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Working Out Creative Anxieties

Mia Garlick, January 15th, 2006

William Patry, a partner at Thelen Reid & Priest, New York City, specializing in copyright trial litigation and appellate advocacy and formerly copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary and also formerly a Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights, mused recently on the influence artists feel both from their contemporaries and predecessors. Patry has apparently been reading Harold Bloom’s book The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry and quotes Bloom that:

“…self-appropriation involves immense anxieties of indebtedness, for what strong maker desires the realization that he has failed to create himself? Oscar Wilde, who knew he had failed as a poet because he lacked strength to overcome his anxiety of influence, knew also the darker truths concerning influence.”

Patry has also been reading Benjamin Kaplan who observed:

“Copyright is in danger of stifling such wrestling with ourselves and with our predecessors: by seizing on all appropriation as a legal — and moral– shortcoming — we fail to appreciate the creative process, and will end up the poorer for it.”

Patry concludes that copyright is often pitched as a battle between copyright owners and copyright users but argues that it should perhaps more appropriately be viewed as involving “issues with other authors, and within ourselves” and that we should facilitate the working out of creative anxieties. This can also be described as the derivative works paradox — when can you say that a work is truly original and when is it a derivative work?

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