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On the Public Domain: Twilight…and Vampires!

For Memorial Day this year, we threw a big party. Actually…I should rephrase that. For Memorial Day this year, my wife threw a big party. All I did was mow the lawn, and that begrudgingly. She was still kind enough to invite me, though.

Anyway, it was a bit of a last-minute thing, but we had a pretty impressive turnout. We’re all a bunch of married couples for the most part, so these things usually end up dividing pretty evenly along gender lines — husbands in one room pouring drinks or watching the game, wives in another talking or playing games.

This time went a little differently, though, because in the time since our last big party, I’ve founded a writer’s group or two, and a couple of my writer friends were there this time. So the three of us ended up sitting off to one side talking shop for the whole evening.

I’d been discussing this Consortium stuff with Courtney for nearly a month at that point (and railing against copyright while I was at it), but it was my first time to bring either up with Becca. I like to think Courtney prodded me into sharing my brilliant secrets with Becca, but it’s far more likely I just butted into their conversation and turned it toward my own interests.

Either way, we did end up talking copyright, and public domain, and Becca (who’s relatively new to the writing world) didn’t immediately grasp what I was getting at. She asked me to explain what the public domain actually was, and even after I’d done that, she wanted to know why I thought it was such a great thing for artists.

She was the first person who asked me to defend that claim, and honestly, I had to cast about a bit to find a good explanation. The public domain is great for artists (that’s what I’m talking about for the rest of the week), but I couldn’t immediately think of a great explanation why.

The real beauty of the public domain is that it frees artists to express themselves in the manner most suited to their artistic vision — even if that manner happens to be one somebody else has already perfected and popularized. Parodies are already protected under copyright law (sort of), but there are all kinds of real, valuable creative works that could be built on existing creative works.

The best example I could come up with quickly was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If you’re not already familiar with the title, somebody took the classic (and public domain work) Pride and Prejudice, and inserted a zombie plague into the existing storyline. Pride and Prejudice is still there, completely intact, but it’s got the occasional tangent into fantasy adventure somewhere betwixt Hertfordshire and London.

It’s a decent example of what can be done with public domain work, but it’s imperfect because it’s comical. It’s not that much different from a parody.

Derivative art doesn’t have to be funny, though. It just so happens that this one is, and sure enough, Becca laughed aloud at my description. Then she asked if Courtney or I had read “the Twilight thing like that.”

Neither of us knew what she was talking about, so then it was her turn to cast about for an accurate description of a bizarre concept. And the whole time she was working on that, I kept thinking silently, “Please let it be Twilight…and Vampires! That would be hilarious. Please tell me someone wrote Twilight…and Vampires!”

The Value of the Public Domain

Because that would be a fun book, right? The frivolous and chaste aristocratic love story from Twilight, but with the added element of dangerous and interesting fantasy monsters. I’d actually read that one.

Alas, it’ll never happen. Not in time for any of us to see it, anyway — Twilight‘s under strict copyright until 70 years after Meyer dies.

There’s plenty of public domain art out there, though, and it’s got a lot to offer you in your writing. Come back tomorrow for a brief discussion of the value of the public domain.

One Response to “On the Public Domain: Twilight…and Vampires!”

  1. Trish Pogue says:

    Great post. I would re-read that. And may like it.