In my forthcoming book Models.Behaving.Badly I want to quote more than a sentence or two from exactly three people: Yehuda Amichai, John Maynard Keynes and Philip Larkin.
Amichai wrote a wonderful poem called “The Precision of Pain and the Blurriness of Joy” which I saw in the NY Review of Books about ten years ago, and saved. John Maynard Keynes gave a speech about Newton in 1946 (after Keynes was dead, delivered by Keynes’s brother.) And Philip Larkin wrote a very funny poem called “This Be The Verse.” If you belong to the early part of the baby boom wave, also check out “Annus Mirabilis.”
In the old days, probably, your publisher would get the rights to quote from these poems, which you have to obtain from whoever owns the copyright. But these aren’t the old days, or else my publisher sensibly values his or her time more than they value mine. So, I have spent hours on a sort of scavenger hunt, emailing and sometimes writing one person after the other, as they pass me on, to try to get permission to quote, despite my willingness to pay. I must have spent about 12 hours on this already over a month.
What I have to show for this is
(a) A letter from the Royal Economic Society finally granting me the right to quote Keynes. They are very gracious but it took many many iterations to get to them as the ultimate holder of copyright. Cost 350 GBP and my time.
(b) After many leads, a very gracious letter from the late Amichai’s wife telling me she doesn’t actually hold the copyright, though it took me many baton passes to get to her.
(c) No response at all from Farrar Straus Giroux who hold the copyright to Larkin (I think).
You would think someone would like to bring liquidity to the rights to quote, like Second Market who bring liquidity to restricted stock etc, by forming a central repository for linking authors who want to quote to the invisible people who hold copyrights, for a fee. If you want to do that, you can use this idea provided you give me a stake in the business for 20% of the equity. Please don’t make me do a Winkelvoss on you.