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Rhetorical gestures I don’t understand

I read. I read a lot. Like many modern readers, I find that much of my reading is on what I like to call the Interweb [1,2]. Now, I don’t spend much, if any, time on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook or GrinnellPlans. Rather, I tend to read articles that appear in one of the too many mailing lists I receive or that I find when visiting sites for articles of interest [4]. Almost every day, an article from Chronicle of Higher Education or one of its offshoots catches my eye. And, because it’s the Interweb, I often find myself in the rabbit warrens that stem from the various links in articles [5].

In any case, yesterday I was reading an article by Kelli Marshall entitled When Your Scholarship Goes to Court. The article, which explores some issues pertaining to a lawsuit regarding an anthology of interviews with Gene Kelly that Marshall was working on, touches on many topics that I like to read and think about, including Academia, intellectual property, and the American musical [6].

It’s a frustrating story. Young Academician, passionate about Gene Kelly, starts putting together a collection of interviews with Kelly (primarily as director) as part of a University Press of Mississipi series on filmmakers [8]. She’s working on gathering permission for interviews when she and the press become the subject of a lawsuit by Kelly’s widow claiming that she owns the copyright on all of Kelly’s interviews.

That is, of course, both an interesting and a problematic claim. Why is it interesting? Because we could debate the IP claims for an interview. Interviews typically involve at least two people, which might suggest that joint copyright is necessary. However, the copyright to most published interviews is often assigned to the publisher [9] or the interviewer. At the same time, it’s arguable that recording the interview places it in fixed form so copyright should be assigned then.

The claim is problematic because, like copyrights on sporting events [10], it is not clear that copyright on interviews serves the purpose for which copyrights were intended: to promote the progress of science and useful arts [11]. The claim is even more problematic in that most instances, the interviewers or their publishers had already claimed copyrights in the interviews. In any case, a full discussion of copyright issues as they pertain to interviews is beyond the scope of this essay.

So, other than summarizing the first few paragraphs of Marshall’s essay and encouraging you to read that essay, what did I hope to achieve in writing this piece? Don’t worry! I’m not done yet. You may recall that I noted that I tend to follow the links in articles. Marshall’s essay led me to reflect a bit on the roles of such links, at least in her essay.

One early link appears in the following note.

[I]n his 2004 essay, The Economic Challenges to Anthologies, Cary Nelson recalls his involvement with Robert Frost’s publisher.

That link leads not to the essay by Nelson, but instead to the Google Books page for an anthology that contains the Nelson piece. I was upset at first and thought that Marshall was following what sometimes seems like the Chronicle’s useless links house style [12]. However, once my brain kicked in, I realized that I could search within the Google Books page and read from there [14].

Marshall also wrote about another lawsuit.

In short, I assumed a normal life. But — to borrow the words of a grad student sued for copyright infringement by the H.R.R. Tolkien estate — the lawsuit consumed my life; it was all I could think about.

We’ll ignore the H/J transposition in Tolkien’s [15] name for now, and consider that linked article. It begins as follows.

No one who gets a postgraduate degree in Hobbit Studies ever imagines they’ll be sued by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. […] As anyone who’s read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings knows, both it and The Hobbit are Tolkien’s translations from the so-called Red Book of Westmarch, an ancient manuscript written in Late Vulgar Adûni. How Tolkien came to possess the Red Book is a mystery, and the Tolkien Estate has never allowed other scholars access to it.

That felt fishy, to say the least. So I did a Web search for Red Book of Westmarch. Google summarized Wikipedia as follows.

The Red Book of Westmarch (sometimes Red Book of the Periannath, and The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings, also known as the Thain’s Book after its principal version) is a fictional manuscript written by hobbits, a conceit of author J. R. R. Tolkien to explain the source of his fantasy writings.

Yeah, it’s pretty clear that the Tolkien article was a parody, and a funny one at that [17]. But I did a bit more searching just to be sure. And look! There’s an article by the author in which he talks about writing the satire.

So then I was left wondering: Why did Marshall reference a parody? Presumably, someone proofread her article, which suggests that the link was intentional. Did she not understand that the article was a parody? She seems pretty damn smart, so that’s unlikely. Is her article itself a parody? It doesn’t appear to be. If so, it’s a sophisticated one; I could find a lot about the Kelly case on the Interweb. Did she want us to read the linked article because it’s so damn funny? Possibly; it’s certainly a fun article. Is it so rare that academics are sued that it’s the only relevant piece that she could find? Doubtful. I’m pretty sure that Chronicle regularly features articles on books that are in legal or copyright trouble. Wasn’t there a whole hullabaloo about a Salinger biography, or was that some other reclusive author?

I then did what any normal inquisitive person [19] would do. I posted a comment at the end.

It’s sad that estates can get in the way of serious scholarship. I appreciate he [20] useful information you provided in this essay. However, it looks like the Tolkien suit you linked was a parody article. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of that.

I didn’t hear back. After a day or so had passed, I decided that my comment was a bit trollish [21], so I removed the comment. Tonight, as I was writing this essay, I went back to the essay to copy some text. Lo and behold, Marshall had changed one sentence.

But — to borrow the words of a fictional grad student who, in a piece of satire (thanks to a reader for pointing this out), was sued for copyright infringement by the J.R.R. Tolkien estate — the lawsuit consumed my life; it was all I could think about.

That change effectively answers my question, although not in a way I had hoped.. I wish that the case had been that she she had made a subtle rhetorical move, one from which I could have learned. Oh well, at least from now on my brain will conflate [22] J.R.R. Tolkien with H.R. Pufnstuf [23]. There’s a short story in there somewhere, with a magical talking flute to rule them all, or something like that.

[1] Or InterWeb.

[2] Why Interweb and not Internet or World-Wide Web or their variants internet [3] and World Wide Web or Web? Well, the Internet is a particular network of networks, and it does more than provide reading material. The World-Wide Web is an application that tends to run on top of the Internet. While most of the information I get comes from the Web, some comes from sites that use other protocols. Hence, Interweb is my reasonable compromise.

[3] It makes me incredibly happy that Grammarly thinks that internet should be spelled Internet, in spite of the Associated Press’s nonsensical decision to use internet.

[4] I read the New York Times on my cell phone. When I’m on my computer, I sometimes visit Ars Technica. I’m increasingly finding that I turn to TechDirt, but that I then get stuck for too long on there.

[5] Given my meanderings in these endnotes, I’m sure that you understand how much I meander through the World-Wide Warren.

[6] I loved my film classes. I particularly loved my class with Gerald Mast on the American musical. I’m sure that I have my Ethan Mordden texts around somewhere. Plus, I showed Michelle Singing in the Rain on our first date [7].

[7] One of the advantages of working for Doc Films and taking a lot of film classes was that I had access to the UofC film library and viewing room.

[8] When did film makers become filmmakers? I’m staying away from that rabbit hole for now.

[9] An interview could be a type of work for hire.

[10] Those make no sense to me.

[11] Well, at least in the U.S. Why is it that the constitutional literalists don’t appear to remember that part of the constitution?

[12] Just this morning, a link in a Chronicle message led to a private Twitter feed.

[14] The ability to read in the Google Book’s page for the book raises additional copyright questions, questions which I will not consider in this essay.

[15] I keep spelling his name Tolkein rather than Tolkien. Isn’t the rule i before e except after k? [16]

[16] It’s not c; otherwise, we would spell science as sceince.

[17] I’d recommend it. I particularly appreciate that the Reg [18] plays a role in the story.

[18] Pronounced with a hard g. Short for Regenstein.

[19] troll?

[20] Whoops! Maybe I should be writing about pots and kettles now. However, the pot and kettle saying feels vaguely racist.

[21] It did not help that the only other person to comment called her to court, as it were, for not going ahead with the anthology.

[22] My spell checker did not like conflate. At least it didn’t suggest cornflake as an option.

[23] He’s your friend when things get rough.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-28.