Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Accuracy and Copyright

I wrote about Brown vs. Leigh and Baigent the other day and the entry sparked a lot of discussion about plagiarism and copyright. It was especially interesting to read the comments left by my friends who are lawyers. Now Aneeta has put up on her blog a very useful summary of how copyright works for writers - and you get an idea of just how complicated the issues are!

Meanwhile, the writing and publishing world hold their breaths while the Random House authors slug it out in the High Court. David Barrett, an author of books on religion and a journalist who is reporting on the case told The Age:
"The implications are massive. ... If Baigent and Leigh win — and I think they do have a strong case — then writers are going to have to be a lot more careful."
Apparently, a victory for the plaintiffs would "overturn the accepted rules of writing and publishing" and novelists such as Michael Crichton and Julian Barnes, who have written novels based on historical events, "could be exposed".

Now I thoroughly enjoyed Barnes' Arthur and George and had not questioned the validity of the historical fact until I read Walker's take on the book the other day. Let me now eat my words about it being "meticulously researched"!

(How strange though that if an author sets a novel in Malaysia and gets the facts wrong or chooses to ignore them, I'm immediately screeching with righteous indigination! There's just no consistency in me!)


Walker said...

Thanks for the mention Sharon. :)

Despite what you say, I can see why you would think it was meticulously researched after reading it. The book gives that impression so it's entirely excusable. And that's what bothers me. You'd only know otherwise if you had access to Ancestry.com (for confirming things like nationalities and family relationships) and The Times Digital Archive (for inconsistencies in newspaper stories). Barnes even mentions at the end that all newspaper quotations are accurate, so it's easy to assume that all allusions to newspaper stories are accurate...but they're not. He even, very conveniently, ignores some newspaper reports of the trial in order to add to the mystery element when Doyle is on the trail. (The Greatorex couple were on the scene and mentioned in newspapers five years before Doyle magically discovered them in the story for example.)

I do plan to write more on this (citing photos and documents) but I keep getting snowed under with work. Very annoyed that I can't find time to blog at the moment. :(

aneeta said...

Thank you, Sharon, for the mention.

bibliobibuli said...

You're both welcome. It makes me realise that one of the best things about blogging is that it creates real dialogue between people.

Walker - you have to write that and it shouldn't just be blog entry neither!!! I think I feel a bit ... angry, Freyed round th edges! ... i mean, i don't mind if writers bend historical fact in a novel - but i'd like them to be honest with me about the extent of the fiction vs fact ...

Yvonne Foong said...

what if it's fiction?

bibliobibuli said...

yvonne - we ARE talking about fiction this time ... but really I suppose it's about the limits of fiction ... can you take real lives and historical events and then distort the facts and then tell the reader that what you've written is the truth?

Walker said...

"Freyed around the edges"! LOL. I like that. Your point about dialogue in the blogosphere reminds me of the problem with Trevor Butterworth's negative article on blogging in the FT. He totally failed to appreciate that blogging isn't just about publishing but also social networking.

Barry said...

I don't get the comment you pass on from the Age to the effect that a success against Brown will prove to be an upset for authors like Barnes, as it conflates two very different ideas. A work of fiction has no responsibility to be accurate, although inaccuracies may well be annoying to readers and there will be a market effect: people won't buy it. Of course, if those same innacuracies show up in another author's work, then we have a probable case of copyright.

But as was made clear in your earlier post, where there facts, those facts themselves are generally speaking in the public domain (unless we are talking about compilations being ripped off) and the author's particular way of recording the facts is what is protected, the word choice and order.

The claim against Brown is not one of historical inaccuracy, it is of making use of significant and specific details from the earlier work: proof of copying those details will see Mr Brown in trouble.

bibliobibuli said...

walker - the great miracle of the internet is that i could track down and read it in seconds! Interesting article and I see what you mean.

“The word blogosphere has no meaning,” he (Sicha)said ... “There is no sphere; these people aren’t connected; they don’t have anything to do with each other.” The democratic promise of blogs, he explained, has just produced more fragmentation and segregation at a time when seeing the totality of things - the purview of old media - is arguably much more important.

I think quite the opposite is true and it's surprised me just how much of a dialogue my posts sometimes generate. Everyday there's conversation and it's always a learning experience for me!

Barry, I'm glad you pointed that out and I was waiting to see if anyone picked me up on that. I'm also perplexed by the reference to Barnes and Crichton, and think the writer of the article hasn't made the connection between ideas very clear. But for now let's just wait and see what the fallout from the case might be.

Anonymous said...

FT article is accurate though, they've proved a point I think, that if you want good readership, you have to have good writing, and good marketing. Ninety comments on the very first post. That's got to be some sort of record.