Feminism is for Everybody: Copyright Tangent

Happy 2012!

2011 on this blog was dominated by the Year of Feminist Classics; this makes sense, since it was a big part of my decision to start a blog in the first place. I’ve enjoyed it very much, and this year, I’ll be participating in the second Year of Feminist Classics. I’m really excited about the upcoming reading list, especially Whipping Girl, Borderlands, and also Jane Eyre, which I haven’t read for years and which I really need to revisit for several reasons. So, if you want to know what I think about books on that list, you’re definitely in the right place, especially if you are patient.
Last year, I wasn’t very punctual about getting the entries up; this year, I’ll try to be a little better about it. With any luck, this will let me engage more with the discussions going on around the books!

The February book this year is Feminism is for Everybody, by bell hooks, which takes the reader carefully and gently through the history and the major aims of feminism, never shying away from the controversies within it. It’s kind of odd, I know, but let’s start at the very beginning, with the copyright notice (I promise I am going somewhere with this):

Any properly footnoted quotation of up to 500 sequential words may be used without permission, as long as the total number of words quoted does not exceed 2,000. For longer quotations or a greater number of total words, please write to the South End Press for permission. (iv)

I felt a little troubled when I read this, because I was thinking of the sort of thing I do here: writing about a book and frequently pulling out quotations to illustrate my points. Notices like this one bother me in that context, because I rely on fair use for quoting works here. Fair use does not rely on permission from the copyright holder and is based on an analysis of the four factors*, rather than a strict word count, and I initially read this as a misconception of a type that I find very frustrating, because as a librarian, I’m pretty deeply invested in the notion that we need to vigorously exercise our fair use rights in order to keep them. It’s even worse given the mission of the book, to spread information about feminism to everyone!

But then I actually started reading the book, and it suddenly made more sense. It’s a short book, in simple language, which addresses different aspects of feminism in short chapters that can stand almost on their own. They have titles like “Feminist Class Struggle,” “Women at Work,” “Ending Violence” and so on. They are models of clarity and uncompromising at the same time. As I was reading, I just wanted to take them and give them to people. Here, I wanted to say, this explains everything. So I’m hoping that this copyright notice is not intended to place a limit on fair use, and that instead, it’s allowing other uses that wouldn’t necessarily fall under fair use, like, I don’t know, copying a paragraph and leaving it around on a table for people to pick up. (And now I kind of hope someone has done that!) I don’t know if that is really true, but it’s what I hope.

I have more substantial thoughts about this book, which is quite a remarkable one, but I don’t want them to be overshadowed by this technical concern, so another post is on its way.

*The amount of the work used, the purpose of the use, the nature of the work, and the economic effects of the use.

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