Contemporary Collaboration and Control

Wordsworth could not have conceived of the effect that his conception of Romantic authorship would exert. Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, copyright jurisprudence became intertwined with the Romantic conception of authorship. In his essay on The Author Effect: Contemporary Copyright and Collective Creativity, Peter Jaszi details some of the ways that this has played out at turning points in American copyright jurisprudence, including Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co v. Sarony, Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service, Rogers v. Koons and Basic Books v. Kinkos's Graphics Corp. He argues that in each case, the court's opinion was, often inaccurately or inappropriately, influenced by a firm adherence to the concept of Romantic authorship.

With the dominance of Romantic authorship and the continued expansion of the scope and term of copyright over the past century, the environment for literary production is controlled in a manner that is increasingly unaccommodating to collaborative models of literary creation. Spurred by the growing dominance of capitalist economics, copyright, originally a privilege, became interpreted as a form of "intellectual property." These systems of strong individualized control helped create an environment that has fostered genres and a publishing industry based on Romantic authorship and strong control to the detriment of preexisting and new collaborative models. While explicit collaboration still occurs, even widely, it is usually in awkward, hidden, or relatively ineffective or dis-empowering forms.

Collaboration between T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound on Eliot's The Wasteland

One such example can be seen in Eliot and Pound's collaboration on The Wasteland. Their relationship is particularly useful in a study of twentieth century collaboration because the nature of the collaboration between the two great poets is clearly documented in the Eliot's extant manuscripts with Pound's scrawled markings and marginalia. It is also interesting as an example of an extensive collaboration that has tested the limits of the idea of Romantic authorship for many critics.

The details of the editorial changes made to The Wasteland are documented in a facsimile edition of the manuscripts published by Valarie Eliot. They are also summarized concisely by Jack Stillinger in his chapter on Pound's Waste Land. In short, Pound reduced the poem from over 1000 lines to its current 434. In the process, he focused and limited the poem's message and eliminated a sarcastic tone. The critical view, with only the exception of a handful of scholars, is that Pound's edited version is an undeniable improvement. Jack Stillinger concisely sums up the popular critical response:

The majority view is that the 434 lines of The Waste Land were lying hidden from the beginning in the 1000 lines of draft, rather in the manner of one of Michelangelo's slumbering figures were waiting to be rescued from the block of marble. But Michelangelo, in this analogy was both artist and reviser simultaneously. In the case of The Waste Land, it took one poetic genius to create those 434 lines in the first place, and another to get rid of the several hundred inferior lines surrounding and obscuring them ([Stillinger1991] 127-128).

Eliot, who was mentally infirm and hospitalized during the period of writing and revision of the poem, acquiesced to almost all of Pound's revisions and suggestions ([Stillinger1991] 137). Stillinger brings attention not only the extent of Pound's changes but connects the collaboration to an argument that the resulting text constitutes a co-authored work.

There is additional evidence to support this claim. In the first release of the poem, Eliot dedicated the poem to Pound as "il miglior fabbro," an Italian phrase meaning "the greater craftsman." Through his life, Eliot was also upfront about the importance of Pound's additions to the work, describing, quite accurately, the way that Pound had "turned The Waste Land from a jumble of good and bad passages into a poem" ([Stillinger1991] 132). However, the manuscripts were not released by Eliot during his lifetime; they were released by Valarie Eliot, T. S. Eliot's widow, in 1971.

After their release, descriptions of the multiple authorship of The Waste Land, while supported in the textual evidence, faced fierce opposition from many critics and supporters of Eliot. Some critics, a number of whom had published major books on Eliot in the previous years, clung to their image of Eliot as a Romantic genius by making statements that attempted to minimize or trivialize Pound's contributions ([Stillinger1991] 132-134). Their arguments were simply unsupported by the textual evidence. It is impossible to deny that without Pound, The Wasteland would be an extremely different, and substantially less impressive poem.

While Eliot and Pound played different, unquantifiably important, and equally essential roles in the creation of the poem, Pound's role is, typically denigrated, at best, to the role of "an editor." Rather the describing the The Wasteland as a vibrant creative collaboration between two brilliant poets, critics substitute the image of Pound suggesting simple editorial changes to Eliot's poem. This unfortunate configuration is forged in the conceptions of authorship defined and sustained by an discourse of ownership: The Wasteland is Eliot's poem. While I am not confident that I understand exactly what Stillinger desires in his calls for "multiple authorship," I'm not sure that I agree that another name on the byline of The Wasteland is a particularly useful goal. That said, his critique is sound: there is a deficiency in a system of authorship and ownership that cannot acknowledge Pound for the important role he played in the creation of The Wasteland.

The short stories of Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish

In the way suggested by Eliot's relationship with Pound, the role of the editor is important to any understanding of twentieth century collaboration. Max Perkins, the editor for Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, is one such example. Often, as is the case with Eliot and Pound, the term "editor" is applied with the goal of downplaying the role of the less-authoritative collaborator. However, the roles of "author" and "editor" also serve to act as terms that, when applied in the context of a new literary relationship, place firm limitations on the nature of the collaboration allowed to transpire. Crossing these limits can be disastrous for an author's reputation by depriving her of the sole authorship of her work. Through an unusual attempt to claim responsibility for a text, the increasingly common conflict between author and editor was recently highlighted in the relationship between popular 1980's short story author Raymond Carver and his friend and editor Gordon Lish.

Carver, considered by many to be America's most important short story writer when he died of lung cancer fourteen years ago, pioneered and popularized a dark minimalistic literary style that exploded in popularity during the 1980s. In an 1998 article in the New Yorker, D.T. Max examined many of Carver and Lish's original manuscripts and met with Lish himself in an attempt to investigate Lish's increasingly loud claims claims that "he had changed some of the stories so much that they were more his than Carver's" ([Max1998] 35). Max goes into some detail on the changes marked in the manuscripts which include Carver's 1981 collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, in which Lish "cut about half the original words and rewrote 10 of the 13 endings." Editorial work of this extent was typical in many of Carver's stories, some of which Lish cut by over seventy percent before they were published ([Max1998] 37).

Lish's claims of responsibility for elements of Carver's stories prompted similar claims from others in Carver's life. Carver's wife, the poet Tess Gallagher, has made claims on elements of Carver's work arguing that several of his plots were originally hers and comparing Carver's actions to "stealing." After Carver's early death, access to his manuscripts and to his living literary partners has made the collaborative processes behind the creation of his stories unusually transparent to the general public. The scene appears to have been one of rich collaboration between his friends, family, and editors—all of which was hidden during this life.

Many of Lish's editorial interventions added touches that were later called "trademark techniques" of Carver's. Max claimed that Lish's "additions gave the story new dimensions, bringing out moments that I was sure Carver might have loved to see" ([Max1998] 38). These edits were so extensive that in a letter to Lish, Carver expressed, "fear [of] being caught" ([Max1998] 40). In 1982, Carver pleaded with Lish, "please help me with this book as a good editor, the best . . . not as my ghost" ([Max1998] 40). Carver was worried because he felt his own contributions to the work, which were, after all, almost the entire texts of the stories, threatened by Lish's subtractions. Moreover, he felt his own originality and creativity threatened by the fact that his work was heavily edited; the fact that he had collaborated made me him feel like a fraud. Because the edits were extensive, Carver felt that Lish's role was more than what an editor's "should" be but was unwilling or incapable of interacting with him as an explicit collaborator or coauthor; there was simply no classification in the dominant system of literary production for their type of collaborative work. The stories are, in most critic's opinions, better as a result of Lish's edits; the minimalist style that Carver became famous for can be almost completely attributed to Lish if the available manuscripts are to be trusted as representative.

Few will argue that Lish's changes were insignificant. However, in attempting to claim ownership of the work, Lish is forced to demonstrate more than mere collaboration; he needs to demonstrate "joint authorship."[1] The type of collaboration necessary for legal "joint authorship," must exceed that of the "normal" editor-author relationship. Lish's predicament highlights the fine line that the contemporary authorial-editorial relationship straddles. Editing is an acknowledged and widely used method for literary collaboration because the product of editing is defined as uncopyrightable and therefore transfers no rights of ownership or authorship from the author to the editor. Both Eliot and Carver demonstrate that authors want, even need, to collaborate. They realize that by working with others their work becomes better. But in order to gain ownership, attribution, and remuneration for their work, they must not collaborate "excessively." To succeed in the contemporary literary world, an author must collaborate as much as possible without losing authorship, and by extension their ability to claim sole attribution and ownership of their text. In the end, writers collaborate less, and the world is left with an inferior texts.

Contemporary Industry Collaboration

Carver and Eliot's secret collaborations, hidden at least during the authors' lifetimes, imply that explicit creative collaboration is rare in our current literary landscape. However, the power of collaborative work is too powerful a model to avoid altogether. Over time, the writing and publishing industry has manipulated both the model of collaboration and the system of copyright to facilitate collaboration in several notable ways. Dominant in this landscape are corporately "authored" texts created under a process known commonly as "works made for hire" (described in more depth in the Section called The Works Made for Hire Doctrine in Chapter 4) and jointly authored works, as represented by the terms, "with," "as-told-to," and "and" in by-lines ([Barbato1986]).

Described here briefly and in more depth in the Section called The Works Made for Hire Doctrine in Chapter 4, the works made for hire doctrine, a common part of copyright jurisprudence, states that authorship (and as a result ownership) for works created within the scope of employment rest with the employer. The implications for the promotion of collaboration are not difficult to trace; if an employer, like Disney, hires five brainstormers, ten script writers, five composers, ten musicians, twenty voice actors, fifty animators, and twenty editors to produce a movie, the product of this work, because it was created within the context of contractual employment with Disney, belongs not to the one hundred and twenty artists who created the film but to the corporation. With Hollywood corporations as a prime examples, this model has been instrumental in facilitating wide-scale corporate collaboration. However, it is aggressively hostile to the type of "serial collaboration" and borrowing from existing texts that was essential to earlier models of collaborative writing.[2] The works made for hire doctrine is not a method for aggregation of ownership or authorship or a method for collective creation or control. In fact, it ensures that the creator receives payment but no rights at all.

This is not to imply that collective authorship with implications of collective control is impossible. In actuality, joint authorship is steadily increasing in popularity and influence. However, joint authorship operates in an environment hostile to collaborative work, and, as a result, is difficult at best. Empirical studies have shown that instances of joint authorship—a measurement taken by tallying books and articles with more than one person on the byline—are becoming increasingly popular and prominent ([Barbato1986] 1986). While these collaborations are important in highlighting the persistent power of collaborative writing, they are hindered by the hostile climate of control and authorship created by copyright.

In an article written for science-fiction authors on How to Collaborate without Getting Your Head Shaved, Keith Laumer, an author and collaborator, ends his short piece with the advice, "if you possibly can, write it yourself. Collaborations, like marriages, should only be undertaken if any alternative is unthinkable" ([Laumer1977] 217). Mark L. Levine wrote an article for Writers' Digest titled Double Trouble where he urges potential collaborators to first sign a complex contract that clearly delineates both the roles that the collaborators will play in the creation of the book and the division of payment ([Levine1985] 34-35). In an article for Writer, Leonard Felder points out that not only should potential collaborators first agree to a division of royalties and payments, but that they must have "a written agreement on . . . the way your names will be listed on the book's cover" ([Levine1985] 22). Unfortunately, this advice is all perfectly sensible in today literary climate. While many of these articles also mention the potential benefits of joint-authorship, they explicitly, and accurately, approach the collaboration as a business relationship; their emphasis is on avoiding the pitfalls of such joint work.

In reality, no literary collaboration can be divided cleanly into portions or dissected on a contract sheet. As evidenced by Eliot and Carver, neither can roles such as "editor," "author" and "coauthor" describe the spectrum of meaningful literary collaboration. However, under current systems of literary production defined by copyright and Romantic conceptions of authorship, writers have few other options. By emphasizing ownership and control as the primary, and in most cases the only, method of compensation for literary work, meaningful collaboration becomes difficult in all cases and impossible in most. Rather than borrow and work together, authors will work alone. Rather than borrow an idea, passage or theme from another novel and risk a copyright suit, authors are more likely to not include the theme or passage at all. The fact that joint-authorship and collaboration can function, and even experience massive growths in popularity, in this hostile environment, is testament to the power and of collaboration. Without a strong system of control shaping the landscape of literary creation, there is no guessing what other works we might enjoy.



"Ownership" of course, is in reference to legal ownership of the copyright. "Joint authorship" is a legal concept that is discussed later in the Section called Joint Authorship in Chapter 4.


This type of borrowing was important to the early framers of copyright as well. Copyright, with its expiring terms, originally set to only fourteen or twenty-eight years, was designed as a balance between the desire for authors' rights to their work and the need for a rich collaboration based on unhindered borrowings—in a word, a rich information commons or, in contemporary legal terms, a public domain. In the last century of American copyright, terms have been repeatedly extended, both retroactively and pro-actively. The result is that the public domain has been frozen. This is in large part due to a strong corporate lobby that does not want to lose control of lucrative copyrights that include Mickey Mouse and the Wizard of Oz.