Tag Archives: plagiarism

Who Owns Ideas? Intellectual Property and Academic (Dis)Honesty: Part 2

One of the big ideas raised in both the film we watched and your textbook is that of ownership of ideas. To quote from the chapter in Everyone’s an Author,

Who owns words and ideas? Answers to this question differ from culture to culture. In some societies, they are shared resources, not the property of individuals. In others, using another person’s words or ideas may be seen as a tribute or compliment that doesn’t require specific  acknowledgement. In the United States, however (as well as in much of the Western world), elaborate systems of copyright and patent law have grown up to protect the intellectual property (including words, images, voices, and ideas) of individuals and corporations. This system forms the foundation of the documentation conventions currently followed in U.S. schools (527).

As I’ve mentioned, we are an individualistic society. We encourage people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps (assuming they have boots to begin with). We expect our members to pursue happiness and prosperity by their own definition, and we encourage them to defend what is “theirs” with laws that protect them from “violation” (see copyright law). In other words, the individual is the central focus of American society, rather than the whole, or the greater good. This kind of thinking operates closely to the scarcity model that teaches us resources are limited, survival is everything, everyone is competition, and thus we should fight to protect what little we have lest it be taken away. We hoard whatever we can get our hands on, then, in an effort to preserve some sort of perceived safety: is our very existence truly threatened by sharing what we have with others?

Academia exists in a weird place, somewhere between the copyright and copyleft. While we pander to individualism in that we want you to do your own work and earn your credentials (also, we want you to think for yourself!), we also greatly value collaboration and remix! When I write for an academic audience, I name drop. I associate my work, and my ideas, with the people who came before me, who have been doing this work. It would be unprofessional and inappropriate to show up and suggest change without first learning about how we got to where we are now. I build on what they have already done. I also connect sources, putting them into conversation. Perhaps Source A made a point that Source B can add to. As a writer, I can connect these articles and make new meaning. This is what sampling looks like in academia. However, academia makes an explicit demand that the public sphere does not, which is that you must cite your sources, giving credit where credit is due.

Here is Henry Ford College’s policy on academic (dis)honesty (I put the dis- in parenthesis because I wonder how this conversation would change if instead of framing it as a list of do-not’s, we looked at academic honesty and defined that instead):

Academic Integrity

Henry Ford College (HFC) considers academic dishonesty to be a serious offense. It is the policy of the College that determination of and appropriate action in respect to academic dishonesty by a student shall be a matter of individual judgment by the instructor. The instructor may administer a penalty up to and including failure in the particular course. It is the professional obligation of the faculty to enforce academic integrity in their courses. Instructors (or their designees) reserve the right to require picture identification for test taking, graded papers or projects, or other appropriate purposes. A student cannot drop a class if failing for reasons of academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty is any activity intended to improve a student’s grade fraudulently.* It includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  1. Unauthorized acquisition of tests or alteration of grades (such as the stealing of tests, test keys, or grade books from faculty offices or elsewhere, or the purchasing of tests or grade-books);
  2. Unauthorized use of notes, books, or other prohibited materials during an examination;
  3. Open cheating on an examination (such as copying from another student’s paper);
  4. Permitting another person to take a test in the student’s place or receiving unauthorized assistance with any work for which academic credit is received;
  5. Providing unauthorized assistance with any work for which academic credit is received;
  6. Revision of graded work in an attempt to receive additional credit fraudulently;
  7. Plagiarism (using another person’s work without acknowledgment);
  8. Use of cell and video phones to cheat; and
  9. Any other conduct intended to obtain academic credit fraudulently or dishonestly.

If an instructor fails a student in a course for academic dishonesty, the instructor must immediately notify in writing the student and the registrar of the infraction, retaining copies of both notifications.

The registrar maintains a record of all such violations. If a student fails two classes as a result of academic dishonesty, he or she is dismissed from HFC for two academic years. In addition, a notation of the reason for academic dismissal is placed on the student’s transcript(s). The notation may be expunged at the discretion of the appropriate vice president if the student petitions for its removal after at least two years have elapsed since the disciplinary action.

If a student believes that the accusation is false, he or she may appeal through the Student Complaint Procedure. If the appeal reaches the Student Complaint Board (SCB), the SCB may consider only whether the charge is justified. The SCB may not set aside or change the penalty given by the instructor unless the charge of academic dishonesty is set aside.

*Any action that violates the Student Conduct Policy and Due Process Procedure is also subject to review under that policy.

As you can see, our academic integrity policy covers far more than just plagiarism and citing sources. For comparison, here are links to EMU’s policy and Wayne State’s as well.

Your assignment for this particular unit asks you to connect themes from RIP: A Remix Manifesto to college policies on academic integrity. Start with fair use. Read your textbook. Review the college policy quoted above. Think about whether or not ideas can really be owned, and whether we need more copyright, or more sharing/open source materials. Consider your responsibilities as a college student, where the concept of remix might fit into the work that you do, and how you should handle that ethically. I’m looking for you to show me that you paid attention to the film, that you’ve taken some time to think about these concepts, and that you are aware of and understand what is expected of you as a college student.

Here are links to two resources we talked about in class:

An interview with Girl Talk

Fair Use Criteria

Ownership of Ideas: Intellectual Property and Academic (Dis)honesty: Part 1

Do you know about Crash Course? Happy Saturday morning to me! I’m sitting on the couch with my cat watching YouTube and it turns out, Crash Course has covered Intellectual Property in a mini-series!

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Crash Course is a project by John and Hank Green, aka the Vlogbrothers, who do pretty awesome work all around. In fact, they founded DFTBA Records, which stands for Don’t Forget to be Awesome! DFTBA works pretty closely with another organization I love, the Harry Potter Alliance, which is a great example of fan activism: a thing that happens when fans across the globe connect via the Internet and decide that they want to turn their attention outward, toward the public, toward social justice, toward human rights, instead of just appreciating whatever the focus of their fandom is. So for example, instead of writing Harry and Draco fanfic and posting it on Tumblr where it remains in a closed loop of fans who read, respond, and share, fan activists inspired by the Harry Potter series might get involved with trans* rights, voter registration, or organizing against child labor.

In ENG 131, we’ve been talking about intellectual property, and we watched the documentary film RIP: A Remix Manifesto, about remix/mashup culture and the future of copyright in the digital age. Gaylor, the film’s producer, presents these four truths as the “Remixer’s Manifesto”:

Screenshot of "A Remixer's Manifesto" from RIP: A Remix Manifesto

Let’s start with the first truth: culture always builds on the past. This one connects to our framing question: what is original? Is there one true source, is there anything uninfluenced by what came before (or around)? We’re getting into philosophy here: can we find the truth unsullied by external influence?

The second truth argues that the past always tries to control the future. As technology advances and tools for communication evolve, we will, for a time, view what is possible through a lens of what is familiar. Imagine looking outside through a window and not knowing how to make sense of what you see. This creates conflict: our past and our present (and our future) are not in alignment. When something holds power, and that power is challenged, there is resistance. The past will attempt to control the future by imposing its own value systems, or criteria for evaluation, and when the future fails to meet those criteria, it will be criticized. A great example of this is the literacy “crisis” ____ by mainstream media. Composition/rhetoric/writing scholars have found these criticisms to be unfounded: it’s not that students “can’t write,” but that they are engaging with media differently, much like what we read about in Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

The third truth, that our future is becoming less free, speaks to attitudes of the past being used to restrict or limit activities from the present and those that may exist in the future. We’re trying to…well, I know there’s an idiom for this, but I can’t seem to find it. We’re using old standards to measure new things. We’ve talked about the importance of context for understanding and defining literacy in ALP: at one point, being able to read and write on paper was a sufficient definition for literacy, but 21st century literacy looks different. It wouldn’t make sense to use the same definition for literacy over the next hundred years. If we did, we would be greatly limited. Imagine if schools only taught to that basic definition, ignoring the actual realities of everyday life?

The fourth truth states that to build free societies, you have to limit the control of the past. I think this is essentially asking for a revolution. Look at American history: have efforts to limit the control of the past generally been well-received? Likely not. Why do you think that change is feared?

This has a lot to do with power dynamics, and dominant groups exercising their control in an attempt to maintain their power. We are a capitalist, patriarchal society. Here’s what that means, in a nutshell:

  • Capitalism is a socio-economic system that values profit over people. In other words, everything can be monetized, and thus everything is considered property, even ideas and attention. Capitalism operates on a scarcity model: there can’t possibly be enough goods or resources for everyone, and thus there is a need to fight for and defend what you own. Money is power.
  • Patriarchy is a term for a society that is driven by masculine power and behaviors. Generally, this means that men retain power, and that masculine characteristics are considered superior: competition, aggression, violence. This doesn’t mean men are bad, but it does have significant consequences for people who are not men, as their power is limited. Many would argue that this system is in fact harmful to men as well.

Imagine what happens, then, when it is suggested that people share resources, that information isn’t property, that ideas aren’t original and cannot be claimed as such. What happens when people who make music, or art, ask their audience directly for support instead of going through record labels as middle-men who seek to make a substantial profit (how much CAN we make? how much COULD this be worth?)? What happens when people give permission for their work to be used by other people, when they encourage its use (see Creative Commons) and merely ask for credit? Think about how we defined new media: 

  • On demand
  • On any device
  • Interactive user feedback
  • Creative participation
  • Community formation around content
  • Democratization of the creation, publishing, distribution, and consumption of content
  • Bits
  • “Networkable” and “compressible”

New media is made for sharing. It’s made for collaboration. But this begs the question of ethics: how do we do it ethically, so as to honor all participants: the creators, the contributors, the users, the viewers? Are there “best practices” for working with others’ stuff outside of a pay-to-play, profit-motivated system? How does all of this translate to an academic setting?

Part 2 will pick up with connections between intellectual property, ownership of ideas, and academic policies regarding plagiarism.