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Why I'm Mad About the New Fanzines Book

by Jerianne, published in Zine World #30, January 2011

Last fall, Thames and Hudson released a book called Fanzines. This oversize book is quite attractive, filled with large, full-color reproductions of covers of hundreds of zines from the UK, North America, and elsewhere. The 256-page oversized book is the largest printed collection of zines I have seen, with more than 750 images making up the bulk of the book. Yet, when I received my complimentary copy in the mail—because Zine World was among the zines included—I could barely stand to look at it.

The reason for my animosity? Many of the reproduced images were included without permission, and the book contains a slew of errors.

Fanzines cover parodyThe book's author/editor, Teal Triggs, stated that she had obtained permission to reprint "the majority of images" included, but because of "personal circumstances," she was unable to contact a number of zine publishers in advance to obtain their permission. Many of these publishers (including me) received an email from Triggs about two months before the book's release, which informed them that she was including image(s) from their zines and/or screenshots from their website(s). My email read: "I hope this is okay. ... I apologize for not contacting you sooner." To others she wrote, "I hope [the book] will establish the importance of this form of self-publishing." Interestingly, many of the publishers who received this email are either recent or still active zine publishers, including those with a current online presence—people who were easy to track down, in other words. The exact number of zines reprinted without permission is not known (although a handful of publishers have confirmed they were contacted in Spring 2010 or prior).

Triggs is a professor of graphic design at the University of the Arts London. She previously co-edited another book about zines (Below Critical Radar: Fanzines and Alternative Comics from 1976 to Now), has given talks about zines, and has a blog where she interviews zine publishers and creators of independent media (zineweekly.blogspot.com). Initially, Triggs replied to the questions and complaints that zine publishers sent in response to her last-minute "hope this is ok" emails. But by early September, Triggs cut off communication. Thames and Hudson has ignored all requests for response or comment, both from Zine World and from other zine publishers. Although many contacted the publisher prior to the book's release, our cries of foul were ignored.

There has been much debate at WeMakeZines and elsewhere about whether Triggs and Thames and Hudson violated copyright law by reprinting these images without proper permission, or whether they could claim fair use. I'm no legal expert, and what understanding I do have of copyright law and fair use—the practice that allows for certain exceptions to obtaining permission before reprinting a portion of a work—does not extend to how copyright is affected once you cross international borders. But I do know that, generally, when a book is produced that is going to include reprinted images (be they photographs, postcards, book covers, etc.), the publisher usually requires the book's author to obtain all necessary permissions and copyright clearance in advance of publication. And I believe that Triggs' reprinting these images without permission in a book produced for profit was absolutely unethical, at the very least.

Let's say you were an avid collector of greeting cards, and that over the past two decades you had acquired a wide range of greeting cards in your collection: cards from 75 years ago to today, cards from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and other countries. And let's say you got the idea to share the wonders you had collected by putting together a book about greeting cards, showcasing your collection. I'm pretty sure that you couldn't put together a book full of colored reproductions of those greeting card covers without getting reprint permission, in advance, from Hallmark, American Greetings, etc. Or that a publisher would print such a book without ensuring those permissions had been obtained.

What's the difference? One, greeting cards have a blatant copyright statement. Most zines do not. However, any printed/published work should be treated as a copyrighted work—unless that work contains an anti-copyright or copy-left statement. Even so, some of the images reprinted in the Fanzines book were taken from zines that do have copyright statements—Zine World included. Two, greeting card companies have lawyers, and therefore to reprint their images without permission would be tantamount to inviting a lawsuit. Obviously the publisher doesn't feel too threatened by us lowly zine publishers.

As a college professor, published author, and self-professed fan of zines, Triggs should have known better. Hell, she even makes reference to the 1st edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution's discussion of asking permission before reprinting from zines—the book partially quotes: "... consideration of copyright 'if you are going to reprint something from another zine'" (p. 206). (The full statement she is quoting from reads: "If you are going to reprint something from another zine, ASK first and give credit to them, it is just good etiquette," SSR p.7)

One point that has been raised repeatedly in the debate at WeMakeZines is that zines often reprint images without regard to the image's copyright or ownership. In fact, Zine World has begun including cover images and interior excerpts from some of the zines we review. I'm also a co-administrator of ZineWiki, where we encourage contributors to upload cover scans. I believe that Zine World's usage of images is covered by fair use, because it is for the purposes of review; however, I do attempt to obtain permissions in advance, because it is the polite thing to do. As for ZineWiki, I also think it falls under fair use, because it's a noncommercial activity for educational and research purposes. If a zine's publisher asks, we will gladly remove the image. In both cases, the big distinction in what we are doing versus what Triggs did is that we are not profiting off someone else's work. Triggs is not only (presumably) profiting financially from Fanzines's publication, she could stand to gain academic credibility—unless attention is called to her actions.

Or, as Alex Wrekk put it on WeMakeZines: "After being involved with zines for over 15 years, I'm tired of people telling me that I should be thankful when something I created is used for profit without my permission, which has happened several times. I can totally understand that notoriety and larger distribution could be something other people might enjoy, but I just don't. I would like that opinion to be respected. Part of my DIY ethic is that I want the control of my own distribution... I have a problem when someone misuses power and authority on the backs of others especially, in this case, where the book is supposed to be representative and celebratory of a specific community."

One of the loudest critics of the book has been Amber Forrester, who publishes the zine Culture Slut and runs the Fight Boredom zine distro. One of her zines is included in the book, but it was credited under her old name, which she had legally changed some years ago. And that brings us to the second problem with Fanzines: It contains numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the text. As Amber said in comments posted to WeMakeZines: "I'm actually super sad about my old name being printed. ... I mean, say she was writing about punk zines from the 70s, that would be a different scenario because it would be very unlikely she'd find the creators (what with the nicknames being used and the Internet having not been around), but with recent zines, there's really no excuse not to do a bit of research first and get into contact with the zinesters you're writing about." In her email response to Triggs, which she also posted on WMZ, she said "You've been able to contact me to tell me about the book, which means that you'd have just as easily been able to contact me to ask for permission in the first place. I would have given you my proper name ... but even if you'd just Googled 'Culture Slut,' you'd see that six out of the ten results on the first page contain my real name and current contact info." Although Amber did receive a reply from Triggs, it didn't specifically address her criticisms.

An anonymous zinester has created a website called Fanzines by Teal Triggs, which is collecting information and criticisms about the book. The website includes a list of all zines featured in the book, with plans to add details about whether their images were used with or without permission. One section of the site will document the factual errors included in the book. Among the few listed so far: a zine made in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, is credited as having been made in Halifax, UK; some zines included have incorrect publication dates; and a Canadian TV show called Our Hero is described as American, although the Canada government logo is clearly visible in the image reproduced in the book (and elsewhere in the book it is identified as Canadian). Tobi Vail identified "blatant factual errors" and "thought the contextual framing was bizarrely off" in the chapter "Girl Power and Personal Politics 1990-1997." As a musician and zinester who was among the founders of the riot grrrl movement, she should know. For example, the book credits Calvin Johnson (founder of K Records) and Bruce Pavitt (of SubPop) with organizing the International Pop Underground Convention; credit should have instead gone to Candice Pederson (of K Records), Tobi says on her blog.

Other problems with the book relate to, as Vail said, the contextual framing. The most blatant example of this is in the chapter "E-zines 1998-2009." This chapter conflates zines that started in print but moved to online publication, print zines that have a website (and/or blog), online resources about zines, and actual e-zines into one messy pile. The page devoted to Doris gets it right—presenting the blog as a supplement to the zine, and discussing how the "appealing illustration style" of the zine "is difficult to replicate with any warmth online." On the other hand, Zine World's page makes it sound as though we only exist currently online as a blog and credits Doug Holland as (still) being in charge of the zine. Note to Teal: the fact that our zine has a website to promote our zine, which happens to include a blog, doesn't make us an e-zine. I find it totally kooky that zines such as Loserdom, Morgenmuffel, The East Village Inky, The La-La Theory, and Xerography Debt are all included in a chapter that "explores the way in which fan cultures embrace the realm of online publishing through e-zines" (p. 171). Even more so that within her introduction to this chapter, Triggs quotes librarian extraordinaire Jenna Freedman's essay "Zines Are Not Blogs: A Not Unbiased Analysis," which details the differences between zines and blogs. The essay ends with this comment by Dan Taylor, taken from a Zinegeeks Yahoo Group posting from 2005: "Interestingly enough I have a Hungover Gourmet zine and a Hungover Gourmet blog. And they couldn't be more different. ... Sad to think that somebody could blow off a movement with centuries of history behind it with one sentence."

Sometimes Triggs does get it right. Chapter 1 ("A Do-It-Yourself Revolution: Definitions and Early Days"), in which she gives a summarized history of fanzines, as drawn from notable books and articles previously published on the topic, and presents an academic discussion of the design characteristics of fanzines, is pretty much spot on. So why am I sweating the errors and mischaracterizations? As Toby Vail pointed out in her blog entry about the book: "I think there should be a way to contest 'false information' in published works. Because once it's in a book, it's a 'fact.' People will use this book as a source for further writing on the subject matter. ... Because once something is in print, it becomes an authority."

The Fanzines website calls for an errata sheet to be issued for Fanzines, including corrections to image credits and a disclosure that proper permissions were not secured for all images included in the book, as well as a formal apology from the publisher. Without the weight of a lawsuit, I'm not holding my breath for such action.

 Triggs calls herself an avid collector of zines. She has stated, in her emails to zine publishers and in interviews, that she values zines and wants to recognize the importance of the form. Yet her actions—going ahead with the book when she had not obtained all permissions, poor research, and failing to fact check—suggest otherwise. The complete lack of reply from any representative of the publisher suggests they don't see zines as an important form of media, either. It leaves me feeling that in the publisher's eyes, our culture's importance is only in being mined for their financial gain.

And that is why I'm mad about this book.

Jerianne is the editor & publisher of Zine World: A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press and has been since founder Doug Holland stepped down in 2000. She's also a librarian who recognizes the importance of documenting the history of subcultures but would like for it to be done properly.