This week questions are quite interesting, they took me back to square one: our firsts discussions during Pub800 class where we talked about the differences between texts and documents and how Publishing was the process to make these public, resulting also in counter-publics that detached and created further texts of their own.
As we have have learned, Publishing’s ultimate goal, in its aspect of creating, gathering or finding a public for a text, would be that such public shares, experiences and adapt the texts contained in the documents produced. Thus, once published, the text becomes part of the common knowledge domain and its nearly impossible to prevent audiences from interacting, shaping and even limit them to experience it the best way they can, because, in any case, its unimaginable to expect to provide a single experience out of it.
However, the document where such text (or texts) is contained, is usually protected by Copyright laws in order to ensure the author and publisher get proper compensation for their efforts producing it. And thus, is becoming subject of discussion about its integrity and the right of the audience to change it.
When an author wants to publish something, whether to reach a specific/limited audience or looking for more widespread recognition, he or she must be ready for such appropriation by the public, after all, that is the whole point about publishing. Yet, they have also the right (along with the editor and publisher if present) to shape the way it is told and presented, so that way reflects the intention and ideas contained withing it, we know this as the moral rights.
Now, considering these two factors, the document becoming public on one side and the author retaining moral rights on the other, seems pretty simple to draw a line where the audience can use and enjoy the text while authors and publishers can enjoy the right to decide upon the possible outcomes and follow up from there on.
Whether as marginalia or annotations, sharing or discussing in real public forums or digital media, or even expanding a text, the public is using their right to experience it, after all, it is what is expected. But the author, as the creator of an idea, and the publisher as the responsible to shaping it for the public, have the right to decide on the following step (if any) of its publishing history. Still, authors should not limit who can talk about them or how they do that, that is practically impossible, although they can give their opinion on the subject and use their moral authority on them.
So certainly, people can create fan fiction, music themes or other derivative works of The Expanse novel series for example, but that does not mean these will become part of the next novel or the “official universe”. They cannot be used to make profit as detachments but they can be shared and discussed of course. No matter how democratic we wish to be, the moral rights for those works simply belong to the Authors and they are the only ones allowed to decide on the next step of this story. The only exception to this rule that comes to my mind, would be an academic text, which contains some erroneous theories or conclusions that would be observed by the community and peer reviewed.
Furthermore, adding some of the topics also reviewed last week, let me bring the example of Role Playing Games to this picture. RPGs are quite fascinating. In their tabletop version, we suddenly have a whole world at our disposal to play in, and tell stories. Storylines and worlds are offered to the audience to freely play with them (literally) and thus, createtheir own versions of them.
Simply speaking, I can read a story written by some author, adapt it or even change it completely to tell a spin-off with my playing group. In practice, every playing session of a RPG will be different, even if the same group of people plays it a second time. This kind of narrative outcome clearly exemplifies these matters, people appropriating a text, using it, adapting it to their interests and then delivering a group experience. When I ran weekly campaigns for war games at our business in Mexico, the results of one week games shaped the way the following week’s story, and thus, the collective experience we had with one particular story-arc, was unique.
Is it possible we can figure out a similar way to use these annotated, non-linear narratives for the next story we plan to publish? Probably yes, and it would be interesting to see what kind of outcomes we get and how are they shared and evolved. We are not limited to fiction of course, think of a travel guide where people contributes their experiences using it, having a second, annotated edition. Or a cookbook where readers suggest substitute ingredients or cooking times based on their location via an app. Possibilities are unlimited and we just now have learned of the many technologies available to make them happen, be it as part of an application, podcast, blog. Anything is possible!