Defending Free Speech in Academic Publishing through Copyright and Fair Use

In this blog, scholarly communication librarian Charlotte Roh addresses copyright in publishing contracts for a better understanding of how fair use operates to extend free speech to criticize, comment, and report as one normally would in the course of academic writing.

Photo by LeAnn Meyer of The University of Kansas Libraries

For academics who are new to negotiating book contracts, one of the boilerplate items that you’ll find in the contract, and quite frequently the author guidelines, is a request from the publisher to make sure that you have the right to use other people’s (copyrighted) material in your work when you submit your manuscript. This often includes asking for permission from other authors and sometimes paying the copyright holder.

However, in many instances, asking for permission isn’t necessary. You already have the right to use copyrighted work in your scholarship – it’s built into copyright law itself, which exists, “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and  discoveries.”[1]

This is from the preamble, and note which clause came first in the mind of our founding fathers – to promote the progress of science and useful arts in our new country. Kyle Courtney, the Copyright Advisor for Harvard University, notes that copyright law, and the fair use doctrine in particular, works together with the first amendment that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or freedom or press” as a supplement to the Constitution, “to prevent our new government from becoming a tyranny…connected with the fundamental belief that open and informed discussion of current events promotes stability and the general security of the nation.”

I think we can all agree that the ability to report, comment, analyze, and teach is important, and depends on free speech. But it also depends on copyright law, because otherwise we would not be able to use the work of others while doing those very things. For example, Teen Vogue can screen capture and use tweets in order to report on the racism in the movie Ghost In the Shell, and I can screen capture that article from Teen Vogue in order to use it to make that educational point right here.[3]

Where is this ability to use other people’s works written in the law? Why don’t the reporters have to ask permission, or pay someone, as publishers sometimes ask authors to do? Well, it’s written into copyright law itself, and it’s called the fair use doctrine. Title 17, Section 107 of this law states:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

This is the very same law that allows you to use works in the classroom. But hold up! Why are publishers then insistent on getting permissions for work, and why are you told not to make copies of textbooks for classes?

One reason is to mitigate legal risk – nobody wants to get sued, and many publishers operate out of an abundance of caution. But several publishers, such as UC Press, MIT Press, and Duke University Press, actually support fair use. It does behoove you to meet the standards, however, in which case you should go through the four factors of fair use. I often refer people to this handy checklist put out by Columbia University:

To many people, this seems like too much work. It seems easier to ask permission than to have to rationalize what is fair use or not. But proponents of fair use will point to the music industry’s sampling market as an example of “use it or lose it.” Sampling from other musicians, musical quotation if you will, used to be free. But as profit and litigation grew, the market for sampling increased, triggering the fourth factor of fair use, that the use would not cause market harm.

What does this have to do with academics? What proponents of fair use do not want to see happen is something similar in the academic market, where you would have to license and pay for every quotation and excerpt.[4] In fact, scholars, lawyers, and librarians now celebrate Fair Use Week in order to raise awareness so that we don’t lose the right to challenge, criticize, correct, parody, and speak out. I think this is particularly important in this era of alternative facts and fake news, when so much of the research that we depend on seems to be in jeopardy.[5] So use your fair use rights! They’re important to academic freedom of speech.

About the Author:

Charlotte Roh is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of San Francisco Gleeson Library and has over a decade of experience in academic publishing and libraries at the University of Massachusetts, Oxford University Press, and Taylor and Francis. Her most recent publication, “Agents of Diversity and Social Justice: Librarians and Scholarly Communication” won the 2017 LPC Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Library Publishing.

If you’d like to learn more or have any questions about copyright, fair use, or academic publishing, please contact Charlotte Roh at the Gleeson Library croh2(at) See also the CRASE blog on Negotiating Book Contracts.

[1] Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ Preamble (2012)

[2] Courtney, Kyle. “Fair Use Fights Fascism: Some Fair Use Week Thoughts on the 1st Amendment & Fair Use” (February 2017)

[3] Elizabeth, De. “Ghost in the Shell’s Early Review Point Out Whitewashing” (March 2017) Teen Vogue.

[4] Particularly if you don’t have to! Federal publications are free to the public, and some things might be out of copyright, but unscrupulous bodies will still charge for them. Here’s a recent example, from a photographer who donated her work to the public but found that the Getty was charging for her photos:

[5] Schlanger, Zoë. “Rogue Scientists Race to Save Climate Data from Trump” WIRED (January 2017)

The Practice of Accountability in Ghana’s Poor Urban Neighborhoods

Professor Jeffrey Paller discusses how democracy and political accountability really works in urban Ghana, emphasizing the importance of daily practices and collective action.

Residents of some of Ghana’s poorest neighborhoods claim, “Housing is a human right.”

Rapid urbanization is changing the African continent. By 2050, the majority of Africans are expected to live in urban areas, up from 40 percent today. Cities improve access to healthcare and education, while presenting new challenges to sanitation, housing provision, and air quality. Residents come into contact with people from different ethnic, religious, and class groups at work and in their neighborhoods. These daily interactions have the potential to positively change attitudes and build new social contracts, but can also create conflict between diverse types of people competing over limited resources, space, and opportunities.

While the demographic, economic, and cultural shifts are potentially transformative, the pressure on urban land and space is an emerging and real challenge. Many of the future political struggles across the continent will take place in the urban neighborhoods of Africa’s rapidly growing cities. My research examines the impact of urbanization on democracy in Africa, and tries to understand how these political processes shape prospects of sustainable urban development. I’ve conducted most of my field research in Ghana, a country in West Africa.

The existing scholarship on African urban politics focuses primarily on formal institutions. These include elections, the rule of law, the police force, and state bureaucracies and planning agencies. A related scholarship examines how societal conditions like ethnicity and religion contribute to urban governance and political clientelism – the exchange of resources and favors for votes.

But after conducting ethnographic fieldwork, interviewing residents and leaders, and running an original household survey in some of Ghana’s poorest neighborhoods – often called slums or informal settlements – I uncovered a different story. I found that social practices that bring representatives and their constituents together in daily life provide the basis of democratic politics and political accountability.

Citizens engage in a variety of different social practices to hold their representatives to account, including appealing to their moral standing in daily activities like town hall meetings, nighttime chats, and house visits, as well as civic activism and street protests. Social gatherings like funerals, weddings, and festivals can also serve this purpose. I call these informal practices of accountability. I further theorize how daily interactions and power structures shape city- and national-level politics.

In-depth fieldwork helped me understand how social practices outside the official view – in the “hidden transcript,” as James Scott famously called it – shapes the political behavior of politicians, state bureaucrats, and traditional authorities. Paying close attention to this arena of politics also showed me that leaders gain power and authority by relying on informal norms and rules. For example, leaders are expected to act as friends, employers, parents, and religious leaders to their constituents. This provides one powerful explanation for why political clientelism persists despite the strengthening of liberal-democratic institutions.

Perhaps most importantly, I argue against conventional wisdom that democratic accountability does not emerge in poor, ethnically diverse, informal settlements. A dominant public and scholarly narrative is that African cities are “in crisis,” and that the urban population boom will damage prospects for sustainable development. This is because the majority of residents will live in unplanned and unsafe slums that lack secure property rights.

But political accountability and good governance can emerge in these unexpected places, as long as residents satisfy informal norms of settlement and belonging. Due to customary land tenure and historical settlement patterns, indigenous ethnic groups and migrant populations must reach a political bargain for a civic public to emerge and the needs and security of all residents to be fulfilled. The grassroots of community life determines the developmental success of a neighborhood, and the city as a whole.

As the United Nations declared several years ago: The future of Africa is urban. The political consequences of Africa’s rapid urbanization will shape the continent for years to come. These outcomes will play a major role in the democratic development of African governments, as well as the form that economic growth takes. A clearer picture of what takes place in daily life of these cities, as well as the power structures that keep the status quo in place or enable transformational change is a necessary starting point on the path toward sustainable urban development.

Jeffrey W. Paller is an Assistant Professor of Politics at University of San Francisco. He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Accountability in Unexpected Places: Democratic Practices in African Slums.

A Time to Break Silence: Resisting Islamophobia in the Trump Era

Professor Rhonda V. Magee speaking during the panel “Counteracting Anti-Muslim Discrimination in Connection with Other Targeted Communities”

On April 4, 2017, over 150 people attended A Time to Break Silence: Resisting Islamophobia in the Trump Era, a symposium that brought together USF students, faculty, and staff along with members from the community. More than 90 USF students attended. The event ​was inspired by ​the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” ​The interactive workshops​ ​connected ​the rise of Islamophobia with the increase in other forms of hate and discrimination against marginalized communities. This symposium was created and funded through the Interdisciplinary Action Grant sponsored by CRASE.

To start the event, Dr. Clarence Jones, inaugural Diversity Scholar Visiting Professor, connected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to current sociopolitical and cultural issues, especially as they relate to Islamophobia. During the workshops and panels, speakers drew connections between Islamophobia and undocumented students, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-Black Racism. Dr. Suzanne Barakat discussed her personal experience and the tragedy of Islamophobia in her keynote speech. Performances from comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh, spoken word artist Mohammed Bilal, Diana Kalaji, and the Lyricist Lounge closed the event.

Opening Remarks and Keynote by Dr. Clarence Jones

Dr. Suzanne Barakat’s Keynote Address

Artist Performances and Closing Comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh, Spoken Word Artist Mohammed Bilal, Diana Kalaji, and Rayan Mustafa.

See coverage from ABC7 News on Dr. Clarence Jones speech >

Research for Research’s Sake: The Value and Responsibility of Translating Research to Diverse Audiences

Desiree Zerquera, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, writes on the value and responsibility of translating research to diverse audiences. This post originally appeared on A Community of Higher Ed Scholars, the official blog of AERA Division J.

Desiree Zerquera, Assistant Professor in the School of Education

For the majority of us who identify as higher education scholars, we are in this field because through our own educational or professional experiences we saw problems in the way higher education is shaped and shapes others. We were called to scholarship as a way to examine these problems, find solutions and contribute to a vision of a better system of higher education. Our individual work is situated within the broader mission of the university, which has a commitment to serving the public good, achieved in large part through our research.

Traditional graduate school experience trains us to write for publication in academic journals, primarily read by academics. We are encouraged to present in the more prestigious conferences of our field, attended largely by other scholars. Further, the reward structures of academe value these types of contributions above all else. Despite efforts to resist these pressures, jobs need to be obtained, tenure and promotion need to be earned, and our value in the field needs to be recognized. Time being finite, these efforts come at the cost of other forms of engagement that speak to the very reason why we entered the field of higher education in the first place.

The problem, however, isn’t that we publish in academic journals and present at academic conferences. These are important spaces of knowledge dissemination. It is an invaluable part not just of academe but of our society as a whole—a space where ideas are shared and debated, where we can trace the contours of our collective imagination for how we see and address problems, and where research and scholarship can exist for the sake of their own existence.

The problem lies in the fact that much of the fruits of this knowledge gained stops within these spaces. Not everyone has access to these spaces, and not all voices are permitted to be amplified within them. As social scientists, we do not have the privilege to be so elitist so as to limit our knowledge to just one another.

There are a number of ways of translating our work for diverse audiences. Starting with the academic format we are socialized to communicate within as academics, journals and conferences that speak to policy- and practitioner-based audiences are valuable outlets. These spaces are important in fostering knowledge exchange around policy and practice. Just as important as the rigor reflected in our research are the ways we can utilize this work to inform change in our higher education system. Translation is needed to better connect our work to its own value within our respective fields. This can be a challenge, and require reshifting and reframing of our work, but we have an obligation to undertake this work.

Leveraging the public attention through blogs, op-eds, policy briefs, TED talks, keynote engagements, and social media are also promising and valuable ways of reaching broader audiences. Higher education scholars like Marybeth Gasman and Julian Vasquez Heilig often use these channels of influence to advocate for the higher education equity issues they research. This expands our audience reach to inform not just policy and practice, but also the public conscious around higher education.

As a field, we need to do more to develop and institute this value of translating our work. Faculty in higher education programs can incorporate assignments that have students write in various formats beyond just the traditional research paper. In my classroom, students read and write reports and op-eds. We workshop the process of discovering your voice to bridge ideas to public discourse. Further, faculty can also play a role in shaping reward systems. More value to these types of engagements needs to be added within the tenure and promotion (T&P) processes. Institutions like Loyola Marymount University have supplemented their traditional T&P requirements to account for public engagements as part of a measure of faculty’s contributions. Lastly, technology makes options like publicly-available webinars valuable outlets for communicating with administrative, practitioner and public audiences. The National Institute for Transformation and Equity (NITE) has embraced this through their Webcasts on Equity and Change (WOCE) series that brings together scholars and practitioners around relevant topics related to equity in higher education.

Being called to the work of higher education, our work cannot stop at just examining issues. We have the responsibility to communicate and engage with those who can put our research into action at the policy and practice level. Making our work more accessible and breaking down our complex ideas and higher education jargon is even more needed within our current anti-intellectual context that emphasizes 140-characters or less bits of information. As a field, we not only need to do better, but we have an obligation to do so to fulfill our commitment to contribute to improving higher education.