Copyright in Academic Publishing

I’ve been finishing up my thesis, and some of that involves filing it various places. Another component is meetings, one of which I had yesterday. I want to preface this with the fact that she was both charming and sincere in her desire for good outcomes, and emailed me at 8:51am on a Saturday to help me get stuff in in a timely manner.

But some of what she told me made me blisteringly angry.

So, copyright is your claim to intellectual property you produce, right? We’re on the same page with that. When you publish, you grant distribution rights to the publisher. The only time you won’t have copyright on what you produce is if you do it under very specific contract, like ghostwriting. Because copyright is automatic. Registration is separate, and entirely optional unless you intend to file a lawsuit.

This is the part where I edit out the swearing about ETD/Proquest.

ETD/Proquest, when you upload your thesis to them, is kind enough to streamline the registration process. Which is great, if you want to take that entirely optional $55 step. But what they imply, in their wording and what they communicate to graduate schools, is that unless you apply to register your copyright, you don’t own it. People don’t need to cite you, and can use your work willy-nilly with nary a mention of your name. I am in the process of submitting my thesis currently in another tab, and waffled on taking a screenshot of their exact wording. But I want my degree more than I want receipts on this particular issue, so you are left with only my word that they imply that not registering can be hugely expensive later and also that you don’t really have copyright protections.

You don’t have to pay anyone in order to own what you produce. Your copyright is yours. You need to cite whether or not you’ve hunted down someone’s copyright registration.

A lot of academic publishing verges on the predatory, between for-profit journals that don’t pay writers or peer reviewers and, apparently, the repository that holds most theses and dissertations produced in the US and several other countries implying that you don’t own your own work. I think it’s important to know what you own, know what you retain control over, and know that self-archiving is a viable path – in a couple different ways, depending on journal policy.

Knowledge is power. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be academics in the first place. Knowing more about intellectual property law is the power to not get dragged down into the morass of misinformation that’s out there.

Intellectual Property and Trolling

The phrase ‘fight like a girl’ is trademarked.

Yep – the phrase used as a title in this comicthis movie, this comedy sketch, this self-defense program, and the song below is trademarked, and not to any of these people.

So who owns it? Well it’s one company – they’re not hard to find, but I’m not linking them, because they try to support a particular thing that I am generally in favor of, but either their lawyer needs to be put back on a leash or they are, corporately speaking, massive dicks.

They’re dicks because they have been suing independent artists using the phrase in their art. By specifically targeting independent artists trying to make a living, they can try to control the proliferation of the phrase while not ending up embroiled in court with people who can actually fight back. Because, realistically, the company in question doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s a common phrase. It’s a phrase that empowers a lot of women! Except, y’know, when a business that purports to support women uses that phrase to attack their ability to sell their art.

It’s an ultimately doomed effort – even Band-Aid ended up changing their jingle to ‘stuck on Band-Aid brand’ because their brand name had become the common name, and Band-Aids aren’t as tied up with feminism and the policing of art as Fight Like A Girl is. So the company is currently trolling, getting themselves more press, and being dicks.

Intellectual property is more complicated than declaring that one owns a segment of language forever, but it’s really difficult for independent artists to get legal fees. As an independent author or artist, you’re a lot more vulnerable. So while legally when nuisance cases like this come up you could fight back, you might not have the resources. It’s deeply frustrating, partly because even if one can dispute a DMCA claim on solid grounds one’s distributors might not want the hassle. I don’t have any kind of easy solution, just a lot of frustration on behalf of my artist friends. Fair Use doesn’t even come into this, as far as I’m aware, because these works have nothing to do with the company that owns the trademark. No one cared about them until they started suing.

So hopefully it’ll die down soon, or there’ll be something class action on behalf of the artists. In the meantime, it’s worth it to know your rights, even if you won’t always be in a position to exercise them.

Fight Like A Girl by LettieBoBettie, from DeviantArt

Piracy and books

I spend a lot of time talking to writers.

I spend a lot of time specifically talking to indie writers who make all their own publishing decisions.

It’s pretty great!

But one frustrating part of it are some of the myths that get perpetuated, like that free stuff hurts sales. This can take the form of distrust of and unhappiness with Creative Commons licensing, but on the whole tends to take the form of aggressive anti-piracy stances.

And, hey, I’m not super enthusiastic about piracy, because intellectual property is important and it’s important to respect it and the people who create the things one likes. But the thing about piracy is that it’s not actually lost sales.

You heard me right.

The people who are pirating your books either never would have bought them or are going to like it and either buy a copy or consider buying future works of yours.

Okay, let me talk about examples from my own life. Four books I have pirated are the 50 Shades trilogy by E L James and Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

50 Shades I wrote about here: to say I was unimpressed is a dramatic understatement. I also knew, going in, that it was going to be probably-enraging Twilight fanfiction, and made a deliberate decision to not support the author. That was never going to be a sale. I was never going to purchase anything written by her. It does not affect her sales numbers in the least.

Sunshine* was the opposite story: I love it, and have purchased two paperback copies of the novel, both of which have gone missing. It’s also not available as an ebook through legitimate channels. So nor was that a lost sale: I’d already purchased it, and was unlikely to purchase it a third time in the same form.

Piracy can actually increase sales, but hey, if you don’t want in on that, the best way to discourage piracy of your particular works is to make legal downloads ubiquitous. Make DRM-free purchase of your works for multiple platforms easy, and I can guarantee at least some people will find hitting the ‘buy’ button more appealing than piracy.

*Ms. McKinley, if you happen to see this and be unhappy with someone pirating your work, I’d be more than happy to Paypal you your royalties.

Copyright Tango

Copyright is still a subject I’m trying to figure out.

Not the legal side of it: that’s what entertainment lawyers are for, and they can explain it to the rest of us when it’s relevant.
It’s how I want to use it, how it’s applicable to me in particular, that I have to figure out. Creative Commons licensing is more appealing on a number of levels than traditional copyright. Creative Commons licensing is more accepting of educators using the material, explicitly allows for fan-created work, and all together embodies more of the tech-edged forward-thinking social movement that I’d like to target as readers.
On the other hand, if readers are free to redistribute digital copies wherever and however they like, I’m not always going to be getting paid.
Cory Doctorow makes his novels available online in any format a fan will translate it into, and lets his publishers just handle the print versions. This is fantastic, and I’ve taken advantage of it more than once.
But I think digital editions are a very future-friendly option: no dead trees (stone paper and elephant-poop paper still being too pricey to practically print books on), cheaper production costs, and easy transportation to any corner of the globe with internet access. I think that, while they will never replace print editions completely, digital editions may easily become the primary distribution method. If they do, I’m not sure I want to be giving my primary distribution method available for free.
Digital editions still have associated production costs in terms of the writer’s time, the editor’s time, the layout person’s time, and the cover artist’s time.
Machine of Death has made PDF available for free, but not any other digital edition. That was initially jarring, but seems to make sense upon examination of other factors. PDF is almost universally readable, even if it is awkward at times. Like the public library, it is available to everyone but not as convenient as buying. That seems to make sense.
But that raises the issue with the more arcane editions that fans might format it into: is the writer entitled to make money from the efforts of fans? And if not, isn’t that just a lot of incentive to download the arcane edition and retranslate it into whatever format is most convenient for you?
A lot of Creative Commons licensing relies on the idea that fans who support an edition won’t do that, and I like the attitude of generally not treating fans like criminals.
But the licensing I’ll use for my own work (not short stories or collaborations) is still something I have to think hard about.