Bet Me

Bet me a dollar I’ve never shared a Table of Contents with Susan Sontag, Don DeLillo, Stephen Greenblatt, and Harold Bloom.

Go on, bet me.

You lose.

Yeah, I’m surprised, too. Really surprised. Unpleasantly surprised, despite the illustrious company in the TOC. The book was published in 1999, and I just found out I was in it.*

It goes like this: back in 1993-1995 I was in the dramaturgy program at the American Repertory Theatre’s Institute for Advanced Theatre Training. Part of that training included producing newsletter articles and program notes for the plays we worked on.

A few of the things I wrote while a student at the Institute have been out on ART’s website for years (here and here, for example) and I have no problem with that. The newsletters and programs were free, the website can be accessed for free, and the website promotes the theatre in the same way the newsletters did.

But putting that same material in a book and then selling the book for $28.95, with their own copyright notice at the front but no notice of individually held copyright for each contributor, well, that’s different.

I suppose they could argue the newsletter article was work-for-hire, although there was no contract involved and I didn’t get paid for the articles I wrote. Quite the contrary: I was paying ART for the privilege of attending the Institute. I’m still paying off the student loans, as a matter of fact.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s keen they picked my article for inclusion in the book. There are interviews with Milan Kundera and David Mamet in it, for fuck’s sake. I am honored to have my little article in this book. But not being notified, let alone asked? Come on. The permanent address on file with the Institute was still valid in 1999. Hell, it’s still valid now. That means they didn’t even make an attempt to contact me before using my work.

If back in 1999 someone had said, “Hey, we want to put your article in a book, sign this!” I would have said, “Cool, thanks!” and signed. I probably wouldn’t even have had the sense to ask for a contributor’s copy, let alone a token payment for the rights.

But now? Now I’m pissed. Flattered, and pissed. Turns out it’s possible to be both at the same time.

And you know, really, it’s not about the money — I can’t image they’ve sold many copies of the book, and my pro rata share the authors’ cut of any profit means they probably owe me, what, a dollar? Twenty bucks? An apology? Do they owe me an apology? I don’t know; I’m still trying to determine my pisssed-to-flattered ratio. I’ll decide what to do once I’ve got that worked out.

* By a weird coincidence, the TOC also includes an article by Elizabeth C. Ramírez, a faculty member and one of my M.F.A. advisors at the University of Oregon. In fact, the book was probably being assembled while I was still showing up at Liz’s office once a week to talk about my adaptation of Doctor Faustus. I wonder if she knows she’s in ART’s book?

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