Academic journals

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 and

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”