On the limits of intellectual property – Spider Robinson’s ‘Melancholy Elephants’

Melancholy Elephants provides powerful insight into the relation between an intellectual commons, the creation of news works of art, and the potential unintended consequences of perpetual copyright. It turns out that I ve pointed to this story in the early days of this blog. It s well worth reading again.

Spider Robinson’s Hugo-winning “Melancholy Elephants” online

Cory Doctorow: Spider Robinson has posted his Hugo-winning 1983 story “Melancholy Elephants” to his website; it’s a prescient look at the impact of perpetual copyright, penned “two years before the first Macintosh went on sale.”

She needed no time to choose her words. “Do you know how old art is, Senator?”

“As old as man, I suppose. In fact, it may be part of the definition.”

“Good answer,” she said. ” Remember that. But for all present-day intents and purposes, you might as well say that art is a little over 15,600 years old. That’s the age of the oldest surviving artwork, the cave paintings at Lascaux. Doubtless the cave-painters sang, and danced, and even told stories–but these arts left no record more durable than the memory of a man. Perhaps it was the story tellers who next learned how to preserve their art. Countless more generations would pass before a workable method of musical notation was devised and standardized. Dancers only learned in the last few centuries how to leave even the most rudimentary record of their art.

Link (Thanks, Colin!)

2 thoughts on “On the limits of intellectual property – Spider Robinson’s ‘Melancholy Elephants’”

  1. Spider was a neighbour (one street over) in Halifax, NS when I lived there in the early ’80’s. Met him in ’85, just after he had purchased his Mac. I can still see him with his panama hat on, a brning cigarette in one hand and a glass of amber liquid in the other.

    His Callahan Cross-time Saloon writing is enjoyable, in case you may not have come across it … as is Mindkiller. Re-reading Mindkiller, one is left wondering how much longer it will be before being in front of a screen for too many hours each day will be an effective simulation.

  2. I’ve been a long time fan of all of Spider’s work. I’m jealous that you got a chance to meet him face-to-face.

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