Dan Callaghan

Civil disobedience

If you think a law to which you are subject is unjust, one of the clearest ways in which you can protest it is simply to not obey it. This is called civil disobedience.

Of course, if you decide the law against murder is unjust and you disobey it, you are likely to get into a lot of trouble (not to mention you would also be violating the definition of civil disobedience as peaceful resistance, exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela among others). There are not many people who would have sympathy for you, thanks to the (almost) universal human moral view that harming others unjustifiably is wrong. Today’s copyright laws, however, are on morally much shakier ground.

The legal concept of copyright originated as a means of ensuring that authors and purchasers of books were free from the control of publishing monopolies; under Great Britain’s Statute of Anne, enacted in 1710, authors held exclusive rights to a work for 14 years after its first publication, after which time it would enter the public domain. Three hundred years later, copyright has been hijacked by corporations as a means of protecting and expanding profits in perpetuity, the case of Mickey Mouse being a prime example. A typical novel is now protected by copyright in most countries for 70 years after the author’s death — this means, for example, that E. M. Forster’s novel Maurice, written in 1914, will not enter the public domain until after 2040.

I do not see any reason why large publishing companies and inheritors of the Forster estate should be allowed to profit from his work for decades after his death, nor any other authors who are dead. So for today’s act of civil disobedience, I am making available online the full text of two novels (Maurice is coming soon, when I finish proofreading the OCR).

The first is The Boys on the Rock by John Fox, who tragically died in 1990 at age 38. One of the first “gay novels” (if it can be called that) which I ever read, it touched me deeply, and I’m glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one.

The second is Purposes of Love (published in the USA as Promise of Love) by Mary Renault. Although more famous for her historical novels, particularly her three Alexandar the Great novels which are told with a distinctly gay bent, Mary Renault began her career writing contemporary fiction. This is her first and least well-known (not to mention rarest in print) novel.

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