Yes, indeed, it’s been awhile. The last couple of weeks have gotten away from me, owing largely to the US Thanksgiving holiday (a much-needed break) and to the National Communication Association (NCA) conference, which took up most of the preceding week. Now we’re in the last week of classes here at Indiana University, with final exams looming just around the corner. I’m still amazed at how quickly the semester’s blown by.
I’m writing largely to report on the NCA convention, and more specifically on the interesting roundtable on academic publishing and intellectual property (IP) that I mentioned in an earlier post. The session, which was organized by Mark Hayward, a really bright and interesting graduate student from my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, brought together IP scholars, academic book and journal publishers, and an audience of interested parties. The panelists included, on the “academic” side of things, Mark, Kembrew McLeod, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and me, and from the world of publishing, Taylor & Francis’ Tracy Roberts and NYU Press’ Eric Zinner. Together, we tried to hash out the past, present, and future of scholarly publishing within the framework of intellectual property concerns.
Some highlights–and I’ll stress that this is what I heard, not necessarily what each of the participants actually said: Mark expertly introduced the panel, noting how graduate students often find themselves in quite a predicament, given that many feel as though they lack the leverage to insist on reasonable copyright provisions when they’re just beginning to get their feet in the door of academic publishing. Kembrew suggested that NCA and other professional associations should formulate “best practices” statements to guide what can and cannot be incorporated into scholarly publications and how (and here, song lyrics were of particular concern). Siva, for his part, offered an impassioned and insightful history of fair use in the US and how it pertains to academic publishing, and made a plea for the use of Creative Commons licensing of academic books and journal articles.
Tracy and Eric’s contributions were equally enlightening. Tracy enumerated T&F’s “retained rights” provisions, which helped to demystify the company’s attitude toward journal publishing, IP, and authors (though I still wish T&F would scale back its 18-month embargo period, which restricts when authors can place PDFs of their published articles on personal websites). Eric, meanwhile, said something that delighted me. He said that much of the hullabaloo (my word) about academic publishing and IP was just that–hullabaloo, especially since the profit margins in academic book publishing in particular tend to be quite slim. He wasn’t arguing that academic books should cease being copyrighted, though he did note that suing an academic author or press for copyright infringement probably wouldn’t yield much in terms of financial compensation–and with that, he seemed to be suggesting that academic publishers should take a more open stance on the issue of authors’ appropriating copyrighted materials in published work.
I’ve shared much of what I said at the convention on D&R over the past couple of months: that academic publishing may well be headed in some nasty directions, given the looming threat (and even implementation) of unnecessarily restrictive digital rights management schemes and related changes; and that academic authors and publishers, collectively, need to recover our common ground, and perhaps more important, to respect one another’s good will a great deal more. And, yes, I really mean that for both sides of the publishing world.
P.S. I should add that our panel was programed opposite another quite intriguing panel in which the participants read and discussed rejection letters they’d received from academic journals. I’d have loved to have sat in on that session, since I gather most of the people involved have gone on to produce some of the most ground-breaking work in the field of communication studies.