Posts Tagged ‘Copyright

The Coming Copyright Clash in Higher Education

Higher education finds itself in the crosshairs of American society, and the primary focus is on the debt graduates are incurring in exchange for a college degree. There was once a time where this inspection and scrutiny was reserved for the “other” part of higher education: for-profit colleges like Strayer, Kaplan and the University of Phoenix. Those days are over. Now everyone – citizens, elected officials, and the press – are questioning the intents and missions of “reputable,” non-profit institutions, including questioning why they are authorizing salaries of $1 million or more for their presidents and chancellors.

The issue is so compelling that The Gray Lady, the venerable New York Times, has launched a new online series called “Degrees of Debt,” which purportedly examines “how college presidents are recognizing that they must handle education costs through methods other than tuition increases.”

There are a lot of things that go into calculating college tuition. Buildings must be built and maintained, lights need to come on, and professors need to be paid. In fairness, many colleges routinely offer various financial aid packages they hope will make attendance financially accessible. But the discounts can go only so far: for the most part, college is a “cash and carry” proposition. Therefore, tuition often is the main – sometimes the sole – source of a college’s income. Most schools pay all their costs from that sole stream of tuition income.

One other significant cost colleges and universities incur is the cost of scholarly publication. This cost manifests itself most notably through electronic resources that represent the publication and codification of knowledge.

The Cost of Scholarly Publication

The scholarly publication business process begins with a system – fully supported by higher education institutions – that demands “high impact” publication as a condition of achieving the holy grail of academic tenure. “High impact” does not mean acclaim, or status, or even a mention in The Gray Lady (although, increasingly, that helps). Instead, it means that the academic work must be published in a very specific, narrow set of journals. These titles vary by discipline, but everyone in the discipline can identify them.

Let’s be clear: this is a model colleges and universities impose upon themselves. By now, there are many blog posts that are as empirically rigorous as published journal articles; therefore, journals no longer have a monopoly on academic rigor. Further, scholarship, regardless the rigor level, often has little to do with effective teaching – and the quality of the teaching is a reason colleges and university use to justify high tuition prices. But blog posts and teaching are not the route to tenure. Publication, in specific journals that some influentials consider “high impact,” is the route to tenure.

Many of these “high impact” journals, once independent, have been absorbed into larger, multinational, publicly-held corporations. In that absorption, these journals’ primary purpose underwent an important evolution. Instead of knowledge dissemination, profit became the journals’ primary purpose. These profit pressures have led to a steady increase in subscription rates over the past three decades. In some cases, the subscription increases have been so steep that institutions, through their libraries, have chosen to cancel the subscriptions.

The act of cancellation is anathema to higher education, since institutions long have prided themselves on having access to and preserving the entire scholarly record. Not some of it – not just in subjects or specialties of certain professors or colleges – all of it. Yet in April 2012, a faculty advisory council to the Harvard University Library, one of the biggest and most well-funded academic library systems in the world, concluded “major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.”

Work Made for Hire in Higher Education

Here is the dirty little secret no one in higher education wants to acknowledge: the entire system of scholarly publication exists because colleges and universities fail to exercise the work made for hire doctrine. Under U.S. copyright law, the work made for hire doctrine essentially says that where an employee prepares a work within the scope of his or her employment, the employer – not the employee – will own the copyright in that work. Under this conceptual definition, there is no reason why colleges and universities should not universally own the copyright rights in a professor’s research and scholarship. That many do not simply is a matter of choice, as codified through institutional policy.

Therefore, most American professors end up owning the copyright rights to their research and writings, and this category customarily has been defined broadly enough so that it excludes only works that a faculty member prepares in an administrative capacity (such as committee work product). Here is where things get tricky, though. The faculty member, who has the copyright and wants tenure, must publish in certain “high impact” journals. When he publishes in “high impact” journals, he gives away that copyright as a condition of publication. When he gives away that copyright as a condition of publication, the journal publisher owns the article. When the journal publisher owns the article, it now owns the exclusive in that article. When the publisher owns the exclusive in the article, it names whatever price it wants for subscribers to access that article.

Increasingly, institutions are saying “Don’t pay whatever price a journal wants for access to an article.” At the same time, though, the institutions have changed nothing in their tenure criteria so that scholarship outside of “high impact” journals and teaching count as much toward a favorable tenure recommendation as publication in a “high impact” journal.

This, to put it mildly, puts college administrators in a pickle.

The Policy Change

The faculty advisory council at Harvard recommended researchers and faculty “move [scholarly] prestige to open access” as a way to avoid paying “whatever price a journal wants for access to an article.” That recommendation, though, underestimates the vast economic and labor costs associated with building and maintaining a current scholarly record, as well as the costs associated with backfilling the historic academic record. Perhaps Harvard can do this, but most universities do not have Harvard’s resources. The recommendation also ignores reengineering the tenure system, which is, ultimately, the root of this conundrum.

Colleges and universities, however, have a major trump card to play: they can reverse their longstanding custom against claiming work made for hire status. Instead, they could claim copyright ownership in scholarship as a way to avoid the scholarly publications crisis, and at once, justify this policy change as a way to cut the costs of education. University professors surely would scream bloody murder. This group, though, has been virtually silent concerning recent copyright battles, and professors are not a particularly sympathetic bunch these days. (Few in the media, for example, would sympathize with professors maintaining copyright in their work when reporters routinely cede copyright in their work to their own employers.) While changing institutional policy is not without peril, the peril is of the sort many institutions can manage because it is tied to a paycheck. By imposing work made for hire rules, employing colleges would merely substitute for the publishers, and take steps to avoid having to buy back their own employees’ work product.

Reversing the policy on work for hire in higher education is a draconian step. Given the economics and optics of the current crisis in higher education, however, it is increasingly likely to happen.

Note: Portions of this article were published previously as Dames, K. M. (2012, July-August). The coming copyright clash in higher education. Information Today, 29(7), 24-25.

Written by Dr. K Matthew Dames

11/01/2012 at 10:00

HathiTrust Decision Summary

In September 2011, the Authors Guild, various international authors’ rights organizations and one dozen individual authors sued HathiTrust, Cornell, and the presidents of the universities of Michigan, California, Wisconsin and Indiana, claiming that HathiTrust’s online storage, searchability and public availability of a digital corpus developed as part of the Google Books scanning project constituted copyright infringement. More than three-quarters of the books that Google scanned as part of the Books project remain subject to copyright protection.

In June 2011, Michigan announced it would share with the public “orphan works” — works to presumed to be subject to copyright protection, but for whom a copyright owner cannot be found.

On October 10, 2012, Judge Harold Baer issued a 23-page decision that held, among other things, that HathiTrust’s activities are consistent with the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976.

The remainder of this post summarizes the key holdings from the decision.
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Written by Dr. K Matthew Dames

10/11/2012 at 14:24

Information Policy and The Red Herring of a Media-Tech Industry War

In an article published earlier this year, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Sandra Braman defined “information policy” as positions and practices that concern the creation, processing, flows, access and use of information. The term certainly includes content, much of which is subject to protection under this nation’s Copyright Act, and the telecommunication pipes through which that content travels. Given this definition, it easy to see how businesses regulated by copyright and telecommunications law enjoy a synergistic relationship.

The Internet’s public availability in the early 1990s did not fundamentally alter this information policy landscape. But the Internet, along with simultaneous developments like unprecedented personal computing power, did make it possible for non-traditional actors to create, send, access and process significantly more copyright-protected information through increasingly faster telecommunication pipes. The rise of this non-traditional class also has spawned new businesses like Google (including its YouTube subsidiary), Facebook and, while encouraging or forcing traditional actors to evolve into new businesses (such as Comcast, a telecom company, buying NBC-Universal in a merger that was completed earlier this year).

Despite the historical and continuing synergy between copyright and telecom, there has been a recent, aggressive line of thought that argues these non-traditional entrants into the information policy landscape have grown powerful by free riding on the works of large corporate copyright owners. This argument arose during last month’s Governance of Social Media workshop at Georgetown, which Michigan State University’s Quello Center helped sponsor. The argument also manifests itself in Robert Levine’s new book, Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying The Culture Business, and How The Culture Business Can Fight Back (2011, Doubleday).

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Written by Dr. K Matthew Dames

07/01/2012 at 09:36

Occupy Copyright

“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!” — Howard Beale, Network (1976)

2011 will be known as the year of the occupation, with Occupy Wall Street being the most recognizable of the protest movements. Started in September in New York City, Occupy Wall Street is a series of ongoing, international demonstrations that protest economic inequality, corruption, and the undue influence of corporations on society and government.

But what about “occupying” copyright?

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Written by Dr. K Matthew Dames

06/01/2012 at 09:00

Decision Summary: Publishers v. Georgia State University

This article discusses the impact of a the recent federal district court decision [pdf] that, for the first time, provides colleges and university with some guidance on the use of copyrighted works for instructional purposes.

Case Summary

In April 2008, Cambridge University Press, Sage Publications and Oxford University Press sued officials at Georgia State University (“GSU”), claiming they were responsible for copyright infringement. The publishers’ complaint arose from Georgia State’s practice of allowing faculty to use university networks and university library E-reserves systems to copy and distribute book excerpts to students without paying licensing fees.

Officials for GSU, a public university, claimed that the creation and use of the unlicensed copies were allowable pursuant to the fair use doctrine, and therefore not copyright infringement. The officials also responded that the sovereign immunity doctrine precluded GSU or its officials from copyright infringement liability.

Judge Orinda D. Evans ruled May 11, 2012, that GSU professors had committed five copyright infringements from four of the publishers’ titles. The publishers had alleged 75 copyright infringement claims. The publishers will file within 20 days their proposed injunction.

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Clipping Limit Exceeded

I’ve entered the e-book world cautiously. I like the Kindle as a reading device, and generally have had very satisfactory experiences as an customer. I actually like the Nook more than the Kindle as an e-book reading device, but I remain irritated at Barnes & Noble for its wholesale destruction of New York City’s independent bookstore scene beginning in the early 1990s. I’ve never forgiven them for that, so since then, I have pretty much avoided doing business with Barnes & Noble on any level beyond a bathroom break.

Mostly, I’ve not gone “all in” with e-books for three basic reasons. First, too many publishers set prices too high for the value proposition they’re offering. Unless there is something special about the e-book offering — multimedia elements, for example — don’t come at me with a price higher than $10. Let me be clear: I can pay more than $10; I won’t pay more than $10 because there’s no value proposition to me beyond $10.

The second reason I’ve not gone all in with e-books is availability. Quite simply, the works I want (or need) to be available in an e-book format for the Kindle too often aren’t available. (And by the way, a price above $10 means I consider that title to be unavailable, because as I mentioned above, the value proposition usually does not warrant a price greater than $10.)

The third reason I’ve been a little wary about fully committing to the e-book situation is because of this nagging little concept called the first sale doctrine. If I buy the print book, I can pretty much do whatever I want with the copy of that book. But if I purchase the e-book, I’m not buying the material; instead, I am licensing that content subject to terms and conditions of a license into which I had no customer input. Many already know about’s Kindle kerfuffle two years ago involving Orwell’s 1984. That certainly gave me pause. Now, a recently discovered situation is giving me pause again.

Since I read only non-fiction, mostly for research purposes, the Kindle value proposition for me lies in being able to search the book, highlight passages, and take notes. For quite a while, Kindle downloads excluded page numbers that matched the print edition. The omission made using the Kindle for research purposes virtually worthless. But Amazon fixed that issue in February. And earlier this week, I discovered how to access and export those Kindle highlights and clippings. So now I’m figuring I’m golden.


I login and am reviewing notes and highlights from various e-book titles. For Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, I see this message

W.W. Norton Kindle clipping restriction

W.W. Norton Kindle clipping restriction

Let me repeat the relevant provisions

You have 120 highlighted passages but we can only show 86 of them. What’s this?

And then the link associated with “What’s this?” provides further information

Clipping Limit Exceeded

For some books the publisher allows only a limited percentage of a book to be “clipped” and stored separately from the main body of the book, as normally happens when you add a highlight. If you exceed this limit then you will see fewer highlights on this website than you actually marked on your Kindle. Popular Highlights are not counted towards this clipping limit.

I purchased The Big Short for leisurely reading, so the clipping limitation doesn’t hurt my research. But I didn’t know about this “limitation” when I purchased the book. Further, why is there a clipping limitation at all? Does Lewis’s publisher, W.W. Norton, really think that excessive clipping is a potential “piracy” issue? (Ironically, all of my settings restrict sharing of clippings and highlights.) is not off the hook on this issue, either. As a vendor, Amazon must know that part of the Kindle’s appeal is the ability to clip and take notes. If that capability is restricted in any way, to me that e-book title is defective — at least for my purposes. I will not knowingly purchase an e-book that restricts note taking and clipping. So Amazon needs to clearly identify this as a publisher-induced e-book “defect” in the same way it tries to frame excessive e-book prices (not coincidentally, usually above $10) as a publisher-induced “defect.”

Further,’s allowance of this practice is just ridiculous. It’s not as bad as its cave to The Authors Guild on the text-to-speech issue, but its flaccid nevertheless.

Now, I’m back to being real skeptical, and keeping my money in my pocket.

Hachette Memo & Indie Publishing, Pt. 1

The Hachette memo is weak. If that was supposed to really the troops … Well, maybe not so much.

And J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler crush Hachette’s attempt to reframe the issue as one of value and expertise.

And onto my comments.

Pull Quote #1 (Hachette)

1. Curator: We find and nurture talent

Any business that has “superstar economics” as its central operating principle doesn’t “find and nurture talent.” It’s in the lottery and cultural commodities businesses. As Yochai Benkler has noted

When the economics of industrial production require high up-front costs and low marginal costs, the producers must focus on creating a few superstars and making sure that everyone tunes in to listen or watch them. This requires that they focus on averaging out what consumers are most likely to buy. This works reasonably well as long as there is no better substitute. As long as it is expensive to produce music or the evening news, there are indeed few competitors for top billing, and the star system can function. Once every person on the planet … can easily talk to their friends and compatriots, the competition becomes tougher. It does not mean that there is no continued role for the mass-produced and mass-marketed cultural products—be they Britney Spears or the broadcast news. It does, however, mean that many more “niche markets” — if markets, rather than conversations, are what they should be called — begin to play an ever-increasing role in the total mix of our cultural production system. The economics of production in a digital environment should lead us to expect an increase in the relative salience of nonmarket production models in the overall mix of our information production system, and it is efficient for this to happen — more information will be produced, and much of it will be available for its users at its marginal cost. (Benkler, 2006: 55-56)

Said another way, if you need to push units — and Hachette is under enormous pressure to push units — you are not in the business of trying to find talent that can sell consistently. Talent that sells consistently doesn’t even cover the annual cost of photocopying. Business that need to push units need blockbusters. If they can get that from singing and selling Snooki as opposed to, say, KMD, then it sucks to be somebody like KMD if KMD wants a major publishing contract. If KMD can’t move big units, KMD is done as a major publishing prospect.

But, see, KMD had no options before. Even as an author who can’t move blockbuster units, an author like KMD has options now.

One more thing: there’s a credible argument that indicates large publishers aren’t even good at pushing units. As Konrath noted, “[W]ith so many books losing money, so many authors being dropped, so many titles going out of print, perhaps expertise isn’t quite the right word.”

Pull Quote #2 (Hachette)

We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.

First thing I thought of when I saw “territorial controls” was DVD region encoding. The thought is not favorable. Separately, Eisler cogently remarked this sounds like “Your book will not be available in many markets where people would like to buy it.”

As to publishers “protect[ing] authors’ intellectual property,” standard publishing industry contracts seem less onerous than comparable contracts in the recording and movie industries. But comparing favorably to contracts offered by mainstream movie and recording companies is sort of like asking whether you prefer to be gored by a bull in Pamplona, or struck by a black mamba in Mozambique.

Further, I question whether publishers are interested in “protect[ing] authors’ intellectual property.” Instead, what publishers seek to protect is their perceived economic entitlement, which is attached to the intellectual property right. The right, nominally, belongs to an author. The perceived economic entitlement, on the other hand, belongs to the publisher. As a business proposition, a publisher cares little about the author — or even the rights — beyond its belief that the exclusive rights are the work’s earnings mechanism, and that the publisher is entitled to earn upon production of the work.

It is piracy paradigm thinking at its most basic.

Written by Dr. K Matthew Dames

12/16/2011 at 10:15

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