Forms of Innovation (Durham, 27th April 2013)

As I mentioned in my regular post, I spent Saturday this past week at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University at an event for PhD students and new Humanities* scholars.  I’ve been waiting for a while to go to my first academic conference or workshop, and when I saw this one I thought it was very much up my street.  Since I was covering all the costs of attending out of my own pocket, I didn’t want to jump at just any event.  However, when I suggested that maybe attending this might be a good idea my supervisor excitedly said “No, you MUST attend this”.  Interestingly even though I wasn’t giving a paper I still had to submit a short precis of my research and the reasons why I wanted to attend, which is not something I’ve had to do before.  However, I think the practice of getting used to writing about my research is something that’s going to a regular co-occurrence in the coming years.

The event was titled Forms of Innovation: Humanities, Copyright and New Technologies and promised:

A one-day workshop for doctoral students and early-career researchers will explore key questions in copyright, open access publishing as well as the challenges of authorship and attribution in academic social media practices.

What follows are my fairly brief personal notes and impressions from the event, rather than deep analysis of the sessions.  Where possible I’ll link out to any resources or papers covered, but as you’ll see some materials aren’t available in the open domain for reasons that I hope will become clear.

Introduction: Kaja Marczewska

The day was introduced by Kaja, and covered the background to the project and the event.  This is the first in a series of events linked to the project, which is backed by 6 Universities and is AHRC funded; and the plan is to run 6 events in total and cap it with a conference.  While the project is only for a year, it is hoped that it may gain longevity and funding beyond that, and hence be able to offer further events beyond 2013/14.  The event on Cardiff on remix cultures sounded right up my street, but given that I was self funding to attend Durham (no change out of 100quid in travel and accommodation) I’m not sure I can afford to splash out again so soon.  On the other hand there is an event forthcoming at DMU on the 26th July on the importance of communicative space within interdisciplinary research, which would be cheap enough to get to for me, and given my interest in scholarly communication I think I can justify the time to attend.

Session 1: Prof Ronan Deazley: Copyright for Humanities Scholars

The session by Ronan was an excellent start to the day.  Having battled…sorry, worked with academics and copyright for a number of years in all my recent posts, and since free culture, rights law and creative commons are research interests of mine I was very engaged.  We were lucky enough to have some physical copies (yes that old, “Not in digital yet to avoid (c) issues” issue) from the CREATe centre, which is the RCUK Centre for Copyright with which Ronan is very involved.  In his session he highlighted the logical flaws that underlie much of modern copyright law – copyright is instant in the creation of a work (unless, your employer claims it contractually), and yet in order to access anything on the web that is copyrighted – technology creates a copy in order to function.  Of course this also raises issues with academics giving away the rights in their work to publishers, in exchange for dissemination, that under law their employer actually owns, and old and familiar issue to me – though I suspect not all scholars.

He highlighted something that I wasn’t particularly aware of, that the (horrible, ill considered IMHO) Digital Economy Act’s monitoring and infringing actions come into force from April 2014.  This where your on-line use will be monitored, and where rights holders can espy potential infringement you will receive a warning letter, and thereafter punitive legal action.  This still leaves as foul a taste in my mouth (police state anyone?) as it did when the act was rushed through parliament in 2010, a legacy of the last government that’s smouldering away like a discarded firework and will likely have horrendous implications for many in the UK.  Especially given we have no exceptions under law for the use of materials in parody or satire, unlike the US with their first amendment.  I foresee a media fire-storm next year with this one.

Ronan meanwhile moved onto to discuss the issue around (c) and incentivisation.  One of the oft quoted roles of copyright, is to provide incentives to authors to produce further work by protecting it from being reused/repurposed by others before a certain period.  However, the mood in the room suggested that the current UK law of Life+50/70 for creative works is hardly an incentive to create – after all do we really care that our work will be unusable easily by others until long after we are dead?  You only have to look to the states where the media and entertainment industries would dearly love these periods to be extended – so that IP they’ve come to own can continue to generate revenue for them for decades.  However, within the room it was agreed that (c) does at least protect moral rights, in that work created must be attributed to the author and not subjected to derogatory treatment – thus allowing them to gain prestige as a result of their labours

He also considered further issues around (c) being a barrier to dissemination and research (hello OA).  Interestingly due to changes in the 1988 Copyright Act orphan works that had fallen out of copyright in some cases fell back into copyright, through to 2039, which is a problem for those scholars wanting to use it.  He illustrated this with a page from a late 19th Century wages book, filled in by two men.  As the firm was long out of business and the two men untraceable, a scholar wanting to reproduce this, would strictly speaking be placing themselves at risk.  Some orphan works though revert to Crown copyright, which might make things a little easier.

With respect to academic dissemination he noted that many publishers actually do offer a non-exclusive license to publish, as an alternative to the standard CTA (copyright transfer agreement) that transfers all economic rights to the publisher.  However, these are not normally trumpeted and need to be asked for.  He also suggested changing the terms of the agreement before signing it, though some of the younger researchers in the room suggested that whereas a professor might get away with that, their own power in that regard was more limited.  Personally I’ve always fallen back on the SPARC License to publish in this regard, as a more standardised and recognised approach.  He also mentioned the EU normalisation of copyright, which related to this, brought items that were in (c) still in any EU country, back into (c) in the rest of the countries.  So for example Spain has an author’s life +80 years rule, hence items in the UK went back into copyright.

The session finished with us breaking into groups to discuss copyright issues, concerns and experiences as they related to our own work.

Session 2: Dr Martin Eve and Dr Caroline Edwards: Open Access Session

After a very nice lunch in a very posh part of Durham CastleCaroline (@the_blochian) and Martin (@martin_eve) ran a session on open access, highlighting a number of issues that were familiar to me and some that were less so, coming as they did more from an academic than a practitioner perspective   I was interested to see an academic draw the “cost of journals outstripping ability” to pay diagram, that as a librarian I’ve been familiar with since the late 1990s.  It seems some things take a while to percolate down/up to academics!  However, it was acknowledged that the current age of austerity is most certainly brining this issue into sharp relief for many academics, although they noted that for many years researchers have been effectively isolated from the financial burden of publications; librarians have been doing their jobs too well keeping things going.

There was a rather nice little illustration in their slides about what OA wasn’t (which I’m paraphrasing here and I’m sure they’ll correct me once I tweet this blog post if I’ve err’d):

  • Not a bypass of peer review
  • Not denying that there are costs in territorial work
  • That it doesn’t relax plagiarism
  • It’s not elitist (i.e. “Academic work shouldn’t be in the PUBLIC domain, oh my no!”)
  • It’s not universal (by a long way)
  • There are issues with both Gold and Green OA (sustainability and ethics of paying more on one hand, issues around citations to versions of documents).

Possibly my favourite phrase, and one that I might just need to get a t-shirt of was “Academic capital makes the journal world work“. There it is, shorn of any Marxist connotations of revolution  or overthrowing the system.  Without the knowledge capital gifted by the academic community (through those aforementioned exclusive licenses), their efforts as editors and peer reviewers; the journal world would rather swiftly grind to a halt.  Although I would temper this with a phrase I read recently that “The publisher cares for the academic about as much as the slaughter-man cares for the cattle“; though that’s a bit more rabble rousing, but neatly illustrates that academic outputs are just grist for the mill.

The second half of the talk focussed on the (very exciting IMHO) Open Library of Humanities.  While you can read more about it on the site, they referred to it as “a big bucket of stuff”, or perhaps more accurately a mega-journal, which feeds to other open access journals in a range of fields, and removed from such considerations as “monthly”; items will be published once they are through peer review revisions, speeding up research dissemination and moving away from a model predicated on physical distribution of bundled research.  In order to gain credibility they have 100 major scholars promising articles in order to make it an attractive destination for other scholars to publish within.  This is certainly one to watch.

Session 3: Dr Ernesto Priego: Humanties Research, new media and issues of authorship and attribution

The last session of the day was given by Ernesto (@ernestopriego) and focussed on his work in establishing the Comics Grid, as an open access journal using blogging software.  This ticks two boxes of interest for me, open access and comics.  I can’t claim it’s scholarly level of knowledge, but US and European comics have been a passion of mine since childhood – as my attic stored long boxes, bound copies of Asterix and numerous graphic novels filling my shelves will attest! *ahem*  The Comics Grid is again like the OLH a born-digital resource designed to be read online, and fully peer reviewed.  It too has embraced a more rapid publication process, and has mastered a short form of communication, aiming to keep content regular, fresh, readable as well as scholarly.

Ernesto discussed that through his experiences running this (with his editorial team) that he has encountered that fear of (c) issues are a big block for many academics when it comes to open access.  He talked more about the practicalities of running the journal/site, which included the generation of a DOI for every item created ion the site.  He also opened up the debate into thinking how future scholarly dissemination and peer review might function in an open access environment   Regretfully I was flagging a bit at this point (thanks to the noisy hotel neighbour who kept me awake half the night) so my notes sort of petter out here.  However, I do recommend you have a look at the Comics Grid, as it’s very impressive.  We were even treated to a preview of the new look the site will be getting in the near future.

Wrap Up

The day ended with a wine reception and general discussions.  I confess as I had a three hour drive and a full Sunday working ahead of me, I slipped out rather earlier than I would have liked, as the delegates were an excellent selection of scholars with some fascinating insights.  It would have been nice to have more than a sip of wine (damn driving!).  Hence, it was regrets that I slipped away from an excellent event with a lot to think about, and a few more contacts in the scholarly community made.

The hash tag for the event was #FormsInn, although some earlier tweets went out on the longer #Formsofinnovation, you’ll probably spot some of my tweets in there.

*Yes, I managed to avoid cracking the “Oh, the huge manatee” joke all day. You should proud of me.

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