With great passion, a website calling itself “History Is a Weapon” is embroiled in legal trouble concerning the online publishing of its favorite book, which is one of the two books upon which this website, Rapping History, is founded.
The book is A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, and its publisher, Harper Collins, is rattling its sabre at the owners of the website for publishing copyrighted material.
With a pen somewhat poisoned, a writer at History is a Weapon, who is not named, complains to HarperCollins that the internet is not a bookstore, but “more like an ecosystem,” and that publishing the book online can only help sales. In fact, the letter says, Amazon ranks the book 169th of all books, which is not a small accomplishment.
History Is A Weapon describes itself as a “left counter-hegemonic education project,” and it sports historical writers such as Frederick Douglass and Theodore Roosevelt, and newer ones, such as Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, and Angela Davis. It is a popular website, judging from the ten thousand links coming from other websites, according to Google.
The website claims that their action is justified. “Howard Zinn gave us explicit permission before we did it,” it complains. “We asked him. At the time, we didn’t realize that we were going to put the whole book up, but he gave pretty much blanket permission to one of our participants.”
The website quotes HarperCollins as saying in a threatening letter, “neither HarperCollins, the Author, the Author’s agent, nor any provision of law, has authorized the publication and display of the Work on the Web Site.”
The whole squabble is a microcosm of one of the driving themes of Zinn’s book itself: money-hungry profiteers squelching the rights of ordinary people. The public simply wants access to helpful information, the website argues. What’s ironic is that the author himself has no rights to allow others to publish his own work. History simply repeats itself.