Intellectual Property is a Hurdle to Self Direction

by Grant A. Mincy

Perhaps the most rewarding experience of education is self direction. Here, the individual fully enjoys their own labor. Whatever ones interests are, self direction is achieved on ones own terms. Education promotes initiative, creativity, co-operative/mutual labor and healthy academic competition in ones field to cultivate a learning network.

This is certainly true in my own case. As a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, I was able to develop my education in the best way I saw fit. I took the classes I was interested in (for the most part) but, more importantly, my research topic, methods and field work were left in my control. My adviser was great, helped me along, but my experience was very much self-directed. I saw a problem, and gathered data on a topic I was fully engaged in.

This is the very basis of the scientific method. We are encouraged to doubt and question the existing order, to follow self-direction and formulate our own hypotheses to work towards possible conclusions. In fact, an old academic motto notes that learners are not empty vessels waiting to be filled, but instead respond in different ways to the stream of knowledge and its current. Science, by its very definition, is open source.

Under self-direction, peer-to-peer learning is incredibly important. Focusing specifically on Higher Education, particularly graduate academics, there is a need and reliance on empirical data. The goal of graduate research is to add to a body of knowledge that seeks understanding of a system or concept. In order to conduct such research, one must not only understand their field, but also be granted access to data, information and the methods used to obtain such data. In today’s academic institutions this is championed, but there do exist barriers to achieving this goal – one of the greatest is perhaps Intellectual Property (IP).

I have published everything as open source content, and my publication (coming soon to a journal near you) for my MS research will follow. I worked on the use of freshwater clams as sentinel species to monitor the health of streams receiving acid drainage from coal surface mine operations. I want the results of my data available to the public. I want my experiment improved upon, its methods updated and for the idea to further progress – just as I added to the work of others before me. Open source is key for progress, it allows the free flow of scientific information. IP keeps this from happening.

Take the case of Diego Gomez, a 26-year-old Columbian Master’s student whose research interest is biodiversity conservation.Throughout his academic career, access to academic journals on global research databases was extremely limited due to lack of institutional resources. Because of this, Gomez became dependent on the Internet. The web allowed him to research, share documents and talk with colleagues. To further collaboration, when he and others came across relevant papers they shared them together over the net.

One such paper landed him in legal trouble when the author filed a lawsuit over the “violation of [his] economic and related rights.” Under the allegations of this lawsuit, reports EFF, Gomez could be sent to prison for up to eight years and face crippling monetary fines. His crime is violation of IP law – patentscopyright and trademarks that restrict human labor and innovation.

This is the curse of IP – excessive restrictions upheld by laws used to protect the “economic rights” of authors. Instead of promoting scientific progress we are instead beholden to copyright. Instead of allowing human innovation to flourish, we are told ideas should be owned.  IP reserves itself the monopoly of coercion, it does not exist to ease, facilitate and grant social innovation – it prevents such progress. IP is a hurdle to self direction and thus the inclined labor of human beings. The solution is to question and dismantle this authority, furthering our progress towards a free society.

Luckily, we are well on our way in the age of network mutualism. Falling communication costs are allowing us to build anew within the shell of the old. The open access movement occurring on the Internet is creating global markets for free association among social networks that educate and inspire – totally void of traditional power structures. The creative, innovative potential for human labor in the Internet age is astounding.

In a free society ideas will not be owned. Ideas are powerful and fundamental to human flourishing — they should not be caged by legal activism. Instead, imagine a different order – one crafted by creative expression, innate interests and the ingenuity of a free society. To achieve greatness we must continue to advance todays emerging, beautiful anarchic order. Open source content is fundamental to our success.