Copyright, again

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:

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.

20 thoughts on “Copyright, again”

  1. Kudos for standing up to an academic press. I’ve been thinking twice lately about submitting any work to journals that aren’t open access. Like you, now that I’m tenured, I find it harder and harder to find any compelling reason to allow my writing to be anything other than free and publicly available online.

  2. To my mind, open access (OA) advocates have not done as good a job with the humanities as they have with the sciences. But the benefits of OA are clear, even in the humanities, starting with increased influence, which is to say: more people read and cite, your ideas get refined in the exchange, your case for tenure gets better.
    The Continuum contract sounds particularly egregious, but authors do have the right to ‘self archive’ their writing, including archiving a copy on a personal website — so you may have been able to wiggle. Still, ugh. So!
    Support OA!
    Peter Suber’s OA News is the best single source for info:

  3. Shit! Having just received my Phd, and having had an external examiner who has had two books published by Continuum, they were first on my list of publishers to submit to. Now I’m not so keen.

    So thanks for the tip about Open Humanities, Jacob. And best of luck with your own thesis.

  4. Steven:

    you have my sympathies. I’m in an even more “interesting” place that way, because my work, indeed, my entire creative history, has been one where I have *actively* avoided “institutional” or “mainstream” publishing routes. Christ on a bike – I give my music away. FOR FREE. Once I sit down and blow them through a decent codec, my videos will also be available FOR FREE. Call me a commie – whatever – I just think that ideas, in whatever form they take, like to fly and be free.

    As a consequence, I need to now find “publishing” outlets to get my ideas into some “properly” published arenas. I wonder if that’s why so much of what is published in these journals is such dreary stuff and nonsense. It’s easier to crack out a paper on something tangential and unimportant to just get published, meanwhile you get to work on finding The Real McGuffin and your discovery (which will exceed the grasp of academic publishers) comes out on a commercial press and is available for $19.95 at Amazon.

    Lately, I’ve been constructing ideas of self publishing using a combination of and – lulu prints it up at the behest of Amazon, as needed. (?) I dunno.

    The other thing that peeves me is the delay involved. Let’s say it takes a year to write the book. another year to get it to the publishers, and another year for it to hit the stands. Let’s say the subject is P2P and you’re talking about Napster and you start the book jsut as Napster began. Napster would have ceased to exist while the book loitered on the desk of a publisher, and by the time it came out, Napster is owned and then spun off by Roxio, using technology they bought from pressPlay. In otherwords, the book you wrote is of only historical interest, and has nothing to do with “reality”.

    I am greatly impressed by the rise of “vetted” or “expert” blogs and websites, such as where experts in the industry post articles that go through a review by the website owners, all of whom are also experts. In this way, things are published very quickly, and people can gain insight and understanding as events occur around them, rather than having to wait 3 years…

    Perhaps OA will become something similar?


    By the way – if you want my music, go here:

    It’s all free for the taking.



  5. A few thoughts off the top of my head – I think getting some academic departments to agree that they’ll start counting a wider range of publishing venues for assessing faculty would probably go a long way. There could be some process in which material outside standard peer-reviewed outlets could be assessed for quality, if that was necessary. As part of this, it would probably help to get suggested polcy language plus talking points that advocates within departments could use.

    Does anyone have figures on academic book sales and where to get them? At one point a friend and I had a contract to translate some book from Spanish, along the way the person we were talking to said something about these numbers but I can’t remember the exact details. It was something like 200-400 books is a normal expectation for academic books and 1000 was very successful. Those figures seem really low, though so maybe I remember wrong. Anyhow, I remember being shocked at how few copies we were talking about – I’d been in terrible little bands that sold more copies of our stuff than the numbers this guy was talking about. Comparative data about exposure like what you mention in this post – more readers on the blog anyway – might also help make the case.


  6. I’m with Jacob, publishers like the Open Humanities Press (besides journals like Mediamatic or Material World that straddle the boundary of peer-review) are the way forward and need to be supported.

    But spare a thought for people like yours truly. After completing my PhD I wanted to continue my research without becoming an academic. Not only I had to more or less beg my university for a borrower’s card (for a fee), but they wouldn’t give me access to the electronic dabatases, for love nor money. Clearly whatever I do outside of the hallowed halls is of absolutely no value, in spite of the very generous and significant investment the university made to enable me to write the PhD in the first place. (And said PhD, I should add, is available to all and sundry in PDF – perhaps a strategic mistake, I am now wondering).

    So I find myself cut-off from a whole swathe of texts that I would dearly love to engage with in continuing my work. You mentioned in passing the cost of some books, but it’s nothing – relative to length – compared to the cost of one-off articles for non-subscribers. Those figures are truly scandalous.

  7. Kudos to you on standing up to Continuum. We considered them for the edited collection I’m currently putting together, but decided against it for precisely the reasons you describe. We could have probably had our pick of publishers with the contributors we have (Latour, Badiou, Zizek, DeLanda, Stengers, Hallward, Brassier, Harman, Ian Hamilton Grant, Laruelle, Toscano, Meillassoux, etc). Instead we opted to go with the lesser because they’re open access. I confess that I’ve contributed a few articles to various Continuum collections. I couple of them, I think, are not half bad. But alas it’s likely that they’ll never see the light of day because of the ridiculous prices of these books. I’m particularly peeved about an article I have coming out on Deleuze’s Transcendental Materialism. I feel even worse for those up and coming scholars who get contracts with this press for their book, only to have their work consigned to obscurity because of these prices. Why can’t we all start an open access press that would both be respectable and publish new and original work of this sort? There are so many levels on which this is just the right thing to do. Ecologically, of course, it makes sense to move to dual publication, making texts both available online like and for paper purchase. Moreover, ethically and politically it makes sense as it allows for maximal distribution of texts and knowledge to all who have a desire to read without having to pay expensive fees for books. Finally, professionally it makes sense by preventing the work of up and coming thinkers from falling into obscurity. It is amazing to me that we in the humanities, who are familiar with Derrida’s arguments about writing, with the work of figures like Ong and Kittler, nonetheless continue to look down our nose at interactive electronic media, as if somehow existing in zeros and ones makes text less substantial or legitimate. Throw away posts on my blog get more readership in a week or two, and perhaps have even more influence among graduate students and people tinkering away at their own project in philosophy, theory, artistic production, and who knows, even management or whatnot, yet somehow an article I write that only those who have access to a great library is more significant. Poppycock.

  8. I’ve had some problems like this lately, too. A big comedy encyclopedia accepted an article on P.G. Wodehouse and promised at first 150 dollars and a copy of the Encyclopedia. Then it turned out that I could buy 150 dollars worth of the press’ books, and get an electronic edition of the encyclopedia. I think an electronic version of something is just silly because it has no resale value, and I would just delete it, or lose it somewhere.

    I think that many people do visit blogs. I am getting some days upwards of 600 hits a day. However, most don’t stay very long.

    Buying a book means an investment, and means that usually someone will put thirty or forty hours into the book. Plus, there are copy editors, official readers, and you have a nice product that you can take to the beach or to the tree fort, or sit on a bus reading it.

    You can still get books through interlibrary loan.

    You can buy used copies cheaply through It’s so important to write in books. You can’t do this with electronic media.

    I like them both, but I don’t take online publications seriously. It’s more like chatting. Print requires so much money and so much vetting, that it’s usually a better vehicle for higher levels of thought. Unless you’re trying to publish at a press full of hinkmeisters.

    One gets tired of all the hinkmeisters. I notice that Hazard Adams got sick of university publishers and is now going with McFarland, as I am. They do a beautiful job, and there’s no blind readers. You know who is reading your darned book, and if they have problems, you know who it is who has problems.

    The blind readers are too often in my experience a couple of fraternity hazers who don’t care what your book looks like in the end so long as they can make you miserable.

  9. I recently sent $75 to Cambridge University Press for a hardback copy of a book written by my thesis adviser. My graduate work ended twenty years ago, though not through my choice. When some committee has unwittingly declared all of your intellectual aspirations an unfashionable dead end, it’s nice to have a place to go where you can see the end of the dialogue in which you were once quite actively engaged, even if it costs nearly fifty cents a page. Reading that book is therapeutic for me. It eases the memory of some of the shock and pain I felt on having my throat metaphorically slashed.

  10. This may have already been said, but remember: with any publishing contract, you the author/contributor are absolutely free to pick up a pen and put a big fat line through the bits you don’t like or are not willing to adhere to. In 30 years of doing this – always in relation to copyright conditions/restrictions – I have never had a publisher thrown that amended contract back at me and refuse to play ball. We need to think of these bits of paper as ‘starting points for sound business negotiation’, not institutional death sentences issued from On High.

  11. Just to follow up on Sinthome’s post…

    A few of us – including Paul Ashton who is one of the people behind re:press – have started our own humanities open access academic press with a view to publishing books open access. It’s the Open Humanities Press, which was mentioned earlier by Jacob.

    It’s interested in publishing precisely the kind of material mentioned: Latour, Badiou, Zizek, DeLanda, Stengers, Derrida etc.

    But if you want to make your work available open access immediately, today, without any kind of delay, you’re also very welcome to include it in the open access archive I help run for cultural theory and cultural studies related research and publications: CSeARCH.

    CSeARCH already contains over 700 books, book chapters, journal issues, articles, interviews and lectures that can be accessed for free, even by those outside the ‘hallowed hall’s’ of academia.

    There’s information on the site about how to contribute to CSeARCH – it’s as easy as sending an attachment by email. Making copies of your research available open access in CSeARCH won’t prevent you from publishing it anywhere else you want to publish it in the future: in either book or journal article form.

    It’s also possible for you to deposit copies of work that you’ve published previously.

    We’ve devised these projects very much as a counter-institutional, ‘academic gift economy’ way of responding to some of the problems academics are experiencing with regard to publishing and the market – the problems you’re discussing, basically.

    Hope this is of some help.

  12. Great post, Professor Shaviro. Along with Continuum, such publishers as Palgrave and Springer need to be singled out as especial abusers.

    I’m glad to be commenting here immediately after Gary Hall, who has done so much for the open access movement… What I was going to emphasize is that Open Humanities Press *will* be publishing book series and not just journals any more, perhaps as early as 2009.

    Bruno Latour and I (Graham Harman) will be co-editing a series called “New Metaphysics,” for instance. The series description and call for manuscripts will be published on blogs within the next week or two.

    In preparation for our first Speculative Realism event in 2007, I had to fork over a ridiculous amount for Iain Hamilton Grant’s wonderful book on Schelling. Not only was the price of the order of $100 or so, but the production quality was atrocious… the paper may as well have been newsprint, and the ultra-hard binding belonged on a mathematics textbook for 8-year-olds. I’d love to buy Toscano’s book, but will not do so at that price, and had to pull strings to get our library in Egypt to buy it.

    The longer we play along with this crap, the more ashamed of ourselves we should be. And Steven is right: it’s the academic game that traps us. We need those magical lines on our c.v.’s to support a certain livelihood within the guild. If I just post an article on the web, it won’t count towards my next promotion even if 3,000 people read it in 48 hours– as opposed to a handful of people buying some drearily overpriced Continuum anthology. As the holder of an endowed chair, Steven is in the fortunate position of being able to give the middle finger to ridiculous contract terms, and that made his post a vicarious pleasure to read.

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