Monday, May 16, 2016

Is your work just grist for fictioneering?

The terrific Toronto cultural journalist Kate Taylor last weekend covered the troubling court case involving the documentarian Judy Maltz. Maltz had researched and produced a film, No.4 Street of Our Lady, about the experience of her Jewish family and how it was protected and ultimately saved, by a Ukrainian Catholic woman, Franciszca Halamajowa, during the Holocaust

A would be novelist in Toronto saw the film and wrote a children's novel, using Maltz's research and information and giving the characters their original names, but changing and re-inventing their stories at will. She then published the book without any credit or notice to her source.

Recently the Federal Court of Canada ruled that Maltz had no right of action here, and that not even her moral rights, let along her copyright, had been violated.

I suspect this decision is debatable in law. I'm even more inclined to think it violates the ethical standards of writing and publishing. I was pleased to read historian Jack Granatstein testifying on behalf of the dignity of authorship:
In court, historian Jack Granatstein had argued for Maltz’s side that it was inappropriate for the book not to credit the documentary for detailed pieces of original research, such as information drawn from a soldier’s diary entry, but it wasn’t an argument that carried the day.
In academia, it is considered crucial to acknowledge the source of any ideas or original facts, but copyright is a much narrower beast.
I suspect, however, that many academically-based historians would not be inclined to defend their work in this way. Academic publishing and academic culture strongly encourage authors to surrender their rights and interests and accept anything that is said to disseminate historical work. Too many academics are far too deferential with regard to their rights of authorship, even when they are able to forgo their financial interests in their work.

CAUT, the professors' union, is so deeply invested in the right of universities and education ministers to pirate even copyrighted work in order to ease institutional budgeting, that is hard to imagine it supporting the lonely stand that Jack Granatstein took.
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