Friday, July 4, 2008

Ogden Nash on Literary Rights

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In 1966 a man named George Hill wrote the New York Times in opposition of extending the copyright bill 50 years past the death of an author.

The published letter so riled Ogden Nash that he drafted a reply entitled “Protection for Writers” that appeared on on September 26, 1966. The Nash's were no strangers to the editorial page with Nash's father having numerous of his letters published in the Times. The core argument of Nash's letter is that his work is his legacy, and should provide support for his children and grandchildren. Nash's expert use of humor to express his serious and pragmatic concerns is in full force. Like all his work, it was crafted with pencil, not MS Word. The verbatim cover letter and draft:

“Thank you for the letter from The Times. I enclose the rough draft of a reply which I have today mailed to the editor. I hope it finds its way into print. Yours Ogden Nash.

“It is obvious that Mr. George P. Hill…is neither a writer or a composer. It is equally obvious that he is a generous man, but with whose property is he being generous? My own position is far from unique. I share it with many friends in the fields of music and literature. For thirty-seven years I have made my living my arranging words in a way that has attracted a certain number of readers. At the end of thirty-seven years I own no stocks, no bonds, and am dependent on magazine sales, royalties and reprint rights. I have two children and five grandchildren to whom I am devoted. All I can leave them is my copyrights, which represent the harvest of 37 years of creative labor. Their value may not be great, but a fair number of my verses have crept into school text books and should provide at least a trickle of income for some time after my death. This Mr. Hill proposes to confiscate for the benefit of an amorphous public. No thank you. And if I were Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot or Aaron Copland I should still say, No thank you. Mr. Hill fears that the hypothetical witless and consciousless heirs of an author or composer would lose, destroy, suppress, scatter or sell to the white slave trade the folios of priceless manuscripts. To whom would Mr. Hill assign the disposition of these relics? A government agency? A private foundation? An Academic Anglais or Americaine? Again, no thank you. It takes a superior piece of moon-calfery to provoke a croak of protest from this small frog in the literary pond, but Mr. Hill has done the trick.”


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