Last week, the International Communication Association (ICA), in Conjunction with American University's Center for Social Media, released its Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication. The Society for Cinema and Media Studies devised a similar statement of best practices way back in 1993 (it updated the document in 2009), so needless to say I'm pleased to see ICA catching up at long last.
These types of policy statements are vitally important for media and communication scholars, and indeed for scholars more generally. As more and more of our work engages words, sounds, images, and other artifacts drawn from the popular media, we need to be reasonably assured that we can criticize and, where necessary, reproduce content protected by copyright, trademark, and other forms of intellectual property law. That's exactly what these best practices statements do, in part by identifying a "community of practice" and carefully defining its -- in this case, scholarly -- customs. But it's not only about "show and tell." Reproducing copyrighted content in academic work is important to the scholarly process. How else would reviewers, other scholars, and anyone else who may happen to read our work assess the validity of our claims?
Academics routinely -- and often unnecessarily, I might add -- self-censor our work, for instance by opting to exclude images we're analyzing for fear we'll get sued by some deep-pocketed media giant. Heck, I've even done it myself. And that's why I'm such a champion of these best practices statements. They may not give us carte blanche to use intellectual properties in our work however we may see fit. They do give us a useful set of guidelines for making informed judgments about how best to proceed in these matters, though, plus they underscore how our own practices are in solidarity with others.
The other bit of good news is that Boston College's Charles (Chuck) E. Morris III has drafted a resolution calling on the National Communication Association (NCA) to revise its fees for licensing NCA-copyrighted material. In a preamble to the document, Chuck writes:
The resolution seeks to regulate the prohibitively expense copyright fees charged by Taylor & Francis [publisher of NCA journals] in conjunction with NCA. Particularly alarming is that while for more than a decade NCA Executive Directors, who contractually have the prerogative to waive or reduce fees, intervened to make reprinted NCA journal materials affordable for high quality anthologies/readers of pedagogical and scholarly value, the current NCA Executive Director, Nancy Kidd, has prioritized profit and is allowing a dramatically higher fee.Basically, NCA jacked up its licensing fees about a year ago, a move that will price smaller publishers out of the business of republishing top-quality communication research. The change not only promises to whittle down the competition (leaving only giants like Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, and Sage standing), but it's also inimical to the larger cause of scholarly communication. When Chuck writes that NCA is putting profits ahead of publishing, he's exactly right.
If you're an NCA member, you have until Tuesday, June 29th the add your name to the document. You can do so by contacting Chuck via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. And hey -- if you're not an NCA member but you believe in the spirit of the resolution, why not go ahead drop Chuck a line anyway? I don't know if he can add your name to the formal list of signatories, but it can't hurt for him to be able to attest to support coming from beyond NCA.
Now, if only we could get NCA to adopt a best practices for fair use statement of its own. It's an embarrassment, frankly, for the oldest and largest professional association for communication scholars in the United States to lag so far behind its peer organizations.