Sorry I haven’t written for so long. Things have just been too busy, and too hectic, for the last several months. I hope to return to more frequent posting after the New Year.
Anyway, about a year ago I was bitching and moaning about copyright issues. This is sort of an update of that. I mentioned then about how a publisher I coyly called “C” — the press in question was Continuum — had ridiculously harsh contract terms, and how I wouldn’t give them an essay for an anthology they were publishing unless they modified those terms. Basically, the contract stipulated that the press would get permanent, exclusive rights of publication in all media, specifically including electronic — this means, for instance, that, were I to put an article I gave them on my own website, I would be in violation of contract. The only exception to this is that they permit the author to reuse the article in a collection of his/her own writings — but this is not allowed until FIVE YEARS after publication in the Continuum volume.
Well, they backed down in that case a year ago, and I got a compromise I thought could live with — I was permitted to publish my own book, which contains the text of the article in question, without having to wait five years. The anthology in question is finally out: it is called Deleuze, Guattari, and the Production of the New, it is in hardcover only, and it can be yours for a mere $95.11 from Amazon (a considerable savings from the list price of $130).
So think about it: if I had signed the contract originally offered by Continuum, my article could not be posted on my own website, nor included even in a book exclusively written by myself until 2014. It would have only appeared in an anthology so expensive that even most libraries would refuse to buy it, let alone individual readers. In return for getting a line on my academic vita, representing an officially “peer-reviewed” publication, I would have had to agree to a situation in which nobody would actually ever get a chance to read my writing.
There is clearly something wrong here. Authors are not permitted to disseminate their own work, and that work is made available by the press that controls it at an absolutely ridiculous price. Some of the best theory books of the last decade have received far less notice than they deserved, all because they have been caught in the limbo of this sort of publishing arrangement. I would cite, for instance, all from different publishers:
- Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound ($84.95 list, $61.16 from Amazon)
- Nicholas Thorburn, Deleuze, Marx, and Politics ($170, or a Kindle electronic edition for $115)
- Alberto Toscano, Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation between Kant and Deleuze ($89.95)
There are loads of more examples. These are just a few books that I happen to have read, and that I can recall offhand. (I read them, either by getting my hands on illicit and illegal pdfs, or by getting them through interlibrary loan).
In any case, I was recently solicited to write an article for another anthology of essays, on a subject that interested me. So I said yes. However, it turned out that Continuum was again going to be the publisher, and they offered me the same egregious contract terms as they had previously. This time, rather than negotiate, I simply withdrew from the anthology. I suppose I could have tried to negotiate again, but I am sick of the situation in which the default is so horrible and you can only get something different by making a stink. In addition, at this point I am sufficiently fed up that I would no longer accept the compromise they agreed to last time.
I should also mention that, in addition to the lousy contract, Continuum this time also sent me advisory guidelines stating that “text (prose) extracts of more than 400 words, or a total of 800 words from the same volume if there are several shorter extracts, require permission from the copyright holder.” This represents a far more restrictive interpretation of “fair use” than has ever been the case before; its
effect, I believe, is to make honest scholarship impossible. I believe that fair use guidelines extend considerably further than this, and I will simply not publish with a press that restricts fair use so harshly. Not only am I not allowed by this sort of policy to disseminate my own words, I am also not allowed to remix the words of others.
I can get more readers for anything I post on this blog than for an article published under such circumstances; so what’s the point? I realize I am in a privileged position in this regard; I already have tenure and a senior position at my university, so I am not faced with the “publish or perish” situation that forces many (junior or younger) academics to agree to publication under such horrible circumstances with regard either to price and availability, or the right to be able to disseminate their own work on the web and elsewhere.
There obviously needs to be some sort of open access policy for scholarship in the humanities, as there already is to a great extent in the sciences. We don’t really get paid for our writing, except very indirectly in the sense that a scholarly reputation increases your “marketability” and hence the kind of salary you can get as a professor. In these cases, the policies of presses like Continuum (which I am singling out here only because of my own dealings with them; many other academic presses are just as bad) serve the interests neither of writers nor of readers. I don’t have a blueprint of how to get there (open access) from here (restrictive copyright arrangements), but a first step would be for those academics who, like me, can afford to forgo the lines on their vitas, to refuse to publish with presses that have such policies.