Intellectual Property

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A Scattershot Stump Speech

Back in September at the New Media Research @ UMN conference, I saw Lee Rainie give a wonderful, enthusiastic stump speech about internet research (his characterization, not mine). At the beginning of his talk, he told us that he was going to give us some background about the Pew Internet & American Life Project and its history and then he would gesture, scattershot-style, toward some of their current and future projects. The speech was excellent in every possible way, and when it was over, I thought, that's what I want to do at MLA.

I was invited to be on the NCTE-sponsored panel at MLA, titled "Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis," along with Kristine Blair, David Blakesley, and Mary Hocks. I'm scheduled to go first, so I'm planning to give about 3-5 minutes of background on "the crisis" for the uninitiated, but after that, I'm going to talk about some of the work that people are already doing online every day. For the purposes of this talk, I'm positioning myself as a human aggregator, gathering and presenting the best ideas of what scholarly publishing could be, well, beyond the crisis.

The crisis, as I've always understood it, is an economic problem, an unsustainable business model, consisting of 1.) the conflict between the book-for-tenure model and the financial troubles (and subsequent cutbacks of number of titles published) of university presses; and 2.) price-gouging on the part of scholarly journal publishers and libraries' declining ability to afford journal subscriptions (which also affects book sales). This article in Inside Higher Ed provides a good status report on the latter. The former was heralded by Stephen Greenblatt in his famous letter to members of MLA. Greenblatt outlines the problem, pointing out that "books are not the only way of judging scholarly achievement." He suggests:

We could try to persuade departments and universities to change their expectations for tenure reviews: after all, these expectations are, for the most part, set by us and not by administrators. The book has only fairly recently emerged as the sine qua non and even now is not uniformly the requirement in all academic fields. We could rethink what we need to conduct responsible evaluations of junior faculty members. And if institutions insist on the need for books, perhaps they should provide a first-book subvention, comparable to (though vastly less expensive than) the start-up subvention for scientists.

This letter spurred a lot of discussion, at least in circles I frequent, about alternative requirements for tenure, especially online publishing. Certainly we in rhetoric and composition have been thinking about online publishing's place in the tenure and promotion process. I'm going to try to condense the major points of all those sites I linked into a few minutes of background information on the conversations about online publishing in our field.

Then, I'll segue into the scattershot ideas by making a few remarks about the work that Collin Brooke is doing and summarize some of John Holbo's many contributions to the thought about the future of scholarly publishing. Obviously there's no way I'll have time to do their work justice, so I'll need to decide what's most important in conjunction with what I'm talking about and then create a bibliography with all the articles I'm linking to here.

Then I want to focus on some particular cases.

  1. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. This is an edited collection of essays that we published using weblog software.
  2. Computers and Writing Online 2005. For this online conference, we made the review process public (a "public feedback process") and have kept the content up at Kairosnews, with a Creative Commons license, so that others can copy and distribute the presentations -- e.g., for a course pack.
  3. Rhetoric and Composition: A Guide for the College Writer. Matt Barton of St. Cloud State University, along with students in his rhetoric courses, has done a lot of work building a free rhetoric and composition textbook using a wiki.
  4. Carnivals. Collections of posts on a given topic, like informal journals representing the scholarship that's being published on academic weblogs.
  5. Massive Multi-Thinker Online Reviews. Holbo's play on MMORPG, these are seminar-style events in which a group of bloggers reads the same book or article at the same time and blogs about it.
  6. CC-licensed online readers for courses. This is something I've been trying to plug for a long time, but it hasn't caught on just yet. There's all this Creative Commons licensed content online, and it would be so easy to reproduce essays on a given topic, group them into themes, write an introduction à la an edited collection, and assign it in a class. I'm working on one, which I'll unveil as soon as it's finished, but I'm too busy with my dissertation right now, so it has gone unattended lately.

I want to close with a return to the larger social context, meaning, and goal of scholarly publishing -- to disseminate new knowledge -- and point out the benefits of open-access online publishing to anyone (academics or nonacademics) who doesn't have access to a large research library. I might draw upon some of the arguments presented at a recent conference at the University of Minnesota, Publication, the Public University, and the Public Interest.

Sigh. There's a lot more to say on top of that. I haven't even touched the problems related to archiving and indexing all this content, and I haven't said as much as I'd like about intellectual property and alternative copyright models. Maybe during the Q & A.

Online Portfolio of Work Related to Rhetoric, Digital Media, and Feminist Theory


Dissertation Prospectus

Preliminary Exams

Outlook: What's next for blogging? In Bruns, A., & Jacobs, J. (Eds.), Uses of Blogs. Forthcoming from Peter Lang Publishing. Original questions and answers posted July 24, 2005.

Between Work and Play: Blogging and Community Knowledge-Making (Essay in Lore: An E-Journal for Teachers of Writing)

Review Essay on Blogging, October 2002

Sites of Resistance: Weblogs and Creative Commons Licenses (PDF)

Making the Adjunct Visible: Normativity in Academia and Subversive Heteroglossia in the Invisible Adjunct Weblog Community

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca on Data Selection

"Push-Button Publishing for the People": The Blogosphere and the Public Sphere

Neither Compelling Nor Arbitrary

Thoughts on Burke's "Four Master Tropes"

Response to Burke's "Semantic and Poetic Meaning"

Genre Theory, Genre Analysis, and Blog as Genre

Blogging as Privileged Speech

Anarchy in Academe? A Cultural Analysis of Electronic Scholarly Publishing

Musings on Foucault, Power, and Resistance

Thoughts on Aspasia and Diotima

Feminist Theory

Gender and Open Source

Performativity: Draft of 3W Encyclopedia Entry

Essentialism: Draft of 3W Encyclopedia Entry

Whose Voices Get Heard? Gender Politics in the Blogosphere

Feminist Knowledge Claims and the Postmodern Critique

Identity Politics: Genealogy, Problems, Legitimacy

Theorizing Butler

Can Narrative Do the Work of Theory? A Look at Toni Morrison's Beloved

The Problem of Experience in Feminist Theory

On Theorizing Gender

Intersectionality, and I *Heart* Nomy Lamm

Notes on the Sex/Gender Distinction

Conference Notes

CCCC 2005

CCCC 2004

Feminisms and Rhetorics 2003

Two posts on Computers and Writing 2003

Roundtable on the Status of Qualitative Internet Research (from AoIR 2003)

Rhetoric Seminars

Seminar on Richard Fulkerson, "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century," College Composition and Communication, June 2005 (56.4)

Composition Theory, "Good Writing," and -- Impending Theory Wars?

More on Fulkerson

Seminar on Kelly Ritter, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition," College Composition and Communication June 2005 (56.4)

"It don't matter. None of this matters." Or, composition pedagogy and Ritter's article on plagiarism

More on Authorship, Intellectual Property, "Templates," and Student Writing

More on Authorship, Intellectual Property, "Templates," and Student Writing

This will probably be my last post about the Kelly Ritter article; that seminarnival never did seem to take off, huh? Anyway, recently Prof. B. posted a To-Do List for September. The whole post is great for its general agenda-setting, but I was struck by this part for another reason:

coming up this week, Congress is still going to vote on permanently repealing the estate tax. Also on the agenda: cutting capital gains and dividend taxes even further, and cutting entitlement programs. The fiscal irresponsibility here is just mind-boggling: we're running a huge deficit, we're fighting a war, and we've just had one of our major cities and several minor ones wiped off the map. And they still want to cut taxes?!?!? Call your congresspeople and send them letters telling them (politely, but firmly) to get their heads out of their asses and run the country responsibily.

Here's Landismom's letter re. the estate tax, if you want a template.

To refresh your memory, Ritter points out the use of the terms "template" and "model" in everyday practice, using teaching materials as an example (p. 614-615, emphasis in original):

In my own discussions of teaching materials and research findings with colleagues, particularly those new to the teaching of first-year composition, I often hear queries such as "Can I steal that assignment?" or "Do you think I could use that syllabus as a model (or a template)?" In creative-writing courses, teachers often encourage students to "mimic"canonical authors so as to internalize traditional styles and to understand the value of voice and poetic form. These are only select examples of how the creative, collaborative notion of intellectual production in the humanities often leads to "borrowing" ideas back and forth, between complicit and entirely well-meaning individuals.

Remember that last part of B's post: "Here's Landismom's letter re. the estate tax, if you want a template." Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Activist organizations offer templates for us to edit and send to our representatives all the time: at NARAL, NRDC, the Sierra Club, and the Feminist Majority Foundation, just to name a few. In fact, you can go to just about any advocacy organization's site and click "Take Action," which is usually on the main menu of links, and it'll take you to a template letter like any of these. You're welcome simply to sign your name at the bottom and click "send," or to make a few changes to the template, or erase all the text in the box and write your own letter.

When I was six years old, my parents were watching a documentary on public television that showed men with clubs beating baby seals. They were so cute, with white fur against the white snow, but then when they were beaten, splotches of red spread out over the snow. I was absolutely inconsolable. I cried and cried, on and on until my dad, who I imagine was really at a loss here, said, "Well, write a letter to the governor!"

The governor at the time was Fob James, a staunch conservative who probably cared not one jot about baby seals but whose staff was obviously touched enough by my letter, scrawled in my six-year-old hand with crayon ("Dear Fob James. Tonight I saw baby seals getting killed on TV and it made me cry." etc.), to write an personal reply to me which is now in my parents' safe deposit box. When I go home next week, I'll see if I can get both letters out and scan them.

I said all that to say this: In a representative democracy, writing letters to elected officials is one of the most meaningful rhetorical acts one can perform, at least as important as writing an essay for a composition course*. Yet what essentially amounts to plagiarism -- passing off something someone else wrote as one's own -- is perfectly acceptable in such letter-writing for expediency. No one so much as bats an eye at it. Students do get mixed messages about authorship; the same teacher who'd turn a student in for plagiarism if he or she used someone else's essay as a template wouldn't think twice about using one of these templates for an action letter. I'm not teaching this academic year, but Ritter's article has given me so many ideas for illustrative cases to bring into the classroom to discuss authorship and plagiarism in a more sophisticated way.

I'll end with Using virtual lectures to educate students on plagiarism, by Laura A. Guertin (via Tracy). She makes a case for using these virtual lectures, which didn't seem that compelling at first, but in the article she points to the fact that with prerecorded lectures, students get a consistent message about plagiarism that's the same no matter how many times you replay the lecture. Sure, no one can anticipate every problem that may arise, and I doubt I'll try this in my own teaching, but I still think the article is worth a link.

* And yes, I know audience is a factor here; those template-driven electronic action letters rarely, if ever, actually get read by elected officials, or even by interns. If we're lucky, they at least get counted.

Courts Unlikely To Stop Google Book Copying

Here's a good story about the Google Print Library Project. Experts interviewed in the article, including Jessica Litman, author of Digital Copyright, and William Fisher of Harvard Law School, predict that if the case were brought to court, Google would win, and their scanning would be upheld as fair use. I'm surprised to have found this story via digg rather than Copyfight, but you can find plenty of good background information and opinion posts on Google print here, here, here, here, and here.

CFP, and a "Just ask!" story with a not-so-happy ending

The Handbook of Research on Open Source Software: Technological, Economic, and Social Perspectives will be a great collection, but I have some reservations about its publisher, Idea Group, specifically with their copyright policy. They're the same company who's publishing the Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology, for which I wrote three articles, two of which will be appearing in the encyclopedia. Their copyright agreement expressly forbids authors to post articles on the web (which isn't all that unusual, but according to earlier correspondence I received, my understanding is that the same goes for drafts of articles). They want articles that have never appeared anywhere before. Had I the chance to do it over, though, I would have been pushy about it, asking about publishing drafts, how different the final draft has to be from the rough draft, etc. From the copyright agreement, in case you want to see the exact language:

4. The Author agrees that until the publication of the manuscript Author will not agree to publish, or furnish to any other publisher, any work on the same subject that will infringe upon or adversely affect the sale of the manuscript. Furthermore, author(s) cannot post the contents of the article on any personal website or other sites, or distribute the work to others in either electronic or print forms.

As I said, two of my three articles will be in the encyclopedia. The third one, on open source, won't be in there, and here's why.

In the post I linked, I explained that the reviewer's comments, while certainly worthy of serious consideration, called for the article to be taken in a different direction, more women in computing in general than women in open source development communities in particular. I had intended to revise and resubmit the article until I realized that the research for the revisions was taking too much time away from my dissertation, plus the implementation of the reviewer's comments would have broadened the scope in such a way as to render the article no longer manageable (there was a 3500-word limit, and that included at least 15-20 bibliographical citations). So I decided to post the article here and notify the editors that I'd be withdrawing it.

I then got an email from one of the editors asking me to reconsider, pointing out that the reviewer's comments were only suggestions -- and in retrospect, I should have emailed the editors and asked them to look at my article and the comments to see what they thought before withdrawing it, but oh well. I figured I'd just ask! and see if they'd let me keep the article up if I reconsidered the withdrawal. I emailed the editors and told them I'd posted the article, and I explained that due to my ethical reservations about depublishing weblog content, and the fact that my article was linked at Linux Weekly News, I didn't intend to take the article down. (I didn't mention my other reservation, the sad irony of signing that kind of agreement for an article about open source.) I would have been fine with signing the copyright over to them as long as I had written permission to keep the article up; I would have added a blurb at the top explaining that the content of this post was (c) Idea Group, Inc. and that it was republished with permission. That's why I have the "unless otherwise noted" with my CC license on the left sidebar. But the editor checked with them, and they said no, they wouldn't publish my article if I intended to keep it on my site.

Maybe they'll modify the copyright agreement for this collection to make it a little less completely at odds with the subject matter; that would be nice. Not absolutely necessary -- lest I be thought some kind of radical -- but nice. This doesn't have to be all or nothing; they could do a Founder's Copyright, an Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license, which only allows people to make copies beyond the 10% allotted by fair use, or they could allow authors to publish chapters on their personal websites, something to acknowledge open source/ open access in some way. I doubt seriously that opting for a Founder's Copyright would cause them to lose a dime. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of what Idea Group is doing -- they're publishing some very interesting work. My criticism is intended to be constructive.

Bibliography of Scholarship on Copyright

A blurb about the bibliography:

The "Current copyright literature" website is a resource for keeping informed of current articles related to U.S. copyright law. This service is edited by Tobe Liebert, the Assistant Director for Collection Development & Special Projects at the Tarlton Law Library.

Here's the process: I review law journals and law reviews (and a great many other legal periodicals) as they are received in the library. I examine the table of contents of all of these publications and identify any article concerning U.S. copyright law. I then input the basic bibliographic information about each article into this database, and scan the first page of the article. The availability of the first page of the article should better enable readers to know if they are interested in reading the whole article.

This website will be updated two to three times a week, depending on the volume of cites. This service is RSS-enabled to allow users to receive automatic notices of updates. The RSS feed address is

My position on “fair use”: Only the first page of an article will be scanned and images will be deleted after 60 days. This service is for non-commercial, educational purposes only.

Although I'm in favor of goosing fair use a little more, especially for educational purposes, I think it's a fantastic thing Liebert is doing. Via Copyfight.

Academic Commons

Via Infocult, the kickoff of Academic Commons, which, as a combination discussion forum/quarterly journal, looks to be a very valuable resource. From the first edition page:

Academic Commons ( offers a forum for investigating and defining the role that technology can play in liberal arts education. Sponsored by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College (, Academic Commons publishes essays, reviews, interviews, showcases of innovative uses of technology, and vignettes that critically examine technology uses in the classroom. Academic Commons aims to share knowledge, develop collaborations, and evaluate and disseminate digital tools and innovative practices for teaching and learning with technology. We want this site to advance opportunities for collaborative design, open development, and rigorous peer critique of such resources.

Academic Commons also provides a forum for academic technology projects and groups (the Developer's Kit) and a link to a new learning object referatory (LoLa). Our library archives all materials we have published and also provides links to allied organizations, mailing lists, blogs, and journals through a Professional Development Center.

The first issue of the quarterly looks very interesting. The pieces that pique my interest the most are these:

Technology & the Pseudo-Intimacy of the Classroom: an interview with University of Illinois-Chicago's Jerry Graff

Graff's interest in "teaching the conflicts" as a way of rescuing higher education from itself has recently been replaced by a profound worry that higher ed is becoming increasingly irrelevant to American culture. We checked in to see what role Graff thinks technology might play in these unsettling times.

Copyright 101 by Richard Lanham, UCLA

The pervasiveness of digital media has so altered the nature of authorship and ownership that questions of intellectual property have become matters of core concern for our students and our contemporary culture. Lanham argues that these issues require an academic response, and that a basic course in copyright -- "Copyright 101" -- represents a first step in this process.

Cross-posted to Kairosnews and CCCC-IP.

Gender and Open Source

What follows is one of the articles I wrote for The Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology. It was accepted pending revision, but I decided to withdraw it. The deadline was just about to pass, and I suppose I could have asked for an extension, but the changes the reviewer requested ended up requiring more research on the history of women in computing than I have time to do, unfortunately (must spend time on dissertation only!). Plus, this is much more of a nonacademic position paper than an objective, informative academic encyclopedia article. I wrote two other articles for the encyclopedia anyway, which is probably enough. So, enjoy. Maybe you'll learn something you didn't know before; I hope so. Not being a software developer myself, I'm sure I'm wrong about some of the technical matters I discuss here, and I'd appreciate any corrections.

UPDATE: See also the playlist I created on this topic. It contains a few sources I found since writing this.

UPDATE: There's a thread at Linux Weekly News about an article in NewsForge titled "Getting in touch with the feminine side of open source."

UPDATE: Máirín has a thoughtful response you should read.

Introduction: Proprietary and Open Source Software

The software most people use every day – common applications like Microsoft® Word®, Adobe® PhotoShop®, and the like – is proprietary. That is to say, we pay for the use of it, and suppliers pay programmers to write the source code. Consumers purchase the software, install it, and use it. While consumers can use the software applications, because they are only sold the executable files, they cannot view or alter the source code. This means they cannot write new modules or tinker with existing features; for example, consumers can't make changes to a proprietary word processing program's bulleted list feature to add a new style of bullet or write a module that would make the program recognize a given file format it does not currently recognize. In proprietary software applications, the code is under traditional copyright, and because the corporations only sell the executable program file(s), the user cannot view or build upon the source code. Instead, the user must wait for the next version of the program, hope the company has added the features she wants, and pay for the upgrade. Programmers who work for software corporations must sign confidentiality documents agreeing not to share the source code with any unauthorized personnel.

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