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
    out_of_the_blue, 19 Dec 2012 @ 3:19pm

    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.

    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. 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).

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

    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).

    Support Mike "Streisand Effect" Masnick's proprietary interest!
    He innovated the term all by himself! He alone! It's HIS!

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