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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Theft Should Be Dangerous

I finally got around to reading The Ecstacy of Influence. I'm aware that Isaac is a big believer is the inherent "corruption" of "intellectual property" law and that there is no such thing as plagarism.

I don't know. I know theft is rather common... but that doesn't mean we should suddenly legitimatize theft as a sort of badge of honor. It's a dangerous practice, a high-wire act, and that's how I like it.

Certainly, it would be far easier for directors if each script came with no restrictions as to how it should be performed, by whom, and whose name goes on it. But shouldn't some practices be difficult and fraught with challenges? Like taking ownership of someone else's work?

EDIT: I'll be an adult about this and correct myself: - Isaac doesn't say that there is "no such thing as plagarism." It's not something he stated and is careful not to imply that in his postings. Too quickly written, this post was.


parabasis said...


I think you're misrepresenting my position and the positions taken by Jonathan in the Ecstasy essay. Of course, it's also hard to say what's misrepresenation, as my position grows and evolves daily, and i think Jonathan's interpretation changes a little within that essay as well.

(1) It's not that I think that there is no such thing as plagarism. It's that I think plagarism has too broad a definition. Taking someone's text and claiming it as your own is completely different from (for example) taking a small piece and recontextualiziing it (like Chuck Mee does) or (for another example) using someone else's basic plot or idea and executing it in your own way (something everyone does).

(2) It's not that theft should be legitimized, it is that what you're calling "theft" has only recently been DE-legitimized in the late Enlightenment and Modern eras (which in the scheme of things, is pretty recent). Copyright law in this counry has changed drastically in the past half century, and with it our notions of intellectual property "theft" have changed as well so that any spottable influence becomes somehow stealing. This is ludicrous. The history of copyright in the US section of Jonathan's essay is helpful here.

(3) I'm not sure if you're referencing my own writings on this issue (and authorial intent) in your third paragraph, but I've certainly never claimed that it would be good if we didn't credit people for their work, nor have I advocated ignoring playwrights.

I think you might be inadvertantly (and I really mean inadvertantly) straw manning those of us who want to reexamine how influence works and the legal and cultural frameworks that (to us) hinder creativity in the arts in order to serve individual (and corporate) financial interests.

I also must confess to not understanding your last sentence.


Freeman said...


Could be. Let's see here:

1) I completely agree there. Didn't mean to imply that you think Plagarism doesn't exist. Simply that what I'm reading implies that the line between recontextualizing and actually plagarizing seems very, very muddy in the arguments I've read.

2) I'd agree that there's overreaching in such a thing as going to far in protecting intellectual property. I just believe that in an era where there is so much that is open source and easily downloadable (see MP3s and music and file sharing software and EBooks) that it behooves smaller artists to be vigiliant about their intellectual property, not to simply capitulate to increasing technologies. Intellectual property law actually becomes more important as media becomes more easily accessible.

3) Didn't mean to imply that. I know you're a fan of writers and writing. But, as a writer, there are times I see a director's needs (the ability to "rediscover" a work, for example) as coming close to challenging the notion of authorial intent.

I don't mean to straw man anyone. In fact, all I've stated, honestly, is that I intinctively feel it should be difficult for those who did not create a work to alter or change that work in order to reinterpret it.

One thing that I find interesting is that Lethem is a writer and he chooses to give his work away, but he also certainly makes money from the sale of his written words. He's aided, in this way, by ownership and the laws governing ownership. He also has an interest in claiming certain territory for himself... he wants to be able to use his influences to create new works.

On the other hand, a director, such as yourself, seems to argue that works that are NOT in the public domain, or have strict controls by an Estate (the Beckett estate) are somehow damaging the works themselves by too strictly limiting others access. That's a very different argument against current intellectual property law. Maybe I'm misunderstanding (it's happened) but it seems that where Lethem wants the ability to quote other writers, you're seeking wholesale access to certain complete works so that you can use them in creating something new. That strikes me as taking ownership of another work, on some level, of another artists property.

Charles Mee wants directors and writers to do this. Some others may not. I think that's their right, and doesn't inherently interfere with the rights of directors.

Freeman said...


I thinking about this...

I guess my overall comes down to something relatively simple: I think that roadblocks to the ability to use the work of others are an overall "good." They limit us, in a way, and those limitations create invention.