05 November 2007

Spamming Your Way to the Great American Novel

When I wrote regularly, it was a persistent challenge to come up with suitable names for the various lead, supporting, and incidental characters in a particular work-in-process. There wasn't much that frustrated me more than finding myself halfway through something I felt could be worthwhile and realizing that I was still using placeholder names for key characters.

I've noticed, however, that the e-mail spammers who are kind enough to correspond with me on a regular basis seem to have no difficulties in creating names for their "From:" headers. Most of these names are composed as random computer-generated pairings of names and other words and, in that respect, they're like an internet version of the proverbial "monkeys with typewriters writing Shakespeare" -- given large enough dictionaries, enough e-mail addresses to spam, and a roomful of computers, the next great American literary name is sure to be produced. (Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that I've not yet received a can't miss stock tip or pharmaceutical offer from "Hester Prynne" or "Holden Caulfield".)

As such, I've decided to start stockpiling some of the spammers' better names for my possible future literary uses. What I'm wondering, though, is what sorts of copyrights accrue in these names they create (and yes, here I am assuming that "Tad Vargas" and "Saturnia Rosy" are noms-de-plume adopted for online commercial purposes only). I think I'll consult William Patry's seven-volumes copyright treatise; if the answer's not in there, it's probably not worth knowing.

Who knows? Perhaps someday a generation of readers will look back and identify this as a turning point in modern literature -- the day when "Anwar Ramsbottom" began his transition from purveyor of cut-rate erectile dysfunction medication (no prescriptions necessary!) to literary immortal.

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