A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I work at Bronx Community College so I always hear students complaining about textbooks costs; moreover, what I hear them saying is that they understand textbooks have to be expensive, but why do they shaft you when you sell them back.

I am definitely in favor of lowering the costs of textbooks, but am not sure if federal monies should be used to entice the textbook industry to lower their costs. Specifically though, I believe in greater access but want to respect an author's right to own their work.

As a writer, I also want to ensure certain rights are guaranteed to me and that I may wield them commercially. Last, I feel that authors need to retain inviolable control as arrangers and artisans of a specific textual iteration, but that others have rights to manipulate and comment through what has been written, and possibly even make some money themselves off that writing.

Maybe giving an author too rigid a control over something they write stifles the micro economy that could be created by various writers using a single piece of writing and making money off it. Let's not forget that regardless, people will pay for writing that is engaging and sophisticated; if what you write does not captivate, no one will pay to read it.

Yes, an author could write something and make a nominal amount of money and then an advertising agency could make millions of a snippet or portion of that writing. That is the gamble; but with that gamble comes the possibility of penning something that gets bought through the ages, like Ginsberg's "Howl and Other Poems" (1956). People have been buying the little fucking black and white City Lights pocket edition of "Howl and Other Poems" (1956) since Norma Jean was filling out Change-of-Name papers.

I mean, you want the author who has labored the hardest, who originally conceived an idea and gestated it through possibly several years of writing, to be the most handsomely compensated. But, you can not always expect that that will be the case. More importantly, should we ensure that this is the case. Should a cap be placed on the commercial priveleges that accompany a piece of writing. For example, should we say that a novel can make 8 million dollars; if your novel makes 8 million dollars, you lose commercial rights to this piece of writing, although legally you don't stop being recognized as author, creator, midwife of a specific iteration.

Even though I admire many works that have been illegally spliced together (right now the only thing that comes to mind is Dangermouse's "Grey Album" or any of Girl Talk's songs; I think these are what are referred to as "mashups"). And then there is the argument made famous by Willa Cather that "there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before"

Senator Richard Durbin (Democrat of Illinois) is preparing legislation that would dramatically lower the cost of college textbooks by providing federal grants to faculty whose textbooks are published and marketed over the internet.

There are three types of licensing currently under consideration by Senator Durbin and his staff:

1. BY license—Under this license the author is credited for the work, but does not retain control over changes or future use (either commercial or non-commercial use) once the text is marketed on-line. The material in the textbook would be treated as open information, and anyone would be free to change or use it in any other form. This is the policy strongly favored by “open access” advocates.

2. BYNCSA license—The abbreviation stands for “by attribution, non-commercial, share-alike.” Under this license the author retains the right to prevent future use of the work for profit, but has no control over updates and revisions as long as they are for non-commercial use. This approach has the support of some of the major student advocacy groups.

3. “No Derivative” license—Under this license the text cannot be changed, updated or used for any purpose—commercial or non-commercial—without the author’s express approval. This is the option least favored by “open access” advocates, but preferred by many faculty. The AFT’s legal staff is exploring proposals to solve one of the problems the approach presents: efficient administration of permission for derivatives.

El Spicaro would love to hear some of your thoughts on this phenemenon...

1 comment:

Linda said...

It is kinda expensive though, just so you know. I look at it, with a mind to go purchase ebooks, since I like ebooks, but then as I went to a meet up, I was reminded once again - purchasing for an electronic copy, is just that - what happens if the format goes obsolete? Then again the professor can make xerox copies of certain chapters, but... ugh.. personal bad memories. Hopefully eventually there would be a middle ground eventually.

Kindle actually is looking for that answer, but it looks like it will take more for consumers to go purchase. I am holding out for maybe getting a Sony book, when it gets a wireless upgrade. >_<