Friday, January 04, 2013

When your publisher makes itself your co-author

In a recent school reader, American historian Jim Loewen had some thoughtful analysis to offer, based on his scholarly expertise in the historiography of slavery and the American Civil War.  His publisher decided it preferred its own version of history.
"Nevertheless, Zinn derides Lincoln's views on slavery," I went on to note [...]
The foregoing was too much for HarperCollins. Instead of publishing what I wrote, they wrote and published this: "What's more, Zinn questions Lincoln's views on slavery." [further rewriting follows]
The changes are subtle but substantive. "What's more" puts me on Zinn's side when he questioned Lincoln. I was not.
At HNN, Loewen calls out his publisher for putting him in a situation where he finds himself "in print -- and in hard copy, not an ever-changing on-line edition -- praising Howard Zinn for something he did not write."  Getting published turns out to do damage to his scholarly integrity.

Loewen says nothing about the copyright status of his work for HarperCollins. But much education publishing, particularly by the big American (and American-owned) publishers but also by university presses, now assumes as standard a transfer of copyright from the author to the publisher. Publishers get away with this because regrettably few academics are willing to stand up for their rights -- or even understand what is at stake in ceding copyright and waiving their moral rights. With university employers doubling down on integrating piracy into their standard operating procedures, it probably will not get better.