Image source: amazon.com
Currently, a campaign for the new book in the Jason Bourne series is plastered on many of New York’s subways. The timing of course coincides with the latest movie of the third novel starring Matt Damon. As I understand it, the novels have little similarity to the movies. After seeing the ad many times, I finally noticed the wording, “Robert Ludlum’s” in the title, which I realized implied that he didn’t write the book. The actual author Eric Van Lustbader is listed below on the book cover in the ad. As it turns out, Ludlum died six years ago. What is the implications of having other writers take the helm of a character after the original author dies?
This phenomenon isn’t new, as many James Bonds books and stories were published after Ian Flemming’s death. (What’s up with the JP initials? I’ll leave that one up to the conspiracy theorists.) Generally, these posthumous works are mostly amusing, and generally confined to the realm of genre fiction, either thrillers or mysteries. They do have two interesting potential effects on the ideas of intellectual property, which surround the ideas of authorship. On the short term, these works seems to support the status quo, that the owner of the rights, most likely the author’s estate, can and should commissions new works, which are sometimes based on remaining notes or drafts. Just because an author dies, doesn’t mean that the audience stops desiring new stories for their favorite characters. In this perspective, the owners will take a strong and closed intellectual property stance to increase the revenue generated from the new and old works. Especially if they own the author’s notes, the new books have a preceived legitimacy.
in the long term, however, this kind of cultural production starts to erode that legitimacy and further pushJames Boyle’s notion of the “romantic author” which supports the tightening intellectual property regimes that cross the bounds of reason and the original intentions of the copyright. In that, seeing Lustbader’s name associated with the series starts to weaken the brand. If they are of equal or perhaps even better quality of the original author, readers start asking what makes the original author so special? If the new books are bad, readers start questioning why one author gets the privilege of penning new works and they may be more apt to enter the world of fan fiction. Increases in fan cultural production will hopefully then add pressure against restrictive ip attitudes, which make the fan work illegal. The application and defense of an author’s rights extending beyond his death may actually encourage the weakening of those rights.