ON COPYRIGHT, VIRTUAL CAMPUS, CEDRO AND HARVARD

CEDRO is the Spanish organisation that protects the copyright of writers on books (and music scores, I mean sheet music); it is analogous to SGAE, which protects performing artists. Recently, CEDRO has sued UAB for 1 million euros, accusing my university of not restricting at all book piracy in our virtual classrooms (see https://www.lavanguardia.com/cultura/20120411/54283660307/cedro-uab-fotocopias.html). They apparently want to charge all 75 Spanish universities a flat rate of 5 euros per year and student that, together with the tax charged for each photocopy, would be distributed to their authors members. The bottom line is that they do know that everyone, teachers and students, infringes copyright, hence the decision to collect tax on that ‘bad habit’ rather than try to stop it by other means. This is a little bit like the tax on smoking.

In the same week, as my colleague José Ángel García Landa informed us, Harvard University has decided to curb down the expenses on bundle subscriptions to academic journals offered by major publishers. The prices in some cases have increased by 145% when, as Harvard notes, publishers are already making an alarming 35% profit on journals. The additional problem is that the university itself, a very potent generator of research, is getting too little back in return for the funds poured on the very work that produces articles for journal publication. The whole memo is worth reading (see https://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k77982&tabgroupid=icb.tabgroup143448), particularly the recommendations to Harvard researchers, who are encouraged to “Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access.” (my italics) I’m personally elated to see that common sense views I have defended again and again in public and private also make sense at Harvard. Call me smug, that’s how I feel today.

Now, here’s the joke: I’m also a CEDRO member, as a writer of single-authored books and as collaborator in collective volumes published in Spain. CEDRO, by the way, does not include my articles in academic journals in the list of my copyrighted work. As a teacher, I wonder whether this means that uploading articles onto virtual classrooms is not really a crime (or is it another kind of crime?). Ironically, I do get a little bit of money annually from them out of the photocopy tax, but their protection does not extend to my more serious problem: a cheeky publisher that has failed to pay me royalties for years (I have got NOTHING for my book on The X-Files). The lawyer I have contacted is asking for 2,500 euros, plus 800 for other legal fees, to sue this person, who owes me less than that. Logically, I’m stuck, worried that he’ll declare himself bankrupt and, thus, cost me much more money than I’m owed. I’m mystified that piracy is in Spain a bigger issue than the rampant fraud committed by certain editors on naive authors (we seem to be too many, from what I gather).

So, how do I feel as an author myself regarding piracy? Well, the problem has three sides. With books allegedly protected by a contract, my concern are publishers rather than piratical readers. With chapters in collective books, I believe that those paid by research groups using public funds or by conferences using members’ fees, should be free access. At any rate, they should always be very cheap, as authors are never paid royalties for book chapters. With journal articles, I’m a Harvard girl: we should ‘move prestige to open access’, with all the consequences (including indexation lists, etc.). It’s very simple: if my work does not entitle me to receiving royalties I don’t see why it should benefit others in the scandalous way Harvard highlights.

(And, yes, this entry has been very hard to write because I realise that I’m in flagrant contradiction with myself, as I want to protect my copyright on books and give away for free my shorter pieces –I can only say in my defence that books are VERY hard to write and that, anyway, royalties amount to so little they seem to be just a symbolic reward).

4 thoughts on “ON COPYRIGHT, VIRTUAL CAMPUS, CEDRO AND HARVARD

  1. And your suing the publisher seems also to be symbolic, for the principle of it, rather… good luck with that. I suppose the bottom line with academic publishers is that we academics accept the situation, as we get paid not in money in prestige, which (however small) is apparently enough payment for us.

  2. Nowadays, we can find piracy in almost every place.As you said writing a book or composing a song is very difficult, for that reason author’s rights should be strictly accepted, but sadly not everyone has the same idea.

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