Meeting Notes 7.16.09


Meeting Held by Conference Call: 3:00 – 4:00 pm CDT

Meeting Summary

The working group of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute’s inaugural Poetry and New Media project convened for the seventh time by conference call. The meeting opened with announcements of recent conversations with the Center for Social Media at American University, the Creative Commons, and the University of California, Berkeley. Attention quickly turned to the draft “Legal Issues and Business Practices” section of the working group’s developing document. Katharine Coles asked the group if the draft section on legal and business barriers as currently written accurately reflected the sentiments and conversations of the group, especially in relation to the working group’s ongoing emphasis on openness and access.

Several members of the group expressed satisfaction with the document’s balanced message and coherent vision. Specific recommendations were discussed, including adding real-life examples to illustrate ideas, addressing the reciprocal balance between recommendations for content creators and content managers, and structurally echoing the format of the non-legal barriers draft by providing a section for concrete action recommendations. The group then revisited a prior meeting’s conversation about how conflicting interests often engage the same individual, organization, or field of endeavor, with poets, publishers, and readers often having overlapping concerns. On the one hand there is the need for those in the supply chain, from poets to publishers to new-media distributors, to be compensated for their labor and investments when possible, and on the other hand all want poetry to be widely available for readers. K. Coles renewed her request to the working group to supply real-life examples that relate to the document’s recommendations.

A consideration of the theoretical legal matters related to literary characters and copyright led to a discussion of various legal issues beyond copyright law, including trademark, state, property, right of publicity, and defamation laws that can affect creative works. Given the vast number of variables and specifics that people need to consider on a case-by-case basis, the differences in laws in the 50 US states (let alone international law), and the inadvisability of giving blanket legal advice instead of advice tailored to individuals, the group decided that using this project to provide original template license language for poets and content managers was impractical. While not all legal potentialities could be addressed in this document, the group thought it important to try to provide tools for thinking through some of the legal principles involved in making decisions about providing (or not providing) access to poetry, with an intent both to address practices that routinely occur in business and artistic interactions and to recognize the overall need for pragmatism as businesses and individuals rethink their routine responses. Potentially, as lawyers, creators, and content managers discuss these issues, the community as a whole might reach consensus on some if not all of them. Group members again emphasized their commitment to openness and access and their hope that the document would express this commitment and that readers might embrace its spirit when making their own decisions and talking to their own lawyers. K. Coles agreed, reiterating that poets and content managers need to make their own decisions based on good information, realistic expectations, their own best interests broadly construed, and careful consideration of literary estate planning, and that this document could provide tools and recommendations that individuals might consult when considering how best to provide access to their creative works.

The working group briefly reviewed current legal questions and debates on 1) the tension between graduate students’ need to retain ownership of their creative work so that they can build publication records and credentials and academic institutions’ potential claims to ownership of theses and dissertations written by their graduate students and 2) potential claims by academic institutions that they own books written by creative writing professors. K. Coles concluded the meeting by noting that she will revisit the educational barriers section with an eye to further stressing the importance of addressing lifelong learning in different settings and formats, both inside and outside the formal educational system. She invited the group to begin thinking about carrying news about the evolving document to their respective communities so the issues raised can begin to have a hearing in the wider world. It was proposed that the working group meet next during the first week of August.


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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