Atlas Hefts: The Sequel!

by Stephan Kinsella on December 15, 2010

I’ve got some ideas about what would happen after the end of Atlas Shrugged. I could just describe the basic plot here for you. I could say, “I think that after the world economy crashes and the governments collapse, the heroes emerge and help to rebuild. Dagny and Galt have a child, who ends up being a Randian Kwisatz Haderach, named Sarah. Then they get divorced when Dagny cheats on Galt with Eddie Willers. Sarah ends up running for President of a scaled back federal government. And there are lots of interesting sub-plots, such as [x, y, z].”

I could use this technique to highlight how some of Rand’s ideas were flawed, in my view, or builds on or extends them into other areas.

But I thought actually writing it up in novel-form might be a different way to present these ideas. So I spent the last four years on this. The novel is a doozy–450 pages of great literature. My friends who’ve seen it think it’s amazing.

But I could not publish it. Rand’s estate would surely sue me for copyright infringement. You see, putting my ideas down on paper this way is a derivative work. Only the author of the original work has the “right” to make derivative works. So even though Rand released the ideas about Atlas and the plot and characters into the world so that people are aware of them, we cannot integrate these into our own works in some ways. The estate of Rand could (and probably would) literally get a court order enjoining me, under penalty of being jailed for contempt of court, from publishing the book.

Think this is an exaggeration? It’s not. Shortly before his death, J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, convinced U.S. courts to ban the publication of a novel called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye.” (See also my post Book Banning Courtesy of Copyright Law.) Susan Boyle was prevented from singing a song because of copyright. A grocery store in Canada mistakenly sold 14 copies of a new Harry Potter book a few days before its official release on Saturday, July 16, 2005; a British Columbia Supreme Court judge “ordered customers not to talk about the book, copy it, sell it or even read it before it is officially released at 12:01 a.m. July 16. (See also Kinsella, Copywrong.) There’s the case where the seminal German silent film “Nosferatu” was deemed a derivative work of “Dracula” and courts ordered all copies destroyed. There’s the creative “alternative ending” to the Yogi Bear movie that could well be enjoined by Warner Bros., though it might luck out and benefit from the “fair use” defense. But these others wouldn’t, nor would my Atlas sequel.

Of course, I didn’t really write it. Who would, knowing courts would ban it? Copyright is literally censorship. No surprise, given that copyright’s origins lie in censorship (see my How Intellectual Property Hampers Capitalism; also The Surprising History of Copyright and The Promise of a Post-Copyright World; Masnick, The Cycle Of Copyright: Originally A Tool For Censorship, Attempted As A Tool For Incentives… Back To A Tool For Censorship). How any libertarian could support this is beyond me.

[Mises]

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Roderick T. Long December 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

They do make an exception for parody/satire (though who knows what courts will decide to regard as falling under that category); for example, Elvis Shrugged (a retelling of Atlas with Madonna, Sinatra, and Elvis taking the roles of Dagny, Rearden, and Galt respectively) seems to have gotten published without trouble.

Stephan Kinsella December 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

It’s a murky area. If I wrote a serious novel, a sequel, and tried to sell it for money, it could be enjoined, I think–it would be closer to the Catcher in the Rye analysis than the Wind Done Gone (see The Patent, Copyright, Trademark, and Trade Secret Horror Files) case or other parodies. Ironically one of the fair use factors is if you are making a profit. So if I make a profit that is “bad”–ironic for a Randian stance, in that one type of “copying” or “stealing” is okay if you don’t want to make money, but if you do, it becomes “bad” “stealing.”

Another example of the state’s pervasive practice of what I call “classificationism”: they create ad hoc, artificial legal rules and categories and distinctions, which have legal consequences: whether you “are” or “are not” “married”; whether it “is” or “is not” a “fair use” or “parody” etc.; so the judge has to make a binary decision to fit something into the state’s artificial statutory framework, to see what consequences follow. Of course usually this is a sham; they really decide what consequence they want, so then find the right category into which the activity in question “fits” so they can justify treating it the way they want. In this respect I agree with the “crits” esp. as in Hasnas’s analysis in The Myth of the Rule of Law.

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