Friday, June 25, 2010

Copyright Crusaders, "The Rewrite Squad" and AYN RAND ANSWERS

Robert Campbell has been posting a side-by-side comparison of transcriptions from live talks given by Ayn Rand and the posthumously-published versions edited by Robert Mayhew in Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A. This has been going on at Objectivist Living. Recently, however, the thread has been blocked by the site's owner, for the following reason:

A Note on the Rewrite Squad

I have temporarily blocked public access to Robert Campbell's thread, The Rewrite Squad.

Kat and I received a "Demand for Immediate Take Down - Notice of Infringing Activity" from Mr. James Young on behalf of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. regarding the material in that thread that quotes Mayhew's Q&A book. Mr. Young calls himself an "Internet Investigator." I don't know if that is a lawyer or not, but no matter.

This document he sent us is the channel you go through when using the DMCA law. It is only the initial notification and I could easily file a Counter-Notice at this point, but that's a lot of blah blah blah. I decided to comply with the Take Down Notice to show good faith. I've got no beef with Penguin. Besides, there is a way to satisfy the law without losing all of Robert's work.

Since the thread was not a direct straight-through publication of the book, like is done whenever outright piracy occurs, but a comparison and discussion question by question--with all kinds of material between the sections quoted from the book (which are also not in the sequence given in the book), I discussed an idea or two with Robert and we will make the thread into a form that falls clearly within the Fair Use provision of the USA copyright statute.

That way we will keep the spirit of holding the feet of ARI scholars to the fire and meet the concerns of the publisher. But until it is in that form, we will keep it offline.

My issues with that site and its owner I've made known already, but, on this issue, I have to admit to some sympathy for the cause; the differing versions themselves are a great case for the need for independent Rand/Objectivism scholarship. While I don't share the same condemnation of the edited material as Campbell and Co., I do think the side-by-comparison (sans the "ums" and "ahs" from the unedited material)
are valuable; there are nuances and attitudes revealed in the originals, good and ill. And while I don't see so much in the way of sinister shenanigans in the editing, especially since the original material is available for the comparison, I would have preferred a straight-up transcription.

I personally wonder about the validity of this "internet investigator," who appears to be an "internet vigilante"; there is a similar case where he is involved on the behalf of Microsoft. (There is O. Henry tale here in the story of a "crusading copyright vigilante" intervening in a case of a "scholarly vigilante" crusading against edited versions of the original Rand transcripts.") I also wonder if Penguin has the rights to unpublished Rand transcripts, at that. But putting aside the copyright issue, I am glad to see the side-by-side comparisons, and respect the work (if not the snark) that went into compiling them. This is something that ARI should make more readily available. (Of course, I'd be amiss in not stating that this is supposedly coming from Penguin Books, and not ARI.) Open transparency on such issues would go a long way to combating the "cult" reputation around such matters. (Just as Leonard Peikoff, in his 6/21/10 podcast, has said that there will be no "intellectual heir" to Rand's legacy after him: "This is not the Catholic Church, Objectivism is not a dogma, and I am not the Pope!)

Whether or not the cult reputation is deserved, it has to be noted that independent scholars, commentators, and the like do have an effect, from friendly and hostile critics, to keep it on its toes, to "mind its p's and q's," so to speak. (The above quote from Peikoff can be read both ways in regards to his election "fatwa", for example, either as a humbled response to a rash statement of "opinion" or as "damage control" for runaway hubris, to be decided by a jury on the night of January 16th...).

So, all that said, this will be an interesting case to watch...

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