Tracy Reilly


In this article, I present a combined legal and literary analysis of one of the most destructive themes in contemporary intellectual property scholarship: the putative death of the copyright author. For decades, the vast majority of scholars in all academic disciplines have widely accepted that the conceptual death of the author announced in 1967 by French literary theorist Roland Barthes is today a conclusively proven fact. This piece, however, offers a unique and unquestionably controversial challenge to such a purported denouement: it boldly, and not without trepidation, theorizes that the true goal of some anti-author scholars is the outright annihilation of the natural rights principles upon which the Progress Clause of the U.S. Constitution is founded. By examining the canonical principles apparent in George Orwell’s twentieth-century dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, I unravel the cause, effect, and cultural significance of the postmodern phenomenon of the death of the author. I juxtapose universal themes explored by Orwell such as “Newspeak,” “Doublethink” and “2+2=5” with the current social trend known as “cancel culture,” and reveal—as Nineteen Eighty-Four’s protagonist Winston Smith did with respect to “Big Brother”—that the true spirit of anti-author copyright rhetoric is based upon collectivist precepts that are dangerously counterproductive to a free society. While copyright scholars routinely provide egalitarian and altruistic justifications for killing the author—primarily for the alleged enrichment of the public domain as a mechanism to enhance opportunities for burgeoning new authors to have a bite at the copyright pie—I shine the light on this deception. By drawing from the profundity of Orwell’s rich literary tradition, which is astoundingly prescient of today’s social climate, I reveal how the anti-author movement is a concerted power play by a band of elitist academicians who effectively wish to “cancel” the natural rights foundation of copyright law in favor of a socialistic leveling of originality and individual creativity. By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four