This week we learnt about the origins of the book trade and intellectual property. We also looked at the impact of the internet on creativity and whether or not copyright law is fit for purpose in the digital age. The following is a reworking of some of the notes we were given and some additional thoughts.

I found it interesting that book selling and publishing were usually done by the same business until the 18th century. Then printing, publishing and book selling became separate businesses. Publishing companies such as Penguin, Macmillan, Gollancz and others became household names in the UK as books became increasingly affordable (partly due to Penguin’s publication of inexpensive paperbacks in the 1930s) and some high profile cases such as Penguin’s publication of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. And now we have the centralisation of publishing with a few huge companies – Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Elsevier etc – dominating the market.

It was also interesting to learn about William Hogarth (1697-1764) who was one of the earliest proponents of intellectual property after his prints were widely pirated. The 1734 Engravers’ Copyright Act, which he helped to bring about, allowed engravers the exclusive right to exploit their work commercially.


Print from The Harlot’s Progress by Hogarth, source: Ashley van Haeften, Flickr

The UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act dates from 1988. It means that if you register your work with the Intellectual Property Office you can reserve all rights in the copying of that work. Copyright law aims to give creators an incentive to work and also to protect their moral rights not to have their reputation damaged by unauthorised copying, alteration or misattribution of their work.

And yet in the digital age we are having to rethink copyright law. It is now so much easier to be a creator – to write blogs, make home movies, record music… And having to ask permission for every quote, sample or extract from another work is time consuming and potentially expensive. As Lessig argues in ‘Free Culture’, copyright feels like just another way that big corporations are staying rich at the expense of consumers and creators. In the case of academic research, whose right is it anyway to make money out of work that has been funded by the taxpayer? And can we really continue to copyright ‘works of the mind’ when the whole concept of an original idea is problematic in the first place?

Creative Commons Licences are a potential solution to the inflexible nature of copyright law. There are six different licences, all allowing consumers to share content but with varying restrictions. The most permissive only requires you to credit the creator. The most restrictive requires you not to make derivative works or to exploit the work commercially.

Copyright law is also trying to keep up with the times. In 2011 the Hargreaves review of IP and growth made a number of recommendations which resulted in some changes to the law in 2014. For example, it is now permissible to copy work for the purposes of parody.


LAPIS week 3

This week saw us looking at the notion of authorship. Our suggested reading included an essay by Foucault entitled ‘What is an author?’ and a piece by Lovecraft on amateur journalism. In the second half of the lecture we discussed the future of the news media. Eliza Anyangwe (@elizatalks), a freelance editor who has worked for the Guardian Professional Networks, gave a talk entitled ‘Digital journalism: golden age or stone age?’.

I found the Foucault article difficult but thought-provoking. He questions the notion of authorship by, for example, asking does it really matter what the author was trying to say? Surely works can have more than one meaning? He also seems to question the notion of a literary ‘work’, preferring the term ‘discourses’. For, as he points out, it’s hard to know when to draw the line when talking about an author’s works. Should drafts and marginalia count? What about a shopping list? He also seems to argue for a broader understanding of authorship, encouraging us to look at how a discourse is taken up and modified in society rather than just how it was founded:

‘Perhaps it is time to study discourses not only in terms of their expressive value or formal transformations but according to their modes of existence. The modes of circulation, valorization, attribution, and appropriation of discourses vary with each culture and are modified within each.’

Foucault also questions the notion of originality. He sees the author more as a way of channeling ideas (‘the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning’) rather than an originator of new ideas. I thought this was interesting given that we so often talk of writers as ‘original’. It also perhaps undermines the idea of copyright – ‘the exclusive right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work’.

Ernesto showed us this video from the Open University which suggests other ways in which we can question the idea of the author:

In the second half of the lecture, Eliza Anyangwe gave a fascinating insight into the new environment in which journalists are operating. How can the Guardian compete with Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post? These sites are covering news stories in ways which perhaps engage readers more than conventional news sites. And recently a 6,200 word article on Buzzfeed held readers’ attention for an average of 25 minutes, showing that digital still has room for in-depth articles.

And how can media companies tap into the success of mobile and social? Facebook etc can drive traffic to news sites even more than search. And yet Facebook retains control over which news stories reach people by keeping their algorithms secret. Should media companies engage with a company that has such power over how news is consumed? This podcast explores this dilemma and others that have faced journalists over the last year.

And of course there is the question of business models. How can journalism be sustainable in an age of falling subscriptions and ad revenue? Eliza compared the business models of the Times online (paid) and Guardian, Telegraph and Independent online (free). Obviously there is a lot to be said for the fact that the Guardian and others are keeping their online content free. However, to be able to do this they must rely on their content being underwritten by sponsors or supported by ad revenue. Some of the content for the Guardian Professional Networks’ blogs is sponsored but remain editorially independent. However, a senior writer at the Daily Telegraph has just resigned over the newspaper’s alleged covering up of the HSBC tax scandal because of fear of losing ad revenue.

One big advantage of digital journalism is that more people than ever before have access to news and also the tools to make the news. ‘Open journalism’ is thus helping to make the media more diverse and promote discussion via things like comments on news sites (although Eliza pointed out that Reuters recently closed comments on their site, supposedly because discussion is moving to social media). And yet, as someone pointed out in the lecture, we are living through the ‘wild west’ of digital journalism in that the environment is still fairly deregulated. How safe is it to create identities for ourselves online? And how do we deal with the new trend for working for free? Bloggers can be exploited by advertising companies who pay them nowhere near what the advertising on their site is worth. And is promotion by a brand like the Guardian sufficient payment for contributing to their blogs? Also, Twitter etc are not necessarily making the media more diverse if criteria for success such as presentability and networks still count as much as they ever did.

Finally, it was interesting to hear how the Guardian Professional Networks commission content. A writer’s expertise counts but so does their social media presence and whether they can write in a way that fits Guardian copy. There is advice on the GPN’s website for how to write a story for them and copy is no doubt further honed by Guardian editors before being posted to the site. So perhaps Lovecraft was right when he said that amateur journalism must be guided by ‘some centralised authority capable of exerting a kindly, reliable, and more or less invisible guidance in matters aesthetic and artistic’.

I’m not sure how to tie all these thoughts together into a conclusion so will leave you with some links and references to follow up if you’re interested.

Eyes Wide Shut: Will the Future of Journalism Mean we are Better Informed?

The Year of Engagement: Looking Back at 2014

Why Social Engagement Matters

Last Call: The End of the Printed Newspaper

How the Smartphone Ushered In a Golden Age of Journalism

What is an @uthor?

Foucault, M. (1969). What is an author? In: Faubion, ed. (1998) ‘Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984’. New York, New York Press.

Lovecraft, H. P., Amateur Journalism: Its Possible Needs and Betterment. In: Derleth, ed. (1966) ‘The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces by H.P. Lovecraft and Divers Hands’. Wisconsin, Arkham House Publishers.

Media history, theory and mavericks

Our second session in LAPIS focused on media history and theories. We looked at the history of printing, including Gutenberg’s printing press and the dawn of mass produced literature in Europe in the 15th century. We also looked at the history of paper and printing in China by reading an article by T. H. Barrett (2011). As the article points out, Chinese historiography has focused more on paper than printing in its analysis of information technologies. This is in contrast to European historiography which is more concerned with printing. The article helped to put Gutenberg’s invention into a wider context by exploring the origins of printing in China and showing that many of the technologies that have shaped European history – printing, paper, gunpowder. magnets – had their origins in the ancient world and spread to Europe via China and the Islamic world. The British Library has two copies of bibles printed by Gutenberg. The digitised versions can be found here:

The theories we discussed included Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’. This reminded me of our previous discussions of the relationship between form and content. It also made me think of an observation that Ernesto made in another module that the word ‘information’ contains the word ‘form’ within it. This reinforces the idea that the form that information takes is central to its meaning.

We also looked at the idea of disruptive information technologies – technologies that change how we consume information. Are we sharing more now that it’s so easy to do so via Twitter and other social media? Are we less willing to pay for information with the flourishing of user generated content on the internet? Have our attention spans lessened because of the ‘potted’ information fed to us via apps, Twitter etc?

I’d like to conclude by mentioning two ‘mavericks’ who have inspired me with their inventive approaches to media. Firstly, Xue Tao – the ‘woman who invented notepaper’ (Barrett, 2011). This Chinese courtesan (c. 768 – 831) wrote poetry, including verses for exchangers with her admirers which could be as short as 28 characters. However, the paper available at that time in Sichuan where she lived was too large for her poems. So she asked the manufacturers to make smaller sheets, introducing a new medium that had both ‘aesthetic and economic benefits when used as the medium for her poems’ (Barrett, 2011).

Secondly, I went to the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at the Tate Modern last summer and was inspired by the way that Matisse didn’t let illness stop him from creating. Instead he decided to adopt a new medium: cut-outs. Here is a photo by albyantoniazzi of some of Matisse’s cut-outs:



T. H. Barrett (2011). The Woman Who Invented Notepaper: Towards a Comparative Historiography of Paper and Print. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 21, pp 199-210 doi:10.1017/S1356186311000186

M. McLuhan, 1911-1980 (1994). Understanding media: the extensions of man. Routledge, London.

Libraries and publishing – where are they now?

This is the first in a series of posts inspired by a module I’m taking for my MA. The module is called ‘Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society’ and you can follow it on Twitter using #INM380. Last week we looked at some definitions of publishing and the information society. In a time of rapid technological change, both publishing and libraries are having to adapt quickly. But are their fundamental roles changing? Our course leader, Ernesto Priego, suggested various resources for background information (all referenced on Mendeley). We looked at a video from the 2013 conference of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers entitled ‘What is the publisher now?’. We also read Walter Benjamin’s 1934 essay ‘The Author as Producer’ translated from the German by John Heckman.

The video was mainly about scholarly publishing but made some widely applicable points. A couple of points stood out for me. Firstly, the idea that peer networks and authors are becoming more important than publishers. Secondly, the trend for reading abstracts and reviews instead of the full content of articles, or viewing videos or slides on Slideshare instead of attending a lecture/conference. Thirdly the idea that traditional publishing channels (i.e. academic books/journals) are not meeting the needs of scientific researchers who can add value by publishing a dataset/algorithm/software but can only earn credit for this by publishing a paper about it. Finally, the importance of technological innovation was stressed but as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

The essay by Benjamin seemed to be arguing for authors to pay more attention to the form their work takes. This raised an interesting discussion about the relationship between form and content. Commercial publishing shapes a literary work in many ways – as an intern in various publishing companies I have seen first-hand the influence that sales and marketing teams can have on editorial decisions, from commissioning works to choosing titles and covers. There is also the interesting idea which Ernesto suggested that technologies are not politically neutral. For example, publishing online (unless it’s behind a paywall) means you are embracing open access. I’m not sure about Benjamin’s apparent support for Eisler’s idea that orchestral music needs reforming – specifically that words should be added to it. I don’t see the point of this. Why should art take on certain forms? Why ‘transform the concert into a political meeting’? The idea that listening to music on gramophones is rendering the concert business obsolete is interesting but I’m not sure that I agree. Listening to music live and listening to it on a recording are two different experiences and people enjoy both. The concert business is still flourishing. Also the reason that people still listen to orchestral music is the same reason that people still read classic books – it has a timeless quality and still feels relevant.

To conlude, I’d like to share a venn diagram I made exploring the roles of libraries and publishers and how they intersect. This was an exercise suggested to us in the lecture.Venn diagram