December 1, 2010

Turnabout is not, apparently, fair play for Michel Houellebecq


Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq

Back in September — as reported on MobyLives — Michel Houellebecq caused a stir when he admitted that his Goncourt-winning novel La carte et le territoire included passages he’d lifted verbatim, without attribution, from Wikipedia. But he said that it was “ridiculous” to call copying text from the “anonymous compilers” of Wikipedia plagiarism.

So, as Ed Nawotka reports in a Publishing Perspectives story, “a French blogger has turned around and used Houellebecq’s actions as justification for posting the entirety of Houellebecq’s novel online via Rapidshare as a free PDF download.”

As Nawotka details,

Blogger Florent Gallaire sought to explain his actions on his blog, stating that the Creative Commons BY-SA license which is used on Wikipedia imposes two conditions of use to the public. In addition to having to quote the author of the article, the user must comply with the clause “share alike”:

“If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, the article-you have the right to distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.”

Unsurprisingly, Houellebecq’s publisher Flammarion disagreed, as did numerous copyright lawyers and Adrienne Alix, president of Wikimedia France.

The weekend posting has since disappeared from Gallaire’s website. Meanwhile, Nicholas Gary, founder of the French literary Web site ActuaLitte, says in a post that Gallaire’s explanation was “sophistry” but probably “not bad for marketing” and likely to lead to more sales of the book.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.