- past of author
An author is defined both as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and as "one who sets forth written statements" in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first entry suggests that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. The second entry goes on to clarify that, when using the term author, the "anything" which is created is most usually associated with written work.
Author of a written work
Legal significanceIn copyright law, there is necessarily little flexibility as to what constitutes authorship. The United States Copyright Office defines copyright as "a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to authors of "original works of authorship". Holding the title of "author" over any "literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, [or] certain other intellectual works" gives this person, the owner of the copyright, exclusive right to do or authorize any production or distribution of their work. Any person or entity wishing to use intellectual property held under copyright must receive permission from the copyright holder to use this work, and often will be asked to pay for the use of copyrighted material. After a fixed amount of time, the copyright expires on intellectual work and it enters the public domain, where it can be used without limit. However, copyright law has been amended time and time again since the inception of the law to extend the length of this fixed period where the work is exclusively controlled by the copyright holder. However, copyright is merely the legal reassurance that one owns his/her work. Technically, someone owns their work from the time it's created. An interesting aspect of authorship emerges with copyright in that it can be passed down to another upon one's death. The person who inherits the copyright is not the author, but yet enjoys the same legal benefits.
Questions arise as to the application of copyright law. How does it, for example, apply to the complex issue of fan fiction? If the media agency responsible for the authorised production allows material from fans, what is the limit before legal contraints from actors, music, and other considerations, come into play? As well, how does copyright apply to fan-generated stories for books? What powers do the original authors, as well as the publishers, have in regulating or even stopping the fan fiction?
Literary significanceIn literary theory, critics find complications in the term "author" beyond what constitutes authorship in a legal setting. In the wake of postmodern literature, critics such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault have examined the role and relevance of authorship to the meaning or interpretation of a text.
Barthes challenges the idea that a text can be attributed to any single author. He attests, in his essay "Death of the Author" (1968), that "it is language which speaks, not the author". The words and language of a text itself determine and expose meaning for Barthes, and not someone possessing legal responsibility for the process of its production. Every line of written text is a mere reflection of references from any of a multitude of traditions, or, as Barthes puts it, "the text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture"; it is never original. For a reader to assign the title of author upon any written work is to attribute certain standards upon the text which, for Foucault, are working in conjunction with the idea of "the author function" It is this distinction between producing a written work and producing the interpretation or meaning in a written work that both Barthes and Foucault are interested in. Foucault warns of the risks of keeping the author's name in mind during interpretation, because it could affect the value and meaning with which one handles an interpretation.
Literary critics Barthes and Foucault suggest that readers should not rely on or look for the notion of one overarching voice when interpreting a written work, because of the complications inherent with a writer's title of "author." They warn of the dangers interpretations could suffer from when associating the subject of inherently meaningful words and language with the personality of one authorial voice. Instead, readers should allow a text to be interpreted in terms of the language as "author."
The Auteur Theory and the Mantle of Authorship
In the essay "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962," Andrew Sarris discusses the role of movie directors as central and critical to the voice of films in world cinema. Over all other roles in film production, Sarris believes the director is the only one who can claim the title of auteur. So, this term auteur or author can also refer to a special "mantle" of creative privilege based on an audience's perception of the work and where they feel creativity originates. Since Sarris, several writers have changed/altered the definition of auteur in regards to authorship. When looking specifically at film, the idea of auteur relates to a filmmaker's full body of work. There have been assertions that auteurs are working through psychological issues throughout their films. Current auteurs use their authorship to market their films.
Relationship between author and publisherA percentage calculated on a wholesale or a specific price and or a fixed amount on each book that is sold. Publishers, at times, reduced the risk of this type of arrangement, by agreeing only to pay this after a certain amount of copies had sold. In Canada this practice occurred during the 1890s, but was not commonplace until the 1920s.
- Commissioned: Publishers made publication arrangements, and authors covered all expenses (today the practice of authors paying for their publications is often called vanity publishing, and is looked down upon by many publishers, even though it may have been a common and accepted practice in the past). Publishers would receive a percentage on the sale of every copy of a book, and the author would receive the rest of the money made.
Relationship between author and editor
The relationship between the author and the editor, often the author’s only liaison to the publishing company, is often characterized as the site of tension. For the author to reach his or her audience, the work usually must attract the attention of the editor. The idea of the author as the sole meaning-maker of necessity changes to include the influences of the editor and the publisher in order to engage the audience in writing as a social act.
Pierre Bourdieu’s essay “The Field of Cultural Production” depicts the publishing industry as a “space of literary or artistic position-takings,” also called the “field of struggles,” which is defined by the tension and movement inherent among the various positions in the field. Bourdieu claims that the “field of position-takings […] is not the product of coherence-seeking intention or objective consensus,” meaning that an industry characterized by position-takings is not one of harmony and neutrality. In particular for the writer, their authorship in their work makes their work part of their identity, and there is much at stake personally over the negotiation of authority over that identity. However, it is the editor who has “the power to impose the dominant definition of the writer and there fore to delimit the population of those entitled to take part in the struggle to define the writer”. As “cultural investors,” publishers rely on the editor position to identify a good investment in “cultural capital” which may grow to yield economic capital across all positions.
According to the studies of James Curran, the system of shared values among editors in Britain has generated a pressure among authors to write to fit the editors’ expectations, removing the focus from the reader-audience and putting a strain on the relationship between authors and editors and on writing as a social act. Even the book review by the editors has more significance than the readership’s reception.
Good relationships between authors and editors are largely found to be the product of an awareness of writing as a social act, and an effort to create a balance wherein the authority over the text is negotiated among all of the positions in the industry, so that the meaning is effectively carried from the meaning-maker to the readership.
- Hix, H. L. Morte d'Author: An Autopsy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
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