Monday, October 18, 2010
Book publishers also mining the public domain
Hollywood movie studios aren’t the only ones profiting from works in the public domain. Publishers have gotten into the act too, reworking classic novels into new books, graphic novels and comics.
Part 4: Classic stories with a modern twist
Literary works in the public domain can be reprinted by anyone.
As such, they’re like generic drugs.
When medicines come off patent protection, generic drug makers are able to make those drugs without paying fees to their creators. The inventors of the drug benefited from government protection for a limited period of exclusivity. During that time, inventor companies are able to build up brand names and develop enhancements to those drugs.
And when those medicines go off patent, the public benefits from cheaper products and innovations by other companies.
That was the original intent behind copyrights for creative works, too. But then lobbyists convinced lawmakers to extend copyrights seemingly forever.
The length of patents hasn’t changed. They still run 14 to 20 years.
But copyrights have been stretched to extremes. Originally, copyrights lasted 14 years, with the right to renew for another 14 years.
Now, copyrights for works before 1978 run 95 years from their publication date. Works published in 1978 and after can be protected by copyright for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. And for works created for hire (such as by a media company), the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication.
Mashups, graphic novels and new technology
One of the great things about works in the public domain is that artists are able to create bold new takes on old stories without having to seek permission from copyright holders.
The examples of this are everywhere.
Philadelphia-based publisher Quirk Books created the “mashup” trend of blending public-domain works with horror stories. It added hordes of flesh-eating zombies to Jane Austen’s 19th-century comedy of manners, “Pride and Prejudice,” to create “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” in 2009. (A movie version is in the works, Geektyrant reports.)
The mashup book was a hit and soon spawned “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.”
Now other publishers are getting into the act. HarperTeen came out with “Little Vampire Women” and Del Rey produced “Little Women and Werewolves,” both based on “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.
Gallery adapted Charlotte Bronte’s “Jayne Eyre” as “Jayne Slayre.” (EW reported on the copycats.)
Cracked.com parodied this trend recently. It predicted that the next fad would be to take classic horror novels and remove the horror. For instance, “Dracula” would become “The Castled Happenstance of John Harker.”
Another trend is turning classic books into graphic novels, according to the Huffington Post. Many of the adapted works are from the public domain, including “Crime and Punishment” (1866), “On the Origin of the Species” (1859), “The Jungle” (1906), “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and the Bible.
Technologies unimagined of years ago also are giving public domain works new life.
Consider media tablets like Apple’s iPad and electronic book readers like Amazon.com’s Kindle. They’re offering people the opportunity to experience books in brand new ways.
Some publishers are finding ways to sell public domain works by adding interactivity and new artwork.
Consider “Alice in Wonderland” for the iPad. Publisher Atomic Antelope is selling its colorful, illustrated, interactive book for $8.99 for the iPad.
PadWorx Digital Media turned Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” into an interactive book with over 600 illustrations plus original music and soundscapes and effects. It’s selling the revamped public domain e-book for $4.99.
Then there are video games. Electronic Arts is working on a sequel to “American McGee’s Alice,” which is based on “Alice in Wonderland.” The new game is called “Alice: Madness Returns” and promises the same dark, mature atmosphere as the original game. It’s due out in 2011.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is now selling “The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road” game for Nintendo’s DS handheld device. The game was developed by Xseed Games.
Photos: The covers of classic lit-horror mashups “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” and “Little Vampire Women” (top). Also, the “Alice in Wonderland” e-book for the iPad and the “Alice: Madness Returns” video game (bottom).