IANAL: “I Am Not A Lawyer.”
This term is used in Internet discussions to disclaim expertise in legal matters. It says, “don't take me too seriously, because I'm speaking outside my specialty.”
We are not lawyers. But do take us seriously for what we are:
- rhetoricians immersed in a digital world
- new media designers and writers
- copyright activists
- dedicated composers within the new cultures emerging from networked, file-sharing spaces for online collaboration
- manifesto authors
We are a collective interested in digital writing practices. Our goal as a collective is to provide support for teachers, researchers, and scholars working at the intersections of writing, rhetoric, communication, and digital technologies, focusing on issues of digital composing practices, computer-mediated communication (CMC), human-computer interaction (HCI), digital literacy, information and communication technologies (ICTs), and digital rhetoric.
We are also a collective that believes that it is time for more of us in rhetoric and composition, and computers and writing specifically, to have a louder voice and a more persuasive say in the intellectual property debates going on in our culture and in our world. Further, we believe that we must educate ourselves and students and also take action to protect Fair Use in a time during which Fair Use protection is eroding in the courts—and at our institutions. Intellectual property issues are gaining more and more significant attention in our hallways, at our institutions, and at our conferences—for instance, there were multiple sessions specifically related to copyright and intellectual property at the 2006 and 2007 Conferences on College Composition and Communication (in Chicago, Illinois, and in New York, New York); see, also, the special issues of Computers and Composition (Gurak & Johnson-Eilola, 1998) and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy (“Copywrite, Plagiarism, Intellectual Property,” 1998) devoted to intellectual property.
In the following webtext, we provide a copyleftist manifesto that argues for a view of intellectual property that protects Fair Use, and that privileges free and open use over profits and persecution. We offer our own media pieces and our reflections as composers of those pieces as illustration of the tenets we articulate. Asterisks () within the text indicate notes and brief literature reviews presented within popup windows (you thus may wish to turn off your popup blockers before you read on).
We write this at a time in which writing is in the midst of a massive paradigm shift: from an older view of writing as alphabetic text on paper, intended for print distribution, to an emergent view of writing as weaving digital media for distribution across networked spaces, for various audiences engaged in different types of reading.
Copyright Issues in Digital Spaces
We focus in this piece on copyright issues for four main reasons.
- First, there is widespread confusion as to what constitutes appropriate use of copyright-protected materials—what is owned in spaces where information is freely and openly shared.
- Second, there is also deep confusion as to what is “right” when using the words and works of another, and what “counts” as writing when chunks of text—both text-as-code and text-as-content, not to mention myriad other creations, such as audio and video files—can be copied and digitally moved into a different context and a new document, and where the lines between one person’s work and another’s become electronically blurred through linking practices and by scripting and coding approaches. What is allowable “remixing?” What is fair use of digital audio and video? What is a copyright infringement? What is piracy?
- Third, we are at a cultural moment at which approaches to copyright are fairly polarized into two camps: copyleftists (those who believe in open sourcing, fair use, and file-sharing, and are working to protect the digital cultural commons; see, e.g., Lessig, 2002, 2005; Litman, 2001) and copyrightists (those who believe that copyright control must be tight in a digital world, and are working to further restrict access to copyright-protected materials; see the web sites of the Recording Industry Association of America or RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America or MPAA: http://www.riaa.org and http://www.mpaa.org).
- Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, we believe that writing teachers must be copyright activists and Fair Use advocates in a consumer culture that is accelerating the extent of copyright protection and closing our access to modes of and media for meaning-making. This last point, in itself, merits a manifesto.
What we are not focusing on in this piece are the debates surrounding the ability of individual authors and artists to make a living producing and selling their work. What we are focusing on is the agency and action writing teachers can take in a world of media monopoly.
We are also not focusing on a fair and balanced approach to copyright issue. Have no doubt that what we offer here is a manifesto. Because our debates are situated in and framed by the ways we talk about what we do as technorhetoricians, we have to rethink our terms rhetorically, culturally, and historically. We need to understand which old paradigms of copyright still apply, and also decide which don’t. The current copyright laws are having a negative effect on creativity, criticism, and innovation in digital media.