Busy, busy day today, folks, so if you want background on today’s post, go look at yesterday’s post.

The report that I’ve been talking about presents the complex issue of ownership and authorship thusly:

Offline, ownership and authorship are well-define concepts, protected by law and reinforced by cultural norms in corporations and schools…  For various reasons, online, ownership and authorship are less clear-cut.  Technology, and the ease with which it can be manipulated through copy-paste functions, permits easy access to copyrighted material.  Nearly anything can be easily obtained, for free or via purchase, on the Internet.  With this widespread availability of free content, software, and files mixed with pay-for-use versions, the navigation of what is freely available and what is not can be confusing.  This confusion may be accompanied by a naive belief, on the part of younger users, that if something is downloadable, then it’s everybody’s property for free.”

This situates the young person’s perspective on authorship quite nicely.  The report goes on to suggest that this is not necessarily all negative.  For example, they suggest that the outcome may “a new ethics of collaboration and sharing,” which has the potential to increase creativity and interaction in lovely ways.

The specific promises that the expanded understanding that teenagers bring to ownership and authorship include increasing opportunities for co-creation and participation in ‘knowledge communities,’ along with the free flow of information and new skills which can empower teenagers to become more engaged and successful.  The potential benefits for engaging in open-source creation is substantial, but can be difficult to explain or understand in a traditional framework for understanding authorship.  I am looking for a good reference that describes this process in some depth, and I’ll post it here when I get it.

As for the potential perils or problems associated with a reduction in ownership regulation, the report highlights these three issues: exploitation of teenagers by corporate entities, abuse of information and content (i.e., illegal file sharing and downloading), and an assumption that much creative or thoughtful work may be co-opted by themselves without ethical issue.

In essence, the potential benefits from collaborative work are very substantial, but the potential negative consequences of inappropriate use are also very substantial.  We are in a transition period between old and new understandings of ownership and authorship and what collaborative and communal work really looks like and how and when to credit it.  The current teenagers and young adults may bare the brunt of these societal growing pains, and so they are called upon to have deep conversations with both older and younger people about what creation means.  As adults we can begin to model these conversations for them by starting them ourselves.  This is fully appropriate dinner-time conversation!

The original Harvard report has small vignettes at the beginning of each section, highlighting a real life example of an ethical dilemma that is related to the section.  The one on privacy is very good, and brings the issue of privacy to light in a very lovely way.  Below is the vignette on privacy.  Putting aside all questions of the necessity of doing an assignment according to the teacher’s rubric, this story is well suited to starting a lively discussion on the issue of ownership and authorship with teenagers:

“Daniel is a high school senior who has a long-standing interest in social movements and is an occasional contributor to articles on Wikipedia.  For his American History course, he was asked to write a research paper about an American protest movement.  Daniel decides to write about the May 1, 2006 immigration rallies.  In his paper, he draws extensively from an entry about the rallies on Wikipedia to which he contributed a few months ago.  After reading Daniel’s paper, his teacher calls him into her office an accuses him of plagiarism, noting tha the had used verbatim lines from Wikipedia without giving proper credit.  Daniel replies that since he was a contributor to the Wikipedia article, his use did not constitute plagiarism.  Even so, he argues, the passages he used were mainly historical supporting facts; the core of the paper is his unique analysis of the rallies’ significance as a protest movement.  Above all, the ethics of Wikipedia, Daniel asserts, is to make knowledge available for widespread use.  He hardly expects to be cited by others for his contributions; authorship is irrelevant.”