Friday, September 11, 2009

Is your organization destroying your reputation?

Cover of "Catch-22"Cover of Catch-22

I keep trying to come up with things to get people to care about copyright, and more importantly your organizations' intellectual property policies. For the most part this topic generates a lot of yawns-- I know this because they are among my least read posts. I will not be deterred. I'm making your caring my life mission.

So, when I saw this it caught my attention: A question of trust:

If you want to place factual information on the web Wikipedia should be your first port of call. Anything else is largely a waste of your time and effort. This doesn’t incidentally mean that other sources are not worthwhile or have a place, but that people need to work with the assumption that people’s first landing point will be Wikipedia.

Of course, I totally buy this. If you want to make a difference you have to go to where the people are congregating, and Wikipedia is where that is happening.

For many of our faculty this should be a concern. Our university intellectual property policies effectively prohibit us from participating. Our policies are contributing to our growing obscurity. For example, the copyright used by Wikipedia, and the all rights reserved copyright imposed by most of our institutions are incompatible. Anything that a faculty member creates, that is somehow related to their job is owned by their university. Here is the copyright from NC State University associated with my terms of employment: RUL 06.01.01

Pursuant to part of the Copyright Regulation, all works created by these employees within the scope of their employment at North Carolina State University, which are subject to copyright, shall be “Directed Works.” The copyright to such works shall be held by North Carolina State University unless an authorized university official assigns the copyright to another party.

This intellectual property policy is a reputation killer. It is leading to greater obscurity for our faculty. It effectively prohibits faculty from contributing to the commons. It makes them a non-player in an economy where reputation is everything. That's why I found this quote in the A Question of Trust article of such interest:

I can see the ground shifting very rapidly towards a situation where a lack of engagement, a lack of interest in contributing to the publicly accessible store of knowledge, is seen as a serious negative on a CV.

I absolutely believe that this is where we are headed. That your digital footprint in the commons will be absolutely critical to your professional and economic future. It's an interesting Catch-22. Your reputation depends on your contributing, and your university IP policies prevent it. Ouch! Our copyright policies are contributing to the destruction of the reputations of many of our young faculty. There's not many things worse in life than having a job that destroys your future employment prospects.

It is time for our institutions, and especially the public institutions, to begin to participate in the commons. It can't be postponed. To do this we have to start by fixing our antiquated copyright policies. It's time for our institutions to adopt open content licenses: Creative Commons 3.0 Share Alike would work. We need to turn our faculty loose. Our very future depends on it.

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AJ Cann said...

Just to point out that I was reblogging Cameron Neylon's post A QUESTION OF TRUST

Kevin Gamble said...

Thank you AJ, very much appreciate you pointing it out. Links corrected.

dave said...

Am I being silly or does the section you quote not restrict contributions to Wikipedia?

In open source software development you always licence the code for reuse (under GPL, MIT etc.) but you don't always assign copyright. It is the exception not the rule.

I assume the same the same applies to Wikipedia. So while the copyright on the text you write belongs to the institution, whether they consent to allow it to be placed under CC-BY-SA for Wikipedia is the same process as if they allow it to be published online or sold as a textbook etc.

Anonymous said...

While this policy does seem to directly affect staff that are not faculty, NCSU's Copyright Ownership page seems to contradict some of your statements, viz:

"1. Traditional Non-Directed Work

As noted in the Copyright Ownership Law section, universities have traditionally not claimed copyright for the works created by faculty and EPA authors, although some do pursuant to the employee work for hire section of the copyright law. NC State does not claim copyright to this category of works. Such works are those historically created by faculty and are defined as pedagogical, scholarly, literary, professional, or aesthetic works resulting from on-directed effort."

Kevin Gamble said...


You are correct in that our policies are different based on the type of appointment. NC State's general policies are as progressive as you will find toward the treatment of faculty intellectual policy.

Last year, however, they created a new policy for faculty that have appointement that include outreach and extension. At land-grants we have a three-pronged mission of teaching, research, and outreach. The policy I cited was the one that directly applies to faculty with outreach responsibilities. So, the very faculty who are responsible for working with the public are those working under the most restrictions as to intellectual property. Thesse changes were just put into place last year-- a big step basckwards.

Unfortunately, where NC State went with this policy is in-line with where most land-grant institutions were already at.

We moved backwards.


Kevin Gamble said...


You are correct.

So to contribute to Wikipedia it would require us to get permission from the institution. I can't imagine a scenario where an institution would grant a priori permission to contribute their IP to an outside entity. I think you'd have to get permission on a case-by-case basis.


John Dorner said...

So... is there anything those of us in the trenches can do to make a change?

Kevin Gamble said...


I found this in _The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind_, "Contrary to what everyone has told you, the subject of intellectual property is both accessible and interesting; what people can understand they can change--or pressure their legislators to change."

Therein lies our charge. This absolutely has to be driven by those in the trenches. It is their thoughts and ideas that are being locked-up and thrown away outside of the public flow of information (knowledge). We have to get smarter, way smarter about the consequences to society (and our organizations) from these draconian copyright policies. What we can understand we can change, but our leaders have to hear the message. We have to start caring-- LOTS!

The silence, dare I say apathy of my colleagues on these issues are depressing to say the least. We need a movement...


Unknown said...

I'm so glad that there will be some of us looking at this. I agree this is a major barrier moving forward.

I don't have much to add, yet, other than how can we move forward in a distributed sense when you can't be lawfully distributed?

Looking forward to having a better understanding.

Kevin Gamble said...


Me too! TY!

I'm less than optimistic about our organizational "leadership" getting this. To get it, you have to be-the- ball, and that takes time that few seem willing to invest.

Perhaps a legislative approach would be the better strategy.


Cameron Neylon said...

Hi Kevin, two things strike me. Firstly would these same rules apply to your academic papers? If not (which is the case in most UK academic contracts) then I would simply argue that these submissions fall into the same category.

The other approach is the question of what is being done on "your time" vs "work time". This only really works if you have contracted notional hours though which I guess is unlikely?

Kevin Gamble said...


The rules don't apply to academic papers. I sent our copyright an example of a Wikipedia article and asked, "allowed or not". It's been 3 days without an answer. I'll let you know what I learn.

When you do the work is irrelevant here. There is no concept of a work life and private life-- one life.