The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1469 Wednesday, 9 August 2000.
From: John D. Cox <
Date: Tuesday, 8 Aug 2000 12:24:32 -0400
I apologize for a notice that does not bear directly on Shakespeare but
does address concerns by many people on this list. The notice concerns
Contentville, the website that sells printed material, including
unpublished dissertations (without the writer's knowledge). Appended
below are some press clippings assembled by my colleague at Hope
College, Lisa Evans, who teaches psychology:
[Editor's Note: Out of curiosity, I checked the Contentville site and
found my own dissertation and an article I published in 1992 on the Jane
Howell BBC First Tetralogy. -Hardy]
Press Clips by Cynthia Cotts
The Village Voice
July 26 - August 1, 2000
PARTNERS IN COPYRIGHT SCAM
Contentville Mystifies Writers & Publishers
Last week, you could hear lots of honking and yelling on the road to
Contentville, the new Web site that sells books, magazine subscriptions,
and collected news articles, inviting its readers to "rejoice." But this
was a case of road rage-with an angry phalanx of writers, from PhD
Scholars to Harper's contributors, accusing Contentville of selling
their work without asking permission.
The complaints first surfaced on Jim Romenesko's Web site, with many
demanding that their content be taken down immediately.
On July 19, Contentville founder Steve Brill took the time-honored step
of e-mailing Romenesko, braying his commitment to "decent ethics" and
his intention to work out a deal with the National Writers Union whereby
freelance authors could be paid royalties.
Meanwhile, Contentville reassured writers of its legal standing, and by
the end of the day, MSNBC.com posted a story declaring Brill's hawking
of PhD dissertations to be "all perfectly legal."
MSNBC's snap judgment was a little suspect, given that Microsoft and NBC
are partners in Contentville. (No mention of this in the story.) But
forget the conflicts of interest, and forget the little people who felt
violated by the media watchdog. Brill's experiment is only a few weeks
old, and at least one publishing company has accused him of stealing its
"How the hell did they get our archives?" fumed David Schneiderman, CEO
of Village Voice Media, upon learning that Contentville is selling
hundreds of Voice articles, including the work of Michael Musto and Nat
Hentoff along with that of scores of freelancers who retain the rights
to their work. Individual articles are going for $2.95 a pop, prompting
Schneiderman to ask, "Why should we let Contentville sell this stuff to
readers who can get it on our Web site for free?"
On July 21, upon learning that an obscure company called EBSCO holds the
right to market Voice archives to libraries, the Voice lawyer fired off
a letter to Brill, claiming that EBSCO's 1994 contract with the Voice
was intended for educational and research purposes, and that the
contract was rendered void by the sale of the Voice earlier this year.
She requested that Brill remove "any Village Voice material" at once.
EBSCO Publishing, based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, is a Contentville
partner, along with NBC, CBS, Microsoft, and so on. In addition to
selling magazine subscriptions, EBSCO has traditionally been a
middleman, licensing content from hundreds of publishers to build
electronic databases and offering those archives to libraries by
subscription. By getting EBSCO out of the library, Brill has created a
kind of poor man's Nexis, giving anyone with Internet access and a
credit card the means to do quickie research. (Contentville has no
connection to Lexis-Nexis, which charges high rates for a superior
Despite the questions, Brill is confident that everything's on the
up-and-up. "EBSCO guarantees the validity of third-party contracts," he
said in an interview last week. "They're selling all this stuff now and
they've been selling it for 10 years to libraries. Our due diligence
was, they told us we have the right to sell this to you."
However, due to a lack of transparency on the site, the provenance of
the Contentville archives remained a mystery last week. From The New
Republic to U.S. News & World Report to Adoptive Families magazine, few
seemed to know how Contentville had acquired their content.
"I was not aware that EBSCO was licensing our content to Contentville,"
said John Lerner, vice president and general manager of VNU eMedia,
whose stable includes MediaWeek, AdWeek, BrandWeek, and Editor &
Publisher. Lerner says that at this point, he doesn't know whether
EBSCO is acting within its rights.
A source at the Christian Science Monitor said that on first glance,
Contentville's use of the paper's archives appeared to be valid under an
EBSCO contract and under the paper's standard freelance contract, which
assigns nonexclusive electronic rights to the Monitor.
According to the source, the Monitor goes out of its way to respect
freelancers' rights because it is owned by the First Church of Christ,
Scientist, whose purpose is "to injure no man, but to bless all
If only the same could be said of Steve Brill. Brill says his site has
made "direct contact" with major media companies to secure explicit
permission to market their archives. Cond� Nast turned him down,
but Mort Zuckerman, who owns U.S. News & World Report, said yes.
Contentville is currently negotiating a deal with Time Inc. that would
allow the new site to sell articles from Time and Fortune. Harper's now
says a legitimate EBSCO contract exists.
Brill says his people approached The New York Times directly, and a
spokesperson for New York Times Digital confirms that the paper has a
"distribution arrangement" that lets Contentville sell articles from the
last 365 days of its archives. (The archives of other major papers, such
as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, are not being sold on
Tim Collins, general manager of EBSCO Publishing, declined to comment on
whether EBSCO is exposed to contract disputes. When asked how publishers
were informed that EBSCO planned to market their archives via
Contentville, he said EBSCO notified more than 100 companies in its
quarterly newsletter, which was sent out with the two most recent
royalty checks in 2000. Asked if he considers that sufficient notice, he
said, "EBSCO could have done better."
Collins says EBSCO pays royalties to the publishers, who are responsible
for paying their writers. If a writer indicates that he or she owns the
copyright to an article, EBSCO removes the article from its database. He
says if the Voice requests the removal of its archives, it will take
about "two weeks."
Brill says that will happen, unless he can persuade the Voice to sign
on. Asked how he justifies selling readers something they can get
elsewhere for free, he says people will pay for the "convenience" of
having so much material in one place. However, if you read the fine
print, Contentville promises readers that "we'll tell you" if material
for sale there is "available elsewhere for free." But look up a Voice
article, and you'll find no such notice.
Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, is scheduled
to meet with Brill July 25. Based on his talk with Brill last week,
Tasini believes the media watchdog is "genuinely interested" in
achieving a fair resolution. "He's a leader on the issue of ethics in
journalism, and the improper use of writers' work on the Internet is an
ethical question," says Tasini. "If we come to an agreement, he can be a
megaphone to the rest of the industry."
But David Wallis, a New York-based writer who is planning to launch an
elite freelancers agency, sees Brill's cozying up to the National
Writers Union as a "dodge," and a reaction to the "terrible publicity
and backlash" of last week. "As a media watchdog," Wallis says, "Steve
Brill has rabies."
Editor/Publisher, shunpiking magazine
Offices: 6211 North Street (at Windsor), Halifax, NS B3L 1P4
Mail: P.O. Box 31377, Halifax, NS B3K 5Z1 Canada
Telephone: 1-888-TRY-SHUN, (902) 455-4922; Fax: (902) 455-7599
IMPORTANT UPDATE ON "CONTENTVILLE"
Subsequent to a meeting between Steven Brill and the U.S. National
Writers Union (NWU) on July 25th (at which the NWU also represented the
concerns of Canadian writers via the Periodical Writers Association of
Canada), Contentville is issuing the following e-mail to concerned
"Contentville is committed to respecting the copyright of individual
authors and compensating them fairly-or, if they wish, removing their
materials from our site.... We have met and had positive discussions
with the [U.S.] National Writers Union and Publishing Rights Clearing
House (who were also representing the concerns of Canadian writers via
the Periodical Writers Association of Canada and the Canadian Copyright
Licensing Agency) to come up with a plan to compensate authors for any
sales of their articles. We are working to finalize these arrangements
as soon as possible and hope to get back to you with details within ten
days. These arrangements will be offered to all writers-not just members
of the National Writers Union or the Periodical Writers Association of
Canada. In the interim, we are committed to making these arrangements
retroactive to Contentville's first day of business. We are excited, and
hope that you are, that this arrangement will create an appropriate
forum for authors to realize revenue on their work and provide a
solution to everyone's satisfaction."
If your work appears on the Contentville site without your permission,
please e-mail details to the PWAC National Office as soon as possible
(even if you have already sent that information to another professional
organization). If you are currently a member of CANCOPY, you will
eventually be compensated through that collective. If you are not a
member of CANCOPY, we urge you to join as soon as possible (see
information below). However, if you do not wish to be compensated in
this manner and simply want your material removed from the Contentville
website, please contact Contentville as indicated below.
We will continue to keep the writing community informed of
developments. Please do not hesitate to contact the PWAC National
Office if you have any questions or require further information. A
recent article from The Village Voice appears below, as a backgrounder.
PWAC Executive Director
TO REPORT YOUR WORK APPEARING ON CONTENTVILLE
WITHOUT PERMISSION, PLEASE CONTACT:
PWAC National Office
Phone: (416) 504-1645
Fax: (416) 504-9079
TO JOIN CANCOPY, PLEASE CONTACT:
Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency
Phone: (416) 868-1620
Fax: (416) 868-1621
TO HAVE YOUR WORK REMOVED FROM CONTENTVILLE
Catherine Seda, Copyright Agent of Contentville
Phone: (212) 332-6400