November 12, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Tumblr

@jxchristopher writes of my latest piece in The Atlantic

jxchristopher: Unusually partisan for you, Professor @Lessig – you’re much more persuasive when striking at roots rather than branches http://t.co/R856ldSV

It is true, the piece is, and it was difficult to write because it is. It is my style, and for good purpose, to keep it clear that the problem that I am describing — the problem of the corrupting influence of campaign cash — is completely bi-partisan. I work hard to make that point as clear as I can (and am most proud when people see that).

But I was struck when I read Thomas Mann & Norm Ornstein’s book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, with both (1) how convincing they are about partisan problem that they are describing, and (2) how difficult it is to take their position. 

Their point is that the Republicans are now different. Echoing others (see, e.g., Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal), Mann and Ornstein argue that the behavior of the Republicans is unprecedented in modern history, and that that behavior is unambiguously harmful to our type of democracy. A parliamentary democracy can afford a militant minority, since the majority can still govern. But a constitutional democracy with the kind of separation of powers that we have cannot survive a militant minority, since the consequence of that permanent war is perpetual stalemate. The “ideals” that Newt Gingrich introduced to Congress destroyed Congress and thus also our ability to govern. And while there are people who don’t mind if government can’t do anything, they are not people with any connection to reality. 

Only the Republicans have been militant minority-ists. The Democrats, in minority during the Bush years, never adopted a “we will not give you one vote” rule. But that was precisely the rule McConnell and the house leadership insisted upon when Obama became President. We have suffered from that militant behavior since, and it continues even after this election. (HuffPo: Boehner to GOP: Fall in Line)

Yet it is hard to remark this — especially hard for people like Ornstein and Mann, who depend upon access to Congress for their work. Indeed, these two intellectual deans of congressional studies have been meticulously a-partisan for most of the history of their work. It seems unseemly to be anything but. Yet as they describe in this latest, it was impossible for them to write honestly and not address this fundamentally destructive turn in the behavior of the GOP.

Their point is not fundamentally partisan. They would criticize the Democrats if Democrats behaved in the same way. But the consequence of their speaking so clearly and convincingly is a book that strikes directly at one party. And in this era of “objective” journalism, where every truth must have two sides neutrally described (global warming, evolution, and the partisanship of political parties), there’s something jarring in reading their book.

I am fortunate that my subject doesn’t require their courage. Both parties pander to the money. But out of respect for them, convinced as I am of the fundamental character of the problem they described, I wrote as I did, repeating their strong attribution of blame.

(Note: I am not as convinced as they are that the problems of polarization are unrelated to the problem of money. I wish they had done more to address that point. But I am convinced that the truth they have so simply and directly stated is one we must all have the courage to repeat.)

There is something fundamentally unAmerican (in the non-McCarthy sense of that term) about the current attitude of the GOP to their (lack of) power. It is an attitude that is disrespectful of the best of our traditions, that echoes the worst of our traditions, and that is unsustainable for a nation that intends to thrive. More of us should call them out for it. Especially the only powerful politician in our system not running for reelection: The President.

(And all this would be true, even if a majority of Americans hadn’t voted Democratic in the House, Senate and Presidential races.)

  • iocaste

    Although I do not disagree with the general assessment, I do think it’s rather ironic to make this point with respect to the film, rather than with respect to the comic book on which the film is based. After all, the comic book embraces the various characters. By contrast, the film’s producers (apparently terrified that young audiences will not recognize these hundred-year-old “public domain” characters) are running from the premise, by failing to promote any of these characters in the trailers and commercials. You could sit through the entire trailer without ever knowing that any of these characters appear — all you’d know is that Sean Connery stars.

    iocaste

  • Lessig

    This is a great and right point. But it was, e.g., the MPAA that attacked the public domain so strongly in Eldred. I didn’t notice any briefs on the wrong side from graphic novelists.

  • K Trivedi

    Moore is a revisionist (in a very celebratory way): Marvelman, Watchmen, Supreme, LXG and others. Publishing is a hard business: Moore learned it the hard way with Big Numbers. Money allows him the freedom to make the works *he* values. Moore does not value Hollywood’s translations, however, he does get immense leverage from not worrying about big sales numbers of his independent works.

    More than a decade before Eldred, there was Moore’s fight with DC/Time-Warner about his and Gibbons’ Watchmen. It taught me, by example, how the corporate types could subvert contracts and creator’s rights. Let me add that to this day, Moore has refused to directly deal with DC—they have, however, bought out a competitor that publishes Moore’s works (where he along with the artists holds the rights to the characters and works rather than the publisher).

    One can look forward, in trepidation, to whether or not Disney attempts to stop others from using the LXG public domain characters. What a sad, “circle-of-life” kind of story that would turn into: a great author revises the public domain characters and Disney buys the work for a song to stop others from using them.

  • http://www.cali.org John Mayer

    The Invisible Man’s name is known only as Mr. Griffin. Referenced from Project Gutenberg.

  • Dave

    Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s older brother) did first appear in The Greek Interpreter, but it was published in 1893.

    See
    http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/subjects/Young-Readers.html
    http://www.sherlockian.net/canon/stories/gree.html
    (Two sites for confirmation)

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/djtoell Damin J. Toell

    I’m not sure why the subject line of your blog entry mentions “more walt disney creativity.” LXG is actually 20th Century Fox production, and Disney is uninvolved as far as I can tell. I would hope that this is unintentional error, as it seems rather spurious to mention Disney at all in this context.

  • http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    Moore’s original didn’t use Tom Sawyer; that’s an addition by the filmmakers.

  • RhiannonStone

    The Invisible Man’s name was Hawley Griffin in both the Wells novel and the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. I have read over at upcomingmovies.com that there were “copyright issues with the H. G. Wells estate” that led to the name change to Rodney Skinner.

  • Lessig

    “walt disney creativity” refers not to a man, but to a kind of creativity. So I’m not saying Disney had anything to do with this film. But I am saying that this kind of creativity is the kind WALT engaged all the time.

  • Jozef

    If I were Moore, I’d stop writing comic books right now. Following up on what icoaste said, I’d like to point out another instances of the movie being “dumbed down” for general US audiences.

    First, the original comic had a slightly different lineup. The group was led by a woman, Mina Murray Harker, and Quatermain, Jekyll/Hyde, Griffin and Nemo are the underlings. There’s no Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray, which were presumably added to make the characters more familiar to US audiences.

    What I find intriguing about this movie is the fact that if it’s true that Moore was in control of his work, why would he allow to produce a movie he said he hated.

  • rp

    HG Wells died in 1946. Am I correct in assuming that his body of work will not enter the public domain until 2016? (unless Congress acts again before then, that is)

    Is changing the (not commonly known) name of an obvious character (The Invisible Man) sufficient to avoid copyright infringment issues?

  • phippy

    Someone humor me a response….this may be a dumb question:

    so can I assume that since Disney has made a movie of these public domain characters, and that indeed the movie is copyrighted….does that mean that other movie studios (or authors, or musicians, etc.) wanting to use, say the Mr. Hyde or Invisible Man character…would have to clear copyrights with Disney ? Does Disney now “own” the rights to these characters ?

    I’m understanding that characters from Grimm stories are now ‘owned’ by Disney, in a similar way, yes ? (sleeping beauty, cinderella, etc.)

  • http://realtegan.blogspot.com/ Laura

    “If I were Moore, I�d stop writing comic books right now.”

    He is. He’s leaving comics. And those of us who liked the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book are cringing in horror at this movie adaptation, as it seems to go completely against the spirit of the original, which was to put these characters into different situations and see how they reacted, not to change the characters to fit the movie (Mina Harker a vampire?? please.) In addition, Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer were both added to the line-up for no apparent reason (as Moore himself said, what is Dorian Gray’s ability? He doesn’t grow any older. Boring).

    While I like the implications of support for the public domain in the movie, I can already tell you that the graphic novel contained a far better argument. You all ought to go check it out, by the way. It’s quite excellent. The second volume, which has five issues published, is the first comic book that ever made me want to clean my eyeballs with a brillo pad though.

  • John

    Phippy:

    > so can I assume that since Disney has made a movie of these public domain characters, and that indeed the movie is
    > copyrighted.�does that mean that other movie studios (or authors, or musicians, etc.) wanting to use, say the Mr. Hyde or
    > Invisible Man character�would have to clear copyrights with Disney ?

    They would have to obtain copyright clearance if they used any new story, plot, or character elements that were first introduced in LXG. That’s the original work of the filmmakers, and that’s what the copyright covers.

  • Karl

    Has anyone seen this story regarding the soundtrack?

    According to the article, it won’t be produced on CD for the US market, and is only going to be available through the iTunes store. Am I right in assuming that this essentially means that anyone without an apple is forced to buy one or ‘steal’ the music?

    -kd

  • Jon H

    Karl writes: ” Am I right in assuming that this essentially means that anyone without an apple is forced to buy one or �steal� the music?”

    My gut feeling is that they don’t really expect there to be much demand for the soundtrack, if any, so this won’t be a significant problem.

  • Karl

    I collect soundtracks, and I love classical music, so I had intended to buy the LXG soundtrack. If I owned an Apple, or if there was a Windows (or Linux) version of iTunes, I’d most certainly buy it, but I don’t think I have any option other than to seek it out via P2P in the current scenario.

    I applaud the attempt at a new business model. The physical media is hardly necessary these days, especially when people are just going to rip the music and burn it in the order they want, with the other songs they want to hear. But, I think they may have wanted to wait until the iTunes market was larger.

    =kd

  • http://www.charm.net/~pete/pete.cgi Pete

    What cracks me up is that the graphic novels really require readers to have at least a basic understanding of the original, public domain works to “get the jokes” while the movie’s being promoted so as to de-emphasize them. The GNs even make references to things like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and the Cthulhu Mythos (public domain?) even though no characters or entities show up. I loved the graphic novels, but won’t be going to see the movie… what’s the point? The stuff that made it interesting has been surgically removed, which is bizarre since the success of the film will really hinge on the patronage of RPG fanfolk who giggle about stuff like this between D&D sessions.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/djtoell Damin J. Toell

    Prof. Lessig says: “�walt disney creativity� refers not to a man, but to a kind of creativity. So I�m not saying Disney had anything to do with this film. But I am saying that this kind of creativity is the kind WALT engaged all the time.”

    This was perhaps well-intentioned, but also apparently confusing. At least two other commenters thus far have questioned whether Disney will be enforcing copyrights in these characters as a result of LXG, presumably caused by your attribution of “walt disney creativity” to this film.

  • http://ninthpanel.dyndns.org/blog/ Brad Brooks

    �If I were Moore, I�d stop writing comic books right now.�

    “He is. He�s leaving comics.”

    Well, actually, he’s not leaving comics per se. He’s leaving mainstream comics. He’ll still write comics, just not superhero ones.

    “What I find intriguing about this movie is the fact that if it�s true that Moore was in control of his work, why would he allow to produce a movie he said he hated.”

    Because he knows that Hollywood doesn’t give a damn about the original work or the people who created it. They’re going to louse it up anyway, so why get an ulcer over it? The money from this and From Hell before it means that he can concentrate on doing work that actually means something other than just a paycheck at the end of it. It’s called playing the system – something Moore has become adept at.

  • Eric Hughes

    As much as I have enjoyed the original comics and as much as I don’t anticipate enjoying the movie particularly, the issues of artistic merit have nothing to do with the policy issues involved with access to the public domain. The public domain allowed Moore to work his usual magic. It also allowed the studio to add new characters and to derive their own interpretations of the same public domain characters. I like Moore and I dislike the studio, but so what?

    Just as the first amendment protects speech you hate, the public domain protects the ability to make worthless art.

  • http://www.20six.co.uk/nycangela Angela

    Aha! Now I’m aware and am on the fence of seeing this flick. All I know is a video promo for this movie popped up on EVERY click on http://www.mp3.com. No idea this movie had a basis in other characters. Thought it was just a Sean Connery wannabe summer blockbuster.

  • http://www.geocities.com/jessnevins/vicintro.html Jess Nevins

    Never thought I’d ever have anything relevant to say here….

    “Hawley” was Moore’s addition. The Invisible Man is only ever called “Griffin” in Wells’ original. The reason that Hawley Griffin is not appearing in LXG is not because of the Wells Estate but rather because the film rights to the Wells Invisible Man are still held by another studio, and so Sony had to come up with a new Invisible Man.

    Moore plans to do at least one more League series, and talked seriously to me (when I interviewed him for my book on League) about doing three more League series. (Moore is retiring from “mainstream” comics, but he doesn’t consider League to be mainstream). Leagues v3-5 are going range in setting, but a number of them are going to be much closer to the modern day, from the Fifties to the present. And he’s going to have to go through a number of contortions to avoid problems with rights’ holders. So we can expect more nameless villains, ala League v1.

  • http://www.fatmixx.com Sujal Shah

    The soundtrack for LOEG will be available directly from the record label, http://www.varesesarabande.com .

    So, no, you don’t have to steal it.

    I also do have to point out that the title of the post is misleading… I agree with other posters that there is nothing within the body of the post that clarifies who is financing/distributing the movie.

    Sujal

  • http://www.jzip.org/ adamsj

    Here‘s something I found via Boing Boing some time ago–a treatment by Alan Moore of Twilight, his proposed story of the ending days of the heroes of the DC Universe.

    A quote from it which you’ll find interesting:

    “As an aside, are Tarzan and Doc Savage in the public domain yet? No big deal, but I’d really like a sort of secret council of the immortals: Batman, the Shadow, Doc Savage and Tarzan, all planning to start the revolution that will rid Earth of the super-people forever.”

  • john

    According to a review in the Friday NY Times (no link, I read the paper version), “the invisible man” is referred to as “an invisible man” in the movie because of copywright issues.

  • Anonymous
  • http://www.michaelcrawford.com Michael Crawford

    I would say that while the movie was definitely “mainstreamed”, I still managed to enjoy it quite a bit. It doesn’t hurt that I love the concept, and hope including these characters in a summer blockbuster type film will help introduce them to a larger audience and breed familiarity with Moore’s work.

    I will say, however, that I intensely dislike the 2nd series of LOEG. Does anyone have any idea what in the world Moore is up to with this? There are so many great concepts touched on but on the whole… ick.

    They did, by the way, touch on the fact that their Invisible Man was not *the* Invisible Man.

  • http://www.michaelcrawford.com Michael Crawford

    I would say that while the movie was definitely “mainstreamed”, I still managed to enjoy it quite a bit. It doesn’t hurt that I love the concept, and hope including these characters in a summer blockbuster type film will help introduce them to a larger audience and breed familiarity with Moore’s work.

    I will say, however, that I intensely dislike the 2nd series of LOEG. Does anyone have any idea what in the world Moore is up to with this? There are so many great concepts touched on but on the whole… ick.

    They did, by the way, touch on the fact that their Invisible Man was not *the* Invisible Man.

  • Taylor McLaren

    As far as Mac-only downloads of the soundtrack are concerned, Apple is in the process of producing Windows versions of its basically free iWhatever apps; what with the iTunes Music Store being restricted to such a tiny scrap of the overall computer market right now, they’d be silly not to do so.
    And as for the Invisible Man not being *the* Invisible Man… well, it sort of makes sense, with *the* Invisible Man having been clubbed to death with a shovel at the end of the novel.

    Should I have posted something about “spoilers” there?

  • Ghostcat

    Look, I watched the movie and I read the book long before it. The book is one of my favorite graphic novels and the movie was decent. I discovered long ago that if anyone who reads comics is to enjoy a comic book movie, they have to take a step back and try and see it as a movie patron. It was a simple action movie which had a good concept. They changed stuff sure, but hollywood changes every movie script a million times before it goes on the screen. So, just leave it alone. If Moore is upset with the way it came out then he shouldn’t have sold the rights.