The Times, 17 April 2008


On Saturday night, ITV had a huge hit with Pushing Daisies, the American comedy that has made Anna Friel a household name in a country for whom the word brookside is merely topographical. They followed this first episode success by announcing they wouldn’t be showing the second. There are nine episodes, and only eight weeks till Euro 2008 (football, I believe) begins.

Immediately, people began downloading it illegally, so they could watch the missing episode. Although they are clearly breaching copyright, it’s hard not to sympathise. This show has been advertised for weeks and viewers were understandably expecting to see it for free. Which they still are, just not quite so legally. Home taping never managed to kill music (in spite of the dire warnings), so here’s hoping that downloading won’t kill telly. And that those who enjoy it will also buy it on DVD.

Irate former-ITV viewers aren’t the biggest problem for the people who create TV shows, films and books. The real crooks are those who plagiarise and cannibalise good stuff to make rubbish. JK Rowling is in court this week, trying to block the publication of a Harry Potter Lexicon, which she claims has lifted huge chunks of her work wholesale. RDR, the publishers of the lexicon, have described it as a ‘David and Goliath battle’, which would be an accurate metaphor, if instead of smacking Goliath on the kisser with a slingshot, David had rather gone through Goliath’s collected fiction, whacked some choice paragraphs into an order of his choosing, put his own name on the cover, and then tried to make a quick buck off someone else’s work.

When you think that JK Rowling has sat silently through the publication of endless Barry Trotter and the Loss of the Will to Live books, the fact that she’s waited this long to see someone in court makes her appear positively saintly. Personally, I would suspend my lifelong opposition to the death penalty for anyone who has ever thought that Shite’s Miscellany was really quite a sophisticated play on words, and would make a marvellous title for a book, and then acted upon that thought.

Borders tends to categorise these books under Humour, a section where you used to be able to buy the collected works of Fran Lebowitz, Cynthia Heimel and PJ O’Rourke, and can now buy almost nothing other than ugly, boring pastiches on popular books. This is pretty smart retailing: it means that whenever anyone questions the lazy theft of anything original or joyful, they are just accused of lacking a sense of humour, which everyone dreads.

The writers and publishers of this rubbish can kid themselves that they are providing a public service and that their books and the best-sellers can live symbiotically. But the truth is that they are parasites living on hosts, clogging up the shelves so that original and interesting books don’t have a chance. I hope Goliath takes them all to the cleaners.