Advance Online Version Volume
: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy
Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Editor
2005: 384 pages
of controversial concepts and practices—collaboration, collective
ownership, peer-to-peer, open source, social networking, participation,
among others—are frequently broached of late in popular,
professional, and academic media. They are related in certain
respects—all involve groups of people working together toward
shared goals—yet distinct in others—for example, collaborative
ownership might entail a distribution of property rights to discrete
portions of a work, such as the melody and lyrics of a song, where
collective ownership would entail a group’s equal claims
to an entire shared work, such as their culture’s unwritten
folklore. The concepts are often invoked, as they are in CODE:
Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy, in discussions
of the evolution of intellectual property law since the advent
of the World Wide Web and the rapidly emergent variety of digital
forms of information and creative work.
have urged some of their users and consumers—or, as one
learns after reading CODE, have simply reminded them—to
respect the collaborative nature of many kinds of innovation and
creativity. Collaboration, in other words, is not itself an innovative
mode of production, a new adaptation to a technological revolution
in process, but a longstanding practical approach to making, storing,
and communicating information and objects of cultural value. However,
the new technologies do prompt us to revisit such an approach,
particularly in the face of intensifying commodification of informational
and creative works, and the concomitant regulation of these works
under an emphatic intellectual property regime. The title of the
editor’s introduction to CODE itself alludes to
this retrospective view of collaboration: “Why Collaboration
Is Important (Again).”
The contributors to
CODE are not as one might expect exclusively information
scientists, computer scientists, economists, and legal scholars,
but also anthropologists, artists, historians, and journalists.
Their diversity promises a rich treatment of the topic, and
CODE largely delivers on the promise, including chapters
on creative practices in Papua New Guinea, intellectual property
law in Ghana, intersections of international biopharmaceutical
accords and the health resources of developing nations, the kinds
of transactions that impel markets, copyright (of course), and
other topics that extend the concept of creative expression beyond
the “techie” work, such as software, web sites, and
gaming, commonly associated with digital technology. (In this
respect, the acronymic title of the book is at least a little
ironic, even more so since it echoes the title of an influential
work by flexible copyright proponent Lawrence Lessig, who penned
an oddly vacuous blurb for the present title. Collaboration, indeed.)
The book is based on a conference
of the same name held at Queen’s College, Cambridge, in
2001, although many of the book’s contributors did not appear
at the conference and, conversely, many of the conference presenters
did not contribute to the book. Nevertheless, both the conference
and the book pursue “the debate on whether collaboration
and ownership can co-exist in the digital economy” (conference
editor, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, is perhaps most widely known as Managing
Editor of the enduring online peer-reviewed journal about all
things Internet, First Monday.
He has written extensively about information technology from an
economic perspective and so it is not surprising that his own
contribution and several others articulate positions framed more
or less in classic economic terms. But as he points out in his
introductory chapter, he has taken an “‘open source’
approach to editing” (5), leaving the contributors to develop
arguments in terms consistent with their own areas of expertise.
Consequently, for example, ethnomusicologist Anthony Seeger’s
spirited contribution urging attention to the neglected cultural
works and rights of indigenous peoples abuts economist and historian
Paul A. David’s account of the parallel proprietary and
open trajectories of early modern scientific scholarship and innovation,
and both pieces work to deepen an understanding of how culture,
broadly construed, is the product of collective undertakings and
not merely an aggregation of individual initiatives that, in the
absence of a robust legal regime of protection and incentive,
would not otherwise exist.
Ghosh arranges the
contributions, some of which have appeared elsewhere, into three
parts: “Creativity and Domains of Collaboration,”
“Mechanisms for Collaboration,” and “Ownership,
Property, and the Commons.” The first part is populated
with the bulk of the anthropological contributions to the book,
along with Seeger’s and David’s pieces. This part
indicates the range of historical, geographical, and ethnic precedents
for models of collaborative work and ownership. Anthropologist
Marilyn Strathern, for example, describes practices among some
Papua New Guineans by which the cross-generational transmission
of tributary works produces a corresponding authority and obligation
in the acquirer to reproduce, enhance, and recreate the work.
This process of ideal and material reproduction is neither plagiarism
nor an infringement of a proprietary right among the New Irelanders
who practice it. Rather, it is the socially motivated operation
for preserving, transmitting, and validating the cultural record,
a mechanism which also promotes a productive function. A common
theme introduced in this part and pursued throughout the book
is that the proprietary regime we presently take for granted as
the optimal means for promoting creative labor ought to be tested
against known, real world alternative traditions. Another theme
identifies the creative, productive aspect of collective (or social
or cultural) modes of information recording and transmission.
These themes, combined with the aforementioned recognition of
collaboration as a long persistent mode of production and ownership,
comprise the bulk of the collection’s concerns and afford
continuity to the text, despite the varieties of disciplinary
sources of the contributions.
Collaboration,” the second part, includes empirical and
theoretical treatments of collaboration, framed largely in terms
of the market for intellectual property rights, a market driven
primarily by corporate interests yet affecting parties as diverse
as consumers, creators, citizens, and worshipers. The analyses
view collaborative mechanisms as sources of benefits and costs
that serve to explain and promote collaborative configurations.
The contribution by anthropologist Christopher Kelty critically
refers to “econometric models” and “calculative
agencies” (129, citing Callon) to describe components of
an economics of collaboration that reduce notions of creativity
and innovation to merely quantifiable proprietary elements amenable
to calculation. These components are not simply means for studying
collaborative phenomena, but also for managing and controlling
them. For example, Kelty examines the varieties of trust (so-called)
inherent in business relationships, and their translation into
algorithms for automatic processing. Automated solutions resolve
one trust concern, but inevitably introduce another, and so on.
Where Kelty, noting
the productive effect of an econometrics on the behaviors it models,
is skeptical about the suitability of such a tidy device for depicting
innovation and progress, legal scholar Yochai Benkler is more
accepting of the neutral heuristic value of an economic approach.
Both Benkler and Kelty recognize new modes of collaboration emerging
in response to capabilities introduced by new technologies, but
Benkler is content with basing an explanation—of the flourishing
peer production industry in software development, one of his primary
examples—at least partly on the value of “hedonic
rewards,” the participants’ non-monetary (“sociopsychological,”
as he puts it) incentives for engaging in voluntary production
(181). Although Benkler’s fundamental point is that there
are circumstances in which peer production is a form of project
organization superior to more traditional, hierarchical, and proprietary
forms of control, his relegation of hedonic reward to a mere factor
in an economic equation assumes an essentially economic character
of pleasure. 
is characteristic of the persistently unpersuasive nature of so
much writing, like some of that in CODE, about digital
technologies, intellectual property regimes, creativity, innovation,
collaboration, and democracy. Avid proponents of the salutary
effects of new technologies too often assume a clear correlation
between instrumental operations of law and technology on the one
hand, and the “hedonic” enjoyment of creative fulfillment
on the other. One way that they typically do so is by neglecting
the frankly intrusive, equivocal, sometimes oppressive nature
of technological progress, a factor explicit in Kelty’s
wariness of “trust.”
To be clear, Benkler’s
contribution is not itself an egregious example of this lapse.
To the contrary, his work is notable because it is mostly clearheaded
and instructive in its analysis of the efficiencies of peer production.
Yet his contribution and several others in CODE aim unwittingly
at communicating two potentially dissonant messages: first, new
technologies are somehow agents of redemption, promising individuals
heightened opportunities for democratic participation, but second,
their success in doing so depends on enforcing participation to
promote the network effect reflecting increased practical value
of the technology.  A related concern
is that the threshold determining what amounts to creativity and
innovation can be very low, especially when the technology serves
as a proxy for the content production it purportedly facilitates.
Blogging technology per se, for example, does not assure high-quality
open discussion, nor even widespread collaboration, for that matter,
yet blogs have come to represent such a result.
In any event, the contributions
comprising the second part of CODE identify existing
“mechanisms,” such as Benkler’s peer production,
as well as recommend new mechanisms to respond to the growing
perception of openness and participation afforded by digital technologies.
In this regard, attorney James Love and geneticist Tim Hubbard
propose a clearinghouse approach to a business model for compensating
musicians who distribute their work over peer-to-peer type networks.
Listeners would voluntarily decide whom they would pay and how
much, potentially via intermediary agencies that compete for listeners’
preferences respecting styles of music, particular musicians and
performers, political or ideological stances, or distribution
In his introduction
to the third part, “Ownership, Property, and the Commons,”
Ghosh notes the irony that although collaboration is in fact an
enduring arrangement for productivity and innovation, the excessive
strengthening of intellectual property rights over the last few
decades is certainly a novelty. The contributions to this third
part consider ways to counter the development. Legal scholar James
Boyle promotes “the power of a concept like the public domain”
(250), a new commons presently vulnerable to enclosure analogous
to the fifteenth century process of enclosure that privatized
commonly held grazing land. Boyle is rather pessimistic about
the reinvigoration of a public domain at a time when “extending
ever-stronger intellectual property rights is a very slippery
slope” (248). By contrast, public policy scholar John Clippinger
and journalist David Bollier detect a “renaissance of the
commons” in their eponymous contribution (259). They base
their optimistic view on the rise of the Internet and the open
practices it fosters, such as the open software movement examined
The concept of a commons,
it appears, has something of the quality of an allegory, motivating
those who study and deploy it to discern in it a heightened significance
worthy of interpretation and elaboration, but ultimately failing
to disclose the key by which such an interpretation would be unpacked
and elucidated. For Boyle the digital technologies and their economies
may be read as an increasing insinuation of private rights into
many of our most mundane affairs. Law approaches a limit situation
in which all copying becomes infringement or plagiarism. For Clippinger
and Bollier, conversely, digital technologies promise new opportunities
for increased access to both traditional and innovative forms
of information and expression. Copying and plagiarism become legally
non-actionable behaviors as acknowledgement of their essential
ubiquity grows. So is the commons the expanding and deepening
realm through which our expressions are mutually controlled via
network and security protocols and their schemes of legal enforcement?
Or is it the massive accumulation of expressions themselves? Although
pessimists and optimists alike hope to secure the latter—in
the name of free expression, innovation, collaboration, democracy,
and so forth—it is evident that the very commonality of
the digital commons is a source of both restriction and liberation.
Free software author
and proponent Richard Stallman cuts through much of the figurative
fog, as usual, in his culminating contribution, a transcript of
a speech on copyright and globalization. His concern is fundamentally
with corporations, whose avaricious control of cultural commodities
rather moots the prospect of a commons, and artists, most of whom
make their livings, if at all, encouraged at best by the slim
hope of cashing in courtesy of the corporate lottery. He proposes
a new copyright for this age of variegated species of information,
a regime of degrees of restrictions depending on the creative
nature of works. The present age is a transitional one, comodified
analog product existing alongside viral digital wares. He doesn’t
envision a revolution embracing the latter, but a slow adjustment
in its direction. Meanwhile, he argues for incremental improvements.
“If you know the present system is lousy, it’s not
hard to find a better alternative; the standard of comparison
today is very low. We must always remember that when we consider
issues of copyright policy” (331).
A final word about
an aspect of CODE may seem gratuitous, but it is in fact
an important matter in light of the cultural shift the book purports
to address. It is astonishing that a book published by a major
university press could be so badly proofread or that its index
could be so nearly useless. The text is replete with misspellings
and missing and superfluous words. One chapter, written perhaps
by a scholar whose primary language is not English, offers up
occasional syntactic twists that reflect the author’s distance
from perfect fluency. This result is not to be blamed on the author,
but on either Ghosh or the editor responsible for the title at
the publisher, MIT Press. The index consists of barely more than
two pages of entries, reflecting almost 350 pages of text. Using
it, a reader simply cannot be sure to have found all (or, in some
cases, any) references to numerous topics discussed by the contributors.
Again, either the nominal editor or the publisher deserves criticism.
If it includes responsibility for technical details such as correcting
spelling, diction, and grammar, and crafting an index, Ghosh’s
previously noted “‘open source’ approach to
editing” (5) bodes ill for the practice. Collaboration in
this context ought to mean making sure multiple readers review
the text for style as well as substance before it goes public.
A single anecdotal
instance of such a failure is of course not generalizable. But
it does prompt apt and interesting questions. For instance, does
“‘open source’ editing” entail its own
sort of tragedy of the commons, the quality of rudimentary linguistic
expression declining as traditional hierarchical modes of editorial
governance transform into level collaborative enterprises? Or
are economic principles at work here, according to which authors
and readers rightly neglect the slight costs of occasionally sloppy,
yet mostly legible texts relative to the high values of information
and discussion they impart, particularly if those costs are a
function of increased efficiencies in communication? Whatever
the explanation for this particular text’s stylistic shortcomings,
it is nevertheless fair to suggest that CODE’s
account of a reinvigoration of attention to old modes of collaborative
ownership in a new digital economy demands a complementary account
of the concomitant shifting criteria of authority of information
and expression, of what counts as reliable, well-crafted, pleasurable,
S. (2006). Tactical memory: The politics of openness in the construction
of memory. First Monday, 11 (7). Retrieved from
Benkler, Y. (2005).
Coase’s penguin, or, Linux and the nature of the firm. In
R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE (169-206). Cambridge, MA: MIT
Benkler, Y. (2006).
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets
and Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Boyle, J. (2005). Fencing
off ideas: Enclosure and the disappearance of the public domain.
In R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE (235-58). Cambridge, MA: MIT
Callon, M. (Ed.). (1998).
The Laws of the Markets. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Clippinger, J., and
D. Bollier (2005). A renaissance of the commons: How the new sciences
and Internet are framing a new global identity and order.”
In R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE (259-86). Cambridge, MA: MIT
Ghosh, R. A. (Ed.).
(2005). CODE: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
David, P. A. (2005).
From keeping ‘Nature’s Secrets’ to the institutionalization
of ‘Open Science.’” In R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE
(85-108). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ghosh, R. A. (2005).
Why collaboration is important (again). In R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE
(1-11). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gordon, W. J. (2003).
Intellectual property. In P. Cane and M. Tushnet (Eds.), The
Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies (617-46). Oxford: Oxford
Kelty, C. (2005). Trust
among the algorithms: Ownership, identity, and the collaborative
stewardship of information. In R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE
(126-51). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Love, J., and T. Hubbard.
(2005). Paying for public goods. In R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE
(207-29). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Seeger, A. (2005).
Who got left out of the property grab again? Oral traditions,
indigenous rights, and valuable old knowledge. In R.A. Ghosh (Ed.),
CODE (75-84). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Stallman, R. (2005).
Copyright and globalization in the age of computer networks. In
R.A. Ghosh (Ed.), CODE (317-35). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Imagined collectivities and multiple authorship. In R.A. Ghosh
(Ed.), CODE (13-28). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
In a work published elsewhere, legal scholar Wendy J. Gordon is,
like Kelty and the present review, critical of reductively economic
views of communal productivity: “What makes a community
are the exchanges and reciprocity for which its members do not
demand explicit and calculating payment.” Wendy J. Gordon,
“Intellectual Property,” in The Oxford Handbook
of Legal Studies, eds. Peter Cane & Mark Tushnet (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2003), 617-46. Prof. Gordon’s chapter
is an excellent survey of approaches to understanding intellectual
2. As this review was being prepared,
the opening paper from the First Monday conference appeared,
Sandra Braman, "Tactical
Memory: The Politics of Openness in the Construction of Memory."
First Monday 11, no.7 (July 2006). Its lead paragraph reads,
“The openness movement is driven by the belief that access
to information is inherently democratic, and riven by the assumption
that all of the effects of openness will be good from the movement’s
perspective. But means are not ends, nothing is inevitable, and
just what will be done with openly available information once
achieved is rarely specified.” In his recently published
book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms
Markets and Freedom (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
2006), Benkler’s rhetoric remains sanguine—cf.
both components of his title—but he is careful to frame
his discussion of the democratic promise of the Internet in comparative
terms vis-à-vis mainstream mass media (212-72).
Prose, Disappointing Analyses
in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory
By Jon Wiener
New Press, 2005: 260 pages
Jon Wiener, Professor
of History at the University of California at Irvine, a contributor
to The Nation, and a radio host on KPFK in Los Angeles,
examines, in varied detail, the difficulties that historians have
recently faced with charges of plagiarism and scholarly misconduct.
His book follows on the heels of two other recent books that have
also examined this disturbing issue: Peter Charles Hoffer’s
Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud—American History
from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin
(2004), which deals wholly with historians, and Ron Robin’s
Scandals and Scoundrels: Seven Cases that Shook the Academy
(2004), which contains one section covering historians.
Some of the historians at whom Wiener looks brought charges of
plagiarism upon themselves through insufficient documentation
of sources in best-selling books. Pulitzer Prize-winning author
Doris Kearns Goodwin, for example, plagiarized portions of her
book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (1987) from another
writer, then paid the wronged author to keep the theft secret.
More notoriously, plagiarism was seemingly pervasive in several
of the books of the late Stephen Ambrose, historical consultant
for "Saving Private Ryan" and prolific World War II
historian. Others, such as Michael Bellesiles and Joseph E. Ellis,
were accused of fabrication. In Bellesiles’ case, it was
a combination of questionable quantitative data that supposedly
supported his argument about the lack of a gun culture in early
America, notes purportedly destroyed in a flood, and missing archival
records. For Ellis, it was his claim to have participated in events
of the Vietnam era, including fighting in Southeast Asia, when
in fact he had been pursuing his graduate studies, then teaching,
in the United States. These cases received the most attention
in the media, but there were others, not all of which involved
charges of plagiarism or fabrication. For example, noted women’s
historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese faced charges of sexual harassment
and discrimination at Emory University, while Allen Weinstein,
the current Archivist of the United States, was accused of purchasing
access to documents for his exclusive use and withholding documents
from other researchers.
In his introduction, Wiener poses the question that is central
to this book: “Why do some cases [of scholarly dishonesty]
become media events while others remain within the confines of
scholarly settings?” The answer, according to him, is “power
wielded by groups outside the history profession” (2). In
particular, Wiener contends that politically conservative groups
have “had much more power than the left to define the meaning
and significance of charges of misconduct for the public”
(6). Wiener also takes to task the nation’s historical organizations,
particularly the American Historical Association (AHA), for not
doing more to investigate and offer judgments on these cases.
While engaging in its prose, Wiener’s work is disappointing.
In a couple of instances, he fails to disclose the names of acquaintances
or colleagues who shared information or analysis pertinent to
the discussion at hand. One would expect something more than unsubstantiated
gossip about the amount of a court settlement in the Fox-Genovese
case, which Wiener claims an “elected official of the Organization
of American Historians” gave him (15). A more complete explanation
from one of Wiener’s unnamed “colleague[s]”
about why s/he believed that Bellesiles’ data was “not
bad” also seemed necessary (79).
More importantly, the book is less than satisfactory because Wiener
is unable to overcome his political biases. For example, in discussing
the charges against Fox-Genovese, he contrasts her treatment with
that of David Garrow, another Emory professor who was suspended
after an investigation into charges that he had assaulted a university
employee. Wiener questions why Emory chose to investigate Garrow
and not Fox-Genovese; his conclusion, despite his own admission
that “the evidence against her [Fox-Genovese] may not have
been completely accurate,” seems to be that she was a “conservative
hero” (27, 28). By Wiener’s logic, her opposition
to “feminist political correctness at Emory,” presumably
including this episode, led President George W. Bush to give her
the National Humanities Medal in 2003 (One of the other recipients
that year was Edith Kurzweil, the final editor of the Partisan
Review, which one would hardly call a bastion of staunch,
red-state, Republican conservatism).
Wiener also posits that Michael Bellesiles “suffered the
most serious punishment not because his offenses were the most
serious, but because his opponents were the most powerful”
(213). Bellesiles’ only major sin apparently was an incomplete
footnote, one in which he “failed to indicate how he carried
out his research, and what his methods were” (74). The omission
of that data would have done nothing to lessen the book’s
central argument about gun usage in early America, according to
Wiener. The case against Bellesiles was more complicated than
he presents, however, and to blame the National Rifle Association
and the political Right for all of Bellesiles’ problems
overlooks the seriousness of his misdeeds. Yes, Bellesiles’
work was politically charged, and there is little doubt that some
of his fiercest critics had ideological axes to grind. Wiener’s
statement that the real “problem is that some historians
whose offenses were more serious, and against whom the evidence
was more damning, received little or no punishment,” however,
is too dismissive, too simplistic (73-74). It seems unlikely that
Emory University (Bellesiles’ employer, which investigated
the accusations against him), Columbia University (which awarded
Bellesiles’ book the prestigious Bancroft Prize, then rescinded
the prize), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (which
had funded a fellowship that Bellesiles received, but removed
its name from it as a result of the uproar) all succumbed to a
right-wing conspiracy based on defending gun rights. Possible,
but hard to believe.
In fact, Wiener’s insistence on finding political conspiracies
behind the pursuit of, or the failure to pursue, suspected cases
of scholarly misconduct is not unique. Hoffer’s Past
Imperfect, while not as blatant, also suffers from a similar
weakness. Hoffer partly blames recent historical trends for encouraging
historians to become “consumer-driven” and giving
in to the “anarchistic implications” of the “new”
history (233), breaking down the “truth” of history.
As he argues, new history tells Americans that “if the study
of history is nothing more than make-believe, why bother condemning
Ambrose and the others?” (234) There is more than a hint
that Hoffer suspects that the political Left, rather than the
Right, is behind the recent outbreak of these cases.
What Wiener (and Hoffer, too, for that matter) does a good job
of is criticizing the AHA for its apparent abandonment of protecting
academic integrity among historians. The AHA has made it clear
in recent years that it cannot and will not police the profession
when it comes to scholarly misconduct, leaving it up to institutions
to investigate and hand down sanctions when needed. Wiener outlines
that the AHA abandoned this responsibility because of concerns
about confidentiality and the organization’s inability to
enforce sanctions against guilty parties, which falls, in its
view, on the employing institutions. While both of these reasons
are perhaps understandable, they seem unwise from a public relations
standpoint, not to mention an ethical perspective. Many of us
would be mortified if the American Medical Association refused
to involve itself in ethical issues related to professional medicine;
why do we seem so blasé, then, when the organization charged
with protecting our memories does so?
It is unfortunate that Wiener succumbs to the allure of ideology
in analyzing these examples. Blaming politicians for ignoring,
covering up, or pursuing cases of scholarly misconduct really
does not do much to lessen the after-effects of the culture wars
of the 1990s. It would be more productive, perhaps, to scrutinize
what in society generally, and in the historical profession specifically,
encourages this type of behavior. Are these instances isolated,
or are they indicative of a larger societal problem? If they are
emblematic, are graduate programs doing enough to train future
historians in the proper ethics of the profession so that we avoid
the need for accusations and investigations appearing in the media?
Wiener is convinced that he has the answer to the problem, but
it seems clear that his will not be the last word on the subject.
Plagiarism, and Popular Culture: Siva Vaidhyanathan's Copyrights
and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How
It Threatens Creativity
By Siva Vaidhyanathan
New York University
Press, 2003: 272 pages
Reading Siva Vaidhyanathan’s
Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property
and How It Threatens Creativity brought to mind every reason
why America has become fascinated with the concept of copyright.
Technology has brought the copyright issue into every home in
America, and the dialogue is no longer dominated by lawyers and
scholars. Even my neighbor and her 17 year old son have an opinion
on copyrights, music, and the nature of ideas. Siva Vaidhyanathan’s
book is for anyone interested in a matter-of-fact, absorbing cultural
history of copyright in America.
Vaidhyanathan, a cultural historian, is currently an assistant
professor of Culture and Communication at New York University.
He has formerly taught at Wesleyan University and the University
of Wisconsin at Madison. Recently he was elected as a Fellow of
the New York Institute for the Humanities. Vaidhyanathan has also
written The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004),
which is considered a “sequel” to Copyrights and
Copywrongs. Additionally, he has appeared in many publications,
including The Chronicle of Higher Education, New
York Times Magazine, and The Nation.
The focus of Copyrights and Copywrongs is to present
a cultural examination of the evolution of copyright, from its
modest beginnings as a concept, “to promote the Progress
of Science and the useful Arts,”  to
the present hard-line statutory scheme in the laws of United States.
The book launches with a succinct history of copyright from the
early English common law, through the framing of the Constitution,
taking the reader right up to the present day controversy of music
sampling. The book’s goal: to argue that current U.S. copyright
law suffers from an overexertion of protection of ideas. 
What would be most beneficial to the United States, according
to the author, is a “thin” copyright protection, which
is defined as “just strong enough to encourage and reward
aspiring artists, writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs, yet porous
enough to allow full and rich democratic speech and the free flow
of information” (p. 5). Chapter by chapter, Vaidhyanathan
charts the historical movement away from the “thin”
copyright ideal through creative expressions such as film, dance,
writing, and music. According to the author, today’s “thick”
copyright laws are curbing intellectual freedom, creative expression,
and education. Furthermore, the present “thick” protection
is reinforcing the notion that major corporations, studios, and
business enterprises “own” much of the creative past
of this country.
One particular stop along the way that takes a most interesting
turn is Vaidhyanathan’s discussion of Mark Twain. Twain
was not only a great American author, but he was also a great
American copyright adjudicator. In a portion of literary history
of which I surmise many Americans and some scholars are unaware,
Vaidhyanathan outlines Mark Twain’s ever changing views
on the nature of copyright in America. Even more important is
Vaidhyanathan’s discussion of plagiarism through the words
and letters of Mark Twain.
When Mark Twain was growing up in America in the early 1800’s,
he was enthralled with the writings of the British authors. At
that time, many publishing houses in England did not have agreements
with American publishers. In fact, many of the British novels
found on American bookshelves in that era were infringing copies
of such works. Vaidhyanathan cleverly points out that British
works not only carried more intellectual value than American works,
they were also cheaper in price. A reader in 1853 London paid
$2.50 for a copy of Charles Dickens’ works, whereas an American
reader paid 6¢. Even the characters in Twain’s novels,
such as Tom Sawyer, read European works like Casanova,
bought for 50¢.
Vaidhyanathan examines how later, during the 1870’s, Twain’s
works were being pirated by Canadian publishing houses. Vaidhyanathan
examines many of Twain’s viewpoints regarding copyright
protection, which changed at this particular time. Many scholars,
Vaidhyanathan states, erroneously divide Twain’s view of
copyrights as two distinct opposites formed over his literary
career. Vaidhyanathan asserts, however, that Twain was “a
busy, contradictory, living human being who traveled, read, and
changed his views several times in his lifetime” (p. 57).
Mark Twain ended up advocating a position similar to another literary
figure in American history, Noah Webster. After Congress passed
the first federal copyright statute, Noah Webster went on a campaign
to extend the term of copyright protection. In 1790, the term
of protection was 14 years. In 1831, Webster successfully lobbied
to extend the term to 28 years, and helped pass a provision that
allowed an author’s widow and children to file for copyright
renewal. What Vaidhyanathan reveals is that Webster wanted perpetual
copyright protection, which is similar to what Mr. Twain advocated
in his later years.
Again, in ironic fashion, Vaidhyanathan points out, using Twain’s
letters, testimony, conversations, and unpublished writings, that
Twain was a “borrower” (p. 57). Vaidhyanathan states
that events Twain used in his writings were “unapologetically
lifted from others” (p. 57). At a time when Helen Keller
was accused of plagiarism, Twain wrote to her stating
Oh, dear me, how
unspeakably funny and owlishly idealistic and grotesque was
that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of
anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism.
The kernel, the soul - let us go further and say the substance,
the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances
- is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand,
consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.
The author draws on
many of Twain’s works where he confessed to being a literary
“thief,” a party to excessive influence, and a plagiarist.
 Vaidhyanathan reveals that Twain had created
his own distinction between piracy and plagiarism: “[P]iracy
was theft…plagiarism was bad manners” (p. 67). The
author deftly addresses the various fine points of plagiarism
and piracy, and concludes that Twain was clearly a rampant plagiarist.
One of the most fascinating of Vaidhyanathan’s analyses
is his review of an unpublished, arcane Twain work titled “The
Great Republic's Peanut Stand,” which Vaidhyanathan argues
is Twain’s only dissertation on copyright law. It is a Socratic
dialog between a United States senator and a “Wisdom Seeker,”
who is actually Twain himself. The book examines this work in
detail and reveals Twain’s final move from a protectionist
copyright view to that of outright perpetual copyright protection
that could be passed on through estates or heirs. Again, we return
to the results that both Twain and Webster desired: perpetual
copyright protection. With the relatively recent passage of the
Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, Vaidhyanathan cleverly
reveals that the present copyright laws are analogous to the perpetual
copyright protection for which these two historical figures argued.
“The Great Republic's Peanut Stand” is an interesting
work, and the book reproduces large portions of the work for readers
The book narrates other areas of copyright law beyond the plagiarism
debate. Vaidhyanathan offers four additional chapters on the history
of copyright in literature, film, and music. The author makes
the content entertaining by intertwining stories of popular culture,
with appearances by George Harrison, Groucho Marx, Led Zeppelin,
and Pac-man, to name just a few. The book methodically examines
the creative process for literature and music, most notably an
interesting chapter on folk, blues, rock, and, rap music. Vaidhyanathan
points to humanity’s creative past, using examples to advocate
his position on “thin” copyright protection, which,
he argues, should be “just strong enough to encourage and
reward aspiring artists . . . yet porous enough to allow full
and rich democratic speech and the free flow of information”
In the chapter on music, Vaidhyanathan notes that in African-based
cultures borrowing and building upon earlier works is not considered
a violation of anyone’s “rights,” but a tribute
to that initial creative process. The reader is brought to the
present age of sampling, which Vaidhyanathan points out is a new
cultural expression of that tribute. But, arguing against the
current state of copyright law, many artists who sample portions
of others’ works have been sued for copyright violation
or forced to settle through arbitration to avoid lawsuits. These
contemporary legal and quasi-legal actions clearly point to a
dramatic shift in copyright policy. Furthermore, these events
reveal a lack of the cultural understanding necessary for ideas
and expressions to flourish in the United States. 
The paperback version of the book includes the author’s
afterward, which covers notable events in the field of copyright
law since the initial publication of the book in 2001. Vaidhyanathan
gives summaries of high profile copyright cases such as Eric Eldred’s
Supreme Court challenge to the Copyright Term Extension Act and
the “Gone with the Wind” parody case. The author also
proposes an ominous vision of the United States educational and
creative future, if the present notions of “ideas as property”
are not opposed.
The book flows nicely and the author avoids the use of frustrating
legal terminology. The chapters on music are concise, but it was
difficult to really get a feel for the music infringement cases,
unless the reader has heard the songs in question. I did find
an example of the songs in a lecture given by Vaidhyanathan on
November 18, 2004. Columbia University’s School of the Arts
Digital Media Center has put the full lecture titled “Copy
Rights and Copy Wrongs” on their website. It is available
In this lecture Vaidhyanathan reviews and plays many of the songs
from Copyright and Copywrongs, which made it easier for
me to review the author’s analyses.
This book presents an engrossing history of copyright, and the
author clearly summarizes his views on the adverse nature of “thin”
copyright protection. Vaidhyanathan neatly contrasts his “thin”
theory with the structure currently in place, through examination
of the present state of copyright, licensing and other contracts
of adhesion, which prevent the free flow of ideas and information.
However, one small criticism of this reviewer is that the author
does not clearly state a plan of action to fight the current scheme.
Vaidhyanathan’s sketch of copyright, from past to present,
clearly charts the erosion of rights, but does not take the reader
any further. While there are suggestions in the "Afterword"
to read other authors or join grass roots movements such as “information
commons,” the lack of a well outlined, organized strategy
is surprising. Maybe this was done on purpose. Maybe Vaidhyanathan’s
desire was to educate, alert, and release the readers to get involved
before their own personal right to ideas permanently disappears.
Even without a plan of action, this book does offer the average
reader a fascinating history of copyright, plagiarism, and culture.
On a final note, the author, reflecting his personal notions on
copyright’s true role in society, has posted a copy of Copyrights
and Copywrongs in its entirety at http://homepages.nyu.edu/~sv24/
. The book is available for download in full PDF format.
Demers, J. (2006).
Steal this music: How intellectual property law affects musical
creativity. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Ginsburg, J.C. (2002).
How copyright got a bad name for itself. Columbia Journal
of Law and the Arts, 26, 61.
Lessig, L. (2001).
The future of ideas : The fate of the commons in a connected
world. New York: Random House.
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8.
2. Siva Vaidhyanathan is not the only scholar
to analyze the United States’ overreaching copyright policy.
For similar viewpoints see Lessig (2001). Also, for an excellent
summary of the related issues see Ginsburg 2002).
3. Vaidhyanathan writes that Twain even stated
“These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts
of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms,
pure and simple” (p. 65).
4. Vaidhyanathan’s ideas regarding music
and copyright are echoed and expanded upon in a recent work by
Joanna Demers (2006).
Values: Honesty and Academic Integrity
On College Campuses Today
Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid
Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success
By Charles Lipson
Chicago Press, 2004: 208 pages
Plagiarism: A Student Guide to Writing Your Own Work
By Rosemarie Menager-Beeley and Lyn Paulos
Houghton Mifflin, 2006: 57 pages
dishonesty and plagiarism are on every teacher’s mind. Discussions
of plagiarism are ubiquitous, from the Chronicle of Higher
Education to local college student newspapers. Various listservs
(for example, the WPA listserv for writing program administrators)
have lengthy dialogues about whether there is/is not an epidemic
of student cheating—and whose responsibility it is to deal
with it. Clearly the increasing number of universities with site
licenses for use of Turnitin.com, as well as the use of other
cheat detection software (Essay Verification Engine, Integriguard.com,
Glatt Plagiarism Services), suggests that the problem is both
pervasive and frustrating.
the statistics regarding the number of students who cheat are
accurate, the American cheating ethos appears to be deep-rooted.
In his best-selling book, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans
are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, David Callahan argues that
cheating has taken hold in all aspects of American life—sports,
business, politics--but only rarely are cheaters held accountable.
For this reason, merely presenting academic dishonesty or plagiarism
as a classroom evil to be squelched is woefully inadequate for
getting to the heart of the problem and may even lead to a classroom
atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.
plagiarism can be the result of misunderstanding or inexperience
with integrating research sources into a student’s text,
as every teacher understands. This may be especially true for
students from other cultures. But the thousands of hits per day
on termpaper sites such as cheathouse.com or schoolsucks.com suggest
many students are indeed shopping for papers rather than writing
them. To have impact, then, any discussion of plagiarism must
go beyond classroom specifics of “thou shalt not”;
the real goal is to develop a deep understanding of academic integrity
and a campus-wide commitment to such integrity as an essential
foundation for higher education. Thus the context for addressing
plagiarism begins with grounding students in ethical principles.
the national conversation on cheating, it comes as no surprise
that publishers are offering their own contributions to this conversation.
A student supplement, Understanding Plagiarism: A Student
Guide to Writing Your Own Work, by Rosemarie Menager-Beeley
and Lyn Paulos, was recently published by Houghton Mifflin; Doing
Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism,
and Achieve Real Academic Success, written by Charles Lipson,
was published by the University of Chicago press in 2004. Both
are designed as classroom resources.
Plagiarism was written, according to the English Senior Marketing
Manager for Houghton Mifflin, to “give students a constructive,
nuts-and-bolts guide to both understanding and avoiding the pitfalls
of plagiarism” and to provide “a solid awareness of
what is expected to maintain academic honesty”.
Available as a course supplement or packaged with any text for
$1.17, its conciseness may be of some value to teachers who lack
other resources. It partially fulfills its first purpose, but
does not accomplish the second. Its limited focus on plagiarism
lacks the necessary ethical context most likely to make an impact
on students, and its low budget format is reflected in the quality
of the content.
a classroom resource with a mere definition of plagiarism and
the steps to prevent it begs the question of why students should
care about it at all, aside from the obvious need to prevent negative
consequences. The authors’ focus seems to be on avoiding
penalties, rather than on fostering intellectual growth and personal
integrity. The only brief reference to “academic honesty
and the validity of a college degree” is found under the
heading “Know the rules,” implying that knowing rules
is all that matters.
addresses the reader directly in an attempted friendly tone (“When
you draft your paper . . . .,”) but the style is mechanical,
not motivational, and thus unlikely to inspire a student’s
best efforts. And it’s hard for any instructor—or
student—to give credence to a text so carelessly edited.
Editing lapses include wrong and extraneous words, inconsistent
bolding for headings, incorrect spacing for ellipses, example
citations with incorrect punctuation and missing italics for volume
numbers, and inconsistent language (e.g., “reverse the first
author’s name” in one location, “invert all
names” a few pages later), all within a brief 57 pages.
One citation on the final page of examples is missing a period,
and the ellipses throughout the book are incorrectly spaced; several,
in fact, are just plain incorrect—no ellipsis should have
been used at the beginning of the block quotations on p. 28.
of citation examples in Chapter 6 is curious. The chapter is titled
“Listing the Works Cited”; however, the chapter also
includes APA, which uses “References” rather than
“Works Cited” to title its bibliography page. The
chapter includes only MLA and APA models. Furthermore, all handbooks
I have seen organize specific sections for each documentation
style, followed by parallel sections or chapters for other formats
(e.g., MLA, APA, CMS, etc.). This organization is used for a good
reason—students will use only one format in a paper. However,
in Understanding Plagiarism, the chapter section for
online sources alternates between MLA and APA, which is likely
to confuse a student. An even greater problem is the complete
lack of any examples of database citations, the most likely online
sources to be used in students’ researched papers by far.
Such an omission is baffling.
are just plain hard to understand: “It may be confusing
when and how to add a citation to the original source. A good
practice to follow is if a sentence or idea came from an outside
source, then it should be acknowledged with a parenthetical citation”
(p. 23). Where were the editors who should have remembered that
their audience was students—students for whom lack of clarity
and abstract language are likely to cause confusion rather than
enlightenment? I wonder also if students would grasp the concept
of a “guest voice” (p. 10). And exactly what is an
“indirect quotation”? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
The book defines it as “a recasting in your own words of
the ideas of another person” (p. 15), but then uses nearly
the same language to define paraphrase as “a restatement
of an author’s writing by using your words and accurately
conveying the original information (p. 21).
the tone of the book suggests that the principles outlined are
universal, rather than reflecting the conventions of the American
academy. International students may comprise 10% or more of the
student populations on many campuses, and there are some students--American
students included--who come from academic and cultural backgrounds
which may not have provided a common understanding of intellectual
property, not to mention respect for the network of laws to protect
it; thus presenting a discussion of plagiarism without awareness
of cultural context seems both unwise and uninformed.
some teachers will find useful features in this short book; however,
everything in the book is covered in any of the standard handbooks
or the accompanying peripherals produced by nearly all academic
publishing houses. The "Knowledge Check" (quiz) with
"Answers" at the end of each chapter to help students
review the content might be useful to some teachers. However,
many of the questions, like the "Tips" in each chapter,
hardly inspire deep thinking (e.g., True or False: “Getting
a paper from a friend or the Internet is a good way to get a head
start on your assignment,” p. 14; clearly the answer is
False, but students I know would be likely to choose
a different answer: “duh”). Many of these criticisms
may appear to be minor issues; however, we all know colleagues
who do indeed expect students to “get it right” and
penalize when they do not. It appears to me a reasonable expectation
for publishers to “get it right” as well.
book, Doing Honest Work in College, in contrast, opens
with “The Three Principles of Academic Honesty,” followed
by a lengthy second chapter discussing academic honesty “from
your first class to your final exam” before its discussion
of plagiarism in Chapter 3. The book is divided into two parts,
plus a helpful index. Part One, "Academic Honesty,"
covers the first 48 pages; Part Two, the remainder of the 180
pages, begins with a chapter on "The Basics of Citation,"
followed by individual chapters on nine different documentation
formats. It concludes with a FAQs chapter about all reference
aspects of Part One would make it a useful classroom tool. It
teaches students, especially in Chapter 2, how to “do college”;
his discussion ranges from work in groups to lab work to take-home
exams. It too contains "Tips," highlighted boxes with
key information; Lipson’s Tips, however, are clear and explicit:
Tips on writing honest papers:
• Cite others’ work whenever you rely on it.
• When you use someone’s words, quote them accurately,
mark them as a quotation, and include a citation.
• When you paraphrase, use your own distinctive voice,
not a facsimile of the author’s. Be sure to include
• Never represent anyone else’s work as your own.
• Never hand in the same paper to two classes unless
you have permission from both instructors.
• Never buy, sell, or “borrow” papers. Do
your own work. (p. 10)
the book values the “why” of academic integrity, not
just the “what,” focusing on academic honesty, a positive
behavior, and then explaining how plagiarism undermines it. Lipson
describes cheating as “a self-inflicted wound on your own
education” (p. 11), reminding students that “academic
honesty is central to the university” (p. 33). Thus the
book speaks to students’ aspirations, not only to their
classroom behaviors, a strategy far more likely to help students
develop ethical commitment.
is conversational, addressing the reader directly; the content
is highly readable and appropriate for both American and international
students. For instance, the three principles of academic integrity
which open the book, are stated thus:
• When you say you did the work yourself, you actually
• When you rely on someone else’s work, you cite
it. When you use their words, you quote them openly and accurately,
and you cite them, too.
• When you present research materials, you present them
fairly and truthfully. That’s true whether the research
involves data, documents, or the writings of other scholars.
the helpful suggestions Lipson offers students is the idea of
"Q-notes," which would make inadvertent plagiarism far
less likely. Lipson suggests that when drafting, students use
the letter Q and the page number whenever they integrate
a quote; that way they will remember both the quotation and its
source. The book also provides multiple examples of quoting and
paraphrasing, to help students learn these skills.
Two of the book, Lipson’s "Basics of Citations"
(chapter 4) presents a helpful overview of why different disciplines
have distinctive citation styles and what they have in common.
Each citation style then comes under a separate chapter heading,
beginning with an overview of the distinctive features of that
style, followed by an index for all the examples in the chapter.
Chicago Manual of Style is listed first (probably by publisher’s
choice), followed by MLA, and APA, as well as less common citation
styles such as CSE for the biological sciences and Bluebook
legal citations. Perhaps Lipson canvassed his colleagues in all
departments, and then provided citation formats for all styles
used on the University of Chicago campus. (The book is required
for all University of Chicago students).
citation style chapter, the examples of the different citation
formats for different types of publications (e.g., books, journal
articles, newspaper articles) are separated by lines across the
page, a very user-friendly way to guide students to the appropriate
format for the type of source they are citing. The examples are
organized with the bibliographic entry and the in-text citation
for each type of source within the same block; this is an efficient
way to group the information, demonstrate what information is
required for each, and remind students that both types of citation
are necessary. And each chapter includes multiple examples for
databases, as well as for weblogs, software, and other electronic
sources frequently cited by students.
style chapter concludes with a helpful list of the common abbreviations
used in each style; some also include FAQs about that citation
format. The concluding chapter is titled “FAQs About All
Reference Styles” and includes typical student questions,
such as “What about citing a work I’ve found in someone
else’s footnotes?” (p. 174), or “How do I handle
the line break [for a URL]?” (p. 178). The final chapter
thus brings the student back to the central focus that “pretty
much” every type of source used in the paper must be cited
(except well-known facts), and that the quality of a paper will
depend directly on the quality of the sources used to research
book would cost students more ($10.40 new on Amazon) than Understanding
Plagiarism, but the book provides information that would
be helpful to students in all disciplines throughout their academic
career. Furthermore, it reminds them again of the underlying principles
which have made American higher education respected around the
world and of their role in upholding these principles.
homepage for the Center
for Academic Integrity at Duke University reminds us, "Academic
integrity is a fundamental value of teaching, learning, and scholarship."
Of these two books, only Lipson’s makes a valuable contribution
to our shared responsibility to cultivate this fundamental value
in all our interactions with students and colleagues.
email communication, 17 November 2020
Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock
Down Culture and Control Creativity
By Lawrence Lessig
2004: 348 pages
Echoes: Textuality and Self-Plagiarism in the Narrative
of Luigi Pirandello
By Catherine O'Rawe
Legenda, 2005: 190 pages
and Scoundrels: Seven Cases That Shook the Academy
By Ron Theodore
California Press, 2004: 277 pages
Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times
By Jayson Blair
New Millennium, 2004: 288 pages
Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Frauds - American History From
Bancroft And Parkman To Ambrose, Bellisles, Ellis, And Goodwin
By Peter Charles
2004: 287 pages
Science : The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
By Robert L. Park
Oxford University Press, USA , 2001: 240 pages
Great Betrayal : Fraud in Science
By Horace Freeland
Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to
By David Callahan
of the following books invited:
editor if interested--other review suggestions welcome)
Bear Bryant Funeral Train
By Brad Vice
of Georgia Press, 2005: 168 pages
Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology
By Kenneth L.
2001: 352 pages
Lady Down: Jayson Blair and How the New York Times Lost
Touch With America
By William McGowan
Encounter Books, 2005: 240 pages
Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams
By Nasdijj (Timothy
2001: 224 pages
Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping
By Nasdijj (Timothy
Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me
By Nasdijj (Timothy
I Can Keep : Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage
By Kathryn Edin
& Maria Kefalas
California Press, 2005: 312 pages
of My Skull
By Antjie Krog
Three Rivers Press, 2000: 432 pages