September 29, 2008

Cambridge University Press Pulls the Plug on Novelist Robert Coover

by Scott Rettberg · , 12:33 pm

Many GTA readers had a chance to view the video of Robert Coover’s excellent keynote talk from the Electronic Literature in Europe Conference, “A History of the Future of Narrative.” It is an important talk of interest both to specialists in electronic literature and to a general audience of readers interested in how contemporary technology is affecting contemporary literature. Unfortunately we have had to pull the plug, at least for the time being. The publishers of the volume “The Cambridge University Press History of the American Novel,” in which the essay will be published, have elected to deny the author permissions to allow any portion of his essay to be openly distributed, even in video form. I offered to include information about the book and the Press on the page where the video is hosted, and to provide the Press with a copy of the video for their own promotional use free of charge, but it seems that Cambridge University Press is resistant to the idea of readers being exposed to this chapter of the volume in any forum or format other than their own. The irony, of course, is that many readers might have been inclined, after watching the video, to buy the book once it is published, while those who care about the free and open exchange of academic discourse will now be more likely to avoid Cambridge University Press altogether than to support it by buying their books. One hopes that they will come to some resolution that will allow the author to read his own work outside the pages of their book and to enable the talk to be publicly distributed in new media formats, but Coover’s might simply be a voice silenced by the curmudgeonly and proprietary practices of an academic press more accustomed to the ways of the 19th Century than those of the 21st.

Update: After discussions with Coover and his agent, the publishers at Cambridge University Press have reconsidered their original position and will allow the video to circulate freely.

7 Responses to “Cambridge University Press Pulls the Plug on Novelist Robert Coover”


  1. hanna Says:

    Wow. That’s depressing. (And embarassing for those of us at the University of Cambridge who strongly support and encourage free and open exchange of information.)

  2. Trevor Says:

    Very disappointing. I might understand if they didn’t want the text to appear anywhere else, but *video*? What, is it still 1908 in Cambridge?

  3. Horatiorama Says:

    It’s a shame, really. (The CUP used to be so kind when it came to licensing to non-profit projects. What’s happened?) I don’t get their point though. What do they want (Most of the active GTA readers have already watched the video in the meantime.)? Do they offer an audiobook? As a scholarly book everybody would go for the printed text anyway…

  4. Jeff Crouse Says:

    Aaaah crap. I had that video starred and was really looking forward to watching it when I had a chance. Now it’s gone forever.

  5. Bruce Boyden Says:

    What an odd position for CUP to take. It doesn’t seem to make sense even from a perspective of protecting their ability to make money from the book. Free advertising is bad? A video cannibalizes the book market? Weird.

  6. Mark J. Nelson Says:

    Seems a bit odd—academic publishers are in most cases getting more wary of directly taking on their authors, since their PR case mainly rests on a claim to be best representing the interests of authors. I know most computer-science publishers agree to let authors “self-archive” copies of their papers as PDFs on their personal websites, because the only other alternative, absent authors willingly taking them down, is to actually sue the authors for violating copyright in their own work (obviously not a good PR move).

    I’m guessing even in this case they’re only prevailing because you’re agreeing to take it down. If you called their bluff, would they actually sue Grand Text Auto? I’d guess no. And even if they did, who would they actually sue? The immediately responsible party, the one hosting the servers, is the State of California, which is immune from US copyright suits, and probably hard to enforce a judgment against in a UK copyright suit.

  7. Scott Rettberg Says:

    Good news — I just got word that Cambridge has reconsidered and will allow the video to circulate freely. Just going over to lift the restrictions now.

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