Monday, January 11, 2010

Violate My Copyright

By William C. Cotter

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. It is humiliating enough just to have an idea, without bringing unnecessary attention to the inability to enact it. Nonetheless, I have resolved to quit including any sort of copyright notice on my blog.

Abbie Hoffman wrote a best seller entitled Steal This Book, do-it-yourself instructions on cannabis cultivation, pirate radio, communes, shoplifting, and applying to the Interior Department for a free buffalo. "It's embarrassing when you try to overthrow the government and you wind up on the Best Seller's List," said the 1970’s hippie radical, who did not embarrass easily. Rolling Stone magazine exposed how he had plagiarized the book. I just checked; on-line downloads of Abbie Hoffman’s magnum opus are available free. and others advertise copies for sale.

Judson Jerome, the poet, my professor and best friend at Antioch College, published two dozen or so books. To call him a prolific writer does not scratch the surface. I have seen him spend the morning at a meeting, then come back from lunch with a multi-page essay examining all the ideas nobody had thought of during the morning. Jud knew how to get published. He was poetry editor of the Antioch Review during two decades, and his poems appeared in every respected literary quarterly and Boston and New York slick magazine that published poetry. His articles on higher education and utopian communities showed up in Life magazine and elsewhere. For 30 years he wrote the poetry column for Writer’s Digest. That is where I first found him, on the display racks at Tenth Street News and Novelty, alongside baseball magazines, Mickey Spillane paperbacks, and plastic piles of doggie diarrhea, eye-catching as the real thing. I was still in high school, and I would serve three years in the U.S. Army, before I could go to Antioch on the Vietnam War Era GI Bill.

In his 1984 book On Being a Poet, Jud wrote: “Ladies Home Journal once paid me $10 a line for a twenty-five line poem. Several anthologies paid me $25 to $50 for reprint rights to individual poems. These were top rates at the time, and it is a good thing I wasn’t trying to feed my family on the proceeds—or indeed from the proceeds of writing….A dozen acceptances in a year from respected, paying markets (e.g. Harpers, The Atlantic) at less than $100 a poem would mean a year of dazzling success for the best-known poets in the country. An advance of $500 on a collection of poetry from a major publisher would be generous, and the book would be almost certain to earn no royalties beyond its advance.”

I tagged along with Jud to a poetry reading he gave near Cincinnati, only a couple of hours drive from Antioch in Yellow Springs. He carried a professorial book satchel, worn leather with straps and buckles. Inside were his reading manuscripts and a few copies of his book of poetry Light In The West, which he set out on display to his audience like tupperware. Nowadays, if there are more writers than readers, certainly there are more writers than teaching jobs. If you can learn to write a sentence that somebody else can understand, you might also be able to learn a paying trade like plumbing or auto repair. “I have deliberately put much of my work into the public domain (with Shakespeare and The Bible) because I want people to spread it around, and there is so little money to be made on poetry at best, I don’t see much reason to protect it,” Jud said. When he died in 1991, he was already surfing the internet for his audience, before Blogger, Facebook, My Space, Create Space, iUniverse, Xlibris, Lulu Enterprises, and other digital magic and POD’s (Print on Demand).

1 comment:

Tina said...

Based on my experience as a teacher and (non-profit) writer, I can assure you that it was public school teaching that put food on the table. The one book I had published by a national press sold well but the company went out of business and stiffed me on the royalties. It's still selling on Amazon and commanding a higher price than it did when new! Since I like to give them as gifts occasionally I buy a used copy when the price drops within my range. :-)


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