Copyright and Access in the Digital Age

With it being Open Access Week  articles, tweets, and livecasts about issue of access, copyright, and sustainability have been taking place across the web. One of my favorites was the New Yorker article by Louis Menand, “Crooner in Rights Spat: Are copyright laws too strict?.”

Coincidentally (or not, Dr. Shapiro?) we are considering copyright issues in our readings and discussion this week. The first thing that stands out is the similarities between Menand’s 2014 article and the videos, interviews, and articles we’ve been assigned from the aughts (2001-2008 in this case).

Free buttons, cookies, and intellectual stimulation where on offer at the live stream of the opening OA week festivities at our library.

Free buttons, cookies, and intellectual stimulation where on offer at the live stream of the opening OA week festivities at our library.

Just as previous articles have discussed the STEM fields’ early adoption of many digital aspects, we see STEM fields moving forward with more expansive open access than the humanities Indeed, much of the discussion occurring around #OA2014, and open access in general, is focused on the sciences.2 Of course, making scientific findings available as widely and rapidly as possible has potentially life-saving, and more easily measured, implications. On the other hand, the impact of humanist research is a bit more “squishy,” to put it in highly technical terms.3

What I appreciated the most about Siva Vaidhyanathan’s introduction to Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual property and how it Threatens Creativity was the insightful consideration of creative (humanist, I would argue) contributions to an openly accessible world. Vaidhyanathan summarizes John Dewey’s “thin” copyright arguments for encouraging a strong public sphere that ensured “(t)he public should be better educated to be able to distinguish between solid description and mere stereotypes” that were popular in the media of the time.4 Vaidhyanathan argues that copyright restrictions have thickened as time progressed and corporate interest, like those of the movie industry, have secured stronger control of the creative public sphere; he also rejects the idea that creative works should be discussed in terms of “property.”5

“Remix” seems to be quite the buzzword within this discussion. In 2008 Lawrence Lessig discussed the modern remix culture on Terry Gross’s *Fresh Air* following the release of his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Lessig argues that just the act of creating a copy can no longer be the basis for legal restrictions; rather the intent, the extent, and the economic implications should be weighed more heavily. If someone is building on, using, or remixing the creations of others, Lessig believes there should be no legal restrictions. Indeed, many historical examples show how the public creative and intellectual sphere has often been a cultural palimpsest of sorts.

Lessig is well known for founding Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that advocates for copyright reform.

(From a history standpoint, it was a real eye opening moment to hear Lessig discuss the Founding Fathers specifically protecting the freedom of press, despite the fact that the press at that time was often explicitly biased and sketchy at the best of times, and compare that historical form of press to modern blogging.)

In consideration of the academic, specifically historical, realm, Roy Rosenzweig points out the argument that works born out of publicly funded institutions should be available to the public that did the funding.6 Rosenzweig lays out six options for going fully or partially accessible. After considering each option, it is clear that while adapting to a new technological reality requires thoughtful discussion and debate, it is possible to adapt in a positive way that creates cultural or monetary value for companies, academics, and the public. Lessig also discusses the potential for commercial entities to find new ways to get monetary value out of “free sharing activity.”7

I’m personally persuaded by the arguments in favor of “thin” copyright restrictions and more open resources in the academic world specifically. Beyond the statistical facts that open research is cited and viewed more, I prefer the concept of a more open and beneficial exchange of insight and knowledge.8 I prefer the vision of copyright as an incentive for artists to continue creating valuable work. Still, I’m too ignorant of all the changes that have been made between these pieces and the more current developments of copyright and open access and there is plenty more to be learned.

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While copyright is, sensibly enough, one of the biggest issues up for discussion, I’ve also seen some really interesting posts and comments regarding queer archives and accessibility. Issues that arise in this realm often have more to do with cultural constraints or privacy concerns, as opposed to a strictly legal copyright issue. Whitney Strub published a blog post this week entitled “Queer Sex in the Archives: ‘Canonizing Homophile Sexual Respectability’” that reflects on an Oct. 2 talk from historian Marc Stein. The talk, and the well written article, examine why publications like Drum, a more unapologetically erotic queer publication, are missing from both scholarly works and archives.

Stein’s talk was a preview for his article, “Canonizing Homophile Sexual Respectability: Archives, History, and Memory,” which was published in the Radical History Review‘s special edition “Queering Archives: Historical Unravelings” on October 23, 2014. While the whole issue appears to be full of intriguing articles and could constitute an entirely separate post, I’ll end on one final observation; the *Radical History Review* is behind a pay wall, inaccessible to radicals lacking the proper affiliation.

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1. For example, at the screening of the opening panel (hosted at Atkins Library ) I was struck by the fact that nearly all of the panelists worked strictly within science related fields.
2. In his Fresh Air interview, Lessig addresses the same issue of priority in having STEM related research open to other researchers.
3. Vaidhyanathan, Siva. Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. New York: New York University Press, 2001. 7.
4. Ibid. 15.
5. Rosenzweig, Roy. “Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?.” Vice President’s Column.  AHA Perspectives. April 2005. Available at http://chnm.gmu.edu/essays-on-history-new-media/essays/?essayid=2
id=”fn6″>6.Gross, Terry. “Lawrence Lessig’s ‘Remix’ For The Hybrid Economy.” Fresh Air. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: WHYY, National Public Radio, December 22, 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98591002.
7. Vaidhyanathan, Copyrights and Copywrongs.

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The New Racism

1.       When it comes to the issue of new racism, how do you think hip-hop culture and the use of the word “Bitch” and the “N-Word” further oppress or build up individuals and society?  Consider some songs using these terms as endearment  however, state your particular stance and opinion.

In general I think hip-hop/rap mainstream culture can serve to present a harmful and unrealistic image that perpetuate stereotypes and serves to oppress. This is not to say that there aren’t artists who put out a positive message and image, both male and female, who are great examples of empowerment and strength. As far as “bitch” and the “N-word” go I am of two minds. First, men calling women “bitches,” don’t do it; white people using the “N-word,” don’t do it. Secondly, I’m more torn on people using either word to “reclaim” them; I think when it comes to using words mindfully as a way to reclaim them that’s a personal decision that people need to make on an individual basis.

2.       Particularly, how do you think the exploitation of women, primarily African-American women influences the new racism?

I think a huge part of the new racism is, as bell hooks often points out, capitalism. I think exploiting African American women for gain, by setting unrealistic standards that encourage women to purchase endless numbers of beauty items that can often cause them physical and financial pain. Even though capitalism often has a negative influence on men as well, women’s bodies seem to be the larger site of exploitation in the new (and the old) racism.

3.       How do you think the media plays a role exploiting the new racism and issues that deal with this particular topic?

The media is a part of capitalism and whatever “sells” will be exploited and drained to the last drop. The media often wants us to accept simplistic and unrealistic images; such simplified views often contribute to racist or prejudiced  views because they are too dualistic. Again, there are some media outlets that do better than others at presenting a balanced view of people and issues.

4.  How does Hip-Hop today differ from generations of the past? Use examples to distinguish the characteristics defining the differences between time periods and the evolution of Hip-Hop culture.

As we talked about in class and learned from the “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes” documentary, Hip-Hop went from starting as an underground artistic movement that crafted lyrics and beats that were thought provoking or told a story or addressed an important issue within the African American community. One song that isn’t  old-old-school but is from the late nineties popped into my mind. Love is Blind by Eve. The song addresses domestic violence and the helplessness that a friend or family member feels when they see a cycle of violence they are helpless to stop. At the end of the song, Eve turns to fictive violence to redress the violence done against her friend. Even though the song discusses violence, it doesn’t really promote it our laud it the way some songs today do; instead, it speaks to the reality of violence and the reasons that some people feel they have to resort to violence. I am admittedly out of the loop when it comes to popular music today; with the proliferation of so many ways to listen to music I rarely hear a lot of the Hip-Hop that is out now. (Plus, since we don’t have cable, I listen to NPR in the car to try to keep up with the news.) From what I do hear however, I don’t see nearly as much use of popular hip-hop as a platform to discuss issues of concern.

The Matrix of Oppression

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There are many forms of oppression in our society. People can be discriminated against based on not only their race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. but by any combination of these qualities. The combination of oppressions and the issues relevant across these groups is known as intersectionality. After searching tumblr for “intersectionality,” I went down a long rabbit-hole of enlightening and intriguing posts and now, I offer some real-life examples from what I found.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

#1- Violence Against Native American Women:  This article explains how the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act will help prevent and prosecute crimes against Native women. Native American women experience intersectional oppressions through their identities as both a racial minority and as females. According to the article, around eighty percent of native women who are raped reported their rapist as being “non-Indian men.” This was problematic because tribal courts were not allowed to prosecute anyone who was not a member of the tribe so rapists and domestic abusers who fell out of this jurisdiction could often times get away with their crimes. Luckily, according to the article, the changes being made will potentially put more power in the hands of the tribal courts. (Article originally seen on this awesome tumblr.)

#2- Trans Women of Color: Gender and Race are two of the major intersections of oppression; but trans women experience these dual oppressions in unique ways. This past week Janet Mock, a trans woman of color who writes, speaks, and advocates on behalf of the trans community, released a book about her life and her journey. Piers Morgan’s treatment of Mock on his show caused controversy and resulted in Twitter supporters calling him everything from “ignorant” to “transphobic.” Basically, Morgan repeatedly referred to Mock as a “former man” and focused on genital and surgery related issues; these actions are inappropriate, unnecessarily sexualize the conversation and focuses the discussion on an issue which does not define a trans woman’s identity. A post reblogged by Mock herself points out that living life as a trans woman means “sacrific(ing your) most helpful lifeline to success: family and male privilege.” (This example was initially sparked by this reblog of Mock’s second interview on Piers Morgan when she explained why he was receiving the backlash that he was.)

Black entrepreneurs Candace Mitchell and Chanel Martin.

#3 Black Women Entrepreneurs: A third example of intersectionality is within the business word. This article discusses the story of one pair of black female entrepreneurs, their roadblocks, and their success. A black woman attempting to break into the tech industry will face discrimination based on gender, race, class, educational level, and more. The article cites data which showed in the first half of 2010 that only 8% of start-ups were founded by women and only 1% by black business people (male or female). Clearly, the cause of these low numbers is rooted in intersectional issues facing entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds. (Article originally brought to my attention by this tumblr)