[-empyre-] Book Piracy and Alienated Labour

Michael Dieter mdieter at unimelb.edu.au
Fri Jun 4 16:27:22 EST 2010

Hi Nick,

I would somehow say the opposite here: that if we're going to talk about
alienated labour we need to see the problem beyond the academy. I think
this is Emmett's point - the situation with academic journals at the
moment is truly ridiculous, but one with some obvious solutions in the
open access movement. This is possible precisely because this specific
kind of academic labour has, to a certain extent, already been accounted
for through either publicly funded grants or from the salary of an
academic. That's why is so easy to argue for it being free and open.

Of course, the 'impact factor' complicates things because it works to
consolidate and structure the field in particular ways, but the issue with
these governmental checks and balances is not just exclusive to access and
non-corporate publishing (the legitimacy of the techniques being deployed
are also highly controversial and contested). We could also mention
entrenched cultures against open access, people still suspicious of this
mode of publication for whatever reasons (legitimate or not). These are
some of the things that are being fought against, but they do not so much
concern the broader problems with free culture that Emmett is referring
to, I believe.

Perhaps some of these points are worth discussing during the open access
topic with Gary Hall, David Ottina, Sigi Jottkandt and Paul Ashton who are
all founders of Open Humanities Press.

Also, I'd be interested to hear more about your project!

- M.

> If we're going to talk about alienated labour within this space, then we
> need to see the issue beyond books; the problem is more acute when we
> add journals to the mix.  I am working on a project that will launch
> later this month that, in part, examines the exorbitant pricing of too
> many academic journals.  Journals that cost libraries thousands of
> dollars per year each; money that goes directly to for-profit
> corporations and not to the authors, reviewers, editors, etc., who work
> _for free_.  Authors are required to sign over copyright to their own
> labor, sometimes needing to choose which journal to publish in based on
> numerics such as the "impact factor", a number that is itself
> copyrighted information and can't be redistributed!  Open access
> journals are thankfully changing the landscape, yet there are still
> millions of pages that are locked behind restrictive paywalls (with
> per-article, "pay-per-view" rates upwards of $30 or more, as much or
> more than than complete books!).  With the growing consolidation of the
> journal publishing landscape (and with corporations such as Elsevier,
> John Wiley & Sons, Taylor & Francis, Sage, and Springer each owning
> _thousands_ of journals each) the situation of for-profit journals only
> seems to be getting worse.  Projects like aaaarg, as well as the
> development of sustainable, open/free/libre access publishing platforms
> (such as OJS), are necessary to provide a real counterweight to the
> behemoths of the academic publishing industry.
> More later in the month when the project launches...
> nick
> Emmett Stinson wrote:
>> Hi Everyone:
>> Michael has asked me to introduce myself, and I thought I’d talk a
>> little about my own research in relation to the posts so far.
>> I think the question of what AAAARG is (raised by Renate) is an
>> interesting one. Sean, obviously, sees AAAARG as an online library or
>> archive, one that offers freely accessible digital copies of books that,
>> by and large, are related to the tradition of continental theory and
>> related disciplines. Others (notably, it would seem, Pan Macmillan),
>> however, would see AAAARG as simply a website for book pirates, which
>> violates authorial copyright (and the copyright license owned by
>> publishers).
>> I’ve just written an article offering a pragmatic analysis of so-called
>> ‘book piracy’ for Overland magazine, and I have mixed and contradictory
>> feelings about the practise. On the one hand, I am emphatically against
>> any attempts to criminalise or penalise activities relating to
>> not-for-profit ‘book piracy’ and am a staunch believer in copyright
>> reform that enables a more free and open access to copyrighted material.
>> But I also come from a publishing-industry perspective and strongly
>> believe that both authors and their publishers (or other intermediaries)
>> have a legitimate right to expect payment for their labour.
>> The argument that books and information should be (monetarily) free to
>> everyone is absolutely compelling for academics; since most academics
>> have salaried positions, they don’t need royalties from books to
>> survive. But for other kinds of writers, the idea of free culture may
>> simply result in more alienated labour (i.e. people who say things like
>> ‘I write advertising copy during the week, but I’m a novelist on
>> weekends…’).
>> Book piracy is clearly a huge problem for the industry (much bigger, I
>> think, than most publishers realise), although I think publishers
>> themselves can partially solve this ‘problem’ simply by acknowledging
>> that ebooks require a different form than print books. This goes beyond
>> ebooks that include ‘value adds’ (i.e. audiovisual content); publishers
>> need to radically rethink the form of ebooks by creating books that can
>> be customised by users and include user feedback/interaction in order to
>> make the book a dynamic process rather than a static artefact. An
>> artifact can be pirated, but an evolving process can’t.
>> On a final note, last week I spoke with two librarians in charge of
>> major Australian research libraries; interestingly, they were both
>> strong advocates of significant copyright reform, and very much believe
>> in something like the creative commons mode of copyright. Ironically,
>> they argued that electronic providers of copyrighted content are
>> currently the biggest barrier to a more free and open information
>> exchange. Most Australian research libraries spend far more money on
>> electronic resources than they do on print, and very few digital
>> providers offer reasonable single-use or single-user fees. So digital
>> publishers, themselves, are not in anyway inherently more open or free.
>> --
>> Emmett Stinson
>> Lecturer, Publishing and Communications
>> School of Culture and Communication
>> The University of Melbourne
>> Parkville, Victoria, Australia 3010
>> Ph: 613-8344-3017
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Michael Dieter
School of Culture and Communication
University of Melbourne

More information about the empyre mailing list