The Moth and Other Tales of Authorship

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6 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Jessica, do you read French? If so, you might read some of the work of André Gorz, a philosopher who was a leading French intellectual — friend and colleague of Sartre, a founder of news weekly Le nouvel observateur, etc. — until his death last year at age 84.

    Gorz was very much concerned with issues of community, partly through the influence of another friend of his since the 1970s, Ivan Ilich. In recent years, he was linked with a movement known in France as décroissance (in Italy as decrescità), which favors nurturing the values of community and rejecting the values of sustained economic growth, to oversimplify greatly. Despite his age, he was also a big fan of the open source and “fabbing” movements. His analysis of intellectual property, particularly in his books “L’immaterial” (Éditions Galilée 2003) and the posthumous “Écologica” (Éditions Galilée 2008), is quite insightful — and entirely unlike the analyses one will find on SSRN. I hadn’t read any of Gorz’s work until this year, but I’ve been an IP transactional practitioner for more than 20 years (with a brief period of patent prosecution as well), and I was very impressed by his perspective.

    For more on the community theme, you might also check out Ivan Ilich’s “Tools for Conviviality,” albeit that it doesn’t discuss IP directly. However, it was a significant influence on a very IP-centric book by Janet Hope, “Biobazaar: the Open Source Revolution and Biotechnology” (Harvard UP 2008). Hope’s book is no substitute for Gorz, though; among other issues with it, her concept of community is limited mainly to life science researchers.

  2. Jessica Silbey says:

    This is helpful. Thanks. I do not know Gorz but do read French and will look him up. His writing, as well as Ilich’s, sounds relevant to some of my new work on IP, connecting the open source movement with feminism. Thanks for the tip.

  3. re: “In listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s story about the beginning of his journalistic career and the contest he had with a colleague to insert a certain phrase into the pages of the newspaper as often as possible (a phrase such as “perverse and often baffling”), I had a new appreciation for the role of authorship in journalism.”

    Actually, you should have had a new appreciation for fiction. Gladwell made it all up, as Jack Shafer sleuthed. There’s nothing wrong with making up a story, but Shafer can’t fathom why most readers have been accepting it as true.

    re: “that a community’s writing creates the community rather than vice versa”

    See Social Life of Documents by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, and earlier referenced works.

    Applied to IP rights, yes, indeed, “Star Wars” or “Rhapsody in Blue” wouldn’t be what they were without the communities they created, and Lucas, for his part, realized the futility of suing every Star Wars derivative. The brand is strong enough to withstand the extremely raunchy “Star Wars Gangsta Rap (2).” But copyright law also protects the creator of works for which there is one reader.

  4. A.J. Sutter says:

    “Actually, you should have had a new appreciation for fiction.” While you’re at it, his comment in his May 2008 New Yorker article about innovation that Alexander Graham Bell “ha[d] ideas” in the field of lasers is also nonsense. Bell’s “photophone” relied on physical principles like those used in solar cells (which were discovered long before Bell), not lasers. For a list of Bell’s patents see here, and you can download them for free from here

    More interestingly, after exclaiming over the hundreds of patents filed annually by Innovation Ventures, the gist of his article is that inventions are inevitable because of something “in the air.” Why, then, should inventors get monopolies (which, among other things, are essential for IV’s business model)? As the Talmud says, “Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying.”

  5. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:


    You’re such a refreshing and erudite voice in the comments of late. I won’t give up on “Western Civilization” (at least the aspiration thereto) as long as I can read someone familiar with the work of Gorz and Illich who can also quote from the Talmud!

  6. Jessica Silbey says:


    Thanks for the heads up re: the Slate story. I am another victim of the fact/fiction trap. Like you, I’m not sure what it matters if it’s fact or fiction, but I gather the “journalistic” genre-label (for him) or the “it’s a true story” for others might make a difference. Once upon a time, I blogged on this very thing. and

    And in my scholarship, I continue to write on the relevance (or not) of the fact/fiction genre label. Funny I should be taken in (or at least mention it enough suggesting it mattered). Thanks for the comment.