Saturday, May 31, 2008

Voltaire: a detriment to public health, safety, and welfare

Robert Darnton has an article in the New York Review of Books about the history of written information, and in it he discusses textual stability and the weak de facto intellectual property rights of authors. Apparently, even the best engaged in and profited from what America's two biggest cities say is "detrimental to the public health, safety, and welfare":

The most widely diffused edition of Diderot's Encyclopédie in eighteenth-century France contained hundreds of pages that did not exist in the original edition. Its editor was a clergyman who padded the text with excerpts from a sermon by his bishop in order to win the bishop's patronage. Voltaire considered the Encyclopédie so imperfect that he designed his last great work, Questions sur l'Encyclopédie, as a nine-volume sequel to it. In order to spice up his text and to increase its diffusion, he collaborated with pirates behind the back of his own publisher, adding passages to the pirated editions.

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