4.1315 Copyright I: Publishers' Ownership... (1/171)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Sat, 4 May 91 18:30:11 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1315. Saturday, 4 May 1991.

Date: Fri, 3 May 91 15:57:26 CDT (170 lines)
From: robin@utafll.uta.edu (Robin Cover)
Subject: Copyright (I): Publishers' Ownership of Scholars' Writing

In HUMANIST "4.1291 Subject: Copyright, again" Roy Flannagan invites
humanities scholars to pause momentarily from research and writing to consider
whether they wish to continue their oppressive academic existence as powerless
slaves within an economic and legal system which rewards extortion and
marketeering of their intellectual property. Actually, he wrote:

Is it time for a group like the Humanists to start helping to set the
standards for copyright of electronic data, so that it won't be done for
us either on the bases of the profit motive of commerce or of "national
security" or of legal greed? Can we decide what we want and tell the
world what our standard is? May we talk about this?

Roy says the subject of 'copyright' "is a very frightening one for the history
of publishing, a liberating one for the friends of knowledge who want to get
it all out there in the public domain, for the use of all." Why should it be
"frightening" for the publishing industry and "liberating" for the friends of
knowledge? Is it because commercial publishers, and perhaps some non-profit
ones, do not welcome placing knowledge "out there" for democratic access and
"use by all?" Is the 'copyright' problem in fact best framed in legal terms,
or does other language better capture the heart of the issue: -- ownership of
knowledge, intellectual property in written academic research, monopolistic
control over representations of ancient culture? In this and two subsequent
postings HUMANISTS will find my provisional thoughts, devilishly intended to
provoke further discussion on the issue of ownership of electronic knowledge.

The topic of "electronic copyright" constitutes a moving target driven by the
winds of a technological revolution. It is partly a writer's revolution in
which intelligent authoring software, versatile electronic book browsers, high
capacity academic networks and creative electronic-communication schemes for
editing/refereeing will make it increasingly possible for scholars to tell
traditional publishers, "Hey, we don't need you any more." It's a
technological revolution which will spill over into the political, social,
economic and legal realms in very unpredictable ways. Or, as Roy asks, will
the technological possibilities fall into the hands of legal, economic and
political power brokers before academia wakes up to what is happening? Should
scholars view the revolution as a "liberation" in which establishment power
brokers justifiably get killed, or should they champion a peaceful revolution
controlled by reason, compassion and compromise? Both viewpoints can be
heard: we should discuss and understand why.

In favor of a bloody revolution is the fact that publishers, libraries,
commercial database developers, archive centers and others are already
jockeying for positions of power to control the mind and lifeblood of
scholarship. Who shall control the dissemination of electronic scholarly
information, who shall fix the prices, who shall reap the economic rewards,
who shall establish legal ownership over this commodity called knowledge?
Never mind that scholars CREATE the knowledge and scholars USE the knowledge:
other groups would like to control it, make money on it, and facilitate
democratic access to it ONLY IF providing democratic access does not
compromise power, money or the potential for making money. Some scholars
appear unaware that a revolution is already underway, unaware that if they do
nothing to escape from the tyrannies of the past, they may find themselves and
their discipline of textual scholarship under more oppressive forms of legal
and economic bondage than ever before. In this light, we can understand why
visionary scholars might support a bloody revolution.

Publishers, to choose one villain, have not (always) had a good track record.
I cringe at the term applied to publishers by one high-ranking researcher in
Cambridge ("parasites"), but consider the facts. Publishers have exploited
the scholastically embarrassing "publish or perish" doctrine by extorting the
scholar's intellectual property. By demanding unconditional surrender of
copyright, they establish legal ownership of the scholar's written creation.
They give the creator of the knowledge a mere pittance in royalties, if
anything at all. For scholarly articles, authors usually get nothing
(although a publisher's copyright notice may read, as I saw recently, "pay us
13.00 US dollars according to Copyright Clearance Law for copying beyond...").
Publishers have said to academic writers: "you take the glory and win tenure
if you can, we will take the money and legal possession of your published
thoughts." Publishers typically print the document once, and will reprint it
only if reprinting is economically profitable for them. Never mind that
textual scholarship suffers when important texts are unavailable, never mind
the creator's loss of reputation and possible royalties in the case of the
"out-of-print" book. (Lest anyone think this latter is moot: I have been
looking on the used book market for about 25 "out-of-print" books published by
still healthy publishers--lexicons, primary texts, standard commentaries--for
several years, with negligible results; if I printed this list, it should
embarrass every major publisher in my field.)

In the name of expensive typesetting, publishers produce results that
scholars, students and sometimes even libraries cannot afford. Example: the
fourth and final fascicle of the now "standard" Hebrew lexicon just arrived in
my mailbox with a price tag of 175 US dollars; the complete lexicon is beyond
the financial means of students who need to use it. Scientific and technical
journal subscriptions cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Nowadays,
publishers demand the scholar's surrender of the electronic copyright as well:
they fear loss of total control and the potential loss of revenues on
electronic information (ostensibly, they fear the loss of hardcopy sales if
electronic books are available). They even oppose the digitizing of "their"
books by others except under the strictest legal arrangements, which leave
them in control and the financial beneficiaries of the electronic copy won
through the costly digitizing efforts of others.

Extortion of the scholar's intellectual creation might not be so offensive
were it not for the fact that scholars are supposed to be PUBLIC servants,
paid through PUBLIC funding, to produce PUBLIC knowledge. How then do
commercial publishers justify privatization and commercial monopolization of
this knowledge? In "Incentives and Disincentives in Research and Educational
Communication" (EDUCOM Review 25/3 (Fall 1990) 15), Ann Okerson writes:

"In the current system--both commercial and non-profit--publishers ask the
authors of scholarly articles to assign copyright to the publisher as part
of the publication process. Thus articles based on work created largely
in universities and laboratories and paid for--and value added--largely at
public expense become the property of organizations that own the rights,
with the result that it is increasingly difficult for the public to own
and read publicly supported research."


I do not claim this is a fair representation, but it's a possible
interpretation, and highlights some painful realities. Not all publishers are
equally guilty, and publishers are not necessarily to be held responsible for
the matrix of publication policies which makes extortion possible, even if
they exploit the structural weakness. No doubt some woeful dirges or heroes'
songs can be sung over the losses incurred by noble publishers who dared to
risk solvency by publishing "unprofitable" academic books and journals.

But consider the joy of liberation if scholars are put back into possession
and control over their own writings through the electronic revolution. we
gloss over the many difficulties (to be summarized later) which face scholars
in this interim period when we make the transition to serious electronic
publishing. But ponder the significant advantages of electronic authoring and
distribution of books. It heralds liberation not only from the tyranny of
publisher's economic priorities, but it eliminates the barriers of walls and
clocks which impede scholarship and prevent democratic access to scholarly
resources. For the time being, paper is also necessary; so go ahead, let the
traditional publisher put your article/monograph/book into paper print. But
but do not grant that publisher (or anyone) exclusive copyright. Then put the
*ELECTRONIC COPY* of your book on a public file server and think of the
advantages for the scholar and for the scholarly community:

*it never becomes "out-of-stock" with the distributor
*it never goes "out-of-print" at the publisher
*it is never "checked-out" by another library user
*it is never locked away behind library doors at 12:00 midnite, or on weekends
*it never has a broken binding, or filthy annotations from some Philistine
would-be scholar who doodles and highlights in public books
*it can be accessed in a matter of seconds (FTP Internet) from the network
source(s) rather than in a matter of days/weeks/months from a publisher or
mail order distributor
*it can be accessed as easily and instantaneously by a scholar in
"plainstown.midwest.usa" (population 20,000) or in Bergen, Tuebingen,
Sydney, Hong Kong, as by a scholar in Philadelphia or Oxford
*it can be obtained quickly in replacement copy if you have lent your first
copy (diskette or paper) to some friend, or have simply mislaid it
*it can easily be excerpted (looong quotations!) by students and pasted into
term papers, so your scholarly reputation increases. . . :-)
*it can be searched for key terms which might not be indexed, or for
collocations of terms which cannot be indexed
*it can be delivered at a mere fraction of the hardcopy cost to the user, with
all or most of the royalty going to the creator (author, editor), not to
the purveyor
*it can be placed on electronic "reserve-list" reading in any semester, or
every semester, without having the publisher breathe down the neck of the
librarians (demanding royalties, threatening 'copyright violation')

These are wonderful advantages, supplying humanities scholars powerful
incentives to work electronically. Everything is in flux, and many of the
important elements necessary to make the global electronic library a reality
are not in place. But even now, we should go for it. Scholars may expect
opposition, subtle and bold, from those who stand to get killed in this
revolution. The whole game begins NOW: when scholars realize that the
electronic copy (even the "word-processor" copy) is very important, and that
exclusive copyright upon the scholar's intellectual creation, especially the
electronic version, should not be surrendered to anyone. (End Part I)
Robin Cover BITNET: zrcc1001@smuvm1 ("one-zero-zero-one")
6634 Sarah Drive Internet: zrcc1001@vm.cis.smu.edu
Dallas, TX 75236 USA Internet: robin@utafll.uta.edu ("uta-ef-el-el")
Tel: (1 214) 296-1783 Internet: robin@ling.uta.edu
FAX: (1 214) 841-3642 Internet: robin@txsil.lonestar.org