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. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    bob, 19 Dec 2012 @ 3:40pm

    Uh, copyright DID help creativity.

    First: only in your mind is creating a copy of something worthy of being called "creative." But this is the site that is constantly apologizing for pirates and claiming that shutting them down is censorship. Someone has a very low standard for work. By this measure, the kid sleeping in the back of the classroom deserves an A for "creativity" because he's farting and creating sulfur dioxide.

    But I'm well aware that this team is adding plenty to the Shakespeare and what are they doing with their work? They're COPYRIGHTING it and putting it behind a PAYWALL. If you don't cough up the cash, you won't be seeing it.

    And let's see how the author is repaying the public domain for supplying Hamlet. If -- and only if-- the Kickstarter yields more than $425,000, the book will be released under one of the more restrictive Creative Commons licenses.

    Here's how the author describes it: "As long as it's not for commercial purposes and keep the attribution, we are set. To look at this another way, what I'm doing is making all your future fan fiction 100% supercanon."

    Another way of looking at it is that you can remix it, but you can't make money like this guy did. That's not very fair, is it?

    Now I'm all for artists keeping their rights and releasing some things so this is okay with me. But I want to point out that you normally describe this as strip mining the public domain. Someone is taking material from the public domain and copyrighting for themselves. The CC license isn't exactly giving back. So be consistent.

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