Morphology of a copyright tale
Aymeric Mansoux

This text is based on the work from Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp in his 1928 essay “Morphology of the Folktale”. By studying many Russian folktales, Propp was able to break down their narrative structure into several functions, literally exposing an underlying thirty one step recipe to write new and derivative similar stories.

The text won the first prize in the contest Future of Copyright 2012 organized by the Modern Poland Foundation.

1. Absentation

Once upon a time in the wonderful Folklore Valley, a creator wonders about the becoming of her memetic folktale legacy and decides to take some distance from the anonymous creative practices of her community.

2. Interdiction

The creator is warned by a giant caption. It reads: “Do Not Want”.

3. Violation of interdiction

Despite the viral warning, the creator leaves her community and starts to sign her work as a mean to legitimate her individual contribution to the folktale scene.

4. Reconnaissance

On her way to authorship, she encounters the Lawyer and the Publisher.

5. Delivery

The Lawyer delivers rights to the creator.

6. Trickery

The creator becomes the Author.

7. Complicity

At this point the Author and the Publisher begin to promote copyright laws in the Folklore Valley.

8. Villainy and lack

With the help of the Lawyer, the Publisher uses the Author as an excuse to transform the Folklore Valley into a profitable folktale factory.

9. Mediation

The Author receives distressed calls from another creator persecuted by the Publisher for making a derivative work from a copyrighted folktale.

10. Counteraction

The Author hears the sound of a flute. The free melody comes from a campsite, beyond the Folklore Valley.

11. Departure

The Author leaves the, now fully copyrighted, Folklore Valley and heads toward the campsite, attracted by the melody of this open invitation. The Lawyer is following her from a distance.

12. Testing

Arrived at the campsite, the Author learns from the Man with a Beard, that useful information should be free. And by free he is not referring to its price. The Lawyer, hiding, is listening attentively. The Man with a Beard resumes his flute practice.

13. Reaction

Leaving the campsite, the Author wonders whether or not cultural expressions can also be free and, some- how, now liberated from copyright.

14. Acquisition

The Lawyer appears in front of the Author and hands over free culture licenses.

15. Guidance

With the help of remix culture, the Lawyer uses the Author as an excuse to transform the Folklore Valley into a techno-legal free for all bureaucratic maze.

16. Struggle

With licensing proliferation, the Author cannot cope with the increasing complexity linked to her practice. She feels that she lost all control over her work, just so it can be used as fuel for the ever expanding information network nurtured by the Lawyer and the Publisher.

17. Branding

Regardless of what her true intentions are, her whole body of work gets tattooed with different logos, iconic representations of supposedly human readable deeds that all rein-force the many conflicting ideologies, commercial interests and beliefs now rationalized by copyright laws and their different copyleft-inspired hacks.

18. Victory

The only escape left is to ignore copyright, no matter what. Leave everything behind, a small personal victory, over the techno-legal machine, but a first step towards the liberation of the Folklore Valley.

19. Resolution

As a result, the Author becomes Pirate of her own work, of any work, once again. She puts on an eyepatch.

20. Return

The Pirate returns to the, now fully copyfreed, copyrighted, copylefted and copyfarlefted incompatible and fragmented Folklore Valley. The Publisher and the Lawyer make sure everything is tidy and sound. Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale becomes a patented algorithm for a freemium manufacture that feeds itself automatically from the aggregation of open content produced by the Folklore Valley’s creators.

She has something to say about that.

21. Pursuit

The Publisher and the Lawyer, who see the presence of the Pirate as a serious threat to their information empire, start several campaigns of misinformation to question the legitimacy of the Pirate to comment on anything but her unlawful, therefore moralistically evil, activities.

This undermining process is strengthen by increasingly aggressive, punitive and gratuitous repression mechanisms towards any creators who might want to follow her foot-steps.

22. Rescue

The Pirate escapes for a while from the Publisher and the Lawyer by using the underground networks of tunnels and caverns right under the, now fully tracked, logged, cloudified and gamified, Folklore Valley.

23. Arrival

Eventually, the Pirate decides to face the surface of the Valley instead of living the rest of her life as some underground rat. She emerges right in the middle of an astonished crowd of brainwashed creators and template-based folktales.

24. Claim

The Publisher and the Lawyer steps in and deliver the usual moralistic speech, the one that kept the creators of the Folklore Valley quiet and under control all this time. The fear of being stolen can be felt in all the tales, panic is about to break loose.

25. Task

The publisher and the Lawyer challenges the Pirate. They argue that she has no rights to comment on the situation. She is merely a parasite, a free rider who has no clue of what is at stake.

26. Solution

The Pirate drops her eyepatch.

27. Recognition

All of sudden all the creators recognise the Author. The one Author who once started to sign many of the folktales that are now used as licensed templates in the tale factories planted by the Lawyer and the Publisher.

And they all listen to her...

28. Exposure

The Author explains her journey. Since her individualistic awakening she started to initiate many experiments and ways of working with her medium, using others’ material directly or indirectly. She was interested in as many collaborative methodologies as there were colours in the world.

She explains that, as her practice grew, she felt the need to sign and mark her work in a way or another, and was confused about this sudden paradox: on the one hand her desire to be just this simple node in this continuous stream of creativity, and on the other hand she had this instinctive need to stand above her peers, to shine and be visible for her own contribution. She also tells them about her needs to simply make a living and therefore, why she genuinely thought copyright was a fair model, harmless for her audience and peers. She says that she equally failed to understand that the freedom they once had as a community of folktale creators cannot be emulated through contract laws, no matter what good intentions drive them.

She concludes that at every stage of her quest to understand the very fabric of culture, the Publisher and the Lawyer were present to enable and support her experiments, yet slowly getting stronger and out of control. If anything at all, she feels responsible for letting them decide how her work, how culture, should be produced and consumed.

She apologies.

29. Transfiguration

The Author becomes a creator, once again.

30. Punishment

The Publisher’s and the Lawyer’s work is undone. Copyright is banned from the Folklore Valley.

31. Wedding

The creator marries another creator. They live happily ever after, creating many new folktales.

As for the Man with a Beard, I was told that he turned his campsite into a brewery, but that’s another story...