Saturday, September 27, 2008

Can Learning Infringe Copyright?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Art by Hannah Christine Allan DearArt by Hannah Christine Allan Dear

Earlier this year, I wrote an elearning discussion paper on reusable learning resources for Futurelab. It was snapped up and published. Stephen Downes gave it
a brief thumbs up and correctly interpreted the paper as an introduction and a history of learning resources.

But a rattled blogger put a comment against Stephen’s post that was far from complimentary to Stephen, Futurelab or me. Presumably the writer thought that the comment would get wider exposure on Stephen’s blog than on the Futurelab site. The claim was that my paper was written on the strength of
“a few google searches”.

Research or copying

I suppose some papers are written on a few Google searches. Many may not necessarily cite any of the results. In my attempt, I cited a dozen or so
(I'd 26 citations) of the hundreds I had on my list, including some mention of my own findings in the field.

The commenter's criticism reminded me that research of this type could come across as bogus to someone who may never have done proper research before, or had not considered the usefulness of passing on accumulated knowledge to others. Bogus or not, clearly I was being painted as a copier, and an out of date one at that. Perhaps I am.

Authors, thoughts and plagiarism

In Dave Snowden's recent post on a keynote speech he attended about innovation in companies, he asks the question: how does imitating other cases constitute innovation? Dave was obviously uneasy about the assumption that copying may be an integral part of innovation.

Sandipan Roy discussed plagiarism in the context of innovation in design, from an ethical point of view, and is still looking for a definition of it. He cites Wikipedia: "Plagiarism is the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work". Presumably the operative word here is ‘author’, though I wonder about 'thoughts'.

A learning skill

For as much as note taking is a fundamental skill of an independent learner, it would appear that taking notes at university lectures could incur copyright issues. So far, such copying is seen as a protected infringement unless it is published, which is another form of copying.

Given the recent interest in so-called wiring of the brain and the associated metaphors,
in the context of learning, how long will it take before copyright is applied to the passing on of skills and knowledge by a teacher?

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


V Yonkers said...

Funny you should bring this up as I was just working with my daughter on her first "research" paper. She has done many papers were she researched the topic and wrote about it, but this was the first time she would be held accountable for citations.

In tears, she said, "I don't get it. If I find 3 or four different sources who say the same thing, how do I footnote them? My whole paper will just be full of numbers from the footnotes." I explained that the analysis was her own thoughts so she would not have to cite them.

It seems to me that there comes a point where we will need to recognize that others may have similar thoughts. Certainly, there have been times when I have blogged and days later find a reference to a similar thought. Did they COPY me or did they just go through the same process I did and come to the same conclusions?

I think this problem has arisen since knowledge can now have a monetary amount put on it. I think a result of this will be a growing lack of innovation. Sharing of information without ego (such as the open source movement) allows us more opportunities while hording of information (intellectual property laws), stifles opportunities.

Manish Mohan said...

Hi Ken

Just a small correction. eCube is a team blog with multiple authors. The post you refer to was written by Sandipan Roy.

Manish Mohan

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia!

Good on you for showing the sensible way to your lovely daughter! She is becoming a fine researcher.

I believe you are right with all this. It is the $ talking, not the pride when it comes to issue over copyright.

I believe you are also right when you talk of others thinking of similar things at the same time - similar thought processes, probably sparked off by similar initiation from similar sources.

Y'know this has happened many times in Science, it could be quite uncanny - but maybe not so coincidental as they may seem to be.

Haere mai Manish!

Thank you for pointing out this to me - I've made the correction.

I infrequently do this sort of thing - unintentionally of course. I get the blogger's name wrong - Virginia will vouch for that :-) and even get the name wrong when it comes to quoting someone. I was recently corrected by Michele Martin for this.

But hey! This is a special occasion, and a very appropriate one for you as teacher - "when the student is ready, the master appears"!

You are so welcome on my blog. Do drop by another time Manish!

Ka kite

V Yonkers said...

I wrote a paper on this last year doing a comparative analysis of countries' economic development, educational, R & D, and technology policies. (You can find it under my webpage, under conference proceedings-2008, Creating the Knowledge Economy). The most successful countries in terms of growth and human development were those that had policies the encouraged coordination of information between each of these sectors (I did not have enough information to include New Zealand in the analysis). One of the conclusions a drew was that intellectual property laws helped to impede development.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia.

Thanks for the reference. I could not find your paper on your site, but I did find another of yours when I did a Google search. Perhaps it is the same paper?

Interesting you should speak of intellectual property laws and economic development of countries. I suspect that this would apply similarly to development in education.

In 2000 through to 2002 I was involved in a series of projects on elearning. One assignment I worked on was designing and building elearning resources for teaching astronomy. I was impressed and amazed when I learnt that NASA permitted the use of material from their site, free from the usual copyright restrictions.

At about that time, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA - a government owned authority) prohibited the photocopying of past NZQA examination papers for student use. The reason given was an issue of copyright. NZQA sold past exam papers to schools at a less than fair price.

There were similar restraints on the use of other valuable study material published by NZQA. Though there has since been a relaxation on those restrictions, the intention remains. To my way of thinking, this contravenes the spirit of education.

Ka kite

V Yonkers said...

Yes, that was the right paper (I couldn't find the link when I googled it--go figure).

What I found interesting was that the Scandinavian countries have an open agreement with companies that in return for federal R&D funds, the results need to be open to educational and government entities. If publicly funded, then the public should have access. Rather than stifling innovation and competition, this has helped develop more companies (thus creating competition) and more innovations.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Thanks Virginia.

I agree with the Scandinavian agreement/policy you describe. There needs to be a bit of give AND take where these matters are concerned.

Copyright, for as much as it is seen as a vagary, is at the heart of author entitlement. Agreements can smooth the ways with this, perhaps making matters more amenable to all parties concerned.

Ka kite