Jonathan Lethem is giving it away.

Jonathan Lethem is giving the option on his book “You Don’t Love Me Yet” away to a filmmaker for free. He’ll get a small cut of the total budget of the film, and ancillary rights to his book will be released after five years thereby allowing other artists to tell the story in another way, or use the characters in their own work (a sequel, a retelling, or another medium such as comics).
I think this is a brilliant idea.
Check out his “questions” section of his announcement. He claims to have come to this idea based upon his research into intellectual property and his concerns over the commodification of art. His response to it, giving away the rights and opening the material up for public response, is a wonderful way to straddle a between art and property. Imagine if STAR WARS or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “The X-Files” had done something similar. Imagine if the creators of those properties had been willing to open up their creations for public response. I think that you would end up with a ton of garbage to be sure, but floating to the top would be some wonderful and authentic and exciting projects. There are so many well done “fan-fic” pieces out there, small films of Jedi Knights or Federation starships that might have helped reawaken and stimulate the original property owners in ways that they couldn’t imagine.
The commodification of art has a long history, and it’s resulted in legalese in the entertainment industry referring to artistic endeavors as “properties.” Property is defended. Property is owned. Property is built upon through strictly controlled license. Art is supposed to stimulate, breed and breath. I’m reminded of Cervantes’s writing of Part II of Don Quixote which he wrote in response to a rival sequel:
The spurious Avellaneda Segunda Parte
It is not certain when Cervantes began writing Part Two of Don Quixote, but he had probably not gotten much further than Chapter LIX by late July of 1614. About September, however, a spurious Part Two, entitled “Second Volume of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha: by the Licenciado (doctorate) Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, of Tordesillas”, was published in Tarragona by an unidentified Aragonese who was an admirer of Lope de Vega, rival of Cervantes.[12] Avellaneda’s identity has been the subject of many theories, but there is no consensus on who he was. In its prologue, the author gratuitously insulted Cervantes, who not surprisingly took offense and responded; the last half of Chapter LIX and most of the following chapters of Cervantes’ Segunda Parte lend some insight of the effects upon him. (Quoted from Wikipedia, see link above.)

Cervantes didn’t hire a lawyer to sue the other writer, he responded to him. He outdid him. Art as a dialog.
I’ve actually given a lot of thought to an open project, something where a set of characters could be used as a jumping off point for other writers. I don’t know what it would look like or how it would work, but it’s definitely coming from the same place that Mr. Lethem’s idea is coming from. In the end, plans like this might not amount to anything, but I think it’s worth it to create an artistic dialog rather than simply another property.

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