‘Hunting down permissions’: fair use, copyright and academic publishing

I was particularly intrigued by the Slate article Executors or Executioners? by Joseph Thomas, the frustrated would-be author of a Shel Siverstein biography, not only because Silverstein is currently among my daughter’s favourite authors but also for the discussion of the chilling effect that ‘playing it safe’ with copyright can have on fair use and scholarly publishing.

The Unicorn by Nomadic Lass (Creative Commons)

Image: Flickr (Creative Commons)

In brief: in the course of writing an academic article on Silverstein, the author is required by his publisher to acquire permission from the poet’s estate to reproduce certain material – explicit permission being perceived as safer than relying on the doctrine of fair use. But he then finds himself forbidden from quoting Silverstein “in any context ever” – an unexpectedly harsh result (perhaps related to use of some of the poet’s adult-oriented work) that effectively scuttles the planned biography and limits the author’s options in other future efforts (although as the author notes, Silverstein’s works will eventually enter the public domain – hopefully).

Read the full piece for some interesting thoughts on the causes and implications of such developments.

How legitimate can scholarship be, these days, when scholars cannot point to works of art we find interesting or problematic, troubling or provocative, cannot set our commentary beside the texts on which we comment, cannot enter into serious discussions about important works and their writers without asking permission of those selfsame artists or their moneyed interests?

Image source: The Unicorn by Nomadic Lass on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Posted on October 24, 2013, in Library and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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