The Freakonomics of fair use

The NYTimes’ Freakonomics blog uses the subject of poetry criticism to tackle fair use:

In a recent article, the poetry critic of the New York Times complained that to do poetry criticism right, it’s often necessary to quote extensively from a poem. Indeed, in the case of a short poem, it might be helpful to readers to copy the whole thing. But, the critic said, this can’t be done because it might run afoul of copyright law.

It is true that copyright law prohibits the unauthorized copying of any substantial part of someone’s poem, song, or other work.…Is this a good policy?  From an economic perspective, no.

The reason this is bad policy, however widely discussed, bears repeating:

Use of a small bit of someone else’s creative work to build a new creative work rarely harms the economic interests of the first copyright owner, because most “derivative” works do not directly compete with the original.

Every creator builds on what came before, and such building usually doesn’t “compete” with that earlier work in any economic sense.  Creating legal fear and uncertainty about building on the past, however, is quite effective in limiting the creation of new works in the present.

Quick Review: The Stepford Wives (2004)

Not too long ago, I watched and reviewed the original Stepford Wives film (made in 1975). Due to some of the slow pacing of the original, I recently watched the newer version (made in 2004) to see how it compared. Some quick thoughts:

1. The newer version is made to fit modern times: the main character, Joanna Eberhart (played by Nicole Kidman),  is a reality TV maven, the character of the husband (Walter, played by Matthew Broderick) is developed more, and the ending has a twist that is meant to demonstrate the power of love over rigid gender ideologies.

2. The suburban critique is similar: suburbs promote gender stereotypes that need to be challenged.

3. On one hand, I could see why the makers thought a remake was needed. The original film looks like a film from the mid 1970s: the pacing is slow, the camera shots are clunky, and the ending is perhaps unsatisfying since the main character doesn’t resolve her issues with Stepford. The newer film is snappier, more colorful, and packs more in. On the other hand, the remake suffers from its own issues: a storyline that seems like it tries too hard to be modern, rapidly shifting emotional moods (particular between Joanna and Walter who alternate between barely seeing each other and having intimate conversations), and an ending that doesn’t have the same payoff as the original. The character Joanna seems thin; the original spent more time showing the audience her interests, her passions, and her friendships. The new film doesn’t have time for this.

Overall, this film is uneven though more palatable to modern viewers. In the end, the move to include more of a love story between Joanna and Walter takes away from some of the biting suburban criticism of the original.

(This movie was not well-received by critics: it is only 27% fresh, 43 out of 162 reviews, at RottenTomatoes.com.)