Openness and intellectual property

This is just going to be a quick post – just to mark something that happened today and which seems highly significant to me to the whole notion of open learning in open networks – if those networks are related to learning in Higher Education.

Today I attended a meeting in which a PhD student asked a question about the meaning of intellectual property. She was concerned that the data that she was gathering and her decisions about what data to collect for her PhD were based on conversations with her work colleagues – so what could she claim as her own ideas and what should she attribute to others – could she claim anything from a dialogue/discussion as her own?

Evidently it is very important in a PhD viva to be able to substantiate work as original and as your own work.

The student was advised at this point to be extremely careful about attributing work carefully, extremely cautious about openly sharing work in progress or ideas, and to be selfish. This should help to ensure that the PhD is accepted as an original piece of work and in addition this approach would help to ensure that anyone then intending working in Higher Education could build up their reputation in high ranking journals, maintain tenure at the university at which s/he works and not risk having their work and ideas ‘stolen’ by others.

This approach to learning is the antithesis of what I am interested in and how I want to learn – but then I am past retirement age, do not need to secure a career and have nothing to lose in believing that we should openly share.  I must say I found I was able to listen sympathetically to the discussion today, whilst at the same time being ‘sad’ that this non-sharing approach is still being promoted in some areas of Higher Education. It occurred to me that this approach is based on ‘fear’. Fear of not being recognised, fear of having your ideas stolen, fear of not ‘making it’, fear of not ‘fitting in’ etc.

Despite all this, I think it is worth thinking about exactly what we mean by ‘open’ in relation to intellectual property and more broadly – a question that has been concerning me for a while. I can see that for a student/new lecturer who is trying to establish a reputation, they have to make their mark somehow – and how do you do this at the beginning of your career and before you become established, if you give all your work away, and/or allow anyone to use it in any way they wish, especially if, as I was told today, high ranking journals, on which tenure is based, require you to substantiate that your ideas are original.

So where does openness fit into this scenario? Is there a continuum from less open to more open along which we need to appropriately position ourselves according to our specific personal context at any given time?

3 thoughts on “Openness and intellectual property

  1. Nor October 20, 2010 / 8:34 pm

    Intellectual property rights is something I’ve almost surrendered myself to–I mean, as a freelance, poorly paid journalist on the left, I’m pilfered constantly. It’s reassuring to know that it’s an agenda item for many, such as yourself. But sometimes it feels like a losing battle–maybe it’s just end of the day kind of pessimism I’m describing. Or that the news today, in Ontario, is filled with the arrest of yet another serial killer. Bleak on the news front indeed. But thanks for your writing and thinking.

  2. Lucy October 28, 2010 / 2:20 pm

    I think this is a very interesting post, Jenny, I’m a PhD student, previously (and still) an EFL teacher, who also believes in openness, sharing and caring in education. I have learned so much from others, and for their thinking I am grateful. If I am able to reciprocate in any way, or to pass on to others what I have learned and to let them do what they will with that, then that makes me happy. However, we all have to make a living and of course I want to graduate with my PhD and be able to prove I have made my original contribution to knowledge.

    I think this issue has even more resonance today in the wider world of web connectivity when so many of our thoughts are instantly made available to others in a tweet or a blog (or a blog comment!).

    It also has resonance in our world where to be successful we must disseminate our work as widely as possible … but maybe that should be only once one is already “Dr”.

  3. jennymackness November 1, 2010 / 7:59 pm

    Thank you Nor and Lucy for visiting my blog and posting your comments. Nor – I’m sorry that you are having such a bad experience of openness. I think Lucy you have hit the nail on the head when you suggest that it is all a question of balance.


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