Sunday, October 13, 2019
Keeping RAW's work alive
On Sept. 15, I posted an item on Rasa asking people not to pirate Robert Anton Wilson's works. You can read it for reference as I offer these thoughts on protecting RAW's copyrighted material, treating his children fairly and preserving his legacy:
1. Copyright lasts too long in the U.S.; works in 1923 only this year entered the public domain (96 years). Yet any reasonable reform of copyright would protect RAW for years to come; he died only 12 years ago and his children will be around for a long time. It seems to me copyright ought to last 40 to 50 years or so to balance fairness to a writer's family vs. the public interest. Your own ideal term might vary, but it's clearly too early for Wilson's work to enter the public domain.
2. Sales of Hilaritas Press books directly benefit members of RAW's family, as Wilson surely would have intended. Those are the people who benefit when you buy a new edition of Cosmic Trigger or The Widow's Son. And those are the people you harm when you grab a pirated edition instead.
3. Buying a used book of Wilson's works preserves it as an actively read book.
4. For those of you who can't afford to buy all (or even any) of the new Hilaritas editions, there are public libraries, and nearly all libraries have interlibrary loan to help you obtain titles which are not available locally. Checking out a book also helps authors, living and dead. Libraries have a finite amount of shelf space, they are always adding new books, and so they must cull old titles. The books that are not checked out are the ones that are pulled from the shelf and disposed of, by sale or in the landfill. Checking a book out helps keep that work available for other readers to discover.
5. Much more needs to be done, by Hilaritas and other publishers, to make RAW's work available in libraries. When I search for "Robert Anton Wilson" on Hoopla, the premier digital library service, I get only one result: An ebook of The Illuminati Papers. That's good -- if you haven't read it, it's free on Hoopla -- but where is everything else? Wilson also is largely missing from Overdrive, the major library ebook and audiobook service. I also hope there is an ongoing effort to get Hilaritas' paper titles sold to libraries.
6. Wilson's work is kept alive by grassroots efforts of fans in Great Britain, Austria, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries, and in the U.S. by active efforts by folks in California, Ohio, West Virginia, New York City, and many other places. These ongoing activities on behalf of an author who died more than a decade ago and never sold a huge number of books is a literary phenomena. It's news and merits news coverage. Maybe some of you are in a position to offer a news tip to the New York Times or some other news organization. I can suggest interview subjects to any inquiring journalist.
7. Everyone can help, by purchasing reissues of Wilson's work, promoting news about Wilson on social media and participating in other activities. You don't have to stage a play based on Wilson's work or write a new biography to be helpful, although such projects certainly have a nice impact.