To continue the discussion on fan fiction versus copyright, here follows the case of the two “Alephs”, one by Jorge Luis Borges and the other by Pablo Katchadjian. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, writer Pablo Katchadjian is currently being sued for plagiarism, or the re-use without permission of copyrighted work, because he “fattened”, padded, added to or otherwise re-used the novel The Aleph, written in 1945, by the famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Katchadjian says, in his defence, that his version of the novel, called The Fattened Aleph, is a “lengthened” version of Borges’s short story and is not plagiarism because it is “an experiment” and “open about its source”. An open-and-shut case this is not.
Back to part 1/4 in the series Fan Fiction versus Copyright
El Aleph Engordado/The Fattened Aleph, by Pablo Katchadjian
In 2011 Borges’s 79-year-old widow, María Kodama, began the process of suing Katchadjian for “intellectual property fraud” since The Fattened Aleph is simply the original short story extended from its original 4,000 words to 9,600 words, and Katchadjian did not ask her permission before he published his version. So it was indeed “fattened”. The case is about to go to court in February 2017. Copyright on The Aleph would only have expired in 2056, 70 years after Borges’ death. The Fattened Aleph was published by Imprenta Argentina de Poesía.
Katchadjian added in adjectives and descriptive passages and did not change the original plot. For example, Borges’ text reads:
“The burning morning that Beatriz Viterbo died, after an imperious agony that did not diminish even a moment of sentiment or fear.”
In Katchadjian’s version it reads:
“The hot and humid morning in which Beatriz Viterbo finally died, after an imperious and extensive agony that did not diminish for a single moment neither sentimentality nor fear nor abandonment and indifference.”
It has been said of Borges’ short stories that it they are more about ideas than plots, and that Borges’ economical, subdued writing style is probably the defining feature of his work:
“‘It is a quiet style,’ writes translator Andrew Hurley, ‘whose effects are achieved not with bombast or pomp, but rather with a single exploding word or phrase, dropped almost as though offhandedly into a quiet sentence.’ […] He rarely used metaphors or similes; always chose the simplest, most accurate words; almost never wrote stories longer than 10 pages – and yet created some of the most unusual and complex fiction of the last century.” (From A brief survey of the short story part 27: Jorge Luis Borges, by Chris Power, The Guardian, 22 July 2010, rtrvd. 2017-01-17)
That being the case, adding in more words and more descriptions, like Katchadjian did, would be the antithesis of Borges’ style and would probably not work as well – but as Katchadjian said, it was an experiment.
The defence claims the work is not a forgery because it is a “new work”, open to its source, and an experiment, and “only Katchadjian’s name appears on the cover. It doesn’t say; “The Aleph by Borges, altered by Katchadjian” anywhere in the book. This is similar to instances when a modern painting that looks like a Renoir, for instance, does not carry Renoir’s fake signature or say on the back “made by Renoir”, in which case it cannot be called a forgery.
Either way, it seems that while Katchadjian broke the letter of the law, he did not intend to infringe the spirit of the law. As the widow had said, he should’ve asked permission, but that is not enough reason to throw him in jail for five years. The case has caused María Kodama to be called a “copyright troll” who is “overly litigious”. Industry expectations are that Katchadjian will not be found guilty.
Next article in the series Fan Fiction versus Copyright: The Unfinished Tintin (article 3/4) – The Case of Tintin and Alph-Art – Moulinsart vs. Rodier
About Pablo Katchadjian
This court case has gained Mr. Katchadjian undeserved and probably overblown notoriety. Katchadjian, born 1977, has published a number of his own novels, so it does not look like he is trying to steal the thunder, so to speak, of Borges, or not do his own work. He is an established author. His works include:
- What to Do (Argentinean Literature), Dec 29, 2016
- The Rou of Alch (the Senal Series), Oct 1, 2016
- Gracias (Spanish Edition, Blatt & Ríos), 2011
- La cadena del desánimo (Spanish Edition, Blatt & Ríos), 2012
- La libertad total, (published by Bajo la luna), 2013
- Qué hacer (Bajo la luna)
- Mucho trabajo (Spiral Jetty)
- Three books of poetry: el cam del alch (IAP), dp canta el alma (Vox) and in collaboration with Marcelo Galindo and Santiago Pintabona, and los albañiles (IAP).
His work has been translated into English, French, and Hebrew, and La libertad total was adapted as an opera and staged at the Teatro San Martín in 2014. In 2009, he published a rewording of Martín Fierro, an epic 19th-century poem about gauchos, which he called El Martín Fierro ordenado alfabéticamente (published by IAP). So even back then, he created a pastiche of a famous work.