Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.


Copyright on Lectures Notes?

It seems to be current at the University of Florida for professors to sell at inflated prices lecture notes to their students through a publisher called Faulkner. Not surprisingly, enterprising students started selling their own notes, to the point that there are now several businesses competing with each other, and in particular with Faulkner. The latter is now suing one note-taker, on the basis that it copied some material. Apparently, this is not the first suit, and the previous ones were not successful.

This raises several questions. 1) Does intellectual property extend to the spoken word? No, because it is not a tangible medium of expression. With all the recording going on in my classes, I am surprised I am not yet on iTunes (the homonym is not me...), and I would not care. 2) Does intellectual property extend to a summary and interpretation of the original work? No again, or movie reviewers, readers' digests and reporters would be out of business. 3) Does intellectual property extend to those you teach? No again, they came to listen precisely to acquire that knowledge, you cannot and should refrain them from using it. 4) Aren't academics in it for the public good, the dissemination of knowledge? Precisely.

More background material on Open Access News.


This debate about University of Florida prof's "copyright" in their lecture material would be a joke if it were not so serious. I'm an economics prof in New Zealnd (phD in Econ from Stanford), and regard myself as a pretty creative lecturer. Do I "copy" existing material? Do UF profs copy existing material? Of course we/they do . 95% of my creative stuff at least comes from ideas and papers and articles of other economists. I read voraciously, learning from the best economists and social scientists on the planet and definitely try to incorporate those ideas into my lectures (read derivative works). My PhD from Stanford involved three years copying and reformatting and editing (in my brain, in my handwritten notes, on my computer temrinal ) and reexpressing hundreds of ideas and articles and books that themselves had been copied and reformatted and re-expressed for generations by thousands of academcially trained economists and political philosophers. So the idea that "their" lecture material is "theirs" in any meanungful operational sense - as distinct from the artificacts created by rent seeking IP legislators and lawyers - is nonsense.

But convincing prevailing powers-that-be in academia or the corporate world of that in words is also probably futile...at least at a local regional level, the level where UF students and student associations work. One thing that can work though, at this level, is competition: competition discovered and disseminated by students as they use and spread knowledge of the availability of good open source material that is relevant to their academic educations. For example, all of my introductory game theory lectures and related clips/slides/podcasts are available for anyone to use. There are literally thousands of people from around the world who have downloaded the entire 23 lecture series i have from last year, and am developing again this year, from iTunes(search on "game theory" in the description field) or from our university multi media website website uctv.canterbury.ac.nz or my strategicecon.com website http://strategicecon.com/modules/journal/journal.php?space_key=1&module_key=22). I don't know any of these people, except occasionally I get an email query or a thank you note or a "do you mind if I use these here" note. Just like me they use and resue these ideas for their own education..and betterment, financial or otherwise. Are they "copying" me - of course.

As anyone who has read stephen Pinker will know, we humans are an amazing biological computational/information processing machine. he ultimate efficient photocopier with our visual senses and audio/tactile/motor abilities . That's what we do. Copying at the gentic level is the essence of life, our life and every creature's life. And it certainly is part and parcel of the modern patronage system funded by general taxation, the system we call public education: this system is, and always has had copying - and further derivative works like editing and processing - at its heart. Of course the private incentives for academic teachers with captive audiences is to monopolize , locally, their product. But passing it off as their own is just that ...passing it off. EVERY idea taught in EVERY undergraduate course, if not every graduate course (that's what makes it a "course", not jut a seminar), is someone else's idea...

Do you (student's) get that? over and over again, iteratively through time and across space in every university and college on the planet. And we're all better off for this extensive unmonitored unchecked rampant plagiarism. If your prof had to cite every known "author" user of every known important idea in your economics courses he'd never deliver a lecture. It would, like some legal scholarly articles, be riddled with footnotes acknowledging multiple sources. But we (lecturers) don't do that , it just interferes with communication much less education ...we just pass it off as our own (Dr X's lecture..as if it is only Dr X!!) or the collective wisdom of "economists" (not saying that explicitly however, until we come to try to monopolize ou lecture notes)

So let's cut to the chase here. Let competition prevail. Virtually every academic prof relies on a textbook, or set of textbooks for their own course. Students can undermine the monopolistic attempts in better ways than just copying their lecturer's notes...which are after all just a copy of someone else's ideas. As an alternative to copying and redistributing your lecturer's notes find someone else on the web who uses the same textbook and makes their material available for free. I put my hand up because your patronage of me will help me. But check out Stanford and MIT and Princeton and Berkeley - they all do it either directly or thru sites iTunes edu. So there is a supply of rich high quality academci material out there. Now create a demand!! then see how your UF prof's respond.

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