Academic journal article Journal of Law, Technology and the Internet

The Rise of the Producer-Novelist: Shifting Perceptions of Authorship in Transmedia Publishing

Academic journal article Journal of Law, Technology and the Internet

The Rise of the Producer-Novelist: Shifting Perceptions of Authorship in Transmedia Publishing

Article excerpt


In October 2006, Running Press Kids, an imprint of Perseus Books, published the novel Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233, written by co-authors Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart. (1) When confronted with the book's title, the reader may find it necessary to follow the book's instructions and call the telephone number. (2) Upon dialing the number, the reader is greeted by the following message:

Hey, this is Cathy and I can't come to the phone right now... because
cell phones can be traced and not always by the good guys. If this is
mom, don't worry: I'm okay. Emma, if this is you, I left my book under
your porch. Take a look. I think there's stuff buried there we haven't
figured out yet. Okay, leave a message at the beep. (3)

The number then prompts the reader to enter a four-digit access code to retrieve Cathy's messages; however, because the reader does not have Cathy's access code yet, the reader must proceed to open the book and discover what might be hidden within the book's pages. A plastic pouch filled with evidence is attached to the inside cover and sealed with a red sticker that reads "Em--Here's the proof. Keep it safe. Cathy." (4) Inside the "evidence packet" are clues like newspaper scraps, photos, a page from a day planner, and a napkin with a lipstick "kiss" that lead to additional telephone numbers, MySpace profiles, and a variety of websites that extend the story beyond that which is told through the printed word. (5) The illustrator for Cathy's Book, Cathy Briggs, further extends the narrative by liberally littering the book's pages with doodles and sketches made by the fictional Cathy Vickers. (6)

Cathy's Book is an exemplar of a growing trend in publishing in which novels interweave story threads from different media to create a cohesive and interactive storytelling experience for readers. Professor Henry Jenkins refers to these stories as "transmedia storytelling." (7) But while transmedia storytelling affords authors the flexibility to switch media at will in search of the most appropriate medium of storytelling for each story element, it also poses unique challenges to Romantic views towards the authorship for literary works, a central element of copyright law. (8) Increasingly, individuals and companies serving in a directorial role assume the mantle of authorship in the transmedia publishing space, in light of the specialized skill sets and resources needed to produce these multimedia works.

Part I of this Note will attempt to define transmedia publishing in the context of digital convergence and competing models of cross-platform story telling. Part II will demonstrate how transmedia producers use a variety of strategies to assert ownership rights over the transmedia novels that emerge from their ministrations. Part III will discuss the interplay between transmedia authorship and copyright law that encourages the shift in authorship from writer to producer. Part IV will explore the historical context that shapes our understanding of authorship under the existing copyright regime, providing context for the current realignment of incentives. While the shift in authorship contradicts conventional assumptions of authorship, the result offers the best chance for encouraging future innovation in the transmedia publishing space.


In order to properly explore the ramifications of transmedia publishing, it is first necessary to properly explore the scope of transmedia storytelling, which exists as part of the larger context of media convergence. For the purposes of this Note, transmedia novels will refer to forms of transmedia storytelling that rely on books as a primary storytelling mechanism whereas transmedia publishing will refer to the process of distributing these works to the public. (9)

A. Enabling Transmedia Storytelling Through Convergence

As David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins note in their introduction to Rethinking Media Change, the idea that disparate media could converge to tell a unified story is not a new concept. …

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