Is A 'Fattened' Version Of A Famous Jorge Luis Borges Story Artistic Re-Creation, Or Copyright Infringement?

from the authorship,-appropriation,-and-interpretation dept

Next month, a rather unusual court case involving copyright will get underway in Argentina:

The novelist and poet Pablo Katchadjian is facing trial for “intellectual property fraud” after publishing a reworking of Borges’s 1945 story The Aleph. The Fattened Aleph — originally published by a small press in 2009 — extended Borges’s work from its original 4,000 words to 9,600.

Most of the alterations consist of the addition of adjectives and descriptive passages and do not change the original plot, which revolves around “a small iridescent sphere” in a Buenos Aires basement, through which a person can see the entirety of creation.

As the Guardian reports, the legal action has been brought by the widow of Borges, María Kodama. Theoretically the case could lead to a six-year jail sentence for Katchadjian, although nobody seriously expects him to end up in prison if he loses. Kodama’s lawyer is unimpressed with the argument that “The Fattened Aleph” is just another of Katchadjian’s literary experiments. Previously, the author rewrote an epic 19th-century poem about gauchos called “Martín Fierro,” by placing the poem’s lines in alphabetical order. “Martín Fierro” is also the name of a 1920s Argentinian literary magazine that published work by Borges, amongst others.

But Katchadjian’s most interesting connection with Borges is to be found in a short story published by the latter in 1939:

“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” is written in the form of a review or literary critical piece about Pierre Menard, a fictional 20th-century French writer. It begins with a brief introduction and a listing of Menard’s work.

Borges’ “review” describes Menard’s efforts to go beyond a mere “translation” of Don Quixote by immersing himself so thoroughly in the work as to be able to actually “re-create” it, line for line, in the original 17th-century Spanish. Thus, Pierre Menard is often used to raise questions and discussion about the nature of authorship, appropriation, and interpretation.

Rather like “The Fattened Aleph,” in other words. It’s a pity that Borges’ widow doesn’t see it that way.

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Comments on “Is A 'Fattened' Version Of A Famous Jorge Luis Borges Story Artistic Re-Creation, Or Copyright Infringement?”

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9 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Think of the (long dead) creator

If such blatant copyright infringement were to be allowed the original author would have absolutely no reason to create new works. If people are allowed to build upon works that have come before the very heart of culture and creativity is at risk, as the protections that creators depend upon, protections which are of course the only reason that anything is ever created in the first place will be shredded, and without those protections who will bother writing new, entirely-original-and-not-in-any-way-based-upon-anything-that-came-before books, movies or music?

As such it’s quite proper that the author’s wife brings this lawsuit to stop such activity while the original author is temporarily unable to do so, on account of the man currently being dead and having been so for 31 years, as I’m sure any day now he’ll rise again, and without the knowledge that his works from seventy-one years ago are still protected what possible reason could he have for ever creating anything again post-mortem?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Think of the (long dead) creator

It’s a little confusing, but it looks like the relevant section of law in question was amended in 1997 from the 1933 original. On a quick search, I’ve failed to grasp enough of Argentinian law to find what it was before the amendment, but the clause stating a duration of 70 years from death does appear to have been changed in 1997. Given the way these things have tended to run, I’d guess the 70 years is extended or introduced from the original rules, and have been retroactively applied to anything created before the rules were changed.

If so, then it’s yet another case of something that should have been in the public domain now being fought over by the courts, since Borges died well before 1997. There’s probably more to it, of course, but it’s always sad to see such lawsuits fighting over the bones of the long-dead because someone dared to be creative without paying a toll that previous generations did not need to consider.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Think of the (long dead) creator

It is really a matter of perspective.

Dead, or even long dead creators are just holding their breath until new inspiration gives them the air they need. That the air is polluted and preventing that inspiration is not the creators fault. Therefore, they need the continued income (or lack there of as most income comes in the first few years of the government created monopoly) to sustain their quasi-meditative state until the air is cleaned and inspiration can be enabled again.

/s meaning either sarcasm or skepticism.

flyinginn says:

Fattened Aleph

Borges was fascinated by the ontological issues of literary creation, especially replication – can a copy be more real than the “original”? Can generations of copies result in something which improves on the “original” – as with the Hronir in Tlon, Uqbar, a story which starts with a copyright infringement: “the encyclopedia is fallaciously
called The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917) and is a literal but delinquent reprint of the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1902.” Anyone familiar with Borges’ works (which apparently does not include his wife) would find the “Fattened Aleph” an interesting extension of his literary approach and legacy. It certainly poses no threat to her revenue stream.

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