Category Archives: Intellectual Property

“Authenticity” as Last Refuge of the Lazy

I was intrigued to see two abiding concerns of compositionists rolled into one in the recent controversy over Helene Hegemann’s plagiarized/remixed novel Axolotl Roadkill. There’s the usual breast-beating and hair-tearing and garment-rending about these kids today from the usual choristers, but what I thought was interesting was the use of the trope of authenticity in service of defending representing someone else’s writing as one’s own. Hegemann, in her own defense, asserted that “There

Freedom and Property

At Computers and Writing last year, I briefly chatted with John Logie about some of the smart things I’d recently had the good fortune to hear him say about intellectual property. He made the case in our conversation (as well as in some of his recent presentations) that advocates of openness in intellectual property would do well to reframe the debate away from the term “property” because of the ways the term itself — “property” — is both inaccurate (owning an idea is not the same as owning a car) and tends to make people feel instinctively possessive. I get that, and I’m kind of with him on it.

The problem I see, though, is that notions of property and ownership are so deeply woven into all aspects of our culture that it’s really, really hard not to say “mine.” Especially when it comes to stuff that is somehow connected to you. In fact, I’m kind of wondering: for some belief systems, doesn’t all morality and ethical individual conduct essentially come from the concept of ownership, and from the concept of self-ownership in particular? I’m thinking here especially of John Locke and Chapter V of the Second Treatise on Government (and, to a lesser degree, some of the ideas in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding): in other words, the concept away from which Logie wants to shift the debate is one that’s deeply foundational, and in some ways part of the bedrock of Western democracies.

Are there possible alternatives? Other ways to think about ideas in ways that don’t rely on conceptions of individual ownership as foundational and necessary to freedom? What are some positive opposing terms for “ownership”?

I don’t know. Rousseau’s notion of the freedom of the self and the way — in my limited understanding — that he seems to conceive of individual liberty and a sort of positive self-determination might be a possible alternative. But if Logie’s talking about reframing the debate, Western audiences tend to go for Locke a lot more than they go for Rousseau.

The Clear Use of Sources

I’m looking at a quotation that I don’t know what to do with: it’s confusing me. I ask you, reader, to help explain it to me; to help me figure out how the author is using a particular source. Here’s the quotation, in context, from pages iii-iv of the Preface by Marshall Sahlins to The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual:

As deconstructed in the Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual, the applied anthropology of the US Military may be described something as follows: a planetary strategy of research and destroy, involving the deployment of armed and largely culturally-illiterate American forces from among the thousand or so garrisons now distributed on foreign soil, sometimes complemented by second rate mercenary academics, all charged with an investigation of the cultures of the local peoples sufficient to determine if and how they can be subjugated or, failing that, taken out.

Here is anthropology as a weapon in dubious battles, as the critics rightly claim. For as it is put by a certain Lt. Colonel cited in the counterinsurgency manual:

“There will be no peace… The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To these ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. We are building an information-based military to do that killing.”

But then, whose side are you on, Petraeus? Although the counterinsurgency manual pretends to be based on up-to-date social science, it lacks the critical reflexivity of the latter, since what it dare not address is the Americans’ own presence as an invading and occupying power.

My question is about that “There will be no peace” quotation that goes up to “killing”: how is Sahlins using it? What’s the purpose? There seem to me to be several problems with the quotation. First, the “certain Lt. Colonel” is never cited in the counterinsurgency manual: the quotation comes from a xenophobic 1997 editorial piece by the then-Major Ralph Peters, published quite clearly not as scholarship but as opinion, and in its content clearly superannuated by the work that went into the counterinsurgency field manual. If we are to believe that authors work with a sincere commitment to the words they write, that work strikes me as creditable, and should in no way be related to the execrative fustian offered by Peters ten years earlier.

So: the material leading up to the quotation says some nasty things about the military and about the authors of the field manual, and about the intentions of its authors in using anthropological scholarship. The material following the quotation directly addresses General David Petraeus, who directed the authorship and publication of the Field Manual that Sahlins critiques.

Why, then, does Sahlins use a quotation (itself not cited at all in the Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual: I found the Peters source via Google) from an author he doesn’t name? Is this guilt by association? Is there an implied equivalency between the opinions of the author of an editorial piece and military doctrine? If so, how is the quotation supposed to relate to General Petraeus? Should we understand from the way the quotation is positioned that General Petraeus is to be held to account for the opinions of the now-retired Peters? In sum: what are we to understand as the intended relation of the Peters quotation to FM 3-24?

CCCC09 A17: 21st-Century Writing Lives

The full title of this panel was “21st-Century Writing Lives: Redefining Development, Performance, and Intellectual Property in College Writing.”

Erin Krampetz, of the nonprofit Ashoka in Washington DC, began the session by describing the Stanford Study of Writing, which followed students for the five years from 2001 to 2006, from their first year at Stanford through the year after graduation, asking those students to submit to the study every piece of writing they created in that time. Krampetz joined the writing department as an undergraduate, and was one of the initial guinea pigs for the study. The longitudinal study accumulated a total of 14,776 pieces of student writing in its database, and every piece of that data is now being coded. When we think about longitudinal studies, Krampetz observed, we think about change: in the Stanford study, what changes? It’s tempting, she suggested, for researchers to tell stories that follow a timeline. For the Stanford study, however, the story is anything but linear and chronological, with all that staggering data.

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NYPL Lecture: Remix (Part 1)

Last night was a sold-out lecture at the New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos forum, featuring Steven Johnson, Lawrence Lessig, and Shepard Fairey speaking on a panel titled “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.” The panel posed their guiding question as follows: “What is the future for art and ideas in an age when practically anything can be copied, pasted, downloaded, sampled, and re-imagined?” The audience was mostly what you’d imagine, on the younger side and with a visible hipster contingent. It doesn’t seem to be available on iTunes yet (search “nypl”), but I’m betting it will be eventually, which would be rather in keeping with the panel’s topic. I came, of course, because of my interest in the political economy of textual production, distribution, appropriation, use, and re-use; and because of the ways I see that cycle relating to what we (me, you, our students, our colleagues) do in the classroom, but also because it was an excuse to get into the city on a weeknight, to have a tasty NYC meal (OMG Bangladeshi spiced lamb), and to feel like a bit of an itinerant again, at loose ends and doing interesting things.

Interior of the Celeste Bartos forum

The panel began with Andrew Filipone Jr.’s hilariously surreal and somewhat menacing video of Charlie Rose interviewing himself, titled “Charlie Rose by Samuel Beckett,” as a sort of introduction to the panel’s concern with remixing.

Steven Johnson then started his talk by suggesting that what he hoped would be exciting about the panel conversation would be both its timeliness and its timelessness.

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The Plagiarized Field Manual, Part 2

(This post, the second in a series, builds upon, responds to, revises, and condenses a number of emails sent in somewhat different form to WPA-L, the writing program administrators’ listserv.)

In response to the emerging controversy over the plagiarized Army field manual on counterinsurgency, FM 3-24, Chuck Bazerman and Christopher Strelluf made what I think are some important points on WPA-L. On October 31, Bazerman observed that anthropologist David Price’s article “is not just a plagiarism gotcha,” and I’m inclined to agree: as Bazerman points out, the article offers some “subtle observations about the writing and research process, the ability to handle source material and depth of disciplinary understanding, a subtle understanding of the motives for plagiarism,” among other things. For the reasons Bazerman notes, I think Price’s article is valuable — although it also seems to me quite clear from Price’s tone that the article was, indeed, primarily intended as what Bazerman and other very smart people before him have referred to as a “Gotcha!” in support of his broader strongly implied claim that Military=Bad. (Note the supporting characterization by the Counterpunch editors of “military enterprises” as “evil.”) In serving the ends that its author intended, Price’s article critiquing the plagiarized field manual raises other, more complicated issues as well.

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The Plagiarized Field Manual, Part 1

(This post, the first in a series, builds upon, revises, and condenses a number of emails sent in somewhat different form to WPA-L, the writing program administrators’ listserv.)

The Army recently published a revised version of its field manual (FM) on counterinsurgency, FM 3-24. Field manuals are how-to guides for soldiers: step-by-step, easy-to-follow instructions for everything you can imagine you might have to do in wartime, from loading a boat to reading a map. They’re some of the most clearly written documents I’ve seen, and they’re also all in the public domain, since — like any writing I do in my current official capacity — they’re products of taxpayer dollars.

The counterinsurgency field manual, however, represents a shift in perspective on the Army’s part. Field manuals are efficient, straightforward, commonsense. For the most part, FMs are careful to avoid complexity and ambiguity, and eschew the complications that attend upon the intricacies of intercultural interaction. But the Army realized that what’s going on today in Iraq and elsewhere is a whole lot more complicated than what they were initially prepared for, and that realization prompted a fundamental revision in doctrine; a revision than actually engaged the complexities and ambiguities of intercultural interactions, and relied upon peer-reviewed academic scholarship in anthropology and sociology to do so.

So there’s the initial ground for debate, which has made the rounds in various forms on WPA-L and elsewhere: is it acceptable for the Army to adapt scholarship — yours, mine, anybody’s — to the warfighting and peacekeeping ends decided upon by the nation’s civilian leadership? (I’m doing my best here to make careful distinctions as to who does what, both out of a self-conscious awareness of my status as a civilian instructor at a military institution, and out of a discomfort with the ways I’ve seen academics sometimes unknowingly conflate military leadership with high-level civilian command.)

The scandal, though, is this: according to anthropologist David Price, the published version of the Army’s FM 3-24 on Counterinsurgency is deeply and thoroughly plagiarized, particularly in its Chapter 3, which patches together a wide range of verbatim or minimally edited passages from prominent sociological and anthropological texts without any sort of sufficient documentation in order to establish a series of definitional terms for use by officers, NCOs, and soldiers seeking to implement counterinsurgency tactics in the field.

Now, initially, when I saw this, I immediately got out all my old FMs: not a single works cited among them. David Price writes that “The cumulative effect of such non-attributions is devastating to the Manual’s academic integrity,” but apparently fails to grasp that this is in some ways a matter of genre: FMs are manuals for use in the field rather than the library, and the sergeants and lieutenants and captains who will put them to use are far less interested in where ideas come from than in matters of implementation. Some officers I’ve spoken to have echoed the observation that Army writing is community property and definitionally in the public domain, which likely contributed to the habits of mind that led to the failures of documentation. I don’t believe that excuses the plagiarism — particularly given Price’s point that “The most damning element of the Manual’s reliance on unattributed sources is that the Manual includes a bibliography listing of over 100 sources, yet not a single source I have identified is included” — but it does help to explain it.

But I’ve put my hands on a copy of the new FM, and the plagiarism is unfortunately damning, particularly given the hyperattention to citation in other areas. I don’t know whose intent it was, but the bottom line is this: there is clearly some intent to deceive associated with the citations in this document.

(More to follow.)

Permissions and Property

I’ve made some minor changes to the site, including licensing my material under a Creative Commons license (attribution, noncommercial, no derivative works), except for comments, which (like it says) belong to whoever posts ‘em. I’m not particularly worried about the comment thing, but it just kinda makes sense to me after reading the previously mentioned (June 10) discussion over at Metafilter. And what with dealing with my mother’s estate, I’ve had enough of lawyers for a while. But so anyway I was a little uneasy about posting my ideas relating to the dissertation here, and now I feel like the material’s protected but still shareable, which is a good thing.

And I’m grateful to the kind Heather Champ for the permission to quote her obligatory legal statement :) .