The arriving faculty workshop at West Point continues, with an interesting briefing several days ago from USMA’s intellectual property attorney. The primary point of the briefing had to do with contracts and copyright, and it was this: any intellectual property I produce while at West Point in my official capacity as a faculty member, government employee, and representative of the United States Army does not automatically inhere to me as it would under conventional copyright law. Instead, inasmuch it is produced in the service of the United States Government, it is immediately released into the public domain.
Yeah. Wow. And, given my views on intellectual property, I think that’s pretty cool, although the IP attorney’s acknowledgement of the forthright application of institutional hegemonic force was a little unsettling: most of the time around here, they hide the iron behind velvet for civilian faculty.
There are other implications, as well. Ethical regulations make very clear that I can’t use my position as a West Point faculty member to push a book or an essay, which of course would seem obvious until one raises concerns (as I did with the IP attorney) of context and venue: essays published by West Point faculty in Military Review carry considerably different appeal and considerably different connotative freight from those published in Rethinking Marxism.
The thing that’ll be most difficult for me to get used to, however, is that I won’t be able to ask my students — plebe cadets, this first semester — to make a choice about the status of their essays as intellectual property. Anything they write in and for my class is instantly released into the public domain, and they therefore don’t have to engage with the concerns of choice, motivation, and textual ownership that have lately been so important to me.
Unless, of course, we begin to productively blur the line between work performed in an official capacity and work performed in a personal capacity. Like an institution-wide cadet blogging initiative might do.