Catherine Fisk’s Working Knowledge:Employee Knowledge and the Rise of Corporate Intellectual Property, 1800 – 1930 (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) has been around for a few years, but I only became aware of it recently, after a colleague mentioned it in conversation. So my recommendation — it is a fascinating read — is belated, but I hope these reflections based on the book are still useful.
Note to readers: This is the first post in our new series “Building Open” where we interview those who are building tools and services to support scholarship in the open. For our first installment, we talk to Philip Cohen of SocArXiv.
Ultimately, I do think we need to leave the old system behind, but it can work incrementally. For example, we need people to donate fewer free hours of labor (reviewing, editing, moderation, publishing) to for-profit, paywall publishers and more to open access institutions. But they can do that without completely boycotting all for-profit journals, if we build our institutions in an open and inclusive way.
Readers of “In the Open” are familiar with the ongoing machinations of Elsevier and other major commercial publishers as they seek to tighten their grip on elements of the scholarly communication system. As Mike Taylor points out, these developments bring to mind the underlying issue of who controls OA infrastructure, and the notion that resistance to commercial domination should be largely based on the academy establishing its own dissemination infrastructure, ideally with substantial investments from funding agencies. Recently, a new funder-supported open dissemination platform, Wellcome Open Research, has emerged as an alternative to vehicles controlled by commercial publishers, and in a separate development, the SocArXiv repository has been released as an alternative to Elsevier’s newly acquired Social Science Research Network. Wellcome Open Research in particular offers an intriguing model that raises the question of how funder and university-supported elements of OA infrastructure can coalesce into a more integrated system in the future.
In theory, the idea of a small claims board that could adjudicate copyrights claims where the monetary value is not too high seems sensible. Federal litigation is very expensive and intimidating, so a small claims mechanism could make it easier for independent artists and small businesses to defend their rights.
Nevertheless, I have never been very enthusiastic about the idea, in large part because the devil is definitely in the details of any proposed scheme. The fear is that a small claims board could become, in the words of this 2012 article about the topic from Techdirt, just “a new venue for porn companies to coerce settlements out of internet subscribers.” If such a board appeared to be nothing other than a mechanism to make it easier not just for trolls but for Big Content in general to bully individual users and avoid the high costs of litigation, it would ultimately be harmful to the copyright balance that is already so out of whack in the U.S.
I recently went out on a limb to help a group of scholars who were trying to do a good thing but going about it in a not-so-good manner.
They wanted to curate a list of articles on a topic relating to current events and social justice. Unfortunately, they were determined to post the materials to the open web using full-text PDFs from licensed, published content.
Yes, cue the collective copyright librarian shudder.
Last month university presses came together for their annual convention in Philadelphia. This was only my fifth meeting so I lack the deep perspective that many of my colleagues in the UP world have, but I perceived signs of a shift in the center of gravity around conversations of open access. It’s a somewhat wobbly, but directionally clear migration toward engaging deeply with how OA might apply toward monographs.