Zakes Mda a copy thief?

Interesting article in the Mail & Guardian by Stephen Gray about the similarities between Mda’s Heart of Redness and Jeff Peires’s The Dead Will Arise. Mda had thought that the reference to Peires in the dedication of Heart of Redness would be enough, but American historian, Andrew Offenburger, traced so much of the text to Peires that he felt that this wasn’t sufficient (read sections of copied, paraphrased and sequential borrowing here).

Heart of Redness was ‘Seemingly… in reply to the challenge made by John Edgar Wideman, the African-American novelist, who had remarked that if South Africans could not produce fiction on their own writer’s gift of a theme — what used to be called “the national suicide of the Xhosas” — they were a lot of moegoes.’ 

Offenburger says: ‘What saddens me most about The Heart of Redness is that we readers of South African literature have lost an opportunity to read a substantial account–for the first time–of the Xhosa Cattle-Killing from the perspective of a Xhosa novelist. Instead, we are given another author’s paraphrased words and vision. And without clearly attributing how much of the novel originated in Peires’s text, most of us likely assume the material to be Mda’s.’

I find it interesting that Peires will not pursue the matter. He admires Mda’s location scouting and concurs with Mda that fiction-writers are traditionally irresponsible anyway, taking advantage of being shot of the disciplinary controls of academic discourse. So Peires will leave it at that.’

Slack(er) apology


Michael Moore has released his film, ‘Slacker Uprising‘ for free download to residents of North America. If you try to download from the website, you get a message saying ‘the lawyers tell us we are only allowed to offer the film to people residing in the United States or Canada’. If you go to Moore’s blog, you’ll read that ‘If you live outside the U.S. and Canada, I’m sorry that I don’t own the rights to make this film available to you for free. But it will be coming to a theater, video store or television network near you soon.’

My ‘recovering lawyer’ friend, Andrew, says that this is probably due to the fact that Moore has used copyrighted and trademarked media in the film that he has rights to publish under fair use in the U.S. (or fair dealing in Canada). He might also have bought rights to music used in the film only for the U.S. and Canada.

The “problem”, as they surely would have realised when they decided to release the film online, is that if this is an attempt to prevent “copyright infringement”, then it’s a poor one. Since Moore has ’embraced BitTorrent, and the official download is using the Pirate Bay tracker’ (I can only read what others have said about the download since I, too, am a resident of the Wild Wild South), anyone who has downloaded the film can make the torrent available to others (the torrent protocol has no methods for limiting by geographical location).

What irks me is that Moore, whose films are supposedly “anti-propaganda”, hasn’t acknowledged the irony of his film’s lack of availability to fans outside of north America. If he doesn’t get a distribution deal outside of north America, will the film ever be available to people outside of that region? And if it doesn’t (reviews of the film are not favorable) then I’ll add that one to the list of how the Internet is actually reducing access to information rather than increasing it globally.

Thanks for the link, Nathaniel!

‘David and GOLIATH’?


Gerhard Marx is suing Ireland Davenport and BMW for copyright infringement in the South African High Court on 9 October. Last night, prominent South African artists raised about $55,000 by auctioning off their works in a campaign called ‘david & GOLIATH‘. Owen Dean is representing Marx and has been quoted as saying that ‘his client has developed a reputation that might be held “in lesser esteem if it is known that is has been used for commercial purposes.”‘

commercial-archive probably has the best account of the story – including links to an entire archive of artists who use maps in their work. The similarities in the concept of the BMW ad, though, are remarkable and I’m going to be very interested in how BMW tries to argue this one out of court.