It's the Interface, Stupid

The Kairos of Copyright and the Copyright of Kairos

GreyDay Button

Who's Gonna Know?

When I was 15, and a sophomore at St. John's Jesuit Hich School in Toledo, Ohio, I joined the editorial staff of the school newspaper, The Cavalier. That was pretty much my attitude toward writing, too -- "cavalier." I remember an early assignment when I was told to write the annual "Freshman's First Day" story ... I skimmed ten years of back issues to see how it'd been done before, to, you know ... "get ideas."

I found a lead I really liked from several years earlier, and just sort of ... took it. In editorial review, the senior who spent that year as editor had barely wiped the look of horror off his face when I realized "Uh-oh ... he's read that piece too." It was a big archive. Who was I to know?

Then he said to me "I guess you read this some time back and it just sort of stuck in your head ... happens all the time. Don't worry about it ... just re-write it." He may have winked, but my sweet lord, he handed me The George Harrison Defense ... and again, well, I took it.

Look around the web ... it's a big web. Who's gonna know?

Disclaimers? You Make the Call


We Make It Up As We Go Along

We've had our share of weirdness toddle along to punch us in the legal solar plexus over the last three years; that we are now devoting a Coverweb topic to Intellectual Property and Copyright is as much a function of our own curiosity about the viability and legality of our own publishing venture as it is an opportunity to present some interesting (though in some cases contradictory) scholarship on the subject(s).

Let's take this concept of "Coverweb." It is, as Mike Salvo wrote in our second issue, a new genre of writing, or perhaps even a post-genre style of writing. The whole concept for "Coverweb," though, was developed by a different publication a year earlier. Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine, one of the first quality monthly publications available on the web, tossed around the idea of a "Coverweb" and what it might mean as early as December of 1994.

Of course, I was Managing Editor at the time, so maybe it was my idea. I don't remember (honest). Karen LeFevre claims that "invention is a social act" (and she's on my dissertation committee, so who am I to disagree?) and the people in the room at that December staff meeting -- Jason Teague, Lisa Schmeiser, Lee Honeycutt, and Nick Weaver -- were very social. I think there was beer involved. Now, none of those people are with CMC   any more -- in fact, Teague and Honeycutt are also with Kairos -- so I suppose it doesn't really matter any more. Does it?

Incidentally, I didn't ask John December if I could use the magazine's logo. I hope he doesn't mind -- it is a link to his site, so in a way I'm providing free advertising for him. Yeah, that's it.

What's Mine is Yours ... Just Ask, OK?

So anyway, invention is a social act, and the web is a very social place.

Why, just the other day I received this friendly mail from a recent contributor:

Hi Mick,

You probably get this a lot, but I thought I'd point out a page I found that looks like it's using one of your Kairos animations without permission:

Just thought you'd want to know.

Now, if you've already hurried off to go see, you've doubtless wondered if I've lost my mind. There's nothing there from Kairos! Well, in a way you'd be right ... after a cordial, if somewhat sarcastic (on both sides) e-mail exchange, Mr. Schnell removed an animated GIF images he had ... liberated ... from Kairos space, and has replaced it with his "Please Enter Table of Contents" box. That's fine.

But there's something ... familiar ... about the rest of the page and most of Schnell's site. That is, the layout (translation: the HTML code) is precisely that of a standard Kairos bridge page, first developed and designed by Karen Chauss for her award-winning hypertext in our second issue. I did ask Schnell to at least credit Chauss with the design, and to provide a courtesy linkback, but as of this writing, he has apparently not received that e-mail.

In one earlier e-mail to me, Schnell blew off any objections we might have had with the claim that he was developing the website on his own time and received no professional compensation for it. The point, of course, is that Chauss developed the design on her own time, and no one with this journal receives "compensation" ... except of course collegial recognition by peers and TPR committees.

The astute reader will point out that Kairos has itself "borrowed" Ms. Chauss' design for every feature bridge page since our second issue. That is also correct; truth be told, I loved the simplicity of the design, and ran into Karen one day in a computer lab when we both lived in upstate New York, and asked her "Can we use this? It's great." She said "sure" ... and that' all it took.

We all borrow code ... it's a truism that "View Source" is the best way to learn web layout. And I don't mean to necessarily single out Mr. Schnell, who is not alone in borrowing design from this journal unasked. But the web is a social place ... and the simple difference between taking and sharing isn't in the web interface ... it's in the human interface. Asking, crediting, and the (here's the key word) courtesy linkback.

Who Owns This Website?

An interesting point of debate for our staff early in the production of our first issue was, who "owned" the texts in this journal? The authors? The staff of the journal? Texas Tech (as our host)? The Alliance for Computers and Writing (as our sponsor)?

The answer, of course, is "no."

Our unique (as far as we know -- I don't mean to sound like an infomercial) two-pronged publication system sort of ... eludes ... copyrightable form. If you go back to that Chauss bridge (or any other feature we've ever published) you'll see there are two options to start reading: the "Active" version and the "Archived" version.

The Active version stays on the author(s)' website and can be updated, changed, whatever is seen as appropriate as time passes. This can, of course, lead to the inevitable 404ing of some webtexts ... which led us to develop the Archived version, or a copy of the website frozen on the day of publication to reflect precisely what was peer-reviewed and presented from the Table of Contents.

The authors retain all copyright to their texts -- we do ask them to mention Kairos if they re-publish it somewhere, but that is their decision -- and the journal simply retains "Archive rights." That is, once we've published it, we have the right to keep it on whatever server the journal resides, or to remove it at our discretion.

This led to some sticky and uncomfortable moments for us recently, as Matt Kirschenbaum relates elsewhere in this Coverweb.

I really don't have any answers. But the questions sure are interesting, aren't they?

We Did Bad Stuff Too

Here's the part buried at the end of the column where I admit that the staff and board and contributors to this journal have made plenty of mistakes in judgment as well. For one of our Coverweb graphics, the artist borrowed and adapted an image from a university website ... sure enough, a reader of the journal noticed and made some noises about legal action. We fixed that.

In another Coverweb, one of our contributors included a copyrighted image of Pamela Anderson Lee without permission ... I remember one of the staff members saying "I kind of doubt the producers of Baywatch read this publication." Hey, it's a big web, right?

We publish tons of edited MOO sessions in our Response Section, Kairos Interactive.   We do try to make it clear at the sessions, as they are happening, that the discussion is for publication ... and as of yet, that's been enough. The new "Conversations" section, featuring excerpts from relevant e-lists, also come with reprint permission -- but I wonder, what happens when we get permission to reprint a post from someone who is responding to (and quoting) a post we don't get permission to reprint? Hasn't happened yet. It will.

Many of our book reviews include images of the book covers, some "lifted" from publisher's websites. I'm almost sure -- here comes that phrase again -- that they don't mind the "free advertising," and we make it clear to our contributors that it is their responsibility to obtain permissions ... but these are permissions I, as editor, have never seen. Wonder when that one'll explode in our virtual faces?

Ah, hell. It's all "fair use," right?

The "kairos" of Copyright

The title of our journal comes from a Greek legal term meaning "re-invention of the present occasion," or as Eric Charles White put it, "radical occasionality." (In an interesting spin on copyright and citation, a former member of this journal's staff credited me with the White quote in her dissertation, but I don't think anyone on her committee noticed. Another former member of the staff did, but none of us know White, so ... who's gonna know?)

Anyway, radical occasionality or serendipity, whichever it may be, literally as I was drafting this editorial, I received the following electronic mail message:

From: Dan Logovik
Subject: KAIROS review

Dear Mick,

Hi. I stumbled across your "KAIROS" site recently and found it very informative and well designed. My colleagues were also quite impressed with it and we have decided to publicise the site in the review section of our university's print/online newsletter DERUN (Distance Education Update News).

I am writing to seek copyright permission to reproduce your banner in our interested readers to your site.

Since typesetting of the next issue will commence soon, a speedy response would be much appreciated. Our site is located at


Dan Logovik
DDCE (Instructional Design and Development Unit)

We exchanged two more mail messages:
Certainly. Our next issue is released on 25 May, and our "Coverweb" is examining copyright and intellectual property. Might I snippet-cite your e-mail in an editor's note?

Thanks for the permission. And yes, feel free to cite my email in your editor's note. If you find some of our material to be relevant to your readership, you also have full permission to use our banner graphic should you want to link to our site as well.

Not a problem, Dan:

It's really just a matter of courtesy ... in every sense of the word. "Copyright" with the emphasis on "right" ... it's really not all that hard.

How Grey is Your Day?

Actually, it is that hard. So let's go back to this Grey Day concept for a moment ... and some words I pirate ruthlessly from their site (all in the name of fair use, of course):

[Begin Grey Day Outtake]

What if...
All the people who create content for the web just deleted their work?

Stop for a moment and imagine this. There would be... no graphics to bring your web site to life... no art to dazzle your eyes... no cartoons or jokes to make you laugh... no colors to open your mind... no music to lift your spirits... no poetry to make you think and feel... no stories to transport you to other worlds and times... no fonts to express yourself with... no programming to delight and entertain you...

If this is not your ideal vision of the World Wide Web of the future, you can help by participating in the struggle against the ever growing copyright infringement that exists on today’s Web. Only with education and understanding can we keep the web filled with original creative content and prevent the dull grey you see here from becoming a long lasting harsh reality!

There finally is a way for you, as a conscientious Internet user and/or creator of web graphics, writings, music, or programming, to support the creators of web content in their effort to eliminate online plagiarism, the unlicensed use of copyrighted works, and bandwidth robbery. One voice alone can be easily dismissed. Many voices together cannot be ignored and can make a monumental difference.

Show the Online World that you care about individual rights and ongoing creative freedom on the WWW!

Become a Grey Day supporter

[End Grey Day Outtake]

I'm a Grey Day supporter -- and I hope you will be, too. Because it's about the interface ... the human interface. And that ain't stupid at all.

Mick Doherty is the founding editor and publisher of Kairos. He is the Internet Editor for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, and working toward completing a PhD in Rhetoric & Electronic Publication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


CoverWeb Overview | CoverWeb TOC