Wednesday, May 29, 2002


I am currently reading Controlling Voices: Intellectual Property, Humanistic Studies and the Internet by TyAnna K. Herrington, and thoroughly enjoying it. The book is not only informative (Part I of the book is an accessible discussion of intellectual property laws and policy), but also really challenging. I agree with Herrington that the Internet community and the academic humanist community tend to ascribe to a transactional epistemology and social constructionist theories, at least as far as access to digital information goes. As Herrington points out, the legal community, in general, tends to ascribe to a different epistemology more grounded in positivism and the notion of the individual author. Additionally, I think that there are a number of people within both the academic humanist and the Internet communities who are either on the borderline between these two views, or who seem to champion the approach to IP that serves their own economic or professional best interests at a given moment (Herrington addresses this, too, in a few places, including on 119, but I think this is a bit more prevalent than the book makes apparent, at least up through the end of chapter 6 - haven't quite finished yet!). Even if we admit that motivated self-interest seems to be pretty common in U.S. society and culture, this somewhat ambivalent approach to intellectual property, as I see it, will likely result in further investment in positivist and individualistic approaches to intellectual property.

As a teacher and a student, this worries me. Access to and ability to use information is crucial to teachers and researchers. Without access to information within my field of study, I can't successfully produce my own academic works. Without access to information for my classroom activities, my success as a teacher is limited, Yet copyright laws have been getting more restrictive as information theoretically becomes more accessible through advances in networked communications technologies. Herrington notes that Jay David Bolter, in a 1999 address to participants at the Conference on College Composition and Communication "points to the fact that we have to argue so vigorously for fair use in the digital age as evidence that copyright is becoming stringent. It may be that the nature of digital material, because it is so fluid, is the fundamental cause of our difficulties in applying intellectual property law" (119). In the three years since Bolter's address, the situation certainly has not become any better. Examples of this stringency include the Napster case, as well as other p2p cases (MusicCity and the associated mess with Kazaa and Morpheus being a really interesting and messy example of ownership issues in general and intellectual property specifically!). There's also the weirdness going on with deep linking with both the Dallas Morning News and the site, which you can read more about at the Chilling Effects site (overview of the situations as well as links to Wired coverage).

Where does all of this lead? Well, not being a lawyer, legal scholar, or fortuneteller, I can't say for sure, but it seems that the trend of granting more rights for longer periods of time to owners of intellectual products will continue. Unless there is a huge outcry of some kind or another from the academic and internet communities. And honestly, I don't see that happening right now. IP issues are so complex, and the law/policy is so often seen as a way for individual or corporate owners to protect their property instead of as a way for the public to secure access to information through which knowledge and culture are formed. Well, at least efforts to define "deep links" as infringing and efforts to (of all things!) declare hyperlinks as proprietary technologies (!) have thus far been unsuccessful. All is not lost!

- posted by laurie @ 5/29/2002 08:11:00 PM
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