New World of Publishing: Intellectual Property, Journals, and the Web

Eileen Boris, February 2009

A decade ago, I became the coordinating editor of a small women’s studies journal just as its system of distribution through independent magazine bundlers collapsed. Five years ago, as the new president of the Board of Trustees of a scholarly journal, I faced another transformation in the organization of information: the shift to electronic aggregators as the source of publishing revenues. Already as a member of various university committees, I was grappling with evaluating electronic publication and the shift of library resources away from purchasing books. As an author, I was well aware of changes in permission forms that I regularly received, and too often failed to scrutinize, but these experiences as a journal editor, university citizen, and publisher raised issues that new modes of knowledge circulation are pushing to the forefront of our professional agenda.

With the growth of online distribution of scholarly work through nonprofit as well as for-profit aggregator distributors like Pro-Quest, Project Muse, History Cooperative, and JSTOR, with the fiscal crisis of university libraries, the development of the web, and the move to both open access and university ownership of the creative work of faculty, journal publishing is undergoing profound transformations. What do changes in distribution and the circulation of scholarship mean for authors as well as editors? How do recent decisions in the area of intellectual property law impact on copyright, reprint rights, classroom use, and permissions? What are we, as authors, signing away in permission to publish contracts? What forces do we as editors face? How are journals making use of the web? What is the responsibility of professional societies and how might our criteria and rules shift under these circumstances? Such questions have profound implications for not only the availability of scholarship but also the recognition of scholars and subsequent hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions.

At the 2008 meeting of the AHA, I organized a session co-sponsored by the Research Division and the Coordinating Council for Women in History to discuss these and related issues. It was Sunday morning but the room was packed. Panelists included David A. Johnson, editor of the Pacific Historical Review and president of the Conference on Historical Journals, and Joan Catapano, associate director and editor-in-chief of University of Illinois Press, as well as Michael Les Benedict, emeritus professor of history at Ohio State University and AHA parliamentarian, and Alice Kessler-Harris, the Hoxie Professor of American History at Columbia University and AHA Council member. Here we offer the revised presentations of Benedict and Kessler-Harris with the hope of continuing the conversation on the possibilities and perils of the new world of publishing.

—Eileen Boris is Hull Professor and Chair of the Department of Feminist Studies and professor of history, black studies, and law and society at the University of California at Santa Barbara.