Live-blogging the 2009 Vancouver PKP Conference

Free? What’s So Special About Learning? The Intellectual Property Argument: The Session Blog

Taken at the Open Medicine benefit fund-raiser; November 21, 2007 (Source:

Presenter: Dr. John Willinsky – Director, Public Knowledge Project. Professor, Stanford University and the University of British ColumbiaBio

July 8, 2009, 7:30-pm. Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue

Session Overview

Dr. Willinsky  set  the context for his address by using adoption of  Open Journal System to illustrate the expansion of open access. He noted that at the 2007 PKP conference, 1000 journals used OJS. Now, at  the 2009 conference, there are approximately 3000 OJS journals. Of these, he noted that 29% spend $0 on expenses and 24% reported no revenue at all. Dr. Willinsky noted that these figures indicate the emergence of a new, third kind of independent journal that can run on a zero budget economic model.

However, Dr. Willinsky asks us not to focus on this knowledge being free (as in beer). After all, scholarly work is not free: it is very labour intensive. Through the entire domain of research, curriculum development,  writing, editing, reviewing, and publishing in journals, scholarly work is expensive. Consequently, he argues for expanding the conversation about open access to scholarly publishing beyond the question of it being free. Instead, he asks us to reach back in time and recall how learning has long been treated as a type of (intellectual) property that is distinct from other (economic) properties.  “There is a distinction between the type of intellectual property we produce in education and that produced by Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake, so why should it be treated the same?”

Using a number of examples to illustrate the point, Dr. Willinsky recounted the historical consistency of the university being recognized as something outside of the regular economy. He pointed out that by the 12th century there was already such recognition in that university members had many special rights including some rights of the clergy, the right of safe conduct, and the right to bring manuscripts across borders without paying tax. He also spoke about how scholarly contributions were recognized through acts of patronism from royalty and how rent controls were used in Oxford to protect students from being exploited by greedy landlords.

In particular, Dr. Willinsky notes that this different view of the property of education is rooted in John Locke’s  work on property. Locke spoke about property in two different ways: that we are given the work in common, and  that every man has property in his own body.  To Locke, because we labour (work), we have some claim to property based on the notion of  the right to exclude (enclosure). The intellectual property of learning is founded in these basic Lockean principles (e.g. labour invested and held in common), but it is somewhat different because it’s  value is not realized in the principle of exclusion. Instead, if we enclose intellectual property,  we reduce it’s value.  So the value of intellectual property is realized when it is shared and that value increases the less restrictive it is. Dr. Willinsky summarized this Lockean  argument about the intellectual property of learning as follows: we hold all this knowledge in common and we realize it’s value in the unrestricted circulation of this intellectual property.

Turning to some of the relevant legal aspects of the argument, Dr. Willinsky began by recounting the  fight over the licensing of books. In the 17th century, there was such excessive piracy that it removed the financial incentives for produce and publish books. Consequently, in 1710 the first copyright act (Statute of Anne) was passed to specifically recognize the rights of authors. Significantly, this statue was noted as an   “act for the encouragement of learning”.  Additionally, the act also recognized the right of universities to publish what ever they wanted and required publishers to provide to university libraries with 9 copies, on the best paper, of each book they published.

Moving to modern times, Dr. Willinsky  illustrated this special place that intellectual properties of learning have been given  with a number of examples:

  • Fair dealing (fair use in US) exceptions to copyright law. These include the  right to quote for non-commercial, critical and parody use and provides protection under the law for students and scholars.
  • The academic exception to intellectual property rights. Scholars have the natural ownership rights to all the  works they produce, unlike  other non-educational industries where workers don’t have those rights.
  • Patent law allows us to use patented material for learning without paying a fee.
  • Tax exemptions for university endowments in the US.

In closing, Dr. Willinsky asked the audience to take up the challenge as follows:

  • In our work he asks us to focus not on  making things free, but to promote the notion that the value of the work we do in education is realized in it’s sharing.
  • He asks us to look for opportunities to defend and experiment, to take advantages of opportunities to share our work, to expand our own policies moving toward open access, and to demonstrate the ways that intellectual properties of learning are different.

Related Links

July 10, 2009   1 Comment

On Open Humanities Press: A Panel Presentation by Members of the OHP Steering Group: The Session Blog

July 9, 9:30AM – Fletcher Challenge Room 1900


Barbara Cohen, Director of Humanitech, University of California, Irvine.  Steering Group, The Open Humanities Press.

Gary Hall, Professor, Media and Performing Arts, Coventry University, UK.  Co-founder of The Open Humanities Press.

Session Abstract

Archived video stream of session


Launched in May, 2008, The Open Humanities Press (OHP) is a scholar -led open access publishing initiative that currently publishes 10 journals.  Central to OHP’s vision are goals articulated by the Budapest Open Access declaration (2002) to remove barriers to scholarly literature, accelerate research, enrich education and share the learning of the rich world with the poor.

Session Overview


Photo: J. Miller - PKP Conference

Barbara Cohen started the session with what she called “Open Access 101”, a quick survey of some basic principles and recent initiatives focused on ideas of giving free and open access to peer-reviewed scholarly literature on the Internet.   This background is important context to consider in relation to the principles and goals driving The Open Humanities Press (OHP), an open access publishing house that launched in 2008 with 7 journals (now 10).  Central to OHP’s vision are goals articulated by the Budapest Open Access declaration (2002) to remove barriers to scholarly literature, accelerate research, enrich education and share the learning of the rich world with the poor.  Cohen went on to note that despite the fact that most scholars prefer to read electronic copies of articles, the Internet is still perceived by many Humanties scholars as being an unsuitable publishing medium for serious humanities research.  In a 2008 talk at Irvine, Sigi Jӧttkandt, one of the co-founders of the OHP, characterized this perception where the Internet was seen as “a sort of open free-for-all of publishing” medium in stark contrast to trusted, peer-reviewed paper-based scholarly journals.  The OHP was envisioned as a means to overcome this perception by bringing high-quality editorial standards and design processes to the field of Humanities scholarly publishing on the Internet.  It was essential for the founders of the OHP that scholars felt that its journals would be good places to publish.  The founders of the OHP feel that their stragegy of developing an open access publishing house has been a good way to gain the trust of the scholarly community in the humanities.

Cohen described OHP’s key goals as: advocating Open Access in the Humanities; fostering a community of prestigious Humanities scholars; promoting intellectual diversity, and exploring new forms of scholarly collaboration.  A strong peer review model was seen to be key to the success of the OHP in developing a level of creditability and trust amongst Humanist scholars, and to that end, the OHP has gathered a prestigious, rotating editorial board, as well as a strong steering group, all without any operating budget.  The OHP also has worked to bring  open access content to its readers in journals that share high production values and effective leveraging of new technologies such as PKP’s Open Journals System and, in the future PKP’s Open Manuscript Press software.

Gary Hall


Photo: J. Miller - PKP Conference

The second speaker, Gary Hall, picked up the importance of open access initiatives with books and monographs.  Such initiatives were particularly significant in the Humanities because scholars in these disciplines place such emphasis on books over journal articles.   Hall discussed several book projects that are underway with The OHP, describing these efforts as focused upon a new cultural studies project, liquid books with a fluid structure up to the challenge of exploring the potential shape of the book to come.  The first of these books has been published as New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader.  Hall was particularly interested in the potential of experimental projects that would allow scholars to challenge traditional concepts of the codex by expanding to include the range of materials/media found within printed books: excerpts, snippets of media, clips from multimodal texts.  Such an exploration is an important response to the emerging landscape for digital texts, a landscape influenced by the proliferation of books scanned by Google and reading devices from ipods to Kindles.

Hall also indicated his interest in creative ways to employ open access and open editing strategies in liquid books that were free for anyone to read, write, remix, and reinvent to produce alternate parallel versions of books.  Such acts of distributed writing and editing within liquid texts would, Hall hoped, raise critical challenges to traditional notions of authorship, intellectual property, authority, etc.  This potential dismantling of the authority of the text was a particular challenge for open access initiatives, as they ran the risk of reinscribing and reproducing traditional approaches and limits of current knowledge production, this time in an electronic space. Drawing upon Derrida, Foucault and Barthes, Hall offered that open access could bring interrogations of academic authorship so as to loosen up these notions, making them less fixed and rigid (more jello-like).  By recognizing some wobbles in the smooth surface of academic publishing, scholars would be in a good position to delineate and respond to shifts in power and authority increasingly evident in decentralized forms of writing such as MyTimes (a cross between the associated press and an RSS reader), Wikipedia (a networked, distributed and very liquid work), and other such fluid sites for knowledge production.   Such a redistribution and decentring of traditional authority could help scholars to avoid replicating the current centre/periphery dynamics of knowledge production and dissemination, an imbalance that sees 90% of the world’s scientific research being published by just 15 countries.

Question Period

During the question period, one member of the audience identified a contradictory tension that seemed evident in the presentations offered in the session.  On the one hand, the speakers stressed a need to establish the credibility of academic publishing.  On the other hand, it was clear that there was also a keen interest in exploring the boundaries of new media (and traditional academic practice) so as to destabilize the model of academic publishing alongside the decentring of other concepts like authority (authorship), and the very form of scholarly writing be it journal articles or monographs.  Keeping these things in balance is quite a challenge, especially when many scholars are as intent on building credibility in these new forms of academic scholarship at the same time as others are intent on destabilizing the very units and processes that have long characterized academic discourse.  This somewhat anxious tension seems to describe aptly the stance of Humanist scholars exploring new cultural studies.

Related Links

The Open Humanities Press – Website for The Open Humanities Press, with links to their current journals: Cosmos and History, Culture Machine, Fast Capitalism, Fibreculture, Film-Philosophy, Image and Narrative, International Journal of Žižek Studies, Parrhesia, Postcolonial Text, Vectors.

Hall, G. (2008). Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press).

Jӧttkandt, S. (2008). Free Libre Scholarship: The Open Humanities Press. Irvine, 3 April, 2008.

Jӧttkandt, S. and Hall, G. (2007).  Beyond Impact: OA in the Humanities.  Brussels, 13 February, 2007.

King, J., Lynch, C, Willinsky, J. (2009) Open Access in the Humanities. Podcast.  University of California, Irvine.

July 9, 2009   2 Comments