2009 Poetry and New Media Values Statement

Poetry and New Media Working Group
Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute
February 2009

Project Statement

The Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute (HMPI) has invited a panel of poets, publishers, and experts from the fields of media law, technology, and other pertinent areas to come together both in person and virtually during 2009. Working within the HMPI but independently from the Poetry Foundation, the group is examining issues related to the preparation, distribution, and reception of poetry through existing and evolving media platforms, including the Internet and other electronic forms and devices, with the aim of forging recommendations that both protect the intellectual property of poets and publishers and ensure a vigorous presence for poetry in various forms in all media, including new-media outlets.

Considerations and Definitions

For the purposes of this group, we are using the term “new media” to refer to any extra-book medium, especially electronic media. The term, then, would include not only Internet and digital media but also radio and film. We understand that the underlying issue in relation to new media is really the new ease of reproduction and dissemination—an ease that both presents new opportunities and challenges old ways of encouraging and rewarding investment in creative work. In the sense in which we are employing the term, then, even a book might become a “new media” document the instant it is scanned into a form that may be quickly, even instantaneously, reproduced, disseminated, or altered. During our discussions, we have also come to understand that the primary issue, access to poetry, is important not only when it appears in new media but wherever poetry appears, print media included.

Shared Values of the Poetry and New Media Working Group

That access to poetry, being crucial to the development of and maintenance of cultural literacy and our cultural heritage, should therefore be considered a cultural imperative

That, over the long term, efforts to limit access to poetry and other important artistic and cultural works tend to have negative consequences that outweigh imagined positive consequences

That we want this process to result in at least the following practical outcomes:

  • Recommendations that lead to a community of best practices document for the fair use of poetry in all media
  • Recommendations that help poets, publishers, poetry distributors, and other community members think through legal issues as they pertain to permissions, literary estates, licensing, and other matters arising from the distribution of poetry
  • A community to-do list with programming ideas that emerged in our conversation but are beyond the purview of the HMPI

That, as current copyright law provides, absent an explicit work-for-hire contract or an employee-employer relationship under which the ownership of a work is clearly spelled out, a creative product should belong to its creator

That poets and their publishers should be reasonably paid for their work when possible and practical

That poets and publishers should be aware of and prepared to take advantage of the non-financial benefits made possible by new media, such as the following:

  • Opportunities for poetry to be experienced in ways it cannot be experienced on the page, for example through video and audio performances, which may bring new audiences to poetry, leading to
  • Greater access and exposure to poets and poetry, which may itself lead indirectly to individual opportunities for financial gain as well as to a more vigorous and lively presence for poetry in the culture

That poets and publishers should also be aware of the risks specifically attending new-media opportunities, some examples of which follow:

  • Loss of control over what others might do with a poem once it enters the public square, especially in electronic forms
  • Loss of control over some potential income associated with a given poem
  • The potential for increasing control and centralization of new media by those for whom the highest value attaching to poetry is its financial value
  • The potential for increasing control and centralization in and by “centers of money” represented by large nonprofit organizations

That centralization of power and control over poetry and its distribution may lead to less diversity in poetry and poets and less, not more, access to them

That poetry is an ongoing conversation that has always engaged in the practice referred to traditionally as allusion and in new media as remixing, a practice that continually renews the energy of the genre

That we therefore affirm our support for an open and flexible interpretation of fair use under current copyright law

That, however, remix works, whether respectful or satirical, should provide, when possible, access (through links, citation, or other means) to the original text as it was written, and that, especially in cases of substantive use, those who use the work of others should, if possible and appropriate, seek permission for that use

That where a poem appears or is quoted, used, or remixed in any medium, including new media, it should be properly credited and attributed

That, for the purposes of this document, authorship and ownership are not the same

That we endorse the philosophy and practice of collaboration among poets; literary organizations, institutions, and associations; educators and educational institutions; policy-makers and advocates; publishers; government agencies; donors; readers; and members of the general public

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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