POSE OA Blog Post

I’m enjoying the first module of the POSE workshop. For our first discussion forum, we were asked to respond to the following:

In the article “Marxism and Open Access in the Humanities: Turning Academic Labor against ItselfLinks to an external site.“, David Golumbia writes:

Open Access (OA) advocacy is the only perspective I know of from which it has been suggested that the laborer should sacrifice that interest (ownership rights) in the name of some putative “greater good,” a good that is too often alleged to be in the laborer’s own interest. This is especially true when we are told that it is not in the laborer’s own interest to be able to decide when and how she expresses those property interests in her work.

(Golumbia, 2016, P. 102)

Reflecting on what you have learned about OA, do you think OA potentially inhibits ownership of intellectual property (IP)? How does the framing of the “greater good” impact the conversation around OA and IP?

After reading the article I have lots of thoughts, but I’ll keep it on point for the question at hand about IP and the “greater good”.

To start, it’s fair to acknowledge that Golumbia is not against all manifestations of OA, but rather is against mandating that researchers make their research outputs available openly, and this is rooted in the Marxist-derived way he presents labour. I feel critical of many of his positions in this article, but I don’t want to misrepresent his views.

Golumbia strongly tries to push back on the social good argument for OA by demonstrating that the “greater good” actually can harm individual creators because they are forced into a servile relationship with their labour, and they will not be able to make money off the work. Where I think Golumbia gets it right is that we need to acknowledge that people at different institutions globally and at various stages of their careers have different levels of risk of exploitation. Is it fair to require a sessional instructor to make all their research available OA when for-profit publishers may be loath to publish parts of that content at a later date, and many institutions prize the impact factor or prestige that comes with those publishers in the tenure process? Probably not, without larger systemic change of what is valued in the tenure process. However, that problem seems to reside in the communal valuation of publishing practices that also exploit academic labour, not with OA itself.

Engaging in the concept of the “greater good” does require more good faith than I think Golumbia is willing to demonstrate. Golumbia never explicitly says what he thinks the “greater good” is that OA advocates are advocating for, but from my perspective the “greater good” is ensuring that the work I do has social benefit, and that I do everything I can to ensure that I’m taking into account as broad of considerations as possible when looking at benefits. If others would agree to this definition, it would require individual workers, including academics, to consider whether their work (research) contributes meaningfully to society if it is not broadly available (which can mean OA). It also requires acknowledging what individual creators owe to others who informed their work, and whether they were focused on or received financial compensation for their work.

I find for myself it’s more helpful to frame the Intellectual Property (and for Golumbia monetary compensation is an important part of IP) versus OA discussion as one of consent. Golumbia says that it’s unfair to mandate OA compliance because researchers should not have to consent to giving away the products of their labour for free (even if they were paid by their employer, government grant, etc. during the time they were producing them). However, he seems to assume that by not making work available researchers will automatically make more money and be less exploited because they have individual control over their labour. However, workers also did not consent to the automatic application of Intellectual Property (ex. the automatic application of copyright that lasts for 70 years after the creator’s death in Canada and USA). What I’m ineloquently trying to express is just because something is a default, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t advocate for, and participate in systemic change that would see knowledge shared more freely without undermining the material well being of the people who create or steward it.

As a final thought, I also think the IP versus OA discussion often ignores Traditional Knowledge and cultural practices that have different understandings of ownership and openness than what exists in Canadian (or American) legal frameworks, but I promised to stick to the initial questions so I’ll end here 😊

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

%d bloggers like this: