The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen opened in the theatres yesterday. By most accounts it’s a pretty awful movie, but that doesn’t take away from an interesting thought.
The movie features a collection of fictional characters. Guess what they have in common:
Allan Quatermain: A character from H. Rider Haggard stories, the most famous of which is King Solomon’s Mines, 1885.
Thomas Sawyer: Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer, 1876.
Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde: R. L. Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886.
Captain Nemo: Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, 1870.
Rodney Skinner. H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man, 1897.
Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890.
Mycroft Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Greek Interpreter, 1892.
Mina Murray Harker. Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897. Jonathan Harker’s wife.
Every character in the movie is a character in the public domain. Walt Disney built his company on characters in the public domain (and continues to mine it for material – witness Treasure Planet). But Disney was the moving force behind the legislation that ensured no new creative material will ever enter the public domain again. (I commented on the court challenge to that legislation on October 13, 2002 and about the Supreme Court’s cowardice on January 15, 2003.) Movies like TLOEG are a reminder of how the public domain stimulates creativity – and how much we will miss by its absence.
I was reminded of this by Lawrence Lessig’s blog. In another sign of the times, Lessig announced today that his blog will feature comments by a “guest blogger” while Lessig is on vacation next week. The guest blogger is none other than Howard Dean, Democratic presidential candidate. The first instance of a Presidential candidate using a blog, but a pretty natural way for a campaign to get ideas out.