**AUDIO FROM THE EVENT (thanks to Dan V.)
Autonomedia publisher Jim Fleming
Craig O'Hara, co-founder of PM Press and the Tabling Tornados
Karl Fogel from Question Copyright
Radical Reference librarian Aliqae Geraci
Victoria Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars
Moderated by Melissa Morrone.
Our panelists from the radical publishing community will be asked to consider the following questions:
Brought to you by: Radical Reference
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Compensation, Access, and Theft: Copyright in the 21st Century, a Radical Reference panel at the NYC Anarchist Bookfair, Judson Memorial Church, 2011.
Moderated by Melissa Morrone.
Melissa introduced the panel and then invited the presenters to speak from the creative process out, and so began with the author, moved on to the two publishers, the librarian, and finally the copyright person. It should be noted that nearly everyone on the panel has written or is writing one or more books.
Vikki Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars: the Struggles of Incarcerted Women and editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writing from Women in Prison.
Vikki, who comes from zines—radical self-publishing—is motivated by getting political content into the public sphere, adding underrepresented voices to the conversation. She has also published articles and a book and compared the processes. Zinesters have total control, but with that control sacrifice readership due to also being responsible for distribution. Small publishers like PM Press allow for more control over a book's look and content than a large, mainstream publisher might. As a political writer, Vikki isn't looking for compensation in terms of money or fame. While she is getting some royalties for the book, they are merely a token if you count how many years she spent researching and writing the book, not to mention the prison activism that gave her the necessary connections with prison inmates to learn and share their stories.
Jim Fleming, member of the Autonomedia editorial collective
Autonomedia has published around 350 books in its 28-year history. Maybe 20 of the titles have made any money. Their policy is to encourage authors to make the books specifically anti-copyright. Their writers need to know ahead of time that they're not going to make money off the book. Just compensation would be nice, but if writers want to get paid, they shouldn't be publishing on the margins. In fact Jim doesn't think writers, or anyone should be paid for their work. He doesn't believe anyone should have to work at all.
Craig O'Hara, PM Press
There is literally no chance of making a living publishing or writing radical literature. Most of the work is done by volunteers. He doesn't encourage people to do this work without a desire to spread a message they think is underrepresented. PM Press does pay its authors royalties twice a year. The standard rate is 10-15% of sales. Occasionally there is a small advance. Payment contracts vary from author to author. They prefer to work with authors who work hard to get their message out, selling copies of the book themselves (at a large author discount, where the author keeps the sale price herself). They work with eBooks and authors with very different attitudes toward copyright. Cory Doctorow and Ursula LeGuin represent the poles. Craig is more afraid of stuff being ignored than pirated. He would be happy to look the other way at someone pirating his books if it meant the content was getting out. PM Press has never won a copyright case to his memory.
She began as a consumer of radical publishing, was a zinester and zine librarian, and worked in a radical labor library. She works with ideas, not products. She works at the library with the highest circulation in the country, which centralizes its ordering and doesn't not collect a lot of small press or radical content. Public libraries serve the masses, but purchasing and access models restrict what they ever get to see.
There is no such thing as fair compensation under capitalism. Radical authors need to have that understanding, vs. what mainstream publishers might say. How do we even define fairness or equity regarding author compensation? Do you base it on hours spent researching and writing, the purchase price, or [something I missed]? Radical publishers are rewarded with loyalty and trust. E.g., HarperCollins can't throw a benefit for itself like a small radical press can. Fair compensation centers on ownership, division of percentage, [something] of access.
His background is open source programming, a copyright free, nonrestrictive zone. He was upset that he couldn't do the same thing with books as he could with software: modify and redistribute. QuestionCopyright.org is a site to help authors and artists understand copyright, and that copyright is unrelated to plagiarism. As an author himself, he publishes under a ShareAlike license. He was paid an advance by O'Reilly Media, has received royalties after books sales paid back the advance. He is now making money from book sales, which is also distributed free online and has been widely translated. The free publishing model worked really well to get his word out and did not affect his/O'Reilly's market. All books should be free, or perhaps sliding scale. Consumers should know how much of the purchase price is going to the author. Consumers will choose the distribution method that best rewards the author.
Question and Answer
Should Amy Goodman (for example—don't mean to pick on Amy in particular) publish with Disney? Does she owe it to/betray herself, her words, or her community by publishing with a large commercial press, rather than a small or radical publisher? (Jenna)
To Vikki: How have you worked out copyrights for incarcerated women who contributed to your book? (Ellen)
This is not a copyright right question really. Vikki kept women inmates informed of her work. When she got the deal with PM, she asked if she could use their stories, their names, pseudonyms, etc. If they agreed to have their stories in the book, they got copies of relevant chapters for editing and had granular control over how their name was associated with the story and what elements of the story might even be included.
A question about the ethics of library purchasers. She can't buy directly from small press authors because they can't deal with her university system required purchase orders. She can purchase the materials from a vendor that charges $20 for an item that the indigenous author might sell them for a quarter. Libraries end up subsidizing this exploitative practice, but if they don't, then the author's work doesn't get collected at all. How should librarians handle this problem? (Melissa G)
Jim: Practical notes about authors and rights issues:
Print on demand can prevent a book from ever going out of print (which is when an author regains copyright)
Karl: problems aren't money, but monopoly problems
Is this self-exploitation a sustainable model for radical authors?
Can a publisher pay a non-US citizen to write a book?
Monopoly vs. money problem—how best to counter monopoly on copyright
Copyright and access stuff protects information. Economics is based on scarcity. With information, more than one person can have the thing at the same time. Are there other countries that deal with compensation in a more sophisticated/fair way?
Wishful thought: Google is going to give up on books (and should). Most Google Books are available from HathiTrust and Archive.org. Authors own the rights, not Google. It is hard to give away one's copyright. There are some means to make books available within more traditional distributions. (Ellen)
What is the essence of reading experience? Does format matter? Does it matter in particular to the radical community? (Melissa M)
rl: artist-in-residence Nina Paley's movie, payment by voluntary contribution. Average donation is $30.
We need to keep distribution in mind, dependence on internet service provider. The internet is not a neutral place (re: ebook reading and access). (Tristan)
There was one more exchange, but I was fatigued by then and missed it.
All in all this was a terrific panel, put together by Aliqae Geraci, Melissa Morrone, and Nicki Vance. It sparked a rich external conversation, and also a provocative internal dialogue. I'll continue to think about the issues discussed for a long time.
None of these resources came up specifically during the talk, but they're all useful and relevant to the topics at hand:
The Rights of Readers and the Threat of the Kindle, presentation by Matthew Goins and Alycia Sellie, 4/1/11
ReadersBillofRights.info website, also Alycia and Matt
CrimethInc. State of the Union Address, 3/30/11 (discusses their publishing and pricing plan)
Tim O’Reilly on Piracy, Tinkering, and the Future of the Book, interview with Jon Bruner, 3/25/11
A Digital Library Better Than Google's by Robert Darnton, 3/23/11
Colorado Publishers and Libraries Collaborate on Ebook Lending Model by Michael Kelley, 3/17/11
Creativity Without Copyright: Anarchist Publishers and Their Approaches to Copyright Protection by Debora Halbert, 7/15/09