and Creative Commons (though the license he is using is not a CC license). In a recent issue of Harper's, Lethem argued that contemporary ideas of intellectual property stifle creativity and prevent artists from building on the achievements of others. To drive the point home, he constructed the entire article from quotations by other authors.

Not all of Lethem's work is available on these terms, and there are some simple conditions that artists must agree to before using his material. Visit jonathanlethem.com for more info.


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