THE GREATEST CREATION OF HUMANKIND
Twelve theses on what the publishing antitrust trial meant for writers
This afternoon I recorded an interview with Texas public radio about my new piece in Harper’s Magazine about last summer’s publishing antitrust trial. This morning in preparation I wrote down a few further thoughts.
The one demographic characteristic shared by authors of the vast majority of books is that they are dead. In publishing the collective term for these books, also embracing not so new books written by the living, is the backlist. Under current conditions, especially international property laws that maintain copyright protections for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years or 95 years after the date of first publication, it is inevitable that backlists will tend toward agglomeration. The government acted to prevent the fusion of two of the biggest backlists in America, because publishers’ power over the living derives from their ownership of the rights to the dead.
More than any anti-consolidation efforts can accomplish, that power will only be attenuated by the reformation of the intellectual property regime. Such a reformation would stand to disinherit the not necessarily creative descendants of the creative dead.