On Whose Authority?

Frank’s post, Dead Writer’s Society, at Madisonian about the use of authors’ names as brands well after they are dead is one that strikes close to home for me. I have just submitted my article on the topic, Property, Persona, and Publicity, to law reviews. So if someone wants to dive into issues of ownership and management of digital property and how the right of attribution as a trademark or trademark-like right offers too much power to heirs, take a look. I could go on but there are other posts to note.

So part of Frank’s post and an interesting point about the dead man writer is whether “readers might start caring less about the original author regardless of whether the contracted books are better or worse than the original authors’.” That idea reminded me of Dave’s piece about Wikiscan, and Neil’s post on wikipedia, consensus, and truth. In short, where does authority lie? Is consensus the key? Neil’s idea that facts will sort well but less concrete notions on Wikipedia will always face problems is probably right. Still my friend John Scalzi had a run in with “facts” when he tried to write about a dead writer, Fred Saberhagen. Despite using Harlan Ellison as a source, the update was not allowed. Maybe the wikiscan tool that Dave highlights will allow for more trusted sources and better posts. Yet, I seem to return to Zittrain’s Generative Internet whenever ideas of authority and trusted sources come up. I wonder whether the drive for some ideal, pure version of information or a safe version will push out the open, collective knowledge systems such that the quality of information will go up, but breadth of view will go down. Then again maybe Neil has it right: relatively innocuous facts will survive, but the harder questions may need a different forum.

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