with David Parry
keynote speech at the recent Computers and Writing 2012 conference
hosted by NC State University was titled "Ending Knowledge
Cartels." Who are the members of these cartels?
term "knowledge cartels" is one I borrow from Peter
Drahos and John Braithwaite in their book "Information
Feudalism." Broadly speaking they use this term to talk
about any institution which profits from excessively restricting
the flow of information, extracting rent anytime information
is shared, whether that is in the form of music (as is the case
in the music industry) or the current patent regime (that attempts
to severely limit what type of innovation and product development
takes places. In the modern information economy these cartels
are growing increasingly powerful having substantial negative
effects on our society. We could talk about drug cartels as
those that profit from trafficking in illegal drugs, or drug
cartels that profit from restricting the flow of life saving
medication, both are structurally pretty similar.
the academic context what we have seen is a move towards giving
away our intellectual labor to these cartels for free, who then
turn around and profit from selling that product. The most concrete
example of this in the humanities context are the publishers
whose cost and thus profit margins continue to increase. In
one sense we could talk about the big journal companies like
Elseveir or Routledge, but I also think some of the University
Publishers are also complicit in this model, for example Oxford's
new policy that you designate your writing as work for hire,
giving them even greater control over your work.
have stated that breaking up these knowledge cartels in order
to move toward open scholarship is a moral issue. Why?
As I said in the talk, there are clearly economic issues here,
and those alone would warrant a move to open access as the recent
Librarian letter indicated. But for me the issue is larger.
In terms of drug patents this is easy to see, academics take
public funds to develop life saving medical technologies, then
sell that research to companies which then profit from the drug,
restricting the flow of the drug to those who might need it
most, but can't afford it. People die because of this model,
so it's easy to see there. But if we imagine that what we do
as humanities scholars serves a crucial role in society (that
a healthy society requires a robust public critical discourse)
then to restrict access to this conversation (which in part
is funded via public money) is unethical. Knowledge rights are
human rights. I am an academic because I believe that.
call for collective action to overcome the knowledge cartels
in the academy. What are a few steps we can take in this direction?
Well I closed my talk with these ten possible solutions. And
then posted them to my blog, which you can see at http://academhack.outsidethetext.com/home/2012/ending-knowledge-cartels/.
So I will just highlight what I think are the most important.
First is to creative commons license everything we do, preventing
the rent extracting behavior of these knowledge cartels, in
effect giving our work away to the public for free rather than
to these cartels for free. The second is to stop supporting
these cartels in any fashion, no peer review, no editing, no
serving on boards. Of course the corollary to this is to support
Open Access journals. Finally to be public about these choices,
because this is a collective action problem, the more public
we are about these choices the more it effects change.
about instructors' syllabi, lesson plans, web pages, and teacher-created
learning activities? Should they be open to everybody, rather
than hidden behind the password- protected learning management
systems (like Blackboard) touted by most educational institutions?
If so, aren't many educators resistant to such a paradigm?
Don't get me started on Blackboard. Aside from being horribly
designed enterprise software and a poor way to engage students,
they profit extensively from public funds. I don't know for
sure but my guess is they have more people in sales and marketing
than they do in actually coding their product. So, yes, we should
stop using them and as academics adopt open platforms. There
are lots of excellent options here. Sure academics are going
to be resistant but comfort, and ease are not excuses for poor
pedagogy, which is again to say nothing of the moral choices
the surface, your suggestion to fight knowledge cartels by "pirating"
seems pretty radical. Can you elaborate on this idea, particularly
as it applies to classroom teachers?
Radical, maybe, but morally its the right thing to do; these
cartels are locking down public knowledge and profiteering on
the backs of our students. In the terms of the classroom thing
about how much money is spent on textbooks or other lesson plan
type materials that are "proprietary." Really this
benefits no one save these cartels, so lets start sharing our
work with each other not them.
we inevitably move toward a post print society, will some educators,
especially those who are not digital natives, drag their heels
and balk at the inevitable transformation from, as you express
it, "an analog archive to one whose substructure is a digital
Certainly, I think we see that in so many places. Old power
structures do not often easily yield to new ones, especially
when those in power would have to give up power to others, but
that is not an excuse to resist change, indeed it is a call
to be ever more vigilant about pursing it. So there will be
some who benefit from the old system, and want to resist change,
and there will be some who argue that this is the way things
have always been done and there is no need to change.
But there is reason for hope, because I believe academics for
the most part understand the problem here and want to figure
out how to take advantage of the accordances of the digital
network to share our work. And we see this already as many faculty
now contribute to Open Access journals, or institutions like
the MLA start to change the licenses under which they publish
scholars work. So we are moving in the right direction, but
as we move that way I think we can expect push back from these
cartels and we will have to be prepared to fight back. But the
good news is this is simply a collective action problem, the
power is all on our side, as long as we chose to recognize this.