Jousting at Windmills: Cervantes and the Quixotic Fight for Authorial Control

Posted: 13 Oct 2017

See all articles by Henry Biggs

Henry Biggs

Washington University in St Louis

Date Written: October 13, 2017


Achieving a fair balance between the rights of first and follow-on authors has long proved challenging. A less considered aspect of this tension involves the degree to which the first author may be creatively and productively compromised by the follow-on author and whether such interference diminishes creative production. A look at the early 17th century copyright landscape of Don Miguel de Cervantes proves instructive. Cervantes would dramatically change the second half of his masterpiece Don Quixote in terms both of plot and content because of an author who— perfectly legally—published a rival version of Don Quixote, Part II. The resultant war of words ultimately calls the very functioning of copyright’s protections into question: if greater creative production is ultimately the goal, is it purely financial gain that we believe engines that productivity? Or do we also believe protection of the author from creative interference plays a role in improving creative productivity? From a purity standpoint, are we concerned that without any rights of exclusion the author may write something substantially different than he might have without that interference? The copyright landscape and creative sparring that created the Don Quixote we read today provides an example of how deeply such interference can affect a final work.

Keywords: Fan Fiction, IP, Intellectual Property, History of Intellectual Property, Cervantes, de la Vega, Avellaneda

Suggested Citation

Biggs, Henry, Jousting at Windmills: Cervantes and the Quixotic Fight for Authorial Control (October 13, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Henry Biggs (Contact Author)

Washington University in St Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1208
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

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