A few years back, i had a coworker that ran a Hemingway site. He was, other than the difference in authors, a lot like many of us. He had no special academic background in the subject, he was just a rabid fan. Read what he could. Collected books. New opportunities to discuss new ideas? Jumped all over them. Hosted a forum where he posted his ideas to get discussion going, answered questions when he knew the answers, and so on.
Big, big difference? Hemingway is not public domain. Imagine all the things about Shakespeare that we take for granted – how often we freely cut and paste as many pieces of text, as long as we want, whenever we need to make a point. Need video? There’s almost always a YouTube clip of somebody reciting the sonnet or performing the scene that you need. He had none of that. He dreamed of the sort of concordances and textual analyses that we take for granted with Shakespeare. How many different words did Hemingway use? How did his vocabulary change during his career? Can’t do it.
So I wonder … how would your life be different if Shakespeare were not public domain? Let’s say that, like Winnie the Pooh, somebody along the line *had* the rights to Shakespeare’s works, and sold them. And that the entity who now owns them has aggressively marketed them, and rigorously defended their copyright. How would your life be different?
I’m pretty sure this blog wouldn’t exist. I can go out and buy a book on Shakespeare like anybody else, but what I really needed was the forum where we could talk about it. I’m not a theatre person or an academic, so I am not normally surrounded with Shakespearean resources (be they scripts or people). So if you suddenly took away my ability to make my point in text by preventing me from cutting and pasting a portion of a scene from a play? Or, worse, hung the spectre of the takedown notice over my head so that whenever I did cite text I could potentially receive such a scary lawyer letter? I can’t see how it would ever get off the ground.
UPDATED: If you’re coming in from Twitter, don’t be shy! How do you think the world would be different if Shakespeare were not public domain?
A professor on Twitter wanted to make sure that everybody knew that not every *edition* of Shakespeare is public domain, and that her notes and emendations were copyrighted! I pointed out that, if Shakespeare were not public domain to begin with, she wouldn’t have had anything to write notes on 🙂 No response.
The Shakespeare Tavern said that their budget would go up, which is certainly true since now they’d have to pay for rights to produce the plays :). But, I wonder, if Shakespeare wasn’t so universal, would there even be a market anymore for full-time Shakespeare houses?