Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More bad copyright news for academic authors

Off and on throughout the years I've been reporting on instances in which academic authors were prohibited from doing their jobs as a result of unreasonable intellectual property regulations -- or the perception thereof. Here's the latest case: composer and Bard College Music professor Kyle Gann, whose latest book, about the music of the avant-garde art group Fluxus, will be without some important material. Gann reports:
Apparently I've just broken copyright law. I can't believe what's holding up my Cage book: you are no longer allowed to quote texts that are entire pieces of art. This means I've been trying to get permission simply to refer to Fluxus pieces like La Monte Young's "This piece is little whirlpools in the middle of the ocean," and Yoko Ono's "Listen to the sound of the earth turning." And of course, Yoko (whom I used to know) isn't responding, and La Monte is imposing so many requirements and restrictions that I would have to add a new chapter to the book, and so in frustration well past the eleventh hour, I've excised the pieces from the text.
You can read the complete post over on his blog PostClassic, which is hosted on the ArtsJournal website.

Odd, isn't it, how you can pay a relatively small fee to license the rights to cover an entire song, yet you can't get permission to do the same thing in a different medium for academic purposes? Something's gotta give. Really. This is getting ridiculous, and it is an affront to academic freedom.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Late Age of Print -- the video

After a series of delays (I hear this is how things go in Hollywood), I'm pleased to debut The Late Age of Print video at long last. It's no "Thriller," admittedly, but hopefully you'll get a kick out of it anyway.

Here's a little back-story for those of you who may be interested. Last fall my editor at Columbia informed me that the Press had begun promoting some of its books using short videos. He then asked me if I'd be interested in shooting one for Late Age. Since I'm not someone who believes that electronic media are out to kill books -- I'm quite confident in their ability to help books out, in fact -- I decided I'd say yes.

I was a little daunted by the prospect of shooting the video, mostly because I'm a methodological writer who's unaccustomed to speaking in sound bites. I reflected on this a bit last December on Differences & Repetitions. In hindsight, that should have been the least of my worries.

In chapter 2 of Late Age I touch on how the campus bookstore at Indiana University (where I teach) was designed by Ken White, the architect who went on to create the big-box bookstore template. What better location for the video shoot, I thought, than at ground-zero of the big-box bookstore phenomenon?

Unfortunately, IU decided in 2007 that it would be a good idea to outsource campus bookstore operations to Barnes & Noble -- about whom I write rather approvingly in Late Age. The long and the short of it is that Barnes & Noble denied my requests to shoot the video there.

I still find it difficult to fathom how a private sector company would -- or even could -- refuse the use of public property for a purpose such as this. In any case, I'm sure I could have complained to the University, but by then so much time had elapsed that I just needed to get on with the shoot.

I settled on the IU Lilly Library, which houses rare books and manuscripts. It's a truly lovely location, though I fear that it may inadvertantly up the "book fetishist" quotient that I try so hard to mitigate in Late Age. The videographer also had me harp on the "books aren't going away anytime soon" theme, which, though appropriate, doesn't quite get at the substance of the book, which focuses on e-books, book superstores, online bookselling,, and Harry Potter.

Anyway, despite all the drama I'm still pretty pleased with the result. I hope you like it, too. Please share it, rate it, and comment on it. I'd love to hear what you think!

Now that I've entered the video age, would it be asking too much for Colbert to call?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Gladwell: Free is pretty expensive

Malcolm Gladwell's review of Chris Anderson's latest book, Free! The Future of a Radical Price (Hyperion), is out in this week's New Yorker. As with all things Gladwell, it's smart and insightful. Above all it stresses the practical and conceptual limits of "free," as in this pithy excerpt about how Anderson misunderstands the economics of YouTube:
So how does YouTube bring in revenue? Well, it tries to sell advertisements alongside its videos. The problem is that the videos attracted by psychological Free—pirated material, cat videos, and other forms of user-generated content—are not the sort of thing that advertisers want to be associated with. In order to sell advertising, YouTube has had to buy the rights to professionally produced content, such as television shows and movies. Credit Suisse put the cost of those licenses in 2009 at roughly two hundred and sixty million dollars. For Anderson, YouTube illustrates the principle that Free removes the necessity of aesthetic judgment. (As he puts it, YouTube proves that “crap is in the eye of the beholder.”) But, in order to make money, YouTube has been obliged to pay for programs that aren’t crap. To recap: YouTube is a great example of Free, except that Free technology ends up not being Free because of the way consumers respond to Free, fatally compromising YouTube’s ability to make money around Free, and forcing it to retreat from the “abundance thinking” that lies at the heart of Free. Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube will lose close to half a billion dollars this year. If it were a bank, it would be eligible for TARP funds.
You can find the review -- which is indeed worth reading in its entirety -- here. Chris Anderson responds to Gladwell on his blog, The Long Tail. Seth Godin (siding with Anderson) chimes in here.

I'm still gathering my thoughts on the subject, though I'm quite persuaded by Gladwell's infrastructural (as opposed to Anderson's artifactual) orientation. I suppose that's why The Guardian recently labeled me a "distribution nerd." Anyway, more to come....

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A new CFP from Culture Machine


Special issue of Culture Machine vol. 11;
edited by Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska (both at Goldsmiths, University of London)

This is a call for papers and non-papers alike. It is open to artists, intellectuals, writers, philosophers, analysts, scientists, journalists and media professionals who have something to say about the media that extends beyond the conventional forms of media analysis. It is also a call for enacting a different, creative mode of doing ‘media studies’. Taking seriously both the philosophical legacy of what the Kantian and Foucauldian tradition calls ‘critique’, and the transformative and interventionist energy of the creative arts, we are looking for playful, experimental yet rigorous cross-disciplinary interventions and inventions that are equally at home with critical theory and media practice, and that can make a difference – academically, institutionally, politically, ethically and aesthetically.

This creative media project arises out of an attempt on our part to work through and reconcile, in a manner that would be ‘satisfactory’ on both an intellectual and artistic level, academic writing and creative practice. This effort has to do with more than just the usual anxieties associated with attempts to breach the ‘theory-practice’ divide and negotiate the associated issues of rigour, skill, technical competence and aesthetic judgment. Working in and with creative media is for us first and foremost an epistemological question of how we can perform knowledge differently through a set of practices that also ‘produce things’.

‘Creative media’ functions as both a theme and a methodology for us here then. Our aim is to produce an issue ‘about creative media’ by means of a variety of creative media. We are therefore seeking works which are situated across the conventional boundaries of theory and practice, art and activism, social sciences and the humanities. Such works can take a variety of forms – essays on, polemics with regard to, and performances of what it means to ‘do media’ both creatively and critically. They can also incorporate a variety of media, from moving and still images, through to podcasts, wikis and tweets, to creative writing and traditional papers. (And yes, language also counts as a medium.)

Executive summary (of sorts)
We are looking for surprising, inventive and original work on media that does something different, is equally at home with critical theory and media practice, and plays with the medium of the media.

Deadline for submissions: 15 October 2009

Potential contributors are encouraged to contact the editors prior to this date to discuss their possible submissions.

Please submit your contributions by email to:
Joanna Zylinska & Sarah Kember: &

All contributions will be peer-reviewed.

Established in 1999, CULTURE MACHINE ( is a fully refereed, open-access journal of cultural studies and cultural theory. It has published work by established figures such as Mark Amerika, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Henry Giroux, Mark Hansen, N.
Katherine Hayles, Ernesto Laclau, J. Hillis Miller, Bernard Stiegler, Cathryn Vasseleu and Samuel Weber, but it is also open to publications by up-and-coming writers, from a variety of geopolitical locations.