update on On Our Backs and Reveal Digital

In March I wrote a post outlining the ethical issues of Reveal Digital digitizing On Our Backs, a lesbian porn magazine. Last week I spoke at code4lib NYS and shared examples of where libraries have digitized materials where they really shouldn’t have. My slides are online, and here’s a PDF of the slides with notes. Also: Jenna Freedman and I co-hosted a #critlib discussion on digitization ethics.

Susie Bright’s papers in Cornell’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection

A couple of weeks before code4lib NYS, I learned that Cornell has Susie Bright’s papers, which include some of the administrative records for On Our Backs. When I was at Cornell I visited the Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection and looked through this amazing collection. The first book of erotica I ever bought was Herotica, edited by Susie Bright, so it was especially amazing to see her papers. It was so exciting to see photo negatives or photos of images that became iconic for lesbians either in On Our Backs, or on the covers of other books. While the wave of nostalgia was fun, the purpose of my visit was to see if the contracts with the contributors were in the administrative papers.

I hit the jackpot when found a thin folder labelled Contributors Agreements. All of them weren’t there, but there were many contracts where the content creators did not sign over all rights to the magazine. Here are three examples.

This contributor contract from 1991 is for “one-time rights only”.

agreement1

This contributor contract from 1988 is for “1st time N.A. serial rights”. In this context N.A. means North American. 

agreement2

This contributor’s contract from 1985 is “for the period of one year, beginning 1.1.86”. 

agreement3

Copyright and digitizing On Our Backs

Initially I thought that Reveal Digital had proper copyright clearances to put this content online. In addition to the above contributors contract examples, I talked to someone who modeled for On Our Backs (see slides 9 to 11 for model quotes) who said there was an agreement with the editor that the photo shoot would never appear online. These things make me wonder if the perceived current rights holder of this defunct magazine actually had the rights to grant to Reveal Digital to put this content online.

I’m still puzzled by Reveal Digital’s choice for a Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY) license. One of the former models describes how inappropriate this license is, and more worrisome as the lack of her consent in making this content available online.

People can cut up my body and make a collage. My professional and personal life can be high jacked. These are uses I never intended and still don’t want.

Response from Reveal Digital

Last week I spoke with Peggy Glahn, Program Director and part of the leadership team at Reveal Digital. She updated me on some Reveal Digital’s response to my critiques.

Takedown policy and proceedures

Peggy informed me that they had a takedown request and will be redacting some content and with their workflow it takes about 3 weeks to make those changes. She also said that they’ll be posting their takedown policy and process on their website but that there are technical challenges with their digital collections platform. It shouldn’t be difficult to link to a HTML page with the takedown policy, procedures and contact information. I’m not sure why this is a technical challenge. In the meantime, people can email Tech.Support@revealdigital.com with takedown requests. Reveal Digital will “assess each request on a case-by-case basis”.

Not removing this collection

I am really disappointed to hear that Reveal Digital does not have plans to take down this entire collection. Peggy spoke about a need to balance the rights of people accessing this collection and individual people’s right to privacy. It was nice to hear that they recognized that lesbian porn from the 80s and 90s differs from historical newspapers, both in content and in relative age. However by putting both types of collections on the web in the same way it feels like this is a shallow understanding of the differences.

Peggy mentioned that Reveal Digital had consulted the community and made the decision to leave this collection online. I asked who the community was in this case and she answered that the community was the libraries who are funding this initiative. This is an overly narrow definition of community, which is basically the fiscal stakeholders (thanks Christina Harlow for this phrase). If you work at one of these institutions, I’d love to hear what the consultation process looked like.

Community consultation is critical

As this is porn from the lesbian community in the 80s and 90s it is important that these people are consulted about their wishes and desires. Like most communities, I don’t think the lesbian and queer women’s community has ever agreed on anything, but it’s important that this consultation takes place. It’s also important to centre the voices of the queer women whose asses are literally on the page and respect their right to keep this content offline. I don’t have quick or simple solutions on how this can happen, but this is the responsibility that one takes on when you do a digitization project like this.

Learning from the best practices of digitizing traditional knowledge

The smart folks behind the Murkutu project, and Local Contexts (including the Traditional Knowledge labels) are leading the way in digitizing content in culturally appropriate and ethical ways. Reveal Digital could look at the thoughtful work that’s going on around the ethics of digitizing traditional knowledge as a blueprint for providing the right kind of access to the right people. The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre has also put a thoughtful paper outlining the consultation process and project outcomes how they to digitized the historic text Moko; or Maori tattooing.

After talking to several models who appeared in On Our Backs a common thread was that they did not consent to have their bodies online and that this posed a risk to their careers. Keeping this collection online is an act of institutional violence against the queer women who do not want this extremely personal information about themselves to so easily accessible online.

Librarians–we need to do better.

digitization: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

I learned this week that Reveal Digital has digitized On Our Backs (OOB), a lesbian porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. This is a part of the Independent Voices collection that “chronicles the transformative decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s through the lens of an independent alternative press.” For a split second I was really excited — porn that was nostalgic for me was online! Then I quickly thought about friends who appeared in this magazine before the internet existed. I am deeply concerned that this kind of exposure could be personally or professionally harmful for them.

While Reveal Digital went through the proper steps to get permission from the copyright holder, there are ethical issues with digitizing collections like this. Consenting to a porn shoot that would be in a queer print magazine is a different thing to consenting to have your porn shoot be available online. I’m disappointed in my profession. Librarians have let down the queer community by digitizing On Our Backs.

Why is this collection different?

The nature of this content makes it different from digitizing textual content or non-pornographic images. We think about porn differently than other types of content.

Most of the OOB run was published before the internet existed. Consenting to appear in a limited run print publication is very different than consenting to have one’s sexualized image be freely available on the internet. These two things are completely different. Who in the early 90s could imagine what the internet would look like in 2016?

In talking to some queer pornographers, I’ve learned that some of their former models are now elementary school teachers, clergy, professors, child care workers, lawyers, mechanics, health care professionals, bus drivers and librarians. We live and work in a society that is homophobic and not sex positive. Librarians have an ethical obligation to steward this content with care for both the object and with care for the people involved in producing it.

How could this be different?

Reveal Digital does not have a clear takedown policy on their website. A takedown policy describes the mechanism for someone to request that digital content be taken off a website or digital collection. Hathi’s Trust’s takedown policy is a good example of a policy around copyright. When I spoke to Peggy Glahn, Program Director for Reveal Digital she explained there isn’t a formal takedown policy. Someone could contact the rights holder (the magazine publisher, the photographer, or the person who owns the copyright to the content) and have them make the takedown request to Reveal Digital. Even for librarians it’s sometimes tricky to track down the copyright holder of a magazine that’s not being published anymore. By being stewards of this digital content I believe that Reveal Digital has an ethical obligation to make this process clearer.

I noticed that not all issues are available online. Peggy Glahn said that they digitized copies from Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture at Duke University and Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University but they are still missing many of the later issues. More issues should not be digitized until formal ethical guidelines have been written. This process should include consultation with people who appeared in OOB.

There are ways to improve access to the content through metadata initiatives. I’m really, really excited by Bobby Noble and Lisa Sloniowski‘s proposed project exploring linked data in relation to Derrida and feminism. I’ve loved hearing how Lisa’s project has shifted from a physical or digital archive of feminist porn to a linked data project documenting the various relationships between different people. I think the current iteration avoids dodgy ethics while exploring new ways of thinking about the content and people through linked data. Another example of this is Sarah Mann’s index of the first 10 years of OOB for the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archive.

We need to have an in depth discussion about the ethics of digitization in libraries. The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics is the best discussion of these issues that I’ve read. There two ideas that are relevant to my concerns are about consent and balancing interests between access to the collection and respect for individuals.

Whenever possible, it is important to give creators the right of refusal if they do not wish their work to be highly visible.

Because of the often highly personal content of zines, creators may object to having their material being publicly accessible. Zinesters (especially those who created zines before the Internet era) typically create their work without thought to their work ending up in institutions or being read by large numbers of people. To some, exposure to a wider audience is exciting, but others may find it unwelcome. For example, a zinester who wrote about questioning their sexuality as a young person in a zine distributed to their friends may object to having that material available to patrons in a library, or a particular zinester, as a countercultural creator, may object to having their zine in a government or academic institution.

Consent is a key feminist and legal concept. Digitizing a feminist porn publication without consideration for the right to be forgotten is unethical.

The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics does a great job of articulating the tension that sometimes exists between making content available and the safety and privacy of the content creators:

To echo our preamble, zines are “often weird, ephemeral, magical, dangerous, and emotional.” Dangerous to whom, one might ask? It likely depends on whom one asks, but in the age of the Internet, at least one prospectively endangered population are zinesters themselves. Librarians and archivists should consider that making zines discoverable on the Web or in local catalogs and databases could have impacts on creators – anything from mild embarrassment to the divulging of dangerous personal information.

Zine librarians/archivists should strive to make zines as discoverable as possible while also respecting the safety and privacy of their creators.

I’ve heard similar concerns with lack of care by universities when digitizing traditional Indigenous knowledge without adequate consultation, policies or understanding of cultural protocols. I want to learn more about Indigenous intellectual property, especially in Canada. It’s been a few years since I’ve looked at Mukurtu, a digital collection platform that was built in collaboration with Indigenous groups to reflect and support cultural protocols. Perhaps queers and other marginalized groups can learn from Indigenous communities about how to create culturally appropriate digital collections.

Librarians need to take more care with the ethical issues, that go far beyond simple copyright clearances, when digitizing and putting content online.

Porn in the library

At the  Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium the program session I was the most excited about was Porn in the library.  There were 3 presentations in this panel exploring this theme.

First,  Joan Beaudoin and Elaine Ménard presented  The P Project: Scope Notes and Literary Warrant Required! Their study looked at 22 websites that are aggregators of free porn clips.  Most of these sites were in English, but a few were in French.  Ménard acknowledged that it is risky and sometimes uncomfortable to study porn in the academy. They looked at the terminology used to describe porn videos, specifically the categories available to access porn  videos. They described their coding manual which outlined    various metadata facets (activity, age, cinematography, company/producers, age, ethnicity, gender, genre, illustration/cartoon, individual/stars, instruction, number of individuals, objects, physical characteristics, role, setting, sexual orientation). I learned that xhamster has scope notes for their various categories (mouseover the lightbulb icon to see).

While I appreciate that Beaudoin and Ménard  are taking a risk to look at porn, I think they made the mistake of using very clinical language to legitimize and sanitize their work. I’m curious why they are so interested in porn, but realize that it might be too risky for them to situate themselves in their research.

It didn’t seem like they understood the difference between production company websites and free aggregator sites. Production company sites  have very robust and high quality metadata and excellent information architecture. Free aggregator sites that have variable quality metadata and likely  have a business model that is based on ads or referring users to the main production company websites. Porn is, after all, a content business, and most porn companies are  invested in making their content findable, and making it easy for the user to find more content with the same performers, same genre, or by the same director.

Beaudoin and Ménard  expressed  disappointment that porn companies didn’t want to participate in their study. As these two researchers don’t seem to understand the porn industry or have relationships with individuals I don’t think it’s surprising at all. For them to successfully build on this line of inquiry I think they need to have some skin in the game and clearly articulate what they offer their research subjects in exchange for building their own academic capital.

It was awesome to have a quick Twitter conversation with Jiz Lee and Chris Lowrance, the web manager  for feminist porn company Pink and White productions,  about how sometimes the terms a consumer might be looking for is prioritized over the  performers’ own gender identity.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.40.34 PMUpdate: @FetishMovieBlog responded to Jiz and Chris to say that this was an unintentional error that had been corrected. Jiz’s performer entry doesn’t have a gender listed and I also noticed that their race is listed as hapa, another non-binary category.

Jiz Lee is genderqueer porn performer and uses the pronouns they/them and is sometimes misgendreed by mainstream porn and by feminist porn. I am a huge fan of their work.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.36.55 PMI think this is the same issue that Amber Billy, Emily Drabinski and K.R. Roberto raise in their paper What’s gender got to do with it? A critique of RDA rule 9.7. They argue that it is regressive for a cataloguer to assign a binary gender value to an author. In both these cases someone (porn company or consumer, or cataloguer) is assigning gender to someone else (porn performer or content creator). This process can be disrespectful, offensive, inaccurate and highlights a power dynamic where the consumer’s (porn viewer or researcher/student/librarian) desires/politics/needs/worldview is put above someone’s own identity.

Next, Lisa Sloniowski and Bobby Noble. presented Fisting the Library: Feminist Porn and Academic Libraries  (which is the best paper title ever).  I’ve been really excited their SSHRC funded porn archive research. This research project has become more of a conceptional project, rather than building a brick and mortar porn archive. Bobby talked about the challenging process of getting his porn studies class going at York University. Lisa talked they initially hoped to start a porn collection as part of York University Library’s main collection, not as a reading room or a marginal collection. Lisa spoke about the challenges of drafting a collection development policy and some of the labour issues, presumably about staff who were uncomfortable with porn having to order, catalogue, process and circulate porn. They also talked about the Feminist Porn Awards and second  feminist porn conference that took place before the Feminist Porn Awards last year.

Finally,  Emily Lawrence and Richard Fry presented  Pornography, Bomb Building and Good Intentions: What would it take for an internet filter to work?  They presented a philosophical argument against internet filters. They argued that for a filter to not overblock and underblock it would need to be mind reading and fortune telling. A filter would need to be able to read an individual’s mind and note factors like the person viewing, their values, their mood, etc and be fortune telling by knowing exactly what information that the user was seeking   before they looked at it. I’ve been thinking about internet filtering a lot lately, because of Vancouver Public Library’s recent policy change that forbids “sexually explicit images”. I was hoping to get a new or deeper understanding on filtering but was disappointed.

This colloquium was really exciting for me. The conversations  that people on the porn in the library panel were having are discussions I haven’t heard elsewhere in librarianship.  I look forward to talking about porn in the library more.

Rude Britannia: Erotic secrets of the British Museum

mountie

According to the Times Online The British Museum and British Library have some of the biggest collections of smut in the world. They just published an informative and slightly humorous article on the contents of the so-called Porn Cupboard that begs to be read with your coworkers on your next coffee break:

Most of the Porn Cupboard’s contents today look respectable: here are printing plates for the reproduction of thoroughly decent works by Turner and Dürer. That’s because, since the latter part of the 20th century, a lot of erotic material has been removed from the cupboard and repositioned in the department. “We’ve been integrating the contents of it into the main collection,” explains Sheila O’Connell, assistant keeper of prints and drawings. For instance, there used to be a Rembrandt etching in the cupboard called The Bed, depicting a couple making love, with the man on top of the woman; but that is now with the other Rembrandts in the museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings, on the fourth floor. You can request it and, as long as nobody else is busy looking at it, they will show it to you. There used to be sheaves of banned Georgian cartoons by Thomas Rowlandson in Cupboard 205, but now, providing you have come of age, you can go to Prints and Drawings and study Rowlandson’s images of gentlemen and saucy wenches having explicit intercourse on beds, on road journeys, and beside gravestones.

The process to access these items was quite difficult. It really bugs me when the library catalog is used to impede access.

The books in the Private Case were originally subject to heavy restrictions: you had to write to the keeper, the head of the department, to see any of them and give your reasons for wanting to. “The books were quite difficult to see,” says Goldfinch. “They had a separate catalogue, and the catalogue wasn’t available to readers. So there were two stages: you’d have to ask if the book was in the collection, and if it was, you’d have to ask to see it.”

Does anyone know if Library and Archives Canada has a similar porn closet/cage/room? If so, I wonder what would be inside? Vintage Mountie pinup playing cards?

Posted in resources Tagged: british museum, porn, uk

Queerotica review

Last night I went to Roundhouse to hear Queerotica, a erotica/porn reading, that was part of Pride in Art.A   I thought the reading was going to take place in the theater, but instead it took place in the open space outside the theater where the art exhibition was located.A   I was surprised at how packed the place was, especially on a fireworks night.A   There was at least 150 folks assembled to hear some dirty stories read live.

All of the Little Sister’s staff were scheduled to read.A   First up was bookstore manager, and free speech activist Janine Fuller with three books in hand.A   First, she spoke briefly about Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, a trashy novel from the 50s that was turned into a television series in the 60s.A   Next, she held up Pat Califia’s (now Patrick Califia) Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality.A   Janine shared that she the first queer book she ever bought, and that she was extremely nervous when she bought it.A   Finally, Janine spoke about Jane Rule as a person who built bridges and made the walls come down.A   She described her with deep respect and admiration in her voice as someone who embodied dignity, reverence and a sense of community.A   She then held up Restricted Entry:A   Censorship on Trial and read Jane Rule’s powerful testimony from the court case against Canada Customs. Janine then ran back to work to relieve some of the other staff people so they could come and read too.

When Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sisters, announced he was going to read some of John Preston‘s work, there was a small cheer from the crowd.A   John Preston, who was himself a leatherman, is known for writing deliciously kinky and literary pornography.A   He also wrote very powerful, quasi-academic, political essays.A   Jim decided to read one of these.A   Jim read part of the introduction from Hot Living, a safer sex anthology.A   John Preston died from AIDS related complications several months before the Supreme Court case and was unable to testify.

It wasn’t all heavy politics.A   Tony Correia read a hilarious and sexy piece about a man with a wrestling fetish.A   Amber Dawn read a funny, autobiographical piece about being “an old ho”.A   Afuwa Granger read a piece that was one side of a very steamy conversation.A   Mette Bach read a hot story about the sexual possibilities of a cucumber, that was initially bought with the intention of making Greek salad.A   It was wonderful to be in a room with such talented people who were pushing the envelope with their sexy, honest, and raunchy words.

I didn’t stay until the end, around 10:30pm I knew I’d better hop on my bike and head home.A   So, unfortuantely I missed Michael V. Smith, Elaine Miller, and Anna Camilleri‘s readings.

Queerotica

This looks like it’s going to be hot, literarcy and smut-tastic. Hear local authors read queer erotica and the Little Sister’s staff reading smut that was stopped at the Boarder. Queerotica is part of the Pride in Art Festival.

WHEN:
7:30pm | Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WHERE:
The Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews)

TICKETS:
$5 suggested donation