Meeting Notes 3.13.09


Meeting Held by Conference Call, 9:30–11:15 a.m. Central Time

Meeting Summary

The Working Group of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute’s inaugural Poetry and New Media Project convened for the second time by phone on 3.13.09 to discuss meeting presentations and project values and to begin to articulate what documents the group should produce.

Presentations for Upcoming Meetings

The meeting opened with a discussion about possible presenters for the next few meetings. Lewis Hyde will present on best practices and fair use at the April 15 meeting in Boston. An Authors Guild representative will also be available, ideally in conversation with a Google representative. Boston-area people who have 1) publishing permissions experience, 2) publishing distribution experience, and 3) new-media poetry experience were mentioned as potential invitees. There was agreement that time should be allotted for a group viewing of poetry created solely in and for new media.

For the May conference call, the group decided to invite someone from the Copyright Alliance, a longtime New York publisher, an educator, and a librarian to speak. Members discussed issues relating to universities publishing student theses on the web, partially to counter plagiarism, in relation to a creative writing student’s potential future author rights; the group requested further information about this topic. Materials to be sent to the group within the next week include So Many Books (Zaid), new media poetics (Morris & Swiss, eds.), Electronic Literature (Hayles), handouts from the Center for Social Media, handouts from the Copyright Alliance, and the Authors Guild Fall 2008 Bulletin, which includes information about the Authors Guild v. Google settlement.

Project Focus

The group continued by discussing project parameters, particularly in relation to the intersection of copyright and fair use issues and access to poetry on new-media platforms. It was noted that these issues are so closely intertwined that it might be natural to address them in a connected way, perhaps with an overarching theme of access. The group could then work to address the legal questions as needed through the perspective of access. It was suggested that this group might work to unblock places where bottlenecks occur, both when poets create on and/or for new-media outlets as well as when traditional, paper-originated poems move onto media platforms. The group discussed working to provide practical outcomes that address social, economic, and legal matters relating to accessing poetry on new-media outlets, as opposed to discussing how poets create poetry for new media.

Project Values

The group reviewed draft project values, addressing issues such as 1) making poetry accessible, 2) honoring original texts if they are used in connection with a new work, 3) ensuring that something of value, perhaps but not necessarily money, is shared with poets and publishers if value is created through a new use, 4) recognizing that new-media platforms present opportunities as well as dangers for poetry, 5) balancing the ability to remix older works into new creations with retaining creative control over an original work, 6) balancing the interests of readers and others desiring access to poetry with a poet’s or publisher’s need to make a living, and 7) balancing the interests of those desiring to make poetry widely available with the interests of poets who may resist the commodification of poetry. The group noted that value might be created in ways other than exchanging permissions fees. Poets might receive value in both predictable and unpredictable ways from others crediting and/or recognizing their work; they may, for example, receive future speaking/work engagements and wider audiences for their work. While group members noted that a publisher might be able to gain value mainly through permissions fees, a publisher stated their belief that the attempt to limit access was always a mistake. The group agreed to keep the discussion of payment general for now, articulating the belief that poets and publishers should be paid when possible but declining to suggest an absolute principle that might prohibit new uses and creations of a poem when remuneration does not occur. The group decided to set aside issues relating to commodifying or marketing artworks for the purposes of this discussion.

The group agreed that widening access to poetry is generally more valuable over the long run than limiting it, even if this idea appears counterintuitive to ensuring that poets and publishers are paid for their work. In a conversation about how power plays out in relation to poems and their accessibility, group members expressed the concern that if the power to feature poems on new-media outlets were centralized among a few corporations or organizations, such centralization would likely lead to less diversity in available poems, not more. Instead, the group members felt that the opportunity to distribute poems on new media should be available to whomever would be willing to seek appropriate permission for use, to return value when possible if value is created, and to quote and credit accurately. The group noted the importance of literary allusion and satire to traditional literary culture, and suggested that such practices are enhanced and extended in the new-media environment through remixing, erasure, or parodies of existing work. The group noted that this might be desirable even if obtaining permission or paying fees to engage in such practices was not an option for the newer creator. The group agreed that the project outcomes need to be flexible enough to be enduring and accommodate future needs.

Documents and Practical Results

The group was in complete agreement that it wanted this project to create practical, usable tools for people working with poetry and new media. The group discussed potentially creating 1) best practices document(s), 2) a values document, 3) a set of links and resources for poets and publishers to learn about new media, copyright, and fair use, 4) model licenses for poets and publishers, and 5) a community to-do list.


The Poetry and New Media project’s working document reports and meeting summaries reflect a process to collect information, consider ideas and develop recommendations in preparation of a final report. Because the new media environment is ever-changing, some of the assumptions discussed early on became outdated or were seen as no longer relevant as process progressed and new information was considered. Thus, the materials presented here must be considered working, in-process documents which are provided only so that those interested in understanding the approach and interim discussions of the working groups can have a look inside those deliberations. As you read them, please consider them to represent an evolution of a free-flowing conversation about a timely topic and not as substitutes for the final report and the recommendations it contains.

The various views presented herein are not necessarily the views of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute or the Poetry Foundation. We look forward to sharing the working group’s final report in early 2010.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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