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Today, concerns about academics’ contribution to the future of our planet are growing. While climate scientists have long recognized that their scholarly lifestyle is part of the  problem and have developed various kinds of solutions, management scholars are just beginning to more extensively reflect not just about their research agendas, but about their own behaviour as scholars. Management scholars’ environmental impact is not the only issue at stake. Rather, there are problems with a loss of meaningfulness in research work driven forward by rankings, not content, and with a rise of scientific misconduct. Arguably, these issues are related to the ways in which the scholarly community is organized.

The research network “Grand Challenges and New Forms of Organizing”, funded by the German Research Foundation, has taken it as its mission to unpack the reciprocal relationship between societal grand challenges and new forms of organizing. In the spirit of this research agenda, the network has also started to reflect about the challenge of making scholarship itself more sustainable again. During one of its workshops held in March 2019, the network formed working groups around four areas of sustainable scholarship that can be seen as highly interrelated and complementary, thus creating difficulties for change:

  1. How can we reduce our flying in the light of demands placed on visibility in international research communities?
  2. How can we make academic careers more sustainable and meaningful?
  3. Is the strong focus on theoretical novelty by our leading journals itself an unsustainable practice?
  4. What are alternatives to supporting the unsustainable business model of proprietary publishing?

Environmental impact of scholars

The first topic probably needs little explanation in terms of the grand challenge at hand: flying habits as a major contributor to carbon emissions and thus the climate crisis. Science is a collective endeavour and face-to-face exchanges with peers and colleagues are important for us to learn, share ideas, develop new research projects and form social ties. The academic conference cycle helps to structure the otherwise largely unstructured research work by providing fixed deadlines. Yet, the mobility requirements placed on scholars by a hyperactive academic system that is highly “projectified” and values international connectivity, frequent exchanges and visibility arguably stand in no relationship to intellectual development. As it stands, the affordances provided by digital technology are underutilized. Of course, no one is suggesting that we should stop meeting and interacting, but rather that we should think about the modes of travel we use and the quantity of events we fly to each year. Various initiatives already exist that raise these questions. The “Flying Less” initiative founded in 2015, for instance, demands that universities work towards reducing flying by staff and students. This, of course, stands in direct contrast to targets set by governments around the world – and supported by accreditation organizations – that universities increase the international exchange of their staff and students. The group also pledges that we, as academics, “work with university-based members to meet key professional objectives in ways that do not require flying and that are sustainable”.

The workshop group has discussed some concrete measures that could be taken in this regard. These should be read more as a brainstormed collection of ideas and not as fully thought out policy proposals, since each immediately raises follow-up questions and could easily be criticized as a kind of “sustainability police”, a problem that we also discussed. As research has shown, concerns about grand social challenges are often tied to radical changes in behaviour, so that those raising these issues are quickly labelled as spoilsports, whereas the majority prefers to live in a state of denial. Radical changes in behaviour definitely means spoiling the existing game a bit and are by no means easy, but, as will be outlined below, there are also new joys to be gained, such as a more meaningful work life and, ultimately, a planet our children can still live on.

Universities could make it their standard policy to offset carbon emissions for flights and provide financing for it. The CBS has a sustainable event guide and a sustainable campus policy, which help to institutionalize sustainability concerns among faculty, administrators and students. Universities could also provide additional incentives for scholars to take the train, such as allowing first class travel, or disincentives, such as “flagging” the number of flights of each scholar in the internal reporting systems. Those universities that operate with their own travel agency could have a policy to always check train options first before thinking about the plane – the CBS, for instance, already has such a policy in place. If scholars want to take the plane even though there is a train available, they could be asked to justify it, and norms could be exerted that a certain number of hours on the train is acceptable (at CBS, the norm is eight hours). Universities could also systematically measure how many carbon emissions they are producing through scholars flying to conferences and set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by a certain percentage. A study by the University of British Columbia has done exactly that, and it turned out that “business-related air travel emissions at UBC total 26,333 to 31,685 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission each year, equivalent to 63 to 73 per cent of the total annual emissions from the operation of the Vancouver UBC campus”. If reducing such emissions does not work on a voluntary basis, universities could restrict the number of flights per person per year – a suggestion already made by an ETH scholar. Universities could also invest more in virtual meeting room technologies and ease access to them, as well as urge governments and accreditation agencies to consider carbon emissions in the targets they put out.

Scholars can start raising awareness among colleagues to not automatically take the plane, but also think about the train or alternative modes of travel. Giuseppe Delemestri is leading by example here and, together with Helen Etchanchu, has begun to rally collective support among organization scholars in their recent pledge to attend the EGOS conference by train. Following the Scientists for Future initiative, the joint train ride of the people supporting the pledge has led to the Organization Studies for Future website. Even though alternative modes of transport often require more time than flying, which might stand in conflict with family and other professional obligations, the colleagues behind the EGOS by train initiative show that this time can be used very productively for work. And whereas life as academics on an aeroplane might negatively impact on the kind of knowledge that is produced, the time gained through slow travel may actually enhance and enlighten thinking, help in being more constructive, and engage in more meaningful work. Scholars at the Freie Universität Berlin have recently published a pledge to “voluntarily forego short-haul flights up to 1.000 km if the route can be covered by train in 12 hours”.

Professional associations could also start to delegitimize air travel, e.g. by asking each registering conference participant about their intended mode of travel and actively suggesting train options. Conference organizers could also more actively think about alternative modes of participation, though this is a very contentious issue since it requires rethinking the financing models of conferences and in setting up suitable technology revenue. Again, people suggesting virtual modes of interaction are quickly perceived as wanting to spoil the fun of personal meet-ups. Yet, as outlined in this recent Conversation article, the fun need not be spoiled. For instance, multiple site conference formats exist that include both physical interaction in regional hub sites (e.g. one on each continent) and virtual connections. Alternatives are physically held, but no-fly conferences that include distant participants virtually. Either way, a combination of more localized meet-ups combined with virtual interactions – which might even be an asset for knowledge development – and arranging for longer and more fruitful stays if transatlantic flights are made, resulting in them having to be taken less frequently, might be a promising path forward. These changes will likely also contribute to academics’ career sustainability (see below). Smaller but by no means less important steps are to reduce plastics and meat consumption at conferences, given lifestock’s production terrible climat impact.

Career sustainability and meaningfulness

The concept of career sustainability refers to the idea that a sustainable career enjoys not only longevity, but also a meaningful sense of development, conservation and renewal of career-related resources (Van der Heijden & De Vos 2015). As recently argued by Elango Elangovan and Andy Hoffman, the sustainability of academic careers may be threatened by a sense of meaninglessness resulting from a one-dimensional focus on A-journal publications. Along with an increased focus on quantified performance measures and a growing sense of careering in the neoliberal business school, unethical research practices seem to have become the norm rather than the exception. Building on the inspiring article by Elangovan and Hoffman, the network’s debate revolved mainly around the question of what we as researchers can do to enhance a sense of meaningfulness in their academic life. A central question was what academics can give back to their fields of research, especially in the context of researching grand challenges. Many have reported feeling a strong sense of despair resulting from the focus on quantifiable outputs, often in top journals, and the lack of attention paid to the content of the research and the values and emotions of the scholars engaging in this research. One suggestion was to shift the focus of academic conversations much more to the empirical contexts at hand and the emotions involved in doing the research which, as scholars like Gail Whiteman have already outlined, are often strong. Furthermore, thinking about open access forms of publication might provide a stronger sense of giving something back to the public than publishing in proprietary journals – although this strategy is currently not without problems (see below).

The group also discussed that many academics feel emotionally worn out by constantly hearing about the publication successes and productivity of peers and colleagues through social media self-marketing. Most academics are culpable of engaging in this practice, not least because they understandably seek attention for months of hard research work. One solution would be to publicly share news about failures as well – rejections, unpursued research topics, failed motions, lectures that did not go well. Research has shown that the practice of painting perfect selves on social media can lead to depression and feelings of inadequacy.  The readily available publication and citation counts might have the same effect on scholars. As a solution, every academic could be much more careful in painting realistic, not imaginary perfect public pictures of themselves. Everyone can contribute to shift conversations towards content, not performance. PhD program directors could develop more balanced targets and requirements that go beyond a pure focus on A-level publications. Of course, these targets are developed based on university targets, which are developed in the light of targets set by governments and accreditation agencies, which is where we can begin to see the systemic nature of the problem at hand.

The scholary community might even impose an emissions cap on publications. If each faculty member would only be allowed to publish one article a year, guesses are that this article will be rather meaningful and well-received, because others would actually have the time to read rather than cursorily scan and ritualistically cite it. Some funding bodies such as the German Science Foundation or the Austrian FWF have picked up on the problem of academic over-production by allowing applicants to submit only a list of their five or ten most significant publications. And as with climate change, professional associations can be a strong force in questioning current practices. Organization scholars like Alfred Kieser and Margit Osterloh, for instance, have been a strong voice in the context of the German Business Scholar Association in delegitimizing the excessive use of rankings both publicly (such as the Handelsblatt ranking)  and in committees.

The theoretical novelty imperative

The third discussion tried to unpack the possible tension between a strong focus on theoretical novelty by leading journals and pressing empirical challenges. While a strong case has already been made for “rigor, not rigor mortis” in the context of grand challenges research, the credo of theoretical novelty which is repeatedly stressed in editorials is rarely questioned. This credo can be seen as part of a larger societal development in which, throughout the 20th century, the ideal of creativity, individualism and novelty has become the norm in all societal spheres (Reckwitz, 2012). But do grand societal challenges not require scholarship to focus on using the theoretical toolkit at hand – theories of institutionalization, collective action or path dependence, for instance – to explain complex empirical problems and offer insights into how change could be triggered and enacted? The solutions discussed by the group largely revolved around the role of journal editors as agenda-setters and evaluators of what counts as a “theoretical contribution”. One specific idea was to redefine the notion of phenomenon-driven research so that it suits the theoretical standards of leading journals, yet allows for greater room for empirical problem-solving. Of course, some solutions are already in place, such as the foundation of the Academy of Management Discoveries Journal with a stronger focus on pressing empirical situations. Yet, more can be done to put the useful theories we as organization and management scholars have about lock-in and change dynamics on multiple levels into the service of analysing and solving empirical problems at hand.

Open access and open science

A final topic the group discussed revolved around the benefits of open science and the unsustainable business models of proprietary publishers that extract tax money at multiple stages of the publication process (reviewers that work in their free time/on their university payrolls, the research that is being paid for by tax money, fees for making content open access, selling licences to university libraries) while adding little to the research process themselves. While the benefits of open access to knowledge, particularly regarding grand challenges, have often been discussed, the major management journals are not open access. Articles can be made open access through the payment of a fee, but not every scholar has the necessary funds to cover these costs. Pressures for change are currently exerted by scientists as well as by librarians that cancelled their contracts with Elsevier. Network member @leonidobusch has already blogged widely about these initiatives here and elsewhere. Furthermore, several European funding bodies have formed the cOAlition S initiative, requiring that “scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms”. However, as Jerry Davis emphasized during the recent EGOS subplenary on “Grand Challenges: Populism, Post-Truth and False Futures”, current open access journals such as PloS One have been associated with fake science. Thus, a main challenge that remains is finding ways of governing and editing open access journals, and making them comparable to other, proprietary journals that are currently the basis for career and tenure decisions e.g. by including them in rankings.

Epilogue

While none of these four issues might directly count as a societal grand challenge in itself, each is arguably a smaller-scale representation and enactment of larger societal problems. Furthermore, as with other grand challenges, the issues are highly interconnected and thus difficult to change. For example, proprietary publishing business models have played a part in an excessive use of quantitative measures, which has contributed to intensified pressures for visibility and related mobility and a decreased sense of meaningfulness. Many academics feel trapped into a market logic that incentivises publication quantity, visibility and citation counts at all costs. This certainly holds for junior scholars that are held in precarious non-tenured or tenure-track positions with hard performance measures, but increasingly also for tenured scholars who are micromanaged by target agreements. Many of the measures outlined above are small steps rather than major systemic changes. Clearly, individuals cannot be expected to solve our society’s – and our discipline’s – grand challenges. Yet, individuals can act as role models and therefore inspire debate and collective action. So, for now, the research network’s suggestions are as follows:

  • Let’s find leaders within our communities that act as role models for each of the above issues and let’s find areas in which we ourselves can take on such a role. It does not have to be in all areas simultaneously. Each step counts. Displaying changed behaviour helps to inspire others.
  • Let’s not shy away from asking uncomfortable questions and discussing uncomfortable solutions; from intervening and challenging our peers and colleagues; or from consulting and empathizing with them if needed.
  • Let’s appeal to core representatives and gate keepers of our academic community such as journal editors or PhD program organizers. Let’s approach our professional organizations, university administrations, funding bodies and accreditation agencies asking them to take the above issues into account in devising policies and normative statements. Change in public policies is most likely to occur if it is demanded bottom-up.
  • In short, let’s draw on our own toolkit as social scientists, which should equip us well for actively addressing, rather than shying away, from grand challenges. Particularly, in the spirit of our research network, let’s look at new forms of organizing critically – as drivers of new problems and as potential solutions – for the challenges faced by our own field.

At a workshop on “Intellectual Property Ordering Beyond Borders” hosted by the newly founded Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin I was invited to give a talk on issues of transnationality and territoriality in the realm of private regulation via standards. This invitation provided me with the opportunity to bind together insights from several previous papers I had co-authored on the case of Creative Commons. Please find the slides of my talk below.

 

(leonhard)

March 12-15, 2019, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Creativity is one of the key concepts, yet among the most slippery ones of present-day Western societies. Today, the call for creativity spans far beyond typically “creative” fields and industries towards becoming a universal social norm. Creative processes, however, are fundamentally surrounded by uncertainty. It is difficult to know ex-ante what will become a creative idea and, due to its destructive force, it is also highly contested. This inherent uncertainty associated with creativity thus spills over to other social spheres, too.
The DFG-funded Research Unit “Organized Creativity” is studying creative processes in music and pharmaceuticals – as representatives for creativity in the arts and in the sciences. The goal of the unit is to understand in greater depth those practices of inducing and coping with uncertainty which are employed by various actors involved in creative processes.

Target Group
The Spring School provides space for exchange between advanced doctoral students, early postdocs and several senior scholars that do research on creativity either in the context of innovation research or in the fields of business and management studies, economic geography, psychology or sociology. Combining lectures from renowned scholars (Prof. Dr. Dr. Karin Knorr Cetina, Prof. David Stark, Ph.D., Prof. Dr. Gernot Grabher, Prof. Dr. Elke Schüßler, Prof. Dr. Jörg Sydow) with the presentation, discussion and development of individual papers, this call invites advanced doctoral students and early postdocs from all disciplines concerned with creativity and uncertainty to join our discussion in Berlin. The working language will be English. Read the rest of this entry »

Digitalization reduces technological and financial barriers to scientific publishing. Science can thus become faster, more inclusive and more plural. At the same time, the growing acceptance of specific forms of Open Access has also led to the rise of author-pays business models based on Article Processing Charges (APCs). The increasing publication pressure in the scientific system in combination with APCs provides incentives for creating “predatory” journals that only supposedly or very superficially conduct peer review in order to maximize their profits from such APCs. These manuscripts are at best inadequate and at worst deliberately tendentious and misleading.

How to stop predatory publishers? (Credit: SarahRichterArt, CC0)

Recently, an investigative report by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcasters WDR and NDR has revealed that even researchers from reputable academic institutions publish in or represent publishers of dubious quality. In their attempt to reveal “Fake Science” (using the English term in their German reportings), journalists easily accomplished the publication of a non-sensical article in an allegedly peer reviewed journal charging APCs. What they also show is how these unscientific practices not just harm the reputation of legitimate open access journals but are also a potential source – and allegedly scientific proof – for fake news more generally.

This blogpost discusses how reputable (Open Access) journals can defend their credibility against somewhat or even completely dubious Open Access journals. In our opinion, the most sustainable response, which however would only be possible in the mid to long-term, would be to abandon author-pays business models altogether and switch to publication infrastructures financed by universities and institutions (for an example of such an approach, check out the Open Library of Humanities). In the short-term, however, certain open-peer review practices might also be helpful to address the problem of predatory open access journals. Read the rest of this entry »

The increasing number of collective open access deals either on the national level (e.g., Dutch open access deals) or between publishers and research institutions (e.g., agreement of the Max Planck Society with Springer) has some very practical consequences for scientific publishing processes. On a macro level, these deals make research strong countries and institutions stronger: their papers are better accessible worldwide with respective consequences for reception and citation counts.

But there are also consequences on the micro level. For example, in co-authored papers, the question of who acts as “corresponding author” suddenly becomes of utmost importance. Only if the corresponding author is situated at an institution with such an open access deal then an article will be immediately accessible to anyone worldwide. And it is the corresponding author who has to sign copyright forms on behalf of all the authors to “seal the deal”.

Publishers pushing for Non-Commercial Clause

What I have learnt only very recently is that publishers try to retain as much rights a possible even in cases where researchers are eligible for open access publication. SAGE Publications, for instance, tries to convince – if not force – authors to opt for a Creative Commons license with the restrictive non-commercial (NC) clause (full form as a PDF):

This is troublesome for a whole bunch of reasons: Read the rest of this entry »

On Tuesday, September 26, I was invited to speak at the Digital Europe Working Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament on the issue of copyright reform. Current debates circle mostly around two new articles proposed by the European Commission. Article 11 proposes to introduce a new neighbouring right for press publishers, following the (so far mostly failed) examples of Germany and Spain. Article 13, in turn, wants platform owners to implement upload filters as a means of copyright enforcement, thereby undermining liability exceptions of the EU E-Commerce directive.

The key point I was trying to make was that targeting large platforms such as Google and Facebook with ever stricter copyright regulation won’t hurt them but rather their competition and anyone else. Even now we can observe that, due to its market power, Google was able to more or less write its own copyright rules for its video platform YouTube. Actually, this had also been necessary, given the misalignment between European copyright regulation and every day online practices based (e.g., creating and sharing user-generated content) upon new digital technologies.

As a consequence, YouTube effectively functions as a transnational rights clearing center and has brought back registration requirements to copyright law in action. However, rights clearing only works on YouTube’s proprietary platform and with remuneration rules negotiated between Google and rights holders; this further strengthens Youtube’s already dominant position in the market place Introducing an upload filter requirement would only further strengthen Google’s market position, making it even more difficult for rights holders to negotiate fair remuneration.

As a way forward, I proposed introducing harmonized and remunerated exceptions for remix and bagatelle uses instead. These would be practical not just for Google but also for anyone else and help to re-align copyright law in the books with copyright law in action.

Please find a video (slides and audio only) and my slides below: Read the rest of this entry »

When Creative Commons published version 4.0 of its set of alternative copyright licenses in 2013, this represented a sea change. While previously a generic set of licenses had been legally adapted to different jurisdictions (“ported”), version 4.0 of the licenses was developed as a single globally applicable license standard. To a certain degree, a decade of laborious license porting helped to build an international network of legal professionals and a respective body of legal knowledge, which than enabled Creative Commons to abandon its porting strategy.

global_affiliates_map

More than three years after this “globalization” of Creative Commons’ licenses, the NGO strives to also globalizing its organizational structure. By March 24, 2017, the various communities of Creative Commons activists, lawyers and contributors may comment on a detailed proposal for an entirely new governance structure. The proposal is accompanied by several regional and a global “Faces of the Commons” reports and additional background information on the process that led to the proposal – a particular open form of strategy-making. Read the rest of this entry »

Since the beginning of 2017, over 60 large German universities and other research institutions lack access to journals published by scientific publishing giant Elsevier. Paradoxically, this escalation in the conflict between research institutions and Elsevier is actually a good thing. To a certain degree, the battle puts to test a great thought experiment provided by James Heathers last year. In his post he applied The Garbage Strike Test to the contemporary scientific publishing system:

What happens [when garbagemen just stop doing their job]? Almost immediately, massive stinking middens of rancid trash build up. Streets became partially inaccessible. Rats run rampant. Cities marinate in their own furious stink. Rocks are thrown at strike-breakers and scabs. Mayors call meetings.

In the end, garbagemen win in such struggles because they are (a) truly necessary, (b) on the right side of public opinion, and (c) something whose absence horrifies people utterly. If you apply this scenario to large academic publishers, assuming that they “suddenly refused anyone any access to any of their copyrighted materials at 9am tomorrow morning ”, the outcome would differ substantially: Read the rest of this entry »

I like recursivity in acronyms such as GNU, which stands for “GNU’s Not Unix”, and also in cartoons. A recent example for a recursive cartoon is featured below, addressing a great number of issues regularly debated around the alternative copyright licensing standard Creative Commons. The author of the work is Patrick Hochstenbach, a comic artist, programmer, and digital architect at University of Ghent libraries. You can also find his work on Instagram and Twitter.

Patrick Hochstenbach, CC-BY-SA

Patrick Hochstenbach, CC-BY-SA

Read the rest of this entry »

The World Bank’s previously public data on microfinance and financial inclusion has recently been locked away behind a paywall. It’s hard to figure out why. However, it raises larger questions about the Bank’s strategies for microfinance and knowledge more broadly.

(This is a background piece to an article published on the IDS blog.)

Since the 1990s, the World Bank has sought to present itself as not only as a lender, but also a global “Knowledge Bank” that collects and provides knowledge as a global public good. It has garnered some praise, and perhaps more criticism, for ostensibly seeking to monopolise knowledge about development. In 2012, the Independent Evaluation Group concluded the objective of creating a global Knowledge Bank had not been achieved, criticising a lack of uptake of knowledge within the Bank and “intellectual silos”.

So how about intellectual vaults, with knowledge securely locked away? Turning public monopolies into private (or pseudo-private) monopolies; now that doesn’t sound like something the World Bank would be in favour of, does it? It’s precisely what happened with the World Bank’s microfinance data platform earlier this month.

The MIX (also known as “Microfinance Information Exchange”, or “Mixmarket.org”) was created by the World Bank’s in-house-but-arms-length microfinance governing body, CGAP, to improve the transparency of the microfinance industry. Since 2002, the MIX (whose connections to the World Bank are not made very clear, but its headquarters are across the street) has collected data about the global microfinance sector, packaged primarily to cater to investment decision-makers.

The MIX’s “.org” suffix denotes its claim to serve the greater good. The data were made available on-line.  Anyone with an interest in microfinance could access it: “a big win for open data in international development”.

Get the “public” data – for upwards of $486

Those days, it seems, are over. All the data which were previously available for downloading and (usually after some cleaning) analysing in a spreadsheet are now behind a paywall. What used to be a “global public good” is now priced at at least $486 a year – clearly too much for most students or researchers, let alone those from developing countries.

paywall

(Image: screenshot from themix.org)

Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
September 2019
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