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Story Ownership -- Pros and Cons

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I occasionally hang out at a few different places on the web, some that post amateur fiction, some that discuss different subjects of interest, some that are more like Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" than an actual discussion group.

There's a website devoted specifically to fiction and images of guys with muscle (forgive me, I'm interested in such things): Musclegrowth.org. In a curious development, one of the most prolific authors there -- R. Chris Cooper (who also had stories on Nifty and similar sites) -- abruptly passed away over the weekend. His partner, acting upon specific instructions, immediately set out to delete any and all stories posted on the sites, which numbered into the hundreds of pages. Not surprisingly, this set off a firestorm of complaints and discussion.

To me, the moment you post a story on the web, it's gone. You've given it away forever. There's no way you can really commercialize it in the traditional sense, because somebody, somewhere is going to have a copy of it. You can market it to some degree, and there are cases of people taking first drafts of stories, reworking them, and turning them into successful eBooks. But I'm flummoxed as to why somebody would -- immediately after death -- leave instructions in their will that not a trace of their work would be left behind.

It's a strange, twisted tale, and you can read some of the discussion at this link:


To me, sites like Awesomedude give authors exposure, and I see no point in expecting anything from readers beyond an encouraging email or an honest critique. It's sad in this case, because Cooper was actually a very talented writer who occasionally wrote stories of very high quality, certainly good enough to commercially publish. As far as I'm concerned, posting stories on websites is kind of a form of immortality, because one hopes that the words will last somewhat longer than we will. I like the idea of that, and I don't agree with the concept of a scorched-earth policy at death.

As a sidenote: a friend of mine knew a comedy writer who used to work for Red Skelton, the 1950s and 1960s TV comedian and variety show host. Red told the guy in the 1970s, "I've made my will so that the moment I die, all of my TV shows -- videotapes, films, kinescopes, the works -- will all be incinerated. All gone. That way, I'm never going to have to pay any of you bastards residuals." The writer was taken aback, a lawsuit was instituted, and Skelton was forbidden to do destroy his shows. (Realistically, his shows have very little commercial value today, but still, the precedent is an alarming one.)

I know there have been cases where authors have decided to try to publish a story, then got enmeshed in a shoving match with different websites to try to pull down the text, for fear of interfering with commercial sales. I see both sides of this issue, but I think it's insane to assume that just because you remove a story from one site, your stories won't ever have been downloaded, stored elsewhere, or printed out by users. Once up on the net, it's there forever, through archival sources like the Wayback Machine and others.

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This makes me want to voice a question that's occured to me before. There is a huge volume of material on Nifty, and I suppose other sites, that's been around for years. I assume some of it is very high quality. Yet, is any of it still read? I agree with Pec, once it's out there, it's out there, but is it actually still viewed by anyone? Or, as time passes, are all our own stories simply going to become like the dead letters in the post office dusty cubbies?


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That's true. There was a time in the 1990s when I kept up with Nifty fairly well, and got to the point where I could read three or four paragraphs of a longer story and know whether or not I wanted to finish reading it. And I probably read at least 1/3 of the site (and there's a lot of text there). Luckily for me, I read fast.

Everything has a finite lifespan, so it's expected that eventually, stuff goes away. Nothing lasts forever. There's brilliant novels from the 1950s and 1960s that I bet nobody has pulled off library shelves in 40 years. One hopes that there's always the chance that a reader will stumble over one of these stories and enjoy them, as they were intended to be read.

At least in the case of The Dude's site, there's a reasonable level of storytelling here, so it isn't all just flotsam and jetsam. You have a much better chance of running into a good story here than on almost anywhere else on the net, and that's got to count for something.

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In relation to the removal of all of one's work upon death, there is a deeply philosophical argument about doing so. This highly intellectual argument centres around the idea that only whilst one lives is one's work relevant, meaningful or worthwhile. The individual's desires in revolution, rebellion and personal isolation are without relevance to what follows his life because he no longer experiences it.

The conclusion becomes, as stated in the clip below,

"And when I vanish, I want all trace of my existence to be wiped out."

Is this intellectual conclusion worthy of consideration? Is it what we would want? Certainly it is a confronting idea, particularly as we humans so often seem gripped in the quest for immortality. But the above quote is part of a larger argument concerning the human condition; one which involves the complex relationships of self-awareness, culture and individual existence. The resolve of the revolutionary and the established opposing conformity is merely an exchange of power. It is only the rebel against both who has a sense of purposelessness that serves life whilst it is being lived and he is being defeated. Therefore the removal of all references to one's life is the only action that is in keeping with the fleeting, ephemeral nature of existence.

Whether you agree or not, to the argument, is beside the point, which might be considered as "if no one experiences it, does anything exist?"

Personally, I see the argument as a reason for living life to the full, observing as much as one can, but never assuming it is of value to anyone else.

In that regard, I wouldn't destroy my writing, but neither would I want a memorial to myself once I am gone. It's a real enigma, a paradox of thought and reality.

I seriously doubt that Net writers, who want their work destroyed, are subject to theses thoughts, but who knows?

Some artists create for posterity, others for the moment.

For those of you with a strong constitution here is the relevant (4 minute) scene from the play, Marat/Sade as filmed in 1967. Be warned it is not an easy watch. The play itself is a favourite of drama groups, often performed with considerably less than full understanding of all the implications of the situation. My summary above is merely my own thoughts and is vulnerable to open discussion. Such is the power and depth of the dramatic theatre.

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My dad has many copies of the Red Skelton Show on disc, one of his favorites, and I have watched them repeatedly. I expect, from a man who embodied goodwill and hope, that his remarks were meerly a joke. Did you know that show was where Jim Henson first got his start? He produced the "Popcorn" fuzzies.

I would hope to have a good author's work to enjoy for many more reads in the future. Some of my favorites did not start writing till they were in their later years, and for them to utterly destroy there works would be a tragedy.

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Well said, Paul. And Des, I don't get your argument at all, even if, as you say, it doesn't matter if I do or don't. But I don't see how it speaks to the fact that some books help others. Take, just off the top of my head and not trying to think of greater examples, The Power of Positive Thinking, and, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Both those books contain information that will be helpful to others through the years. The death of their authors in no way diminishes the help their books produce. We should deny people that help for no other reason than the author is no longer with us?

Likewise, just any trashy novel that brings pleasure to people has value that outlives it's author. People still enjoy the writings of long dead authors today. What is the justiication for ending their enjoyment?

So I don't get it.


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The argument on which I reported is not one made from the view of the beneficiary, it is a philosophy of the individual, made for the justification of their own existence, whilst they are alive. This is not the selfish act it first would appear to be, but can be considered altruistic as the argument is, that to leave anything behind, of themselves, is to impose on the freedom of those who live after them. Think of certain religious figures.

The delightful irony is that both the author of the play and the Marquis de Sade, having written their thoughts down, did indeed leave them to 'impose upon us.'

The help we receive from the thoughts of others is really in the way we perceive them and consider them in our own minds. For me The Power of Positive Thinking is a precursor to the corrupting ramblings of Ayn Rand and are both best avoided.

The argument, as presented, is a discourse, somewhat on thinking for oneself, and that finally the anarchy of the rebel is the force and the result of such rebellion as opposed to the revolving exchange of power between authority and revolutionary. (The rebel being without the cause of the revolutionary.)

The justification cannot be made by those who follow, or lead; only by those who live as a rebel against authority, without prejudice.

It is not an easy concept. I think the answer is by no means conclusive, but it is surely fascinating.

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But it staunches the accumulation of knowledge. Certainly that isn't a good thing. Wiping the slate clean for each new generation is a fantastical idea. I think even the most jaded of us would admit civilization is further ahead today than it was in the Middle Ages, or in prehistoric times. We've learned and passed on that knowledge. Who would ever say we'd have been better off erasing all our accumulated knowledge bit by bit every year?


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But it staunches the accumulation of knowledge. Certainly that isn't a good thing. Wiping the slate clean for each new generation is a fantastical idea. I think even the most jaded of us would admit civilization is further ahead today than it was in the Middle Ages, or in prehistoric times. We've learned and passed on that knowledge. Who would ever say we'd have been better off erasing all our accumulated knowledge bit by bit every year?


It isn't a case of wiping the slate clean with each generation. That is an impossibility - generations overlap. It is only the individual who chooses to 'vanish without trace of his existence'; everyone else is still alive and exchanging knowledge. All that we do remains, as in the irony I pointed out about the author having stated the intellectual concept of wanting all trace of his existence to be wiped out.

It's a philosophical concept of a psychological intellectualisation. As such it gives insight into the reasons some exercise in declaring their work to be removed from posterity, but it is futile, except in the absolute where all has been lost.

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Should I throw the pebble so that it skips across the surface of the water, or drop it into the water so that it sinks into the ponderous depths never to be seen again?

I like to think that both ripple our experiential reality with similar uncertainty.


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  • 2 weeks later...
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There is a certain irony in reading this thread on Awesomedude when AD is so closely associated with Cody's World..

I came to writing very late. Sometime I shall stop answering emails and when that time comes these few stories will be all that is left of a whole segment of my personality... so there!

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