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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2012 @ 8:58am

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

    "C'mon, Will's crap has been around 400 years now, you've had endless opportunity, but just never got around to it? Hmm."

    That's not at all what this is, it's about experience Will's "crap" as you not so eloquently put it in a new way. Chooseable path style. Since you obviously didn't RTFA.

    "The author has to spend almost nothing on promoting the work, I think that's key: he's leveraging those 400 years of name recognition."

    Actually, the author still has to promote the work, because as you pointed out there's 400 years of name recognition associated with said work, not too mention the fact that it is most definitely in the public domain. Meaning this author now has to put more effort into promoting said work in order to compete with all the other people promoting their copies of said work.

    Not too mention the fact that people usually have a pre-determined and set amount of funds to spend on entertainment, much less Kickstarter projects. So this author has to promote their work in direct competition to other Kickstarter projects currently going on. Not an easy task and one where there is definitely a lot of fierce competition.

    "Better tests of Kickstarter are in the unknown works of unknown authors. -- I keep tellin' ya, Mike, it's EASY once you've got a widely known name (here it's Shakespeare)."

    And this person is an unknown author, so that "criteria" of yours is being met. That they are using a story and characters created by a known author is an addition, not detraction, to the project.

    Your point is basically moot. What you want, or seem to want from Mike, is a guarantee to fame/profits. A specific business model/formula that literally anyone can use to make it big/hit the riches. There is none. There never will one. So stop asking for one/demanding one. You'll never get it. Ditto your "tell me how I can get a guarantee on my $100M movie" blah blah blah.

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

    Well, like bob, just because you fail to understand the significant of something DOES NOT mean it isn't there. Or to borrow a phrase from comedian Christopher Titus, "Just because you don't get it, doesn't mean it's not funny."

    The "NEW and internetty" part regarding this project is that A. it's being done using Kickstarter and B. a work that is in the public domain (MEANING IT IS AVAILABLE FOR FREE ALREADY) generated enough interest to raise nearly half a million dollars already (and there's still time left). That latter point is important because people like YOU say that no one can make money without copyright, in addition to saying that if people can get something for free (like say a public domain work) they'll NEVER pay for it. This proves both those presumptions/falsehoods... well, false.


    "Heh, heh: this seems to be one of your characteristic internal contradictions: "if you want in on the Kickstarter offering," -- No, Mike, IF I ever want it, there's The Pirate Bay where all is free (unless it's physical)."

    Well, OotB, that bit wasn't for douchebags/copyright maximalists like you. That was for people interested in supporting projects on Kickstarter, like me.

    Also, nice followup sentence you wrote there. So, despite your day in and day out tirade against pirates and rants and bitching against this site promoting piracy and supporting "grifters", you just said that you'll use something you deem illegal to avoid paying for products that you can't obtain physicially (non-scarce goods, like digital movies/songs/books/etc). Hmm. Nice to see your hypocrisy finally reveal itself. So I suppose you'll NEVER again piss and moan about pirates or grifters, right? Seeing as how you just all but admitted to being one yourself and supporting the latter through the use of said site (TPB). Well, perfect, so we should expect to NEVER see you comment here again, hypocrite. YAY!

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