Tag Archives: postaweek

“Really really Canadian”

Many thanks to Bruce Sterling and Wired for the kind word about my article on copyright, Canadian science fiction, and social media.

Some pretty good stuff here, even if it’s, uh, really really Canadian.

I’ll take “really really Canadian” as a compliment. (Would there by any other way for a Canadian to take it?)
Not sure why WordPress waited four years to notify me about this particular pingback, but better late than never.

New article on copyright and literary production in the Romantic period

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), prose centonist

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), prose centonist

My article in the new issue of English Studies in Canada brings some historical perspective to the copyfight, and suggests some precedents for fair dealing in the work of Romantic writers usually identified as exemplars of originality: William Hazlitt and William Wordsworth. The article focuses on the curious case of the cento – a genre of poetry made from quoted lines of other poems – and its various uses in literary production during the Romantic period. This was a very interesting period for copyright: neither before nor since has the term of copyright protection been as brief, and arguably as accommodating (to users and writers), as it was from 1774 to 1842. The article belongs to a special section in this issue of ESC on Romantic and Regency authorship, featuring some exciting new work on the period’s print culture – and its implications for cultural production and copyright today.

“The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright.” English Studies in Canada 38.2 (2012): 71-101. [Published June 2013]
Published journal version (for readers with university library access)
Open Access version (for readers without university library access)

Abstract: This article excavates the obscure literary genre of the cento – a genre of poetry defined by its wholly derivative composition from quotations of other works – and its supplementary relation to Romantic literature and the period’s transformations of copyright regulation. The cento’s Romantic reworkings position this genre as a precedent for later appropriation art, especially digital culture’s sampling and remix practices. Specific uses of the cento form by the essayist William Hazlitt and the poet William Wordsworth suggest precedents in the period’s culture of literary production for fair dealing, the “user’s right” to the limited appropriation of copyrighted works that has more recently become ensconced in copyright law. By investigating the place of the cento in Romantic literary production, this study argues for the importance of fair dealing to both creative and critical forms of writing, and contributes historical context to the present-day “copyfight.”

The Open Access version of “The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright” is made available with the author’s grateful acknowledgement of English Studies in Canada for the original publication of the article.


The U of A Faculty of Arts blog supports and quotes from the AU Faculty Association’s stand on the Alberta Enterprise & Advanced Education Ministry’s  controversial “Letters of Expectation”:

“We should take their letter to heart.

“Its single most powerful sentence about the Government’s letter:

“‘The Letter, ultimately, is best understood as an attempt to justify the unjustifiable cut to the province’s postsecondary budget, a cut so deep – and made in one of the world’s richest jurisdictions – that it must be understood primarily as political, not financial.’

“The little university that could! Can we follow their lead?”


Access Copyright sues York U over fair dealing policy

Access Copyright – the photocopy royalty-collecting society that has gradually morphed into a lobbying-and-lawsuit engine – continues its misadventures in litigation this week with  a lawsuit against York University over the institution’s fair dealing policy.

For preliminary expert analysis on the developing situation, see Howard Knopf’s blog post, and Michael Geist’s post on the legal action:

Access Copyright has decided to fight the law – along with governments, educational institutions, teachers, librarians, and taxpayers … it has filed a lawsuit against York University over its fair dealing guidelines, which are similar to those adopted by educational institutions across the country. While the lawsuit has yet to be posted online, the Access Copyright release suggests that the suit is not alleging specific instances of infringement, but rather takes issue with guidelines it says are “arbitrary and unsupported” and that “authorize and encourage copying that is not supported by the law.”

Read Access Copyright’s Statement of Claim against York University here.

Stakeholders in copyright and Canadian education are questioning the timing of the action, and the targeting of York, seeing the action as – variously – a test, as a fishing expedition, and/or as an intimidation tactic to chill the more robust and eminently lawful approach to fair dealing that is taking hold across Canadian schools and campuses. It may be too soon to forecast a decision, but the recent case law history and the now-amended copyright legislation (which explicitly provides for educational fair dealing) are both decidedly in York’s favour. The “quintet” of Supreme Court copyright cases that were decided last summer – cases that included Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright) – have helped to restore some balance to Canadian copyright law in favour of users (for a welcome change), and, in the process, have made the legal climate very inhospitable to actions like the one Access Copyright is now pursuing.

One has to wonder whether all the money Access Copyright spends on legal expenses wouldn’t be better reallocated to its core business: remunerating writers.

Adventures in Academic Advertising

Mirrlees_GEMI recently had the pleasure of providing a short promotional blurb for a colleague’s new book: Tanner Mirrlees’ Global Entertainment Media: Between Cultural Imperialism and Cultural Globalization (Routledge, 2013). It was interesting to observe the difference between what I supplied, and what they ended up using.

Here’s what I sent:

Comprehensive and tactically plain-spoken, Dr. Mirrlees’ cultural-economic study maps out the complex networks of production, consumption, and regulation that structure today’s culture industry, and offers a key for unlocking its meanings and functions in a neoliberal age dominated by neo-imperial corporations. In the process, this teachable text provides a primer – ideal for undergraduates – on key “macro” concepts in media and cultural studies, like discourse, globalization, intellectual property, and postcolonialism.

Here’s what they ran:

This teachable text provides a primer—ideal for undergraduates—on key ‘macro’ concepts in media and cultural studies, like discourse, globalization, intellectual property, and postcolonialism.

I’m not criticizing anybody, I just think the difference is interesting. (Also – note to self: you’re wordy!) And they ran the extended original on the book’s webpage. Publishers’ advertising and promotion people need a pretty free hand to work with what’s given: advertising is their expertise, it is so not mine. I just like contemplating the specific editorial moves involved here, and how they work to shift units, in this case an academic book.

And of course, Mirrlees’ book is very good, especially for its demystifying treatment of intellectual property, and its elaboration of theories of cultural imperialism.

Open letter: objection to Bill C-56, and to Canada considering ACTA ratification

To: The Hon. Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry minister.industry@ic.gc.ca
Subject: objection to Bill C-56, and to Canada considering ACTA ratification

Honourable Minister Paradis,

I am writing, as a copyright policy researcher, to object to the government’s introduction of Bill C-56, which would position Canada to ratify ACTA: a trade agreement that has been roundly rejected by jurisdictions around the world (like the EU), partly for harbouring disastrous copyright policies like those of the failed American SOPA and PIPA bills. By enabling Canada to ratify ACTA, Bill C-56 would thus lead to the partial undoing of the government’s own recently passed copyright legislation in Bill C-11 – which has made important gains for Canadians, towards better balanced copyright.

Bill C-56 is politically toxic, a shameless cave-in to US lobbying, and a flagrant waste of taxpayers’ money.

For further reading on Bill C-56 and the apparently unkillable ACTA:

Arellano, Nestor. “Will Bill C-56 resurrect ACTA?” IT World Canada 7 Mar. 2013.
Bradbury, Danny. “Canadian Bill C-56 raises spectre of ISP ‘copyright police’.” MS Geektown 6 Mar. 2013.
Geist, Michael. “NDP calls it: Bill C-56 is ‘ACTA through the back door’.” 6 Mar. 2013.
—. “What’s really behind Ottawa’s anti-counterfeiting bill.” Toronto Star 15 Mar. 2013.
Knopf, Howard. “Bill C-56: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water?” Excess Copyright 4 Mar. 2013.


This weekend I figured out the secret logic and magic of the Harlem Shake meme. It’s a meta-meme: a meme about memes. Harlem Shake: the recursive metameme. Starts with one weirdo in the corner, then abruptly millions freak out, & … Continue reading

Looking for pop culture representations of the oil sands

frame from Avatar (2009)

frame from Avatar (2009)

I’m working on a research paper about pop culture representations of the oil industry; I’m especially interested in Canadian works, and in representations of the Alberta oil sands. I have found a few great leads so far: Corb Lund’s peak oil ballad “Gettin down on the mountain”; James Cameron’s film Avatar.

If you know of pop culture texts, especially Canadian works, that refer to the oil industry – especially the oil sands – please leave a comment here (or e-mail me).

I’d be particularly grateful for references to pop music, theatre, TV, and science fiction works.

The research in progress is tentatively titled “Monster mines and pipelines: Frankenstein figures of fossil fuel technology,” and will be presented on March 4 at #AthaU’s inaugural Alberta Studies symposium, and again in June at Congress.

We watch things on the VCR. (Still.)

I set up this configuration earlier this week and it still weirds me out a bit, seeing the VHS output on the iMac screen.


The gear is Elgato EyeTV Hybrid, a hardware and software video capture package that translates the analogue video to the digital monitor. It’s received mixed reviews, and it’s too soon to endorse it here (the video did start to lag and get choppy during one screening). I needed to set this up to watch the 1919 silent film Back to God’s Country for a student’s research project; the only version I could source is a VHS tape produced by the National Archives. The film is a fascinating cultural artifact of silent-era Canadian filmmaking … now format-shifted thrice, dragging the ghosts of media past into the digital present, and reminding us of the precarity of cultural history in an economy of planned obsolescence.


Quoting Scripture to support organized labour

From the something-you-don’t-see-every-day files

Having recently read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and blogged about its images of corporate monstrosity, I have worked to identify some of the novel’s other related textual details and references. One reference has proven especially tricky to source – and especially rewarding. In the last scene in which Tom Joad appears, he talks with his Ma about his plans for the future. Tom hints at – but stops short of spelling out – his plans for organizing workers: “why we can’t do that all over. … All work together for our own thing – all farm our own lan’.” (536). Tom also reflects on the lapsed Reverend Casy, whose loss Tom laments, and from whose wisdom he works out his plans. Casy’s wisdom, throughout the novel, is consistently critical, and is crystallized in Tom’s recollection here, via a specific biblical allusion:

Tom went on, “He [Casy] spouted out some Scripture once, an’ it didn’ soun’ like no hell-fire Scripture. He tol’ it twicet, an’ I remember it. Says it’s from the Preacher.”
“How’s it go, Tom?”
“Goes, ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lif’ up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up.’ That’s part of her.”
“Go on,” Ma said. “Go on, Tom.”
“Jus’ a little bit more. ‘Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him, and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.'”
“An’ that’s Scripture?”
“Casy said it was. Called it the Preacher.” (535-36)

In this exchange, Steinbeck frames a resonant Biblical quotation in a curiously coded gesture: he doesn’t clearly cite the text’s source, he just alludes to it (who is “the Preacher”?); he also repeats this allusion, and has Ma doubt the veracity of the source: “An’ that’s Scripture?” The exchange invites – or provokes – the reader to identify the biblical excerpt in question, given here as if it were both common knowledge, via the folksy figure of “the Preacher,” and hidden wisdom: “that’s Scripture?”

It is Scripture, of course, quoted almost verbatim from the King James version of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes: chapter 4, verses 9 to 12. Chapter 4 is a short chapter of meditations on work and hubris, humility and cooperation – and it opens with this suggestive contextualization: “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun.” According to the way verses 4-9 are placed and discussed in the novel, Steinbeck makes it abundantly clear who the oppressors are.

Language: what's got you covered

Language: what’s got you covered

So in this passage we encounter one of the most popular and widely taught American novels quoting Scripture to support organized labour, thereby suggesting labour’s legitimacy in Christian teaching and theology. Perhaps symptomatically, a Google search for biblical allusions and quotations in The Grapes of Wrath nowhere includes this rather remarkable detail. (I don’t think it made it into the 1940 film adaptation, either.) I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a conspiracy – and there is no doubt an extensive research literature documenting the novel’s biblical intertexts – but the omission of this detail (which is important for the novel not only thematically but structurally) from readily available public Internet sources does seem a conspicuous absence.

I should add, too, that – as everybody knows – Scripture is promiscuously available to furnish quotations that support or condemn any number of social practices, as dramatized in a scene from the West Wing TV series that has gone viral. It may simply be valuable to recognize here a biblical passage that features significantly in a canonical American novel, and that lends organized labour some authoritative cultural support from an unexpected quarter, in the plain truth it speaks about the social and economic benefits of organizing, which economic studies confirm and which working people everywhere can recognize.

Works Cited
The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath (1939). New York: Penguin, 1976.