Choose Your Own Hamlet Becomes The Largest Publishing Project On Kickstarter, Thanks To The Public Domain

from the you-can't-do-this-with-catcher-in-the-rye dept

A Kickstarter project by Ryan North, called To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure, has become the most funded publishing project on Kickstarter ever, as it recently surpassed $400,000 (he was originally seeking $20,000). While we always love to see interesting and successful crowdfunding projects, this one is interesting for a few additional reasons concerning topics we talk about here: copyright and trademarks. The actual book is, as North explains, "an illustrated, chooseable-path book version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet." So, how does that hit on copyright and trademark issues?
  • Copyright: Even if the head of the Author's Guild doesn't seem to know this, Shakespeare's works are in the public domain, meaning that anyone can use them however they want -- whether it's to make an exact copy (and, yes, there are plenty of those on the market) or to do a derivative work. There have been tons of remakes and updates on Shakespeare's work, and many of them are super creative, such as this one. Kinda demonstrates just how ridiculous it is for copyright maximalists to argue that without strong copyright protection, creativity gets killed off. Just the opposite, it seems. The ability to build on the works of the past quite frequently inspires amazing new creativity.
  • Trademark: North refers to this as a "choosable path adventure" because:
    "Chooseable-path" you may recognize as a trademark-skirting version of a phrase and book series you remember from childhood. Remember? Books in which... an adventure is chosen??
    Yes, they're not using the widely known phrase "choose your own adventure," because it's trademarked, and the owner of the mark has sued before. Of course, the story of the mark is interesting in its own right. Apparently, Bantam Books who helped popularize the original choose your own adventure books let the trademark lapse, and it was bought up by Ray Montgomery, who had run the small press that published the original books, but had not held the original trademark on it.
So we have examples of how a lack of a common "intellectual property" law enabled greater creativity, and how a current "intellectual property" law stupidly limits the option of using the most reasonable description of the work.

Either way, the book looks absolutely awesome, and if you want in on the Kickstarter offering, there are just a few hours left.

Filed Under: choose your own adventure, copyright, creativity, crowdfunding, hamlet, public domain, shakespeare, trademark

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Dec 2012 @ 2:07am

    Re: Shakespeare is over-rated. -- Who here has actually read it?

    Even though you're still an idiot, I feel compelled to answer your question.

    Yes, I've read Shakespeare, and I greatly enjoyed Macbeth when I read it at school, and watching it on stage was one of my better memories of school trips. I also found the ending of Romeo and Juliet to be greatly affecting on different levels. I've had lesser reactions to other works such as Hamlet and Henry V, but I'd consider Shakespeare to be good even when he's not great.

    Beyond that, I *love* many of the adapted works based on his work - you know, the stuff morons like you want to keep charging millions to create even decades after an author's death? From Forbidden Planet (based on The Tempest) to Baz Lurhmann's version of Romeo & Juliet to the Hamlet episodes of Blackadder and The Simpsons, Shakespeare's influence is ever-present and important.

    But yeah, you were too stupid to understand it in school I guess, so it doesn't count? What a surprise.

    "I just can't find much NEW and internetty here. Certainly not the work itself."

    Certainly not the idiocy you obsess over writing every single day.

    "No, Mike, IF I ever want it, there's The Pirate Bay where all is free (unless it's physical)."

    So you admit that not only will you not participate in the creation of new works, but you'll pirate them after the work is complete? The truth comes out!

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