An interesting interview of Roger Chartier on the past and present of propriety of authors over their works.

The idea of an freedom of access to the culture was carried by a whole current of the Enlightenment with Condorcet. But this concern is present even at those which want to establish the author’s copyright. The reasoning of Fichte, in Germany, is remarkable. He says that a book has a double nature: material — the object — and spiritual. The object belongs to whoever bought it. But spiritual contents? The ideas belong to everyone, but there is also the form, this manner of stating ideas, of expressing feelings that is specific to the author. This last element is, according to him, the only one which can justify the author’s copyright. [Click here to read more.]

However the electronic text is an open, malleable, polyphonic text. It is potentially always the object of transformation. Thus dissolves what made it possible to recognize a work like [one’s own] work, therefore to assert the property of it. The fundamental question: how to recognize the perpetuated identity of a work in a technical support which gives neither stable borders nor identity to the text? …

Today, the world of electronic technology allows the position of author to be immediately registered in the position of reader. … There is a proximity between reading and writing, listening to music and producing it, which is made infinitely stronger than before. We are thus vis-a-vis a technological innovation which upsets this historical sedimentation which led to the aesthetic and legal definition works.

This is why the question arises: is the right of the author a parentheses in the history? … It is the great question, at the same time legal (what is a work?) and cultural (what is an author or a creator?). I will take care not to answer: each time the historians made a forecast on the future, they were grossly mistaken.