Blog Post

Learn Intellectual Property By Doing It

The Mozilla Drumbeat mode of learning is doing.   Have a problem managing attention?  Work on an app for it.   Trying to wrangle a two-hundred person classroom into small affinity groups?  Create a tool that facilitates it.   Want to authenticate who is writing a productive or a trollish comment or contribute great code but with bad spyware embedded in it?  Create a badge system that credentializes not by your degree but by what and how you have contributed to the open web in the past.   Want to make all video machine readable, able to grab supplementary material, instantly subtitled into any language you wish?   There's an app for that too.  What about us, here at FutureClass, the collaborative independent study tutorial I'm guiding at Duke, and newly returned from an exhilirating and eye-opening Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona?   We've been set the challenge to complete some work on the prototype of a classroom attention device that everyone talked about, that one student firestarted with a stunningly subtle idea, and that another, working with a friend not in the class, actually developed independently into an app.   Now the Mozilla developers have pledged to help us bring this to full fruition.


That's a fabulous learning experience by any estimation, but the HASTAC way is to not just create new technologies but to think critically about those technologies, what they mean, how they apply to society or to individual rights and aspirations.   It is also important to transform creating and critiquing into pedagogical practice.   So I would say that the "development phase" we are in now, post the exhilirations of Drumbeat, is the truly humbling part of this program.   By humbling I mean that, as a teacher, I was able to watch six extraordinary individuals--five of whom had been to the Drumbeat Festival and one of who was not able to go but who did everything in her power, selflessly, to help prepare us for that incredible experience--sit in a very tiny office (we were kicked out of our classroom by the one scheduled after us)  working through issues of intellectual property, the commons, individuality, leadership, collaboration, and cooperation.   I have been through hundreds, maybe thousands of meetings in my life, and I cannot think of many where individuals dealt with one another with greater honesty, candor, frankness, criticisim, appreciation, sensitivity, respect, and, I'll say the word:  love.  I had to leave to get to another appointment and they were still going strong.   As I drove away, all I could think was that, had we really let one of our members tape this conversation (she is doing an ethnography and I asked her to turn off the tape for this discussion), we would have all taken away a record, for posterity, of collaboration at its toughest and at its very best.   And I mean that whatever happens next.


One thing that happens next  is that we're all going to do some reading and viewing of both theoretical and practical appllications of creative commons licensing, intellectual property applications, and so forth in order to think along with others who are expert in this field and, by the end of next class, decide, collectively, how to proceed with Mozilla's generous offer of taking our app through to implementation.  We might not be ready to be developers and to be developed yet.   That's fine.  That's a perfectly sane outcome.   We know that most businesses fail and entrepreneurs learn that failing is how you learn.   Similarly, many ventures are not capitalized and that is a learning opportunity too.   The only bad outcome of this process is if we squander it by thinking someone has to give up something that will be damaging to themselves in order for the product to go into development.    With this group, with their generosity towards one another and their profound respect, I have no worries that this will happen.  


Here's the reading list in intellectual property and creative commons licensing that we will begin with this week, to help inform us and to help shape our decision going forward:


(1) Yochai Benkler, "Coases Penguin, Or, Linux and the Nature of the Firm." :  This is one of the seminal articles on open source and the commons by a major political and economic theorist.,-or,-linux-and-the-nature-of-the-firm/
Benkler's tome The Wealth of Networks is one of the most important works on the idea of intellectual property, the internet, and the commons. 

(2) Articles and interviews and videos by legal theorist Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of Creative Commons: (a) Lessig, Lawrence. In Defense of Piracy. The Wall Street Journal. October 11, 2008. (b) Video interview with Lessig: (c) Who Owns Ideas?


(3)  James Boyle, "The Opposite of Property," Forward to The Public Domain:  A brilliant historical overview of public domain and copyright law.

(4) Mozilla Manifesto:

(5) A series of conversations and applications of copyright law to situations happening right now.  This fundraising letter from Jimmy Wales on behalf of Creative Commons appeared in my inbox today, from Creative Commons.   Go to the CC site for the live links:

 "(a) CEO Joi Ito and other members of CC staff just got back from the Digitally Open conference in Doha, where leaders from countries including Qatar, New Zealand, and Portugal discussed how openness and CC will be part of the future of their information-sharing.

(b) Elspeth Revere of the MacArthur Foundation dishes on what got her thinking about new digital intellectual property models (hint: a meeting with Larry Lessig) and why she encourages grantees to use open access journals. Read the full interview.

(c) Open movie project advocate Ton Roosendaal of the Blender Institute explains why he released his new computer animated short film, Sintel, under a CC license. We want our users to learn from [our projects], to dissect our tricks and technology, and use them for other works. If you havent seen Sintel, its a must: read the full interview with Roosendaal and watch Sintel here.

(d) We also talked to Lulu CEO Bob Young about how CC licenses have helped his innovative open publishing platform grow. Lulu is an invested and long-term corporate sponsor of Creative Commons. You can be too! Read the full interview."



Hi Cathy -- Thanks very much for this post; it's helped mentally and emotionally tie together our meeting yesterday (for readers, I'm in "FutureClass").

Unintentionally, many of my conversations recently have rolled towards the issue of honesty in academia -- how crucial it is to be open and honest with colleagues, and yet how most of the structures we butt against (in our writing, in our presentations at conferences, in classrooms as both students and teachers) don't honor honesty. We create masks and personalities to get by in different contexts -- we need to, it's a great skill to learn -- but when you have to be "on" all the time, it's difficult to negotiate when to turn the role "off" -- or even what "off" means.

So happy to be having this experience! These are not conversations I would be having otherwise, and that alone is amazing.



Hi, Whitney,  Yes, the posing can be so defeating sometimes.   I, too, am very happy to be having this experience.   Thanks for the wonderful perspective you always, unfailingly bring, Whitney.