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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. . .

Who’s got the most copyrights of them all? This is a provocative question raised by Cory Doctorow’s recent critique of USC copyright policy:

According to [a] memo, “USC’s purpose is to promote and foster the creation and lawful use of intellectual property.” It’s hard to imagine a more shocking statement in an official university communiqué. If this statement were true, then the measure of USC’s success would be the number of patents filed and the number of copyrights registered rather than the amount of original research undertaken, the number of diplomas granted, [or] the volume of citations in scholarly journals . . . .

This reminds me of an anecdote about Edison’s efforts to get a copyright on every frame of a film. He failed…but the slow decline of de minimis exceptions to infringement have made his position the winner in the long run. Even the tiniest bit of sampling can be an infringement, outside text-world.

It also brings to mind the troubling tendency of quantitative rankings to overtake assessments of quality–both in science and the humanities. Some countries are getting a bit more self-conscious about this trend. Until we fully acknowledge the granularity of such measurements, we are consigned to encouraging

Shorter publications
like blossoms on the branches
more downloads per word.

As in so much else, Jim Chen is ahead of the curve here!

2 thoughts on “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. . .”

  1. Great post. And the quantifying tendency obviously spills over beyond academic assessments. Does the number of patents generated in a given region, alone, tell us anything useful about that region’s economic history, or prospects? Some people think so.

  2. Being a graduate from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I can attest that patent portfolios are treated with great respect and referenced in newspapers and University material all the time. These are mostly in reference to the Biotech departments because of their ground breaking work in this field.
    I agree with the general point that patent and copyright is being granularized today and historical analysis is use/worthless. However, in the UW-Madison example, the stem cell patent portfolio could yield billions in future worth(without getting into the “can life be IP” argument). Which implies that even current longitudinal studies of IP portfolios are inaccurate.
    With the USC example I think it is probably analogous to their tenure policies of publish often or lose your job. I believe that sometimes quality teaching is more important than replicating a studies results.
    Different weights applied to different metrics.

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