June 18, 2004

Untie My Knowledge! Free My Digits! (2/2)

by Nick Montfort · , 3:55 pm

My post-lunch stop by my office led me to miss one panel of Knowledge Held Hostage, but I returned for a discussion of some proposals for change. I’ll point out here, above the fold, that in questions a sinister piece of pending legislation was mentioned: The Induce Act. Now on to the panels…

Judith Bresler proposed that specific fees be legislated for scholarly use of media – to ensure that it’s possible at all and to ensure the cost isn’t extraordinary. Wendy Gordon pointed out how, in the case of scholars, getting the permission of the copyright owner shouldn’t legally be warranted. (Indeed, it isn’t required in the case of fair use.) Scholarship and art aren’t handled well in a market, so laws made for commerce are ill-suited. Massive subsidies would be necessary to create the digital equivalent of lending libraries, too. Larry Gross described the utopian opportunities of media use (e.g., the depiction of paintings) in education today, frustrated by copyright. Jonathan Taplin offered a contrary view to Bresler, saying that corporate might and musician’s strikes complicate the easy picture of past statutory fees that she described. Bernard Timberg pointed out that appropriation artist were not well-enough represented at this conference. Actually, even though I think appropriation was overemphasized and Copyright and the Networked Computer, I agree with him that it’s one of several perspectives (software developer, blogger, non-appropriationist artist, etc.) that has been left out here.

Moderator Joseph Turow offered a good comment after the panel’s initial statements were finished. He described UMI’s refusal to include images without permission from the copyright holder (including, for instance, a crude black-and-white image of a modern painting that the dissertation writer is critical of) and combined this with the grim fact that this organization’s decision determines whether or not a dissertation is actually accepted and whether people get their PhDs. There was a good deal of discussion in the question period, as has been the case throughout the day.

The final panel was also future-oriented. Prue Adler from the Association of Research Libraries spoke of the role of libraries in providing open access. Rachel Durkin offered an Amadeus-like anecdote about how performing artists at UT-Austin had to perform a dance piece in silence because they couldn’t elicit a reply from the copyright holder in time. Peter Jaszi spoke of near-term solutions that wouldn’t require legislative overhauls: seek fair-use counseling at existing law clinics, develop “best practices” for each discipline. He suggested specifically that people in the room go and form committees to develop such practices, at the next meeting of their disciplinary professional organizations, that would report no later than the next annual meeting. Sut Jhally described how he produced a video for a class about portrayals of sexual violence against women on MTV, garnering a letter from Viacom. After being told to keep quiet about the issue by university council, and not wanting to, he formed the nonprofit Media Education Foundation. They’ve since published 30 videos. (Including various bits of Chomskyana and what, from the preview, looks like typical anti-video-game rant.) He said that senior scholars should take up the fight, as they’re in a better position than grad students. He also declared the we should stop thinking of fair use as something that maybe we can get away with and start considering it to be what it is, a right.