What connects Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl and George Lucas? One answer is that they created some of the great cultural icons of the 20th century: Fleming came up with James Bond, Dahl invented Willie Wonka, while George Lucas arguably surpassed them both by giving the world Star Wars.

The other answer is that in life, all three men rewrote and tinkered with their creations. In the late 1960s, Dahl rewrote the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to, in his words, “de-Negro” them. Fleming edited his books for an American audience. And, from 1997 to 2019, George Lucas made changes, small and large, to the Star Wars films.

Now a set of posthumous changes to the work of Fleming and Dahl has triggered a howl of rage. Lucas, a living artist, correctly retains the right to make changes to his work. But where it gets more complicated is whether or not that should extend to the blanket right to prevent others trading in the original work.

Thanks to Lucas, the cinematic version of the original Star Wars trilogy is now impossible to buy new: fans trade second-hand copies of old videos and DVDs instead. When Dahl and Fleming rewrote their books, they didn’t go door-to-door confiscating copies of the originals, and their estates aren’t going to do the same thing now. Indeed Penguin Random House will now release the “classic” versions of Dahl’s books alongside the edited one.

For Star Wars fans, this sounds only too familiar: for a while, Lucas’s “special editions” coexisted with the cinematic versions. Now they are all that is available to buy or to watch. It remains to be seen whether Fleming and Dahl’s works will come to be replaced by versions rewritten after their deaths. But the wishes of devotees of Star Wars and fans of classic Bond can pull in opposite directions: on the one hand, many Star Wars fans (myself included) actively hope that after Lucas’s death, Disney will disregard the director’s living wishes and make the original cinematic version available. But many fans of Dahl’s (myself included) would prefer that the deceased author have the last word. I also continue to believe that Max Brod did a great service to the world in disregarding Franz Kafka’s instruction to destroy his work. How can these differences be resolved?

Legally, there is no difference between the alterations that Lucas, Fleming and Dahl made in life and what the estates of Dahl and Fleming are now doing in death. Until they sold the estate to Netflix for £500mn, Dahl’s heirs retained the legal right to edit his works or pull them from sale, just as their original author did. And Dahl certainly made free use of that right, licensing some rather inferior chocolate bars and signing away the rights to some second-rate film adaptations.

Aesthetically, the recent vandalising edits to Dahl’s work bear a very close resemblance to those Lucas has inflicted upon his own films. The changes are problematic because they change not only the texture of the original work but its meaning. For instance, Matilda becomes a different person when she reads not the exotic adventures of Joseph Conrad but the domestic drama of Jane Austen. While there is no fundamental legal difference between these changes and more trivial ones, there is an aesthetic one.

That Dahl wanted his heirs to be able to benefit from his work after he died and that Lucas actively made his own changes is neither here nor there: a reader, a viewer or a critic should themselves be free to make judgments about those changes. This is why legal deposit libraries, to which publishers must send a copy of every book published, are an important cultural resource.

Dahl’s publishers have stumbled across the right solution: estates should be able to retain the same rights to edit, license or otherwise profit from an author or creative’s work as they would in life. But they ought not to be able to restrict the ability of others to publish or retain the original work. That was Kafka’s sin: he sought to deprive the world of his work and Brod was right to ignore him.

Although it is right that an author, an artist or a playwright’s spouse or dependent children should receive a measure of posthumous financial protection, they shouldn’t have the right of veto over the work. They should instead be able to claim a fixed share of profits. While artists should be able to grow rich from their work, and support their descendants too, that shouldn’t come at the cost of limiting what others can write, read or see.

[email protected]


Source link

By Admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *