Intellectual property

A new semester . . .

. . . means not just one, but two new syllabi: one for graduate students and one for (mostly) undergraduates. (Technically, of course, these are actually updated versions of older syllabi, but there’s plenty of freshness in each of them).

And, this time around anyway, the new semester also begins with a very freshly published essay on cultural studies and history (with the shockingly off-topic title of “Cultural Studies and History”).

December notable nine

  1. Mocha. Damned if the old girl isn’t a trooper and a half. The tumor has taken over an awful lot of her face. And she’s clearly not excited about the never-ending snowfall. But the Empress of All North America continues to have noticeable pep in her step more days than not. And so she continues to be the lead item here.
  2. Devious friends. Mocha also makes it into the second item this month, courtesy of two dear friends of mine: one who housesat for me while I was in San Antonio for the ASA meetings last November, while the other served as her partner in crime (and brought along her boyfriend and his photography skills). A few weeks later, they presented me with a series of holiday photos taken chez moi that involved ugly Christmas sweaters, cheesy Christmas decorations, . . . and festively costumed fuzzies.
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  3. Snow, snow, and more snow. The same storm that broke the roof of the Metrodome was severe enough that both the state and Hennepin County pulled snow plows off the streets for safety reasons. When Minnesotans think it’s too snowy for plows to operate, we’re talking about a lot of snow. And it kept coming after that. In smaller doses to be sure, but every few days since then, another inch (or six, in some cases) has piled up.
  4. Saji Ya. I’ve long thought that the best sushi in the Twin Cities is at Origami in downtown Minneapolis, with Fuji Ya in Uptown coming in as a very strong second. And while neither of those establishments has slipped, I now think that Saji Ya — which I experienced for the first time last month — has to be a part of any serious conversation about the finest raw-fish-and-rice in the area. For now, though, I feel comfortable saying that it’s the best sushi in St. Paul. And if there’s better sushi in St. Paul (or Minneapolis, for that matter), I definitely wanna know about it.
  5. Marwencol. I saw better movies (though not many) in December, but most of those were old favorites (Double Indemnity, Fight Club) or movies you already know you should see (the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit). But you probably don’t know about Marwencol. And you should. If it’s playing near you, catch it before it leaves. If it’s not playing near you, find it on Netflix or at your local video shop as soon as it appears. I won’t try to describe it for you, since I don’t think I can do it justice. Just trust me. If only this once.
  6. Chinook of the North. A few months back, I’d mentioned that I grew my own hops in 2010, and that I was looking forward to using them in a forthcoming batch of homebrew. Well, in December, I finally bottled that first (partially) homegrown batch: a Chinook IPA I’d previously made (and enjoyed immensely) using nothing but store bought ingredients. The version using hops I harvested myself was ready for its first proper tasting right before New Year’s Eve. And it sucked. Badly. Not sure if it was a problem with the hops or if I botched something in the brewing process or what. But it was bad enough that I wound up dumping it all. Which I’d only done once before in nearly two dozen batchs since I started homebrewing again a few years back. You win some, you lose some. We’ll hafta see how the 2011 crop comes in later this fall.
  7. Beg, Scream, & Shout!: The Big ‘Ol Box of ’60s Soul. I’d known about this boxed set for a while. I’ve got at least one friend who has had a copy for years. And somehow I managed to have (most of) a digital copy of it sitting on my external hard drive. But I had mostly forgotten about it . . . until I was trying to locate a suitable Christmas gift for a friend (not coincidentally, one of the perpetrators of the photos directly above), and I had a sudden epiphany that this set would be the perfect present for someone (like her) with a penchant for the likes of Otis Redding and Sharon Jones. The trick, as it turned out, would be finding a copy that didn’t require me to take out a second mortgage — or even finding a copy at all, since the set has been out of print for almost a decade now. But the fates were kind to me. Twice, actually. Since my neighborhood Cheapo turned out to have one . . . and then I found another (for myself) on eBay. Why I never picked this set up before is beyond me. Six CDs, and not a bad track on any of them. Truly funky packaging: each disc comes in an oversized sleeve that looks like an old 45, and the box itself is modeled on an old 45 carrying case. And the set comes with a box of trading cards: one for each song.
  8. All Day. Evidently, the new Girl Talk album dropped on November 15. But I didn’t learn about it till December. Not surprisingly, it’s a damned fine bit of mash-up work. What did surprise me, however, is how I learned about it: I heard a track from it on the radio. And while it still amazes me (even if it also pleases me) that Girl Talk hasn’t been hit with cease-and-desist nastygrams from the RIAA and all their cousins, it amazes me (and, again, pleases me) even more that GT would actually get played on an over-the-regular-airwaves radio station.
  9. The Muppets vs. Nine Inch Nails. Speaking of mash-ups . . . well, why speak at all? Just watch. And enjoy.

September notable nine

Lots of people do Top Ten lists of one sort or another. But do we really need to fetishize the number 10 simply ’cause that’s how many fingers most of us are born with? And do such lists really need to revolve around hierarchical rankings? I don’t think so.

So here’s my “notable nine” for September 2010. These aren’t necessarily the best — or the worst — things that happened to me this past month. And they’re not presented in any clearcut order. They’re simply nine slices of my life from the past 30 days that deserve some sort of recognition.

  • Mocha. The old girl is still with us. She is now fourteen and a half. She was diagnosed with a tumor in her snout in March, and there isn’t anything to do about it that will make it go away. The tumor has grown large enough that it’s reshaped her face a bit. She’s got a perpetually slow-dribbling bloody nose. She’s stopped eating cheese and seems indifferent to treats. And yet, she still gets a pep in her step when it’s time for a walk, and she’s still a pretty perky pooch overall. Not sure how much longer she’ll hold on, but she’s here now. And that’s good.
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  • Tank. People have asked if I intend to bring a new dog into my life once Mocha decides it’s time to retire to the Land of Fat Squirrels With Broken Knees (aka, Doggie Heaven). And I don’t know for sure. Mocha will be a very tough friend to replace, after all. But for the next 8-10 months or so, the question is moot, as I have temporary custody of “my” former cat (back when that “my” would have been an “our”). And she’s as adorable as Mocha, though she fancies herself to be a cruel and vicious killer.
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  • Mom. I shared a brief Mom anecdote in this space a couple of weeks ago. There’s no fresh update since then (which is good . . . or as good as it gets, anyway), but my trip to DC back then lingers for me still.
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  • Billy Bragg. He played live at The Cedar on the 8th. And was amazing, of course. Even if he didn’t play the tune below.
  • Hops. When I moved into the new house a little more than a year ago, I decided that I needed to expand my homebrewing adventures a bit by growing my own hops. So back in March, I planted a couple of hop rhizomes (calm down, you crazed Deleuzeans) on the south side of the front porch . . . and they appear to be almost ready to harvest.
  • Theme Time Radio Hour box sets. A few years ago, Bob Dylan started hosting a weekly satellite radio show. I’ve never heard it live, and have only heard one episode in full. But I know enough about it to know that his playlists — which revolve around a different theme every week — are a glorious potpourri of old country, folk, blues, r&b, soul, gospel, and then some. And, thanks (I think) to the quirks of how UK copyright law treats compilations of recordings of a certain age, there are three separate labels (Ace, Chrome Dreams, and Mischief Music/Music Melon) that have each released a series of multi-disc sets drawn from Dylan’s radio show. There are a handful of duplications across the collections, but nowhere near enough to make any of them redundant. And, between them, that’s 22 discs (so far?) chock full of musical delights.
  • Washington 13, Dallas 7. I was born and (mostly) raised in DC. And while I was never even remotely close to being an athletic child, I was still a straight boy. So it was almost inevitable that I would become a fan of the team with the most heinous nickname in all of US sports. And I’m a very loyal sports fan. So that allegiance still holds. Even without the nickname problem, this has not exactly been an easy cross to bear for the past decade or so. ‘Cause the team has disappointed on the field far more often than it’s provided moments of glory. So it was awfully fine to see them open the season with a primetime beatdown of the Cowboys. The two games they’ve played since have not ended so happily. But it’s always good to watch the Cowboys lose. Always.
  • USBank. Over the past several years, I’ve toyed with pulling my money out of USBank and finding somewhere else to put it. A different bank. A credit union. A shoebox hidden in the freezer. Anywhere. That interest-bearing, mile-earning, no-fee checking account I opened when I first came to Minneapolis has gradually morphed into a no-interest, points-for-gifts-I-don’t-want, $20-per-year checking account. And they closed the branch on campus right across the street from my office. Grrr.
    But then I went and did something stupid. And, much to my surprise, USBank made it right.
    Several months ago, I realized that my favorite brewpub has dartboards. Real ones, that is. Not the cheesy electronic ones. And so I started carrying my darts in my computer bag, for those occasions (and it’s happened more than once) when I was at Town Hall and had someone to beat at darts with me. Being prepared like that was smart. Forgetting I had my darts in my bag when I tried to fly to DC to visit Mom, however, was not so smart.
    Fortunately, I had arrived at the airport with time to spare. And the TSA agent who took me aside was very nice. He said that I could go back to the “dangerous” (my word, not his) side of the security checkpoint and get the customer service office to mail my darts home for me. The “customer service office,” however, turned out to be the airport branch of USBank. Who not only mailed me my darts, but they did so for free. And, evidently, they do that for everyone, not just USBank customers. My darts were waiting for me when I got home.
    Even more impressive? Two days later, there was a handwritten note in the mail from the teller I’d dealt with: “I hope your package arrived safely, & I’m glad we were able to help.”
    None of which guarantees that I won’t still move my money at some point. But even big, greedy, penny-pinching corporations can still do nice things sometimes. And it’s good to acknowledge it when they do.
  • Reclaiming the University. In response to this dispiriting-looking event, the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (of which I’m a proud member) and the Education Action Coalition MN organized a much better conversation. Our event rocked, and was very well attended. Their event pretty much lived down to my already low expectations.

AP haiku 2: Electric boogaloo

New York man accused
Schilling says season over
Oil rebounds on word

AP haiku

Doctors say Woods should
Ohio teacher burned cross
Floating foot a hoax

[background here and here and here]

Monday randomness: Debut edition

Let’s kickstart this blog a bit, shall we? And let’s try doing so with a recurring quick-hit approach that will (hopefully) goad me to drop a fresh chunk of prose here at least once a week.

  1. A few folks have inquired about the long-promised but not-yet-delivered intellectual property tale. And I’d love to say that this has reached a point of resolution that would allow me to share it here. But, alas, the denouement that was afoot in April got postponed . . . and has since been deferred . . . and may still be a few weeks away from achieving sufficient closure to go public with the tale. But I haven’t forgotten. Promise. (Truly curious parties can always contact me off-blog for further details.)
  2. I keep meaning to write a more detailed post about the Cultural Studies Now conference — even though Ted Striphas has already proclaimed that my previous tease of a post fulfilled that duty. There’s more to say than that, I think, but it’s been a hectic month since London, and the fast approaching semester only adds to the frenzy. But this story, too, will be shared.
  3. The latest entry in my personal lifelong struggle with institutional “check one box only” approaches to racial identification came last week, when the University noted that it did not have a formal race/ethnicity code connected to my personnel file . . . and asked me to fill out this form. I was particularly amused by the last two lines:

    The University may acquire this information by visual survey. This may, however, result in the collection of erroneous information.

    I have fantasies of the University sending teams of ethnographers — all trained in the subtle art of “visual survey” with respect to racial identification — into the field to suss out the “truth” about folks such as myself who “fail” to shoehorn ourselves into a single box. And I want to be a fly on the wall for the deliberations that result from different team members deciding that different visual cues are the key to answering the question “correctly.” “Sure, his skin’s pink enough,” someone will say, “but those aren’t a white man’s lips.”

Watch this space

A few months back, I wrote about an intellectual property debacle that landed in Jonathan Sterne’s lap, courtesy of an essay of his that appeared in a Sage journal.

Today, I find myself on the verge of having a(nother) comparable story of my own to tell . . . but I’m holding off on sharing the full details here until there’s a clearer resolution to the current problem. One way or another, there is a cautionary tale to be told here. The only remaining question is whether that tale has a happy ending or not.

More “fun” with IP

Jonathan Sterne tells the story of how the nice folks at Sage recently sent him the digital offprints of an essay he’s published in New Media and Society as a DRM-laden executable file, rather than as a PDF. He’s pissed off about it — rightly so, I’d say — and ends his post by expressing what he recognizes is a probably unrealizable desire to “never publish with them again.”

I haven’t heard of the DRM scheme Jonathan describes being used by other presses, but Sage is hardly alone when it comes to journal publishers who treat their authors badly when it comes to intellectual property rights. A recent essay of mine on Eminem (PDFs available upon e-mail request) ran up against a pair of quirky IP policies in place at Lawrence Erlbaum.

On the permissions end, the press demanded that I try and secure permission (at my own expense, mind you) from Eight Mile Music (Eminem’s music publishing company) before I could quote any of Eminem’s lyrics in the essay. It didn’t matter to the press that this was about as clear and obvious an example of the Fair Use provision of US copyright law as one could ask for: i.e., I was using relevant fragments of copyrighted material for purposes of criticism and scholarship. The press didn’t seem to see any hypocrisy or contradiction in only requiring me to secure such permission for lyrics, while comparable quotations from printed materials were understood to be acceptable scholarly practice. Perhaps most perplexing, however, was that the journal in which my essay appears is Popular Communication which, presumably, is going to publish an awful lot of essays where authors will want/need to quote non-print texts of one sort or another. All that really mattered here was that the press has an established policy about quoting song lyrics (even if that policy is more restrictive than the actual law would require) and that policy wasn’t likely to change anytime soon.

In the end, I did manage to win a small concession, in that I was allowed to keep the quoted lyrics in the essay provided I could demonstrate that I had made Good Faith efforts to secure formal permission for their use. Even so, I almost regretted this semi-sensible approach to the issue (it’s only semi-sensible because I was still forced to ask for permission when I shouldn’t have had to bother), since my backup plan would’ve been somewhat more embarrassing to the press. That plan involved pulling all the quoted lyrics from my essay, and then (in endnotes) directing readers to the various fan websites where all those lyrics (and more) can easily be found: fan websites that I could locate quite easily since there are links to them on Eminem’s official website.

On the back end of the process, when it came time for me to order my author reprints, I had three choices:

  1. Paper reprints. Minimum order of 100. Total cost: US$400.
  2. Digital reprint. An official PDF file of my article from Lawrence Erlbaum. Total cost: US$18.
  3. Nothing.

I suspect the official PDF reprint might have been a bit crisper than the one I could make for myself from the free copy of the journal issue to which I was already entitled . . . but not so much crisper that it would be worth paying for it. And I simply can’t imagine paying anyone $4/copy for any quantity of my own article: those are vanity press rates.

It’s probably easier for me to completely avoid publishing with Lawrence Erlbaum in the future than it is for Jonathan (or me, or anyone else working in media studies and/or cultural studies these days) to avoid publishing with Sage . . . but I’m also skeptical about whether authors really have enough clout to make publishers change their IP policies in any significant way. Journal editors might be able to pull this off (and, to their infinite credit, the then-editors of Popular Communication led off the issue where my essay appeared with a prefatory statement about the need for more scholarship-friendly permissions policies). And perhaps a collective effort by the bulk of a journal’s editorial board might make a difference. It is, after all, the editors and the editorial board of a journal who do the bulk of the labor that the average press is going to most immediately care about.

Free journal issue

And, to warp Richard Stallman’s words a bit, it’s free as in “free beer” and “free speech.” More details in the following announcement from Ted Striphas and Kembrew McLeod:

coverTed Striphas and Kembrew McLeod announce the release of the complete contents of Cultural Studies 20(2/3) (March/May 2006), a special issue on “The Politics of Intellectual Properties.” By special agreement with the publisher, Taylor & Francis, the issue can be downloaded free of charge from http://www.indiana.edu/~bookworm and http://kembrew.com/academics/research.html.

About the issue: This special issue of Cultural Studies aims to create a genuinely interdisciplinary scholarly discussion of the politics of intellectual properties. While many areas of study pay lip service to the idea of interdisciplinary work, one remarkable thing about recent intellectual property research is the way it has produced an actual cross-pollination of scholarship. Drawing together prominent scholars from multiple disciplines, this issue of Cultural Studies speaks to many significant topical intersections–from library science, computer science, and the biological sciences to popular music, film studies, and media studies, to name a few. In addition to presenting compelling, cutting-edge research, this issue explores what cultural studies can contribute to public conversations about the politics of intellectual properties.

Issue Table of Contents:

  1. Ted Striphas & Kembrew McLeod, “Introduction—Strategic Improprieties: Cultural Studies, the Everyday, and the Politics of Intellectual Properties”
  2. Adrian Johns, “Intellectual Property and the Nature of Science”
  3. McKenzie Wark, “Information Wants to be Free (But is Everywhere in Chains)”
  4. Andrew Herman, Rosemary J. Coombe, & Lewis Kaye, “Your Second Life? Goodwill and the Performativity of Intellectual Properties in On-Line Games”
  5. Steve Jones, “Reality© and Virtual Reality©: When Virtual and Real Worlds Collide”
  6. Jane Gaines, “Early Cinema, Heyday of Copying: The Too Many Copies of L’arroseur arose”
  7. Gilbert B. Rodman & Cheyanne Vanderdonckt, “Music for Nothing or, I Want My MP3: The Regulation and Recirculation of Affect”
  8. David Sanjek, “Ridiculing the ‘White Bread Original’: The Politics of Parody and Preservation of Greatness in Luther Campbell a.k.a. Luke Skyywalker et al. v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.”
  9. Eva Hemmungs Wirtén, “Out of Sight and Out of Mind: On the Cultural Hegemony of Intellectual Property (Critique)”
  10. Siva Vaidhyanathan, “Afterword—Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto”
  11. Patricia R. Zimmermann, “Just Say No: Negativland’s No Business”