Intellectual Property

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Next Rhetoric & Composition MMTOR?

Massive Multi-Thinker Online Review, that is. I think it should be about John Logie's new book, Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates, now available from Parlor Press. You can order it or download it for free as a PDF. The book has a Creative Commons license too. More about the book:

Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates investigates the role of rhetoric in shaping public perceptions about a novel technology: peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. While broadband Internet services now allow speedy transfers of complex media files, Americans face real uncertainty about whether peer-to-peer file sharing is or should be legal. John Logie analyzes the public arguments growing out of more than five years of debate sparked by the advent of Napster, the first widely adopted peer-to-peer technology. The debate continues with the second wave of peer-to-peer file transfer utilities like Limewire, KaZaA, and BitTorrent. With Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion, Logie joins the likes of Lawrence Lessig, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Jessica Litman, and James Boyle in the ongoing effort to challenge and change current copyright law so that it fulfills its purpose of fostering creativity and innovation while protecting the rights of artists in an attention economy.

Logie examines metaphoric frames—warfare, theft, piracy, sharing, and hacking, for example—that dominate the peer-to-peer debates and demonstrably shape public policy on the use and exchange of digital media. Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion identifies the Napster case as a failed opportunity for a productive national discussion on intellectual property rights and responsibilities in digital environments. Logie closes by examining the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the “Grokster” case, in which leading peer-to-peer companies were found to be actively inducing copyright infringement. The Grokster case, Logie contends, has already produced the chilling effects that will stifle the innovative spirit at the heart of the Internet and networked communities.

So what do you think? Want to do it? What's a date we can shoot for?

(Cross-posted at Kairosnews.)

The Autobiography of My Mother

The following is a sort-of review of Jamaica Kincaid's Autobiography of My Mother. This is the sort of thing I post on my blog that tends to end up getting plagiarized for someone's assignment. It's so obvious from the referrers: people search for something like "essays julia alvarez in the time of the butterflies." Then, a while later, there come those searches for a sentence or two of my post in quotation marks. For those portions of my audience, then:

1. You really ought to read the book yourself. This you're about to read is my personal reaction to it. You may very well see something I didn't. Also, my book review may not touch on the content of your particular course. This will be a dead giveaway for your teacher. Finally, it offends me that you would take my name off this and put yours on. I put time and effort into reading the book and writing my review.

2. Glad you found the original source. Typing that sentence into Google and seeing that hit come up feels like a punch in the gut, I know.

Forgive that distraction, but I wanted my opinion to be right here in the post. My friend Darren has a similar note, but on the About page of his blog:

A special note to students: if you quote from this site—and judging by traffic statistics, The Woman Warrior, Benito Cereno, July's People, and Buried Child are popular choices—please cite it properly. Your teachers are not stupid.

On with the review...

Prior to this, I had read the following works by Kincaid: Annie John, Lucy, A Small Place, and At the Bottom of the River. I own My Brother and Mr. Potter and hope to read those when I get back home after the holidays.

I started reading Kincaid in college. A professor had assigned her short story "Girl" in a class, and I went out and got my hands on all the Kincaid I could. I did that all the time with other authors I liked. Do undergraduate students still do that? I would love to hear about it if they do. :-)

Whereas Annie John and Lucy are Bildungsromane, albeit with their own complexities about race, economics (Lucy is an au pair for a white family), and identity, Autobiography is on a par with A Small Place in its exploration of colonialism and its consequences.

The narrator, Xuela Claudette Richardson, has a father who is half Scottish, half African. Her father has wholly identified with his Scottish side; he is greedy and power-hungry. The narrator is sent to live with several different families, but for a time lives with her father and his new wife. The new wife gives birth to two children, a girl and a boy. Xuela has no friends, and she feels no love or affection for anyone, though she has several lovers; as a character she is shockingly empty, but she does have sympathy for the poor, "defeated" people around her in the aggregate and abstract. She is indifferent to her half-siblings until the boy dies of a terrible disease and the girl experiences an unwanted pregnancy (Xuela helps her terminate the pregnancy).

Xuela doesn't love anyone, and she doesn't want anyone to love her. The postcolonial condition of herself and others in her community coupled with the loss of her mother, a Carib woman, in childbirth cause Xuela to be utterly alienated from everyone. By that I mean that people in her country don't trust each other; as children, they are taught not to trust anyone, and they are trained to be ashamed of themselves -- their hair, skin color, and language ("proper English" and French or English patois are referenced several times. Xuela's stepmother speaks to her in patois as a sign of disrespect, for example).

Recurring themes include defeat, sex (and the absence of its attendant shame, and masturbation, and fascination with one's body), disappointment, silence (and its various characters), internalized misogyny (the women in the novel hate each other inexplicably), existential crisis. There's an example of that last one on page 202:

It is said that unless you are born a god, your life, from its very beginning, is a mystery to you. You are conceived; you are born: these things are true, how could they not be, but you don't know them; you only have to believe them, for there is no other explanation. You are a child and you find the world big and round and you have to find a place in it. How to do that is yet another mystery, and no one can tell you how exactly. You become a woman, a grown-up person. Against ample evidence, against your better judgment, you put trust in the constancy of things, you place faith in their everydayness. One day you open your door, you step out in your yard, but the ground is not there and you fall into a hole that has no bottom and no sides and no color. The mystery of the hole in the ground gives way to the mystery of your fall; just when you get used to falling and falling forever, you stop, and that stopping is yet another mystery, for why did you stop, there is not an answer to that any more than there is an answer to why you fell in the first place. Who you are is a mystery no one can answer, not even you. And why not, why not!

Xuela also gives sensuous descriptions of landscapes and bodies, and she reflects at length on motherhood, mothering, and the absence of a mother. It was a great novel, and I recommend it.

More on Plagiarism Detection Services

I have a little more to say about the anti-PDS arguments. They don't address the underlying principles thoroughly enough, in my opinion. That is to say, the anti-PDS arguments don't provide any specific and practical alternatives. The CCCC-IP statement does recommend that if faculty members or institutions are going to use PDS, they should provide an opt-out clause for students, but they don't say what that opt-out clause would entail, or why. A good anti-PDS argument, one that one be more persuasive to me, anyway, would address the following questions:

Are all plagiarism detection methods undesirable? If not, which ones are acceptable, and why are some preferable to others? I remember back in the day when I was in high school and college (late 1980s, early 1990s), we didn't have the internet (most didn't, I mean), but that didn't stop people from plagiarizing. Professors detected it by intuition, and they called students into their offices to interview them about it. They might, for example, ask students to bring in all their sources and notes. This invariably caused great vengeance and furrrrious anger among students, especially those who had not, in fact, plagiarized (this happened to friends of mine). Some professors required that we turn in our "paper trails" along with our research papers -- every single source, notecard, note written a cocktail napkin or brown paper sack, etc. I was only too happy to do this; I was proud of having done every bit of that work myself, and I wanted the professor to be able to see it.

The internet made it easier to plagiarize, and it also made it easier for professors to prove instances of plagiarism. Obviously a professor feels less accusatory asking a student into his or her office to discuss a possible plagiarism case if he or she has the verbatim source in hand. The downside (or upshot, depending on your personal teaching philosophy) of this was that the burden of proof essentially shifted from the student to the instructor.

Okay, so back to my question. In my discussions with opponents of PDS, it's unclear that any methods of plagiarism detection at all are acceptable. Too much zeal to trust students can lead to a tacit "look the other way" practice which is naive, irresponsible, and just as likely to breed resentment among students who do the writing as PDS do. The alternative offered is something along the lines of "start a dialogue with students about authorship and intellectual property." "Require students to submit multiple drafts and monitor the writing process closely." "Talk to students about the importance of speaking for oneself and what a meaningful act that is. Frame it in such a way that shows that copying a paper from the internet is basically letting someone else speak for you."

Fair enough, those are all valid practices. But professors who do those things can end up with plagiarism cases in spite of all of it. What exactly do you do at the moment of encounter with that paper that you're 99.9% sure is plagiarized? Assuming you should try to verify this, how should you do so? Please know that I'm not trying to set up a false dilemma or slippery slope. I realize that "use Turnitin or do nothing" are not our only choices. What I'm pushing for is a clear alternative: a set of specific recommendations, each with a rationale.

1. Googling passages from the paper;
2. Calling a student into the office (without attempting to get any proof in advance);
3. Requiring a paper trail along with the submission of the paper;
4. Having students interview each other during peer review about the ethical use of sources and then preparing an "originality report" like Turnitin does as part of the peer review;
5. Having students submit multiple drafts;

all are plagiarism detection methods. What's the difference between these and Turnitin? The boldfaced difference is that Turnitin makes money and the others don't.

Googling passages from the paper would probably meet the criterion of "does not foster a 'guilty until proven innocent' culture," if you don't google passages from everyone's papers, only those that are suspicious for whatever reason (see my last post).

Calling a student into the office can arouse immense hostility and rage, one of the arguments against Turnitin. [Edited to clarify: Calling a student into the office without any proof can make a student angry, perhaps especially if the student didn't plagiarize, and this anger can spread to the entire class. This compromises the desired supportive, friendly, trusting teacher-student relationship that is conducive to developing student writing.]

Requiring a paper trail with the paper is similar to Turnitin in that everyone has to submit to it, again the "guilty until proven innocent" argument.

Having students interview each other during peer review and prepare originality reports for each other is something that, I'll admit, just popped into my head as I was trying to think of all the possible ways to detect plagiarism. Again, though, if everyone has to do it, it too does not meet the "does not foster a 'guilty until proven innocent' culture" criterion. But someone should try it and let me know how it goes.

Having students submit multiple drafts, thereby allowing the instructor to micromanage the writing process and give the maximum amount of guidance and feedback, is good in a lot of ways, but in order to be a way to detect plagiarism, there has to be some source or set of sources to compare the drafts to, so I'm not convinced that it's all that effective as a plagiarism detection method. Plus, one could write a draft, revise it a few times, then for the final draft, add a big chunk of text from a web site. Then what do you do?

I just want to see all the options clearly parsed out and considered from all angles. Maybe there are lots of people whose only beef with Turnitin is the fact that they make money and who would argue that any other plagiarism detection method, provided it doesn't make money, is fine. If that's the case, I'd like CCCC-IP to say so.

It's, like, the Turnitin carnival!

Kairosnews has been giving a lot of coverage to Turnitin, a plagiarism detection service used by many universities and high schools. An employee of Turnitin has engaged in a dialogue with composition teachers here (see also here). Kairosnews has also linked to the CCCC-IP statement on plagiarism detection services. Then there are other posts about plagiarism detection services.

My position on plagiarism detection services is maybe somewhat contradictory and possibly not what you'd expect. I'm more sympathetic to Matt's comments (Platypus Matt here) than one might think. Let me try to lay out my position by responding to the most common arguments against plagiarism detection services:

They make an enormous amount of money off student writing. This is by far the most persuasive argument, in my opinion, against plagiarism detection services. When students submit papers into Turnitin, copies of them are kept in a database. This is done without the student's consent (the consent is coercive, anyway). They are able to charge lots of money for university contracts because they have amassed such a large database of student writing. Truth be told, if Turnitin were a nonprofit service, I may not have had much of a problem with it.

They take the responsibility off the teacher -- the responsibility to design plagiarism-proof or plagiarism-resistant assignments, the responsibility to teach quoting and paraphrasing skills, the responsibility to get to know your students well enough to know what their voices sound like, etc. This I can agree with, but only to a point. I've heard this argument carried out to extremes that really don't suit my taste. My view is that, at bottom, it is not the teacher's fault if a student plagiarizes. Ultimately, it is the student's fault. This view is informed by my conviction that students are ultimately responsible for their own learning. To assume otherwise is paternalistic. I've encountered plagiarism cases in which colleagues have tried to rationalize the plagiarism: [after finding proof that an assignment was taken whole hog from the web] "Well, maybe she didn't understand the assignment. Maybe she thought she was supposed to go out and find an annotated bibliography, not do one herself." It's a writing class. I simply can't take arguments like that seriously.

Obviously, I do agree that teachers are responsible for teaching paraphrasing and integrating material from sources. They are also responsible for getting to know students. And yes, it would be nice for teachers to update assignments (writing about current and local events is a good way to do this!). One would think teachers would get sick of reading the same essays over and over anyway.

But, I don't think that the burden should be on teachers to design a plagiarism-proof assignment. I think teachers should be able, if they want to, to let students choose their own topics for essays without getting a "well, you asked for it" type of snide remark if students plagiarize. (See "it's the student's fault.") There are sound pedagogical principles behind giving students the freedom to choose topics they are interested in. I think teachers should be able to assign papers about Shakespeare's plays; Jane Eyre; important issues of ongoing debate and concern like euthanasia, legalization of marijuana, abortion, the death penalty, etc. Again, there are sound pedagogical principles ("teaching the conflicts," writing to learn, etc.) undergirding these. Are there some topics that students shouldn't be expected to have to engage just because a lot of people have written about them? Has the teacher really done such a bad thing if she has students write on these types of topics? Has it actually become unreasonable to expect students to do the writing themselves on these topics? If it has, then, to borrow from Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith, we are truly lost.

On to the next common argument against plagiarism detection services: They don't reflect the Internet generation's ideas about authorship and intellectual property. Eh, I guess this makes sense if teachers are assigning remix essays or doing plagiarism as part of the assignment (brilliant idea, by the way -- read those posts). But honestly, I mostly think this is another one of those arguments that takes the responsibility for learning off the student.

Plagiarism detection services foster a "guilty until proven innocent" culture. This is a perfectly reasonable and fair argument. Sometimes, though, well often, really, I google phrases and sentences I see in students' essays, and I don't see anything wrong with that. My job is to help students develop as writers, and I want to know that I'm not wasting my time commenting on some random person on the internet's writing. Part of me thinks that, even though I am very open with students about the fact that I google phrases from their papers, especially in red-flag circumstances like: 1.) an eleventh-hour "I changed my topic!"; 2.) a seemingly deliberate attempt to obscure the locations of sources in a works cited page; 3.) PhD-level vocabulary; 4.) a paper that has the formulaic sound of a newspaper article; it's more open and less sneaky just to use a plagiarism detection service. I never have, though. I stick to Google.

New Issue of KB Journal on Ecocriticism

The new issue of KB Journal addresses Burke and ecocriticism. I know that those of you who are interested in ecocriticism will want to check out the articles, but that's not the only reason why I linked there. I want to call your attention to a couple of other cool things: first (and this must have been done quietly, without making a big fuss), all articles in KB Journal are now Creative Commons licensed. Second, I'm really impressed with the quality of the commentary on the articles there. They've got a small, but extremely thoughtful and articulate, group of folks who comment on the articles, a group which includes the astute Tom Wright. The comments there are not so much like blog comments, but more serious, like the correspondence I expect Burke, Marianne Moore, etc. would have engaged in upon reading each new issue of The Dial.

Notes from Next/Text Rhetoric

What follows are my notes on the Next/Text meeting for Rhetoric and Composition. At first I was really vigilant about preceding people's comments with their names or initials, you know, so they'd get credit for what they said. But then things got so rapid-fire that I got lazy about it. These notes represent what we, as a group, said, and each of us made contributions: myself, Cheryl Ball, Cindy Selfe, Daniel Andersen, David Blakesley, David Goodwin, Geoffrey Sirc, Janice Walker, Jeff Rice, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Karl Stolley, Kim White, Michael Day, Victor Vitanza, and Virginia Kuhn. To give a little background, Next/Text is one of the projects of the Institute for the Future of the Book, which is part of the Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California. Next/Text is focused on classroom textbooks in particular. Our meeting was devoted to imagining how we in rhetoric and composition would go about creating a completely new electronic textbook -- new, as opposed to CD-ROM companions to print textbooks: your basic linear, text-with-images, PDF-esque, "take a book from the tradition of print, digitize it, and smack it up on the Web."

As we started out, we briefly discussed institutional constraints and realities -- the old hiring, promotion, and tenure. In any discussion of online/technological work, we can't put those aside or dismiss them. Although this part was kind of bracketed after the initial comment, I suppose it was always in the background. For a while, we talked about generalities: basic needs, realities of textbook publishing, realities of online projects which someone starts (a faculty member) and others work on and contribute to (e.g., graduate students/T.A.s, non-tenure-track instructors, etc.). There was a stated need for what we, for lack of a better term, called a datacloud with portals and axes that help to organize content (which I'm going to call tags here, because that's basically how they'd function). I kept smiling and thinking of a conversation I had once with (the brilliant) Geoffrey Sauer, who emphasized the need for me really to connect scholarship with what it is I do online. I was trying to offer ideas of what I thought he was driving at, and he kept saying, "no, it can't be just another archive!" I relayed Sauer's call for some new online endeavor that wasn't just another archive to the Next/Text group, who agreed vigorously.

Copyright and Scholarly Publishing: Author's Addendum

Recently, Jill posted about a very handy Author Addendum (PDF) that you can present to publishers when you're asked to sign over copyright. The Addendum was created by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition in conjunction with the Association of Research Libraries. Science Commons also had a hand in it.

The terms of the Addendum give authors the right to "reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display the Article in any medium for noncommercial purposes" as well as the right to make derivative works and the right to allow other people to create derivative works, provided they're for noncommercial purposes. Basically, it's like a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivs license, in that, the way the Addendum is worded, it sounds like other people can create derivative works, but they have to ask the author first.

Jill had some modest degree of success using the Addendum with MIT Press, and I think we in rhetoric and composition and technical communication should test it too! I would love to see this Addendum become ubiquitous in our field(s) -- for publishers to come to expect copyright negotiations when they're dealing with us, or with anyone in the humanities for that matter.

The first page gives instructions on how to use the addendum, and it's delightfully subversive. The authors suggest that you write a cover letter directing attention to the addendum and submit it with the publisher's contract and the addendum. They instruct us to sign the publisher's contract, but right under our signature, write "Subject to attached addendum."

AND, if the publisher prints the article and doesn't sign the addendum, that constitutes implicit agreement to the terns of the addendum -- the language in the addendum specifies this. Heh.

Edited: SPARC recently published some presentations from a forum titled "Authors and Authority: Perspectives on Negotiating Licenses and Copyright."

Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis

I might as well start my MLA panel-blogging with a report on my own session. It was titled "Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis," and the other presenters were David Blakesley and Kristine Blair. Mary Hocks was also scheduled to present, but unfortunately she couldn't make it.

After Kris introduced us, I did my presentation. If you read my planning post, then you didn't miss anything. Still, I've attached my slides in .ppt format and in .sxi format for OpenOffice. I'd publish the whole thing here, but I generally don't present from scripts, and at the time I didn't think to open up Audacity and record the talk. Oh well. One point I think I made more clearly in the Q&A after my talk than in my post is that the MLA, CCCC, and several individual universities all have statements with guidelines for reviewing work with technology in the hiring, tenure, and promotion process. In every case, these documents support the scholars who work with technology and generally favor the legitimacy, or legitimation, of electronic publishing. Why, then, is it still so risky to do this work?

Dave talked about his work with The Writing Instructor, a print journal that has made the transition to electronic publishing. He had a handout, which I've copied in its entirety:

The Writing Instructor
Publishing since 1981 and now in its THIRD WAVE, TWI will feature...

  • Interactive and distributed peer review
    Peer review is conducted Slashdot style, with scholarly review teams and multi-tiered response and feedback
  • Born digital projects and printed archives
    Fostering hypertext and multimedia projects authored for the Web, TWI also remembers its heritage with print archives
  • Print-ready and distributable, with stable URLs, ready for dossiers and classrooms
    TWI articles can be made into elegant off-prints on the fly, by any user
  • Creative Commons licensing for easy dissemination
    New articles are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license
  • Open source and open access via Drupal and the DrupalJournal Project
    Taking open access to the next level, with no author subventions or fees, using open source content management; interested journals and editors may collaboratively develop a DrupalJournal release, customized for most journal functions
  • Community driven and authored content
    Wiki-style functionality, with version tracking, facilitates distributed editorial management and production
  • Integrated blogging and commenting, with RSS feeds, news aggregator, and daily notifications
    Content stays fresh and is distributed across the Web, inviting readers back and reaching out to new ones
  • Automated feeds to indexing services like ERIC
    Simplifies the process of submitting content to major indexing services, like ERIC
  • Web-based management of all editorial processes
    All editorial management, including author notifications, review tracking, and production are Web-based and accessible

This handout represents the bulk of his talk, but he also discussed some of the problems with electronic publication. What really caught my interest was his explanation of the prejudice that e-journals aren't peer reviewed at all or aren't referreed as rigorously as print journals. You might have noticed that most electronic journals have on their main page a link to a "Review Process" page which gives a detailed explanation of their peer review process (e.g. this one from Into the Blogosphere -- though, it should be said, ITB is an edited collection, not a journal. Everyone gets confused about that. It's a one-time thing -- an anthology.), intended for tenure files. Do assistant professors who are up for tenure have to give this kind of apologia for print publications? Anyway, Dave emphasized the importance of publishing not only a description of the review process, but also the acceptance rate. I agree.

Dave also talked about a new distribution of Drupal called DrupalJournal, which would offer features that would be desirable for journal editors. In the Q&A, John Holbo asked with great interest when DrupalJournal would be available. It must be a very new idea, because I combed the Drupal main page and didn't see any mention of it, though if you're curious to see what's in the works for Drupal in the coming year (or could be in the works), check out Dries' predictions and the ones at

Finally, Dave mentioned the efforts of the people who run the WAC Clearinghouse. It's a great resource which all of you should look through if you get a chance. Parlor Press, which Dave runs, releases books online (whole books!) at the WAC Clearinghouse site.

Kris was the respondent, and she had a lot to say about multimodal literacy and how our publication models aren't connected well with our students' literate practices. She also spoke about her experience as the editor of Computers and Composition Online, mentioning that multimodal scholarly compositions still have some problems. Some of them, she said, are much flash, little substance, or much substance, little flash in the way of engagement with the media. Achieving a balance is still a problem.

After the presentation, there were some great questions posed by Amardeep, Scott, and others. Maybe they'll reiterate those here. Or maybe I will, a little later. Overall, I think the session went well.

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