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.


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