Posts in Category: The digital side

Google vs. Authors Guild

The verdict is in in the case between the Authors Guild and Google regarding copyright infringement.

In his verdict, judge Denny Chin writes: ‘The sole issue now before the Court is whether Google’s use of the copyrighted works is “fair use” under the copyright laws. For the reasons set forth below, I conclude that it is.’

Fair use is amongst others defined by if the use of the work is commercial or nonprofit, how much of the work is used, and what effect the use will have on the value of the work. Since the terms are so fluent, verdicts are on a case-by-case manner. The verdict has been very fascinating to read, and I recommend anyone interested in the case between the two parties, and copyright infringement in general, to read through the it.

What I am especially interested in, and what I have used some of my researching times delving into, is the concept of fair use in terms of its transformative dogma. Fair use is often used as a defense or strategy when previously published works are appropriated and – to use a much used phrase – made new. In such the appropriation or transformation must show a significant step towards changing the ‘old’ into a ‘new’ – whether it is in expression, meaning or message (read from page 19 onwards in judge Denny Chin’s verdict as how this applies in the case of Google Books).

Cases where authors such as Kenneth Goldsmith, who insists he has never ‘written’ any of his books‘, visual artists like Marcel Broodthaers’ graphical rendition of Mallarmé’s Un coup de Dés, replacing all words with black bars, and right over to your everyday fanfictionist using and relocating characters from all universes for a variety of purposes, these are (extreme) cases that highlight how no works are solely in their own, but need to be used, reused and recontexualised over and over and over again – some more calculated than others. It acknowledges that in unoriginality we can also find new – new expressions, thoughts, meanings and point of views, that can open up our awareness of and experience with text, language, symbols, our selves mind and body, etc.


The following are quotes from the verdict – a collection of reasons Google Books is deemed fit to fall under the definition of fair use:

“Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books. It makes tens of millions of books searchable by words and phrases.”

“Indeed, Google Books has become such an important tool for researchers and librarians that it has been integrated into the educational system — it is taught as part of the information literacy curriculum to students at all levels.”

“Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data — the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books. Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.”

Google Books expands access to books. In particular, traditionally underserved populations will benefit as they gain knowledge of and access to far more books.”

“…by helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers.”

You can read the whole verdict here: Authors Guild vs. Google Inc.

The New E-deal

From the 1st of November 2011 and for one year initially a new e-book deal will make it possible for readers and lenders to borrow e-books from the Danish libraries, effectively eclipsing the previous one. The project is funded by the Office of Library and Media and partnering with them are among others the six central libraries in the country, Denmark’s largest publishing houses – Gyldendal and Lindhardt & Ringhof (and also Rosinante, an independent corporation within the Gyldendal-conglomerate) – and the distributors DBC and Publizon (the latter is owned by, drumroll please: Gyldendal and Lindhardt & Ringhof). (1)
As with paper books the lender gets the e-book on a 30-day loan and the e-book will be protected by DRM. The deal has been a long time coming, partly because the different participants had a hard time negotiating the pesky details, such as how much money the author’s and publishers would get per e-book download. And while it has received the seal of approval by the Danish Writer’s Association (DK: Dansk Forfatterforening, DFF), the deal has already conjured up quite a lot of criticism.

Who get’s to play?
One big aspect is the publishers: it is probably no surprise that the publishers involved in this deal are the hard-hitters of the business. Now, full disclosure, a great deal of publishers were asked to join in on the negotiations, many turned it down. These two publishers are effectively the only ones with enough power at the moment to sync money behind the project and simultaneously offer a vide array of titles which combined gives them pretty much the run of the place, publishing-wise. In a letter to an author, Gyldendal explains their reason for going into this partnership as such:

»E-books should be available where the reader is. But free reading via the libraries must at the same time not cannibalize the digital market we are in the process of establishing, where the author and publisher are dependent on the price of a book.« (2)

The fact that they are the only ones and so are representing the publishing area of the deal means they set the ground rules that other publishers will play by in later stages, not to the liking of said publishers. A deal of this magnitude, I feel, is something that should have been orchestrated at a level where governmental institutions were the initiators and deal-creators, to ensure that it doesn’t become about favoring one publishers demands over another, and also so that these publishers who are in on the deal can’t be held accountable for the points of the plan. Instead the management of the deal is done at a more local level – the previously mentioned six main libraries. And while it is true that Gyldendal and Lindhardt & Ringhof hold a majority of the titles that are being published in Denmark, they are not representative in nature of the Danish publishing industry. It therefore seems a bit off that they would call the shots in regards to what the lenders can or cannot lend at their local libraries. (3)

The money issue
Next up is the criticism that the loans will be to expensive for libraries – see article in Politiken about prices – although at DFF’s webpage it states that payment will be no more than that of a paper book with a calculation of approximately 40 loans per book. The Librarian Association does however think the model is too expensive.
The chairman of the Librarian Association, Pernille Drost, says to Bogmarkedet:

»The price is too high. The publishers justify the high price by saying that they don’t want to risk a drop in the purchase of paper books. But I think the high price means that many libraries will not have enough money to subscribe to the service, because the economy is just not there.« (4)

The setting of the price is done by a so-called staircase model, meaning the more the book is lent the lower the price of the book will be. Any and all books under 12 months start out with 18,50 DKK pr. lend pr. book. (5) It is then up to the libraries if they want to set limitations of number of loans pr. book, giving them the authority of decision locally. I would not feel comfortable proposing any other model at this point, but I do tend to see a great deal of critical points that will work rather excluding in regards to smaller and alternative publishers, and with the more and more diminishing chunk of money that goes to libraries I could see that local libraries would have no chance to offer their lenders the same service as other libraries. This last fact alone is very troubling to me, since the great tradition of public libraries is too important a service organ to be sucked into the power play of market wave-riding.

Looking with anticipation to future developments in this case.

(1): Toke Riis Ebbesen has written a very good entry about the news here (note: it is in Danish)
(2): The letter is in Danish and is available at DFF here.
(3): More on the deal by Søndag Aften here.
(4): Bogmarkedet interviews the chairman of the Librarian Association here.
(5): Angermann writes an entry calling for local deals in e-book lending – read it here.

…in Berlin

Books, paper and language course book

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, but I have had so much to do lately that I barely have had time to do my work, let alone anything extra curricular. But as the title would insinuate; I am in Berlin!!! This is the third week of my German Intensive course (out of four) and it is very hard, but I am starting to see very encouraging glimpses of hope in the horizon. It’s been so long since I have studied German grammar, and as those who try to learn it would agree with me, it is not really the easiest language to learn. The course is from 9 am to 3 pm every day (and then there are the Hausaufgaben), so I have little time to see the city – nonetheless, I make it a personal goal to see parts of Berlin every week, even if it is just a cup of coffee in a Kreuzberg café. Like they say, you can’t learn the language if you don’t use it in public (or I say…).
One of the lovely members of Beinglorious was in Berlin at the start of my course (for the umptheenth time :)) and we made a coffee date. She was very kind about my many uhh’s and aaahh’s and eeeeh’s, stuttering and butchering my way through sentences in German (she is German, just to clarify the situation), but I actually think it helped a lot – it’s only when you verbalise what you learn throughout the day in a stuffy classroom that you are aware of what you are saying and in what situation. We came past a second-hand bookshop and of course had to stop a couple of hours, browsing.

There was a lot of good literature in there, and I bought a couple of books, one of which was Ovid’s Love Books. We had a segment of his literature in one of the earliest semesters at uni. From what I can remember I found it very brazen, something I didn’t expect, and I am looking forward to reading it in German.

E-reader with Gertrude Stein as screensaver – what more could a gal ask for?

In other news, I am now the proud owner of my very own e-book reader!! Yessir, bobsky, hubby came to visit me in Berlin with a nice red packaged present containing an e-reader. He of all people can appreciate an affection for electronica, and so he thought it was only suitable, since I had been rambling on and off about e-readers the last 2 years, but never actually owned one, that I got one for myself 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read in it so much these days, but I am betting on it being the best 3-hour wait in the terminal and 1-hour flight back home ever! There are already over 500 books on it, so the only trouble I will have is to make up my mind which one to start on… Unfortunately, there is as of yet almost no literature in German on it. Where does one buy German literature for one’s e-reader?

Foer, Eggers, Schami and Tellkamp

Yesterday I went into town after uni (just to not go straight home and hit the books) and I of course ended up in a bookstore – endresult: 4 books, 2 postcards and a bookmark. Since I have become more aware of the massive (and in many cases, unnescessary) meat consumption, and Jonathan Safran Foer at the International Author’s Stage in Copenhagen made such an impact on me, I had to buy his book – I’ve heard it’s not that rah-rah, but then again, I could be surprised. And of course since I am in Germany I picked up Uwe Tellkamp’s ‘Der Turm’ that was much hypened in literary circles back home. Rafik Schami’s book I bought because I want to get some sort of feel for Germany’s Migrantenliteratur – not a lot of that going on in Denmark, apart from Manu Sareen’s children’s books, and a couple of short stories in the 2007 Anthology of Forfatterskolen, I am having trouble coming up with what else is there, so I am speculating that it really is a blank spot in Danish literature. The last one I bought is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. It is set in Bush-era and Hurricane Katrina time, and it questions the political and social structure of the US, when a Syrian-American man is arrested and held imprisoned for 23 days without proper legal process in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans.
Anywhoo, enough of this, I am going to do some weekend sightseeing: stops along the way include Marga Schöllers Bücherstube, Käthe Kollowitz Museum, Zara (not really a sightseeing/cultural point, but if I come across one, I go into one), Dalí at Potsdamer Platz and, if I have time, a quick stop at the 15. Internationale Berliner Bierfestival on Karl-Marx-Allee.

If I had an iPad and a kid

When it comes to literature in digital media there is a lot going on – and especially for kids the playing field is fascinating. But that should come as no surprise since kids really are like sponges and much of the technology seems to be very intuitively adapted for point and play mode. YouTube has been overflowed with different kids playing iPads * taken and encouraged by proud parents (mostly dads) – and it is quite fascinating to see how quickly they pick up on the choices at hand, but I will not dare try to go into the debate on the cognitive benefits and learning curves. Suffice to say that the interactive literature the technology enables often seems to be targeted at children and young adults. Maybe it’s because the combination of reading with the rest of your sensory system is often thought of as a pedagogical tool for learning and when you are an adult the ideology becomes that you read not to learn but to reaffirm or contest what you have previously learned.
My latest encounter with interactive fiction is the wonderful world of Mr. Morris Lessmore (alas, only second-hand, as I have no iPad). I would love to hear from others who have actually tried it, from what I can gather it seems quite interesting.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is a short film and app by Moonbot Studios (although of course, the film is only available in US iTunes godblastit) and created through a combination of stop motion, 2D and miniature. Just like other narrated apps Morris Lessmore gives you different possibilities to explore like repairing books and flying through a world of words etc. It is literature in game play – however, the Morris Lessmore website says it ‘reinvents digital storytelling’, which I would call a smart-ass sales pitch, because from what I can gather the app stands on the shoulders of and joins in on the same track as other lit-apps before them. Think of “Alice in Wonderland” for example, restricted as it may have been in relation to Morris Lessmore, but still, reinvention is a big word.

And “Heart and the Bottle”, which seems to have gone in the same direction. Children’s literature publishers with a little money on the side and a tech-team must be having a literary orgasm at the new possibilities for increased revenues, since they now have the ability to take back some of the audience that was swiped away with TV and the internet.
The point I am trying to make with regards to literature is that full-blown creativity in play with the electronic devices seems much more fun and acceptable when you are working with children’s literature. There is the glorified goal of literacy ahead when it comes to kids, but what about adults? One need only think of the grown up solution, which is the e-book: talk about snoozefest. But when you think about it, there really is a world of possibilities for adult literature. In lieu of physical dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and notebooks you can combine all those things with image, video and audio supplements and make reading a multi-sensory event, just as one was used to as a kid. It’s not reading for slow learners or laziness – its common sense that incorporating several senses when taking in new information helps with the comprehension of said information. It’s sort of egomaniacal to think that all the required knowledge of a topic can be found in one book. Instead you could take informed reading to a whole new level. Is it very far off to read say Oksanen’s Purgeand get the historical background to Estonia, and its relationship to Soviet Russia, as well as extra material like interviews with Oksanen, an audio track to the Estonian and Russian words that the novel is laced with, and other information that could attach the narrative to the world and current events?

Some time ago I saw IDEO’s innovation video called “Future of the Book”, where they have ‘created’ three scenarios for the digital book: Nelson, Coupland and Alice. Three ways of gathering, reading and using information, literature etc. And I really hope that author’s as well as agents, publishers and sellers will embrace the idea of broadening the field of literature, so that the e-book can be supplemented with other tactile experiments and possibilities. I know a lot of people who deal with literature are cautious when it comes to all the gadgety tools that are moving in on their turf, many of whom don’t want literature to lose its elevated state and become one of many consumer product to the masses. But if you think about one or two of literature’s maxims ‘to make new’ or ‘to inform’, i.e. to push people’s boundaries of the already known, one would think that the implementation of other art forms and tools would be welcomed. I think it would be exciting to read a novel or poetry that did not solely rely on the normative style of reading but dared include other ways of telling narratives. A sort of fusion art. And instead of scaring off the literati with rallying cries that mark ‘the death of the book’, ‘dumbing down the contemporary readership’, and introducing ‘zapper cultures’, maybe we should let a little of our inquisitive nature take hold and explore new options for literature. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a stagnant art is a dead art… or did somebody else say that?

* And other electronic devices, I’m sorry for singling out the iPad, it’s not the only choice out there.

Electronic, conceptual, visual, concrete, structural literature, literature, literature

Last week another semester started at uni, and this time I will be delving into the vast field of literature as more than just the piece of text inside a book. On Thursday we were introduced to the semester plan and the curriculum with bonus literature.
The course is really fascinating. When I first read the course description I didn’t really know what to expect, and only had a vague idea of what the “expanded field” of literature covers. I have talked about the e-book before on my blog, but more as a concrete tool for reading a piece of text without anything extra to it, or introducing the possibilities that come with an electronic book. The e-book has spawned new directions for literature and at the same time reintroduced the book as physical form and an integral part of the context where no text can stand alone.

Shadows never sleep

One take on the e-text is taking advantage of the multi-touch function of smartphones or tablets. Aya Karpinska has created a children’s story, a so-called zoom-narrative, where you use the zoom function to maneuver around in the story. It’s an app that can be downloaded to your iPhone, and there you can explore and create your own paths through the narrative. The story is called Shadows Never Sleep and there is also a demo video.


Tree of codes by Jonathan Safran Foer (photo from Visual Editions)

In the physical realm there are creations such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book, Tree of Codes, which combines the visual and the tactile with the cognitive. There is more than continuous text on page after page after page. What he’s done is he has taken a novel by Bruno Schulz and made his own story out of the already-existing words by cutting chunks out of the “original” and the pages therefore are fragmented. It is a piece of text that is much more, that takes into account its physical presence.

Cue hypertexts and the children of the digital age, children in a way that you get to play with the internet, try its boundaries and piss people off by not abiding to rules and regulations. Today (and I have like 143 tabs open, my computer is ready to give up, and I don’t have enough time in the day to read all of them, so I am on a continuous journey that takes me longer and deeper into different corners of literature+art+internet) I found Jane Wong/Joe Davis with Ways to carry you, and Jason Ockert/Mattias Dittrich Shirtless Others. I will not say to much about it, except invite you to try it, see what you think. And then there is Kenneth Goldsmith’s Soliloquy, which is an unedited transcription of everything Goldsmith uttered in one week of his life. It’s quite funny to browse through.

UPDATE: I keep finding new stuff, but this last one is so good I have to make an update and include it: it’s Seoul based web-art group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. They make text animations with funky music, you have to check it out. I stumbled onto Dakota (a reading of Ezra Pound’s Canto I & II), which is linked here, and a transcription here, but there is much more if you go to the mainpage:

I picked these (sorry) almost at random, just as an introduction to the vast amount that is just lying out there, and all my tabs are waiting, nay pining, for me to explore them (as I assume, of course, my tabs have emotions resembling that of humans, and not, as I heard at a party, fish, who have no feelings and thus can be eat by vegetarians, over and out).