In the darkness of his writing-room, William Butler Yeats, internationally-celebrated poet and future Nobel laureate, was in the process of receiving a piece of rather unpleasant news.
“So, er, what is this, then?” said Yeats, adjusting his spectacles and peering down at the legal document in his hands.
“It’s a blooming cease and desist letter, Willie,” said Maud Gonne, Yeats’s muse and occasional correspondent, and the reluctant object of both his affections and his somewhat torrid verse.
“I can see that,” said Yeats. “I suppose I misspoke; the proper question, I guess, would be why is this, then?”
Maud frowned and produced another sheaf of papers from her handbag. She slapped them open and in a rather bored voice, began to read:
“‘When you are old and grey and full of sleep, / And nodding by the fire, take down this book, / And slowly read, and dream of the soft look / Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.'” She gave Yeats a wry look. “Awful nice, Willie,” she said.
“Thank you,” replied Yeats, still a bit confused as to what exactly was transpiring here.
“Oh, wait, but it gets better,” said Maud. She cleared her throat. “‘How many loved your moments of glad grace, / And loved your beauty with love false or true, / But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, / And loved the sorrows of your changing face.'” Maud waved the papers around in the air, a bit laconically. “Fancy that, I’ve got me a ‘pilgrim soul’. Looks like you went and titled this one ‘When You Are Old’. Not terribly original, just yankin’ the first line like you did, but it’s a fine bit of doggerel, I suppose.”
“I wrote it for you,” said Yeats.
“Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it?” said Maud. “I mean, the character and setting is lifted pretty much exactly from me. Devilishly attractive occultist and Irish revolutionary and all, ay?”
“It’s not ‘lifted’,” explained Yeats. “It’s literally, explicitly, about you. As explicit as my work gets, at any rate.”
“And that’s the problem, isn’t it?” said Maud Gonne. “You left me no choice, Willie. I had to go with the cease and desist on this.”
Yeats blinked, adjusted his glasses again, and began to read the letter. “‘Dear Sir,'” said Yeats. “‘It has come to our attention that your collection of poems The Wind Among The Reeds makes frequent use of characters and settings irrevocably linked with trademarked “Maud Gonne” intellectual properties under our legal control, the rights for use of which you have not requested or secured. This letter will serve as a formal request for you to immediately strip all mention of these characters and settings from your existing works and to refrain from including same in any future works. Thank you and have a pleasant day.'” Yeats dropped the letter to his desk. “Exactly how am I to have a pleasant day, given this?” he asked.
“It’s a pleasantry, Willie,” said Maud. “It doesn’t actually mean anything. Now, can I get a reaction from you to report back to my people?”
“Well, it’s not incredibly timely, is it?” said Yeats, struggling for words. “I mean, I’ve got about four books written about you by now. If you were going to serve me with a cease and desist letter, I’m not immediately seeing why it wasn’t done several years ago.”
“I’ve been contacting you over and over again through the bloomin’ astral plane,” said Maud. “Your thoughtform never picks up.”
“Ah, well, there’s the problem,” said Yeats. “After the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn went to pot, my astral connection has been on the fritz. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happier with the Stella Matutina than I ever was under Crowley, but sometimes the connection can be a little fuzzy.”
“Well, ain’t my fault then, is it? Any modern poet is basically assumed to have a presence in the astral plane, and if yours isn’t reliable, it seems to me you should find a proper spirit guide and get a vision-quest or two under your belt.”
“I’ve tried!” protested Yeats. “I keep attempting to cast my spirit far and wide, looking for inspiration from public domain cosmic forces, but I keep coming back to you! Your flashing eyes! Your flowing hair!” The poet peered blearily up at Maud for a moment. “Your… extreme tallness!” he finished.
“I’m touched,” said Maud. “Really I am. It’s fans like you that helped make me into the successful agent of social change that I am today, and I do figure I owe you a debt of gratitude. But the fact remains, if I don’t rigorously enforce my copyright over my name and appearance, it’ll revert to the public domain for lack of aggressive defense, and that’s just not sound business sense.” She shrugged. “You understand, ay, Willie?”
“Not entirely,” said Yeats, who was truth to tell feeling a bit kicked in the teeth by all this.
“Also, in a few months I’ll be attempting to extend my metaphysical brand into China and the Eastern Hemisphere,” said Maud, seeming not to particularly mind him. “I can’t get those yellow mystics to buy into my unique astral signature when that artist brain of yours is pumping so many free alternate versions of me into the aether.” She began sorting around in the sheaf of papers again. “All right, look here,” she said. “Here you’re talking about the character of Pallas Athene, but that’s just a thinly veiled way of saying ‘me’. Same here with Leda, same here with that Deirdre skirt from the Ulster Cycle, same here with Cathleen Ní Houlihan. It’s all me.”
“Metaphorically but recognizably me,” replied Maud. “Oh, and look here. This appears to be some sort of crossover fiction between me and Helen of Troy. I don’t suppose you talked to Homer about this?”
“He died about twenty-five hundred years ago.”
“I see,” said Maud. “So you didn’t talk to him because it would have been inconvenient for you, is that right?” She scoffed. “I mean, what kind of seance-holding occultist are you, anyway?”
“One with a really poor astral connection!” said Yeats, fuming. “Maud, you don’t understand. You’re my light, my soul, my star. You fill me with strange fires, fires that will not be extinguished until I have written them to paper. You inspire me. Why can’t you see that there’s a difference between stealing and thus making improper use of a thing, and being driven to create in its honor?”
Maud shrugged. “Well, what can you do?” she said. “Truth be told, I don’t have a lot of sympathy. You’re a creative guy, Willie. You could be making up your own devilishly attractive Irish revolutionary occultists and writing about them. Then you’d own the intellectual property free and clear, and wouldn’t have to feel guilty about earning royalties off of ’em. But instead of going through the actual work of creating your own heroines, you took the easy way out, chose to have your work done for you. Well, this here is what you reap.”
Yeats sighed. “I guess I’ll be in touch with your people,” he said. “We can discuss the level of alteration you think would be required in order to not make improper use of your copyrighted material.”
“Sounds good,” said Maud Gonne. “For one thing, I’m not sure I can really get behind The Wind Among The Reeds as a title. Maybe you could change it to something like Fifty Shades of Grey, or the like.”
“Fine,” said Yeats. “Whatever.” He shook his head, sighing. “‘I have spread my dreams under your feet,'” he recited. “‘Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.'”
“Yeah, well,” said Maud Gonne. “You tread softly, because you tread on my intellectual property rights.”
Yeats slumped, defeated.
“Bollocks,” he said.