Commanding Chaos for Coworking, Open Source and Creative Communities

Giving Away the Keys to the Emerald City

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 08:59 -- rprice

In a recent post, I tried to lay out some sketchy ideas about how a visionary writer could create a universe, tell some stories about it, and then proceed to give away said universe, so that others may use it for their own personal gain, thereby increasing the value, and hopefully encouraging others to do the same. With any luck, we could apply some licensing to anything based on this universe that does not penalize people who write fan fiction or derivative works, while still granting some protection to authors - one must eat, after all.

Read My Original Post:Time, Talent, and Vision – the Iron Triangle of Open Source

Just today, I realized one popular example of this model at work... sort of.

Exhibit A: Wicked
In 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Despite the fact that a blockbuster motion picture based on this story and it's universe was released in 1939, the book was released to the public domain in 1956. I believe this had a lot to do with a far less litigious motion picture industry in the 40s and 50s.

Fast-forward to 1995 when Gregory Maguire wrote Wicked, which has spawned a writing career for the author, as well as the smash-hit Broadway musical. You can bet your ass that story won't be released to the public domain.

In the Wikipedia article about Wicked, there is a line: "the two series are set in similar and internally consistent but distinctly separate visions of Oz". I disagree. I always thought it was a matter of perspective. Showing more than one perspective of a chain of events is a great storytelling tool.

Exhibit B: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Perhaps inspired by the rollicking success of Wicked, and the rising pupularity of Zombies in popular culture (step aside, Pirates and Ninjas), some enterprising chap named Seth Grahame-Smith said "I can make Jane Austen more interesting with Zombies!"

The wikipedia page leads us to believe that the title was actually inspired by someone trying to figure out which classic books were ripe for mashing up. Jane Austen is credited as a co-author of the book, as much of the text is actually pulled from the original.

However, is it also public domain? I don't think so, but I am prepared to be corrected.

Both of these authors have gone on to publish sequels to these books, sell the movie rights, TV series deals, and so on. Is that right? Just because something was written a few years later, does that make it any different than me doing it tomorrow?

I'm going to give this idea a name, just so I can stop dancing around it: Collaborative Universes. Whether the collaboration is welcome or not, and commercial or not, is going to vary based on the situation, but I really want to see what happens when the original author is still alive and incorporates material from the "fan fiction" into his or her own original work.

Example: "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" Was referenced in the film version of X-Men as a nod to an Internet Meme of the same name. But we could have so much more than that.

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It's the same story with Disney. Much of their work is based on works in the public domain, but they are some of the biggest proponents of extended copyrights.