We ask you to join us in defending a vital issue of freedom of expression that we confronted while documenting one of the most visible and least studied dimensions of press coverage in the contemporary United States, which is of contemporary importance around the world.
Our book, Making Health Public, rethinks the nature of news coverage of health. Health news is commonly assumed to emerge as health journalists transmit biomedical knowledge "downward" to lay audiences who lack it. We argue that health news is much more important and interesting, that health journalists play key roles in mediating among a wide range of actors, interests, and forms of knowledge that contend over health, illness, and how we should understand them as public concerns. We explore how health news and cultural understandings of health and medicine are co-produced by journalists, biomedical professionals, public relations professionals, public officials, lay activists and others, not just in newsrooms but in laboratories, hospitals, and public health offices. We explore, among other cases, the mediatization of Ebola and H1N1 ("swine flu"), news coverage of pharmaceutical and biotech corporations, and representations of race and ethnicity.
Completing the book manuscript after 12 years of work, we ran into a problem. Our book is a work of media criticism, and much of it relies on close readings of media texts. We frequently quote those texts in the book so readers can see the actual language used in health news. Our publisher, however, pressed us to obtain permission from these sources or cut out quotes. The issue came to a head with The New York Times, which insists that authors pay for the rights to quote anything over 50 words.
The Times' claim has no legal basis, and represents an arrogant rejection of the principle of fair use that is ironic for an organization that presents itself as a defender of freedom of expression. We reduced the size of a number of quotations, but in the end there were three from the Times we couldn't cut to 50 words without damaging the integrity of our scholarship. We ended up paying the Times' $1884 to reproduce three brief quotations totaling less than 300 words (the publisher said this represented a 20% discount on what the Times was originally asking). We could have paid this amount out of research funds from our University, but it seemed to us unethical to use taxpayer funds to subsidize a big media corporation and undermine a right that belongs to all scholars and the public in general. So we paid out of pocket (our advance on royalties for the book will be $800).
Rather than engage in an extended standoff with our publisher, we decided to raise the money through a crowdfunding campaign, and in this way to make a statement about the principle of fair use. Please contribute what you can; the principle is more important than the money, ultimately, and if you want to provide your name and a comment, we will send them on to the Times and to Routledge, our publisher.
Fair Use is a principle in copyright law that gives creators of new cultural and scholarly works the right to use copyrighted material without permission under certain circumstances. It plays a critical role in balancing intellectual property rights with freedom of expression. News media often take advantage of it, for example by using the right to reproduce brief excerpts of copyrighted works for purposes of review and criticism. The criteria for what constitutes fair use are general and flexible, and certainly include no fixed specifications about how many words of a copyrighted work are quoted. Those criteria include, most fundamentally, the principle that the new work uses copyrighted material in way that is transformative, that really makes a new contribution to knowledge and culture, and secondly that it is appropriate in kind and amount, using no more than is necessary to accomplish the purpose of creating the new work.
In our view, the three quotations we used from the Times, ranging in length from 69 to 102 words, are a textbook case of fair use, and they follow closely a set of guidelines for fair use in communication research prepared by the International Communication Association and the Program for Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University Law School. In each case, we comment extensively on the quotation in question. One quotation serves as the opening to an extended discussion of the news media's use of biomedical, lifestyle, and social frames for interpreting health problems. Two involve issues related to the representation of race and ethnicity in health coverage, a context in which we believe it would be irresponsible scholarship not to show readers the exact language used in sufficient context.
Risks and challenges
Our last remaining challenge has been the lack of respect of publishers and rights-holders for the basic principle of Fair Use; your funds help us to overcome it for our book, your voice helps to advocate for this right for all writers.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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