More Questions than Answers

creative_commonsThis post will be a departure from my usual spotlight on tech tools. I seem to be having a lot of conversations lately about academic freedom, intellectual property, and access to academic resources. In a way, this does tie into our discussion about technology because technology — especially Internet databases — is supposed to make more things accessible to more people.  The Internet is supposed to be the great equalizer.

However, I just read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about Aaron Swartz’s hacktivism and JSTOR’s hold on the academic knowledge base.  Although I don’t know what the answer is in this case, the argument offered by Peter Ludlow does make me think. After all, I’m on the cusp of graduating and I wonder, “Once I leave this institution, how much access will I have to research databases?  How long with our library still recognize my W&M ID?” And if I don’t find a position at another institution immediately, how will I be able to continue my research as an independent scholar?

Last week, I showed a friend a website called Figment, which allows users to write novels and short stories right on the Web.  The site runs contests with prizes ranging from free popular fiction to meetings with authors to publishing the winner’s work.  My friend’s question was, “But if you publish there, what’s to prevent someone else from stealing your work and passing it off as their own?”

And, if I post a paper, albeit copyrighted, to Slideshare — and I have — what’s to prevent someone from lifting large segments for his or her own technology integration assignment?

Furthermore, how do the contributors to Creative Commons really know that those who download photos are attributing credit to the owners?

I guess what I’m suggesting with these questions is that we acknowledge our fear of plagiarism and decide whether self-protection is more important than sharing knowledge.  I don’t want to be taken advantage of any more than the next person.  But one comfort I take from Internet publication and technology in general is that hiding plagiarism is much harder.  (Believe me, I taught developmental English and became very skilled with plagiarismchecker.com!)

Additionally, proving the time and date of my posting to the Internet is easy.  So, unless the person absconding with my material is a super-hacker, able to alter the code behind the artifact, my publication information is there for all the world to see.

Again, I’m not trying to answer any questions here.  I’ve been wondering how we, as academics and citizens, can learn to view knowledge apart from a proprietary perspective and somehow allow creative energy to flow the way many of us say we want it to.