Friday, August 31, 2007

Suber on OA for monographs

Peter Suber, director of the Open Access Project, weighs in with his thoughts on the question of open access to monographs (in contrast to journals), and also recounts an interesting tale of particular relevance of us. If you don't know about the Open Access Project, check it out; an amazing amount of work is going on (as I said in my post on NA-CAP 2007 below, it was quite inspiring and reassuring to hear how far they have gone).

The librarians' lament

Marc Meola pens an interesting piece over on the ACRL blog about free software, open source, open access, books (well, lots of things). Check it out - and the discussion that follows on the question of libraries having access to books.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


By the way, a very interesting discussion covering questions of access, the difference between the political economy of books and software and the nature of freedoms appropriate for books and/or software has really taken off over at Biella's blog. On this page, and on this one, and this one.

Monday, August 27, 2007

More on Copyright

This conversation is way too interesting for me not to throw in a few thoughts on the issue (as I see it) of controlling access to the book through pricing and license. (There's considerable overlap, of course, with what Samir posted earlier.) My approach to these questions is inflected by two somewhat different roles that I see myself inhabiting:

In the role of academic author, I have two primary interests: to disseminate
my ideas so as to increase my contribution to an ongoing intellectual conversation, and to enhance my reputation so as to secure both indirect financial compensation (through eventual promotion) and further opportunity to disseminate my ideas (though future book contracts, research funding, etc.). Satisfying these two interests simultaneously, as any academic author knows, is an enterprise fraught with tensions. We could post the entire manuscript on the web and try to get the word out: if we were fortunate, our easily-accessible text would generate some buzz, but not reputation of the sort that our employer knows how to recognize. (If we were even more fortunate, we might be able to parlay that buzz into a traditionally-published book.) Or we could go the traditional route and publish a book, which brings recognizable reputation-enhancement as well as automatic dissemination of a sort.

But in my role as a free software advocate, in particular one of the sort that thinks that the Open Access and Free Culture movements (for example) are doing important work, I have an interest in applying principles from these movements to my dealings around the book.

In Peter Suber's summary of the principles of Open Access (OA), he observes:
[Open Access] to royalty-producing literature, like monographs and novels, is possible as soon as the authors consent. But because these authors will fear losing revenue, their consent is more difficult to obtain. They have to be persuaded either (1) that the benefits of OA exceed the value of their royalties, or (2) that OA will trigger a net increase in sales. However, there is growing evidence that both conditions are met for most research monographs.
Well, for what it's worth, I consent! (In his comment on Biella's blog, Karl Fogel asks about making the text freely available for derivative works -- I happily consent to that, too.) However, the book's publisher required us to transfer copyright to them, so our consent appears to be moot. Before signing the contract, we asked (in these exact words),
[D]oes Routledge have any flexibility in its copyright language? Because the topic of the book is so closely related to copyright, intellectual property [sic], etc., we'd like to explore the possibility of 'practicing what we preach' by using some less restrictive licensing (perhaps along the lines of one of the Creative Commons licenses).
And we were told (in these exact words)
I'm sorry to say that we don't have greater flexibility with regard to the copyright language of the contract. I understand your concerns but this is standard language for all Routledge contracts, and therefore I'm afraid I can't really change the copyright or licensing terms.
We would be very interested in any advice about how we could persuade Routledge to adopt more flexible terms -- for example, Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, published by MIT Press, a book we consulted heavily during our writing, is copyrighted by MIT under a traditionally restrictive copyright license, but the full text is now downloadable from the Press's website. (Other similarly important books on FOSS demonstrate an interesting variety of licenses: in O'Reilly's Open Sources 2.0, each piece is licensed under a Creative Commons license; Steve Weber's The Success of Open Source is traditionally copyrighted by Harvard College; CatB is copyrighted under a [nonexistent?] version of the Open Publication License; and the pieces in RMS's Free Software, Free Society are licensed as: "Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.")

Any thoughts about how to deal with presses that haven't embraced a more modern perspective on copyright -- other than by having a pre-existing record of successful publication -- or how to negotiate more effectively among (apparently) conflicting interests, would be very very welcome.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The irony of it all

Karl Fogel makes a critical observation over at Biella Coleman's blog about our choice of license i.e., a traditional publishing one, for Decoding Liberation:
a “pricey” book about free and open source software, that isn’t available online, and from which derivative works cannot be freely made, strikes me as having at least the potential for great irony...I doubt the authors are going to recover their investment of effort from the money they’ll make from sales...So surely they didn’t write this for the royalties, and they aren’t going to make even minimum wage for the time they put in. Rather, I presume they wrote it because they (clearly) care about the topic, they want to spread the word, and because having written it will be a professional asset for them. So, why the proprietary license? Why not live freedom, instead of just talking about it?
I've responded, briefly, and perhaps a little too quickly, both in my initial response to Karl on this blog, and then over at Biella's, so I wanted to write something a little more considered because in point of fact, there are several things floating around in this issue that need to be disentangled.

First, there are two implicit premises in Karl's initial claim: one, that if you are writing on free software and making prescriptive claims about the desirability of sofware freedoms, then it behooves you to act in a way that reflects the sympathy you ostensibly feel for attempts to make information in general more freely accessible (alternative copyright schemes for example), and secondly, that software and books are just like each other, in the freedoms they deserve. The first point is uncomplicated, and pretty obviously correct. The second is more complicated and would take a much longer time to resolve. For what its worth, there are obvious differences between books and software that make the answer to that question complicated. But it doesn't change the answer to a slightly simpler question: do current copyright schemes crack down on innovation, knowledge-sharing and creativity in this day and age? The answer to that is an unambiguous "Yes". And so, really, the answer to the second question is made easier by considering that an affirmative answer to the first question also behooves us to explore which freedoms should the printed word enjoy (exactly the same as those of software? slightly different ones? and so on).

So, why did we agree to a traditional copyright license for Decoding Liberation? We did try, and we failed. We were not sure of how much flexibility we had in these negotiations; we were both quite non-savvy in dealings with publishers and the like; we were well aware of the fact that our book did not fit neatly into any academic category and thus the whole world of academic presses was ruled out, and only publishers that published titles in 'in-between' areas would consider us; we did not come into this book-contract negotiations with any previous capital in this area (I'd published most of my previous work previously in logics for artificial intelligence; Scott in multimedia and security) . All of these reasons are fairly standard ones. Two academics, trying for intellectual and academic cachet for a book, the authority generated by a traditional published title, eager for readers, agree to licensing terms that represent a compromise with their principles. What did we stand to gain by this? Well, hopefully, a readership and an audience and a chance to acquire capital that will enable us to drive a harder bargain down the line. It is entirely possible that Scott and I missed a trick during the course of marketing our book proposal or negotiating the terms of our contract. But we felt quite at sea, and made, at the time, what seemed like a reasonable compromise. The political economy of books is very different from that of software; that of academic books seems more removed from that of regular publishing. Within its constraints we made a decision and this version of the book represents its outcome. I'm hopeful though, that this experience, and the negotiating space created by it, will enable a choice of a different license and distribution modality the next time around. As for "living freedom" and not just talking about it, I'm trying, I assure you, I'm trying. Not quite there yet, but its an ongoing process. (PS: the price is a function of the publisher having determined what the 'market' for the book should be, in this case, libraries. We're working on a paperback version, which will become a possibility if sales are good).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Still waiting

Well, I still don't have my copy of Decoding Liberation just yet, but I'm optimistic it'll happen soon. But we've started to line up some dates for book-release related events. One will be at Brecht Forum (October 3rd) where Biella Coleman will comment on/discuss the book with Scott and myself. The second will be at Labyrinth Books (November 2nd), with a similar format (commentator yet to be determined). We've put up a llittle page (also linked on the right-hand sidebar) with information on the book, including an introduction, links to the author's home pages, the back cover and blurb, and a listing of release events. Watch that space. And this one.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I refuse to get it

An unintentionally hilarious rant against free software. Theres an argument in it somewhere (let me know if you find it), some predictions, some attempts to sound magisterial, and plenty of fallacies/misrepresentations and the like. But seriously, do have a read, and tell me what you think. If you find it funny, pass it on.