Participatory Citizenship

Assignment: Find and describe 3 digital tools that can be used to promote participatory citizenship. For each tool, describe how it works, and then analyze if it works.

Tool 1: See Click Fix

How does it work? SeeClickFix streamlines the process of citizen complaints, and allows citizens to more easily draw government officials’ attention to problems in communities. Smartphone apps allow citizens to capture problems and send them instantly to the correct place for attention. This is what the interface looks like:

Screen shot of a See Click Fix interface. A citizen in New Haven, Connecticut reports a problem, the Department of Public Works responds, and the problem is fixed.
Example of SeeClickFix being used in New Haven; turning complaints into gratitude. Source: Gizmodo.

SeeClickFix operates under three basic principles: empowerment, efficiency, and engagement. Citizens are empowered to report problems and assist government officials in creating better communities. SeeClickFix is efficient because “distributed sensing is particularly powerful at recognizing patterns,” making it easier for government officials to identify trends and problems. Lastly, citizens who take the time to report issues will be more engaged in their community, which creates a “self-reinforcing loop.” It makes the process of submitting a complaint a more user-friendly experience. As founder of SeeClickFix explains, instead of making a user feel like a narc, SeeClickFix rewards them. “The government wants to talk to you,” said founder Berkowitz. “You’re not being an asshole, you’re actually helping out.”Image from See Click Fix website that describes their process: 1) Capture or document issues you see in your community, 2) report the issues to let the neighborhood know, and 3) communicate with your community and government through the mobile app.

But does it work? SeeClickFix reports that over 2,271,448 problems have been fixed as a result of their technology. Cities like Minneapolis, Decatur, Houston, and New Haven use SeeClickFix. It’s used in almost 300 citizens and according to this article by Gizmodo, its requests see an 86% fix rate. Of course, the power of this tool is limited by (1) the number of citizens who are willing to engage and use the app, and (2) the responsiveness of government officials.

Tool 2: Open Secrets

How does it work? OpenSecrets.org is a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics. This describes the center’s mission:Text block that describes the Center's mission, which is to "inform, empower, and advocate." Nonpartisan, independent, and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy. OUR VISION is for Americans, empowered by access to clear and unbiased information about money's role in politics and policy, to use that knowledge to strengthen our democracy. OUR MISSION is to produce and disseminate peerless data and analysis on money in politics to inform and engage Americans, champion transparency, and expose disproportionate or undue influence on public policy.

OpenSecrets provides voters, reporters, and others with hard data about money in politics. It looks at spending by interest groups, super PACs, political nonprofits, federal lobbying, “dark money,” and personal finances of government officials. By gathering and reporting data, OpenSecrets works to make government more transparent. For example, they just rolled out an iPhone app (“Dollarocracy”) that tracks spending on campaign ads. Among other things, the Center tracks anomalies in campaign finance, creates easy-to-read fact sheets on campaign finance issues for voters, and offers their data for scholars to use in performing robust academic research.

But does it work? According to the website, in 2012, OpenSecrets recorded nearly 35 million pageviews from 5 million distinct visitors. It has received high praise from news reports and academic sources. According to the New York Times, “The Center for Responsive Politics is a rare thing in Washington. It does the heavy lifting of true research, not just spinning information.” I think the most useful part of OpenSecrets.org is the place where you can look up your own representatives. For example, I looked up the data for 2014 Congressional election in Alaska, and here’s what it looks like:

Screen Shot of OpenSecrets.Org search for Alaska Congressional Races in 2014. It shows that Senator March Begich (D) raised over $10 million, while Dan Sullivan (R) raised $7 million.

If you click on “Dan Sullivan,” it takes you to this page, which breaks down all sorts of information about Sullivan’s spending and finances, such as these two pieces of info:

Chart that shows the top 5 contributors and top 5 industries who contributed to Dan Sullivan's campaign from 2013 to 2016. Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 12.32.08 PM

Transparency is critical for a democracy, and OpenSecrets.org helps promote transparency in campaign finance. This data can prove invaluable for news agencies and academics, but… given that most Americans probably don’t have their own finances in order, I am doubtful that the average citizen really cares about campaign finance or has the motivation to sift through data and use it to make voting decisions. However, for the motivated citizen, this could be a really valuable tool in terms of making informed voting decisions.

Tool 3: Volunteer Match

How does it work? VolunteerMatch “brings good people and good causes together.” Right away on the homepage, you see a search window like this (obviously adjusted for your particular location).

Screen Shot of VolunteerMatch.Org showing a search bar that allows you to search for issues you care about, or browse major issues like advocacy and human rights, animals, and school development.

This database allows you to search for volunteer opportunities that match your particular interests and skills. You can search options by local/virtual and select any of these causes:

Screenshot from volunteermatch.org that shows the entire list of cause areas available on the website, which include arts and culture, children and youth, community, emergency and safety, environment, race and ethnicity, women, and many more.

For example, I searched near my location and found opportunities to bake cakes for people in hospice, host an international exchange student, teach English as a second language, help a small nonprofit with marketing and communications, and a lot more. However, I do imagine this tool is particularly useful in larger metropolitan areas. You may not be able to find as many opportunities in small towns.

These are some stats on VolunteerMatch’s success:

Screenshot from VolunteerMatch.Org which shows important statistics on the website's success: over 100,000 participating organizations, over 11 million volunteers matched, and over 100,000 volunteer opportunities available.

But does it work?  I like the fact that you can actually find volunteer positions that take advantage of your professional skills– if you’re a marketing professional, you can volunteer to help with marketing; if you’re good with kids, you can find opportunities that will allow you to use those skills, etc. This could actually be pretty beneficial to volunteer as well as service agency, since you are building your own resume/skill set while helping your community.

Too, volunteerism and community connection is actually a critical part of participatory citizenship. Citizens who get involved are more likely to care and get involved in other areas of politics and community (that “self-reinforcing loop” mentioned in the See Click Fix description). Democracy depends on a citizenry that knows how to compromise and communicate, and civil society participation (like volunteering) can help foster those values.

In Summary…

I intentionally chose different categories of civic engagement– civic reporting (SeeClickFix), government transparency (OpenSecrets), and civil society building (VolunteerMatch). Tons of apps and websites exist for each of these types of categories, and more! Hope you have a chance to check some of them out for yourself.

Score: 10/10

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Creative Commons License

Choosing a Creative Commons License

I decided to apply a Creative Commons license to the very first infographic I made for this course (for Collection 1). I chose a CC-BY-NC license, as evidenced by the logo at the bottom of the infographic.

Writing tips infographic created by the author.

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

I chose CC-BY-NC to indicate that I am ok with people using and remixing my work, with attribution. I chose NC to indicate that I don’t want my work used for commercial purposes. I didn’t choose to use SA (Share Alike) because I really don’t mind if people use my work, remix it, and then choose a different CC license for their product. I also didn’t choose the ND option, because I don’t mind if people create derivations based off of my work.

Proper Use of CC-BY-NC

A tutor at a university writing center comes across my infographic on this blog. She is looking for posters to put up in her office, so she prints it off and hangs it on her wall. She also decides that she would like to add the tutoring center’s contact information and personalize the infographic a little bit, so she does (which she is allowed to do since I did not choose an ND license). If students ask about the poster, she makes copies for them and hands it out freely.

Improper Use of CC-BY-NC

A tutor at the same university writing center also comes across this infographic on my blog. He is publishing a short pamphlet of writing tips to sell to teachers and students. He decides to include my infographic in its entirety in his pamphlet and does not attribute me as the creator of the infographic. This is an improper use of my CC-BY-NC license because he didn’t (a) attribute the work to me, and (b) intends to make money off of my product. If I found out about his improper usage, I would contact him and explain the CC-BY-NC license. Since, in this example, my work is being used for educational purposes, I would offer him the license to use the infographic in his pamphlet in exchange for attribution. This article outlines other options that I would have, if I decided I didn’t want him to use my work at all commercially (assuming that it’s clear that his use DOESN’T fall under Fair Use guidelines, of course).

 

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Get Productive: Just in Case

It occurred to me that all of my work on my blog and all of my other productivity tools won’t mean a whole lot if (a) something happens and I lose all of my WordPress posts, or (b) something happens to my computer and I lose all of my other work. Consequently, I think backing up your work on a regular basis is a critical part of productivity!

I had never backed up a blog before, so I started with this website. I liked the idea of automatic backups, so I took a look at the various WordPress plugins available for backing up my site. I found this link that described some of the best free backup options (since I obviously prefer free if possible!) I decided to go with Updraft since it had so many good reviews. I downloaded the plugin in my site’s dashboard, then clicked to activate the plugin. I’m not very WordPress savvy, but I found Updraft pretty easy to use. Under the “settings” option, I was able to link my Updraft backups to my Dropbox account. After authenticating my Dropbox account, I was able to complete a backup and scheduled automatic backups every 2 weeks. I checked and can see all of the zipped WordPress backup files in my Dropbox folder. Pretty easy!

I also wanted to backup my computer, and I decided to do it the old-fashioned way. I have a Mac, so I used an external hard drive and Time Machine to backup all of my files and settings. In the future, I’d like to have backups set to go to the Cloud, but for now, I’m satisfied with Time Machine and Updraft.

 

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Fair Use: Let’s Learn about Microfinance

The prompt for this assignment asked us to teach the class about something we are interested in or passionate about. I’d like to think I’m passionate about the things I teach my students in the classroom, and so for my topic, I chose one of my favorite lessons to teach. My primary academic background is international relations; in particular, I’ve always had an academic/research interest in the Global South, transitional justice, and international development. In the past, I’ve included one class session that focuses on strategies for international development in my intro to political science or comparative politics courses. What is being done to move Global South countries out of poverty and towards sustainable development and rule of law? Obviously, there is a whole lot that you can talk about related to this, but for the purpose of this assignment, I am going to teach you about one development strategy (of many): microfinance.

What is Microfinance?

Image of Muhammad Yunus speaking and smiling with two women.
Muhammad Yunus, the economist who pioneered the practice of microfinance in Bangladesh, won a Nobel Peace Prize for it in 2006. Credit: Eric Thayer/Reuters. Source, New York Times, at this link.

Microfinance started in the early 1980s with the founding of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh by Mohamed Yunus. Yunus founded the Bank based on the premise that, because you have to have money to make money, it is difficult for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Banks only offer loans to people with money, good credit, or collateral—things that no person in poverty has. According to Forbes:

“For the world’s poor who survive on less than $2 per day, banking services are unavailable. Without access to a safe place to store savings, the poor cannot get a loan to start a business. And without a job or collateral for a loan, no bank is willing to lend.”

Thus, Yunus developed the Grameen Bank as a nonprofit organization that gives small cash loans to people in poverty, with the intent that these individuals use the money to start a small business. Grameen Bank and manny other microfinance institutions (MFIs) promote development by providing these small cash loans (a couple hundred dollars, perhaps) to individuals. But does it work?

Image of a small green plant, sprouting up from a small pile of gold coins.
Image source: http://www.grameen-info.org/what-is-microfinance/

Benefits of Microfinance

It (Sometimes) Works. According to some studies, MFIs have the potential to reduce poverty rates. For example, a 2012 study in peer-reviewed World Development journal by Imai, Gaiha, and Thapa indicated that countries with more MFIs had lower levels of poverty indices. According to the authors,

“Taking account of the endogeneity associated with loans per capita from Microfinance Institutions (MFIs), our econometric results consistently confirm that microfinance loans per capita are significantly and negatively associated with poverty, that is, a country with a higher MFIs’ gross loan portfolio per capita tends to have lower poverty after controlling for the effects of other factors influencing it…These results suggest that microfinance not only reduces the incidence of poverty but also its depth and severity.”

Empowering to women. Many MFI loans are targeted towards women. Women in developing nations typically cannot open a commercial bank account (they represent less than 1% of all loans from commercial banks), so MFIs give women more opportunities for women-led entrepreneurship.

Builds community and wraparound services. Lastly, some MFIs can foster community solidarity and wraparound services. The Grameen model was based on the idea that loans were granted to individuals, but each individual must belong to a five-member group of other borrowers. These groups provide support and accountability for repayment. Other MFIs have diversified to provide wraparound services along with microlending, such as the provision of insurance, savings accounts, healthcare, or recreational activities.

Problems with Microfinance

Macroeconomics. Critics of MFIs accurately point out that certain macro-level problems, such as the lack of borrower education, an inefficient or corrupt national government, poor infrastructure, and weak economy all prohibit microfinance from having a positive impact on poor communities. If borrowers are uneducated on how to make the most of their loan, or corrupt government officials can’t guarantee property rights, licenses to run businesses, etc., the loan will not lead to growth. If there are no roads to transport goods to customers, the loan will not turn a profit. If there are no buyers for goods, the loan will not turn a profit. All of these macro-level problems are untouched by microfinance, and yet drastically impact the potential of microloans to be successful vehicles of development.

This photo shows an empty wallet, and quotes MFI borrower Kutaisi as saying, "I [took the picture of the] empty wallet to signify monthly expenditures, the increase of dollar rate..."
Photo taken by a MFI borrower. Image is from 2016 a synthesis report by the Smart Campaign, http://www.smartcampaign.org/
Potential for exploitation. Due to the nature of the loans (to rural areas, small amounts, etc), the loans are very expensive to manage, and so MFIs have high interest rates. Even at the Grameen Bank, interest rates can be around 20%–not very many activities will pay back at that rate and allow for growth. This means businesses must be run extremely efficiently to make a profit at all. In addition to claims of exploitation by the nonprofit MFIs, some MFIs are for-profit organizations, and according to the New York Times article, “Banks Making Big Profits from Tiny Loans,”

“Drawn by the prospect of hefty profits from even the smallest of loans, a raft of banks and financial institutions now dominate the field, with some charging interest rates of 100 percent or more.”

MFIs like these can saddle already impoverished individuals with huge amounts of debt that they are unable to pay, and are an example of exploitative banking practices disguised as “development” work.

Conclusion

Obviously, no “magic bullet” to eliminating poverty exists. Proponents of MFIs often expound the benefits of microfinance while ignoring the harm it can have in a community when it is not done responsibly or paired with other wraparound services or other development efforts. Conversely, those opposed to MFIs often only focus on the examples of predatory institutions, and ignore the real, positive changes that microfinance can have in the life of an individual in poverty.

Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials

According to the US Code on Fair Use:

“The fair use of a copyrighted work… for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

The copyrighted materials I used in this short lesson include:

  1. Photograph from the New York Times
  2. Quotation from a Forbes article
  3. Quotation from a scholarly journal
  4. Images from two non-profit websites

I contend that all of these materials I used in this lesson were used “fairly,” or in accordance with Fair Use laws because they meet these four criteria outlined above (and below).

1. Purpose and character. All of the materials I used meet this first requirement; they are used for a nonprofit, educational purpose. I would also argue that the use of all of these materials represents “transformative” use of the materials. According to Appendix A in our required readings,

“Cases have reinforced the notion that for a use to be considered “transformative,” it need not—as, in fact, it usually does not—entail a literal modification or revision of the original material. Instead, it is crucial that it has put that material in a new context where it performs a new function. Thus, the reproduction of an image to illustrate the argument of a scholarly article could qualify.”

All of the images and quotations that I have used do represent a “transformation” of the original piece of copyrighted material, since I am using them for a different purpose/function. My work will be the subject of review or commentary by my instructor and classmates in ED 654, making it transformative.

2. Nature of the copyrighted work. Factual works are more likely than creative works to be protected under “fair use,” and so I think that the quotations I used are “safer” than the images/photograph. However, I think both the quotations and the images still meet this test of factuality. (I would probably be most concerned about the photograph from the NY Times, since it is definitely more of a creative work- I’d be curious to hear other Nousion-ites thoughts as to whether or not they think the photograph I used meets the criteria for “fair use.”)

3. Amount and substantiality of copyrighted work. I did not use the entire work of any of these materials; for example, the NY Times photograph is one image in a 7-image photography gallery on microfinance. Similarly, the quotations are short excerpts, and I only used what I needed. I also did not use the “heart” of any of these works.

4. Effect on real/potential market value. My use of these copyrighted materials will not prevent others from purchasing or accessing the work. All of the materials that I used, except for the scholarly journal, are free for my readers to access if they follow the links I have provided. To ensure that I did not harm the market value of the scholarly journal, I provided the DOI link instead of posting a link directly to the PDF. If our class was meeting within Blackboard or another password protected LMS, I would’ve been able to post the journal’s PDF, because everyone who would be able to access the article would already have access through UAF library.

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Collaborate (a little) & metathink

Collaborate (a little)

For this assignment, I met in a Google Hangout with Sarah, D’Arcy, and Linnea. These were the original 10 statements we were asked to discuss/revise:

  1. We should have a high degree of tolerance for group members who are late to synchronous meetings or do not attend due to other obligations.
  2. Creating friendships and completing the group task are equally important.
  3. Criticizing other group members should be avoided.
  4. All group members should have identical goals and reasons for being involved.
  5. Majority rule is the best method of group decision making.
  6. If one group member is not pulling his or her weight, the other group members should confront that person together.

During the Google hangout, we went item-by-item and discussed whether or not we agreed with each statement. These were our final statements, which D’Arcy made into an infographic.

  1. The most important goal for a group in this class would be to complete the stated task(s).
  2. Groups are most productive when a leader steps forward to run meetings and allocate tasks.
  3. Group members should do everything in their power to attend scheduled synchronous meetings on time.
  4. While a good working relationship is important, completing the group task is the most important priority.
  5. Group members should respectfully engage in constructive criticism when appropriate.
  6. Resolving small conflicts in a professional manner will help prevent conflict escalation and group dysfunction.
  7. Whenever possible, group members should attempt to reach a consensus to make a decision. When that’s not possible or time is limited, relying on the leader’s guidance or majority rule is acceptable.
  8. Group members should be held accountable for their contributions to the group.
  9. Depending upon the learning objective, groups should be evaluated as a whole, as individuals, or some combination of the two.

Thinking about the thinking

What did you find most challenging? It was somewhat challenging to find a time that worked with four very different schedules. I am also on the east coast, so meeting at 6pm AK time meant it was 10pm my time. That really wasn’t a problem for me- I just realized I probably don’t do my best work at 10pm!

What questions remain? I am curious to see how these statements are used later on in the class. I would also be curious to hear how/why other students came to different conclusions about the statements (as compared to our group).

Why do you think I required it? I think it was a great opportunity to practice collaboration. I liked having the flexibility to complete it in a small group instead of partners, too, as that changed the dynamic in terms of collaboration and dialogue.

What advice would you give a student if you could travel into the future and give them advice? Plan ahead! Too, I’d recommend using whatever tools you have available / are comfortable with. D’Arcy set up a Doodle poll to coordinate a time to meet, and Sarah set up a Google Hangout link. Using both of these tools helped streamline our coordination and made completing the assignment that much easier.

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Get Productive: Password Manager

I’ve only been in the ONID program since January, but I’ve already noticed that I’ve been using wide variety of web tools- infographic toolstimeline tools, a feed reader, a mind mapping tool, and so on. Each of these tools requires a new login and password, and up till now, I’ve kept track of all of these logins/passwords in a Word document. Since that probably isn’t very secure, and definitely isn’t very organized since it’s just a list (in no particular order), I decided to try out a password manager.

I started by just googling “best password manager,” and came across this article. Honestly, that overwhelmed me a little bit since (a) I didn’t want to pay for anything, and (b) I wasn’t even sure what some of these features were.

So, I went to the app store on my Mac. First, I downloaded the app “Keeper.” You login with a master password on this screen:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.45.29 PM

Then, you can organize your passwords into folders, entering a title, login, password, URL, and notes.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.46.45 PM

I liked the organization style. However, after I put in a few of my passwords, I realized that I only was signed up for a free 30-day trial, so I went back to the app store and downloaded Dashlane. It seemed to function similarly, and looks like this when you login:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.27.23 PM

You can’t organize passwords into folders like you can in Keeper, but I liked that you can sort sites alphabetically, category, most used, least used, etc. Too, once you have the password typed in, you can either click a button that takes you directly to the site (and logs you in), or, you can copy it and go to the site on your own. Dashlane also shows you how very-not-secure your passwords are (yikes), can generate secure passwords for you, and can change your passwords automatically. I haven’t tried out these features yet, but as I get more comfortable trusting Dashlane, I assume it will improve my productivity. At the very least, now I have a better way to sort and store my passwords.

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Copyright Timeline

I created this timeline using whenintime.com. It was pretty easy to add events and images to the timeline and embed it here. I created this timeline for an audience of people like myself (in other words, I wanted this timeline to fill in my own gaps of knowledge). Particularly, I was considering teachers who teach online, or want to integrate possibly copyrighted material into their classrooms.

Consequently, I included two primary types of events: (1) major laws/revisions to the U.S. Copyright Act, to build a basic knowledge of copyright law, and (2) the types of materials covered under copyright (and when they were added). Each event has an image and a link to more information. Also, considering my audience, I included three videos (under “Copyright Act of 1790,” “Fair Use and First Sale,” and “TEACH Act of 2002”), because each of these three events are particularly important for me (and other teachers) to know about.

 

 

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Intellectual Property

Friend or Foe? Neither, or maybe both.

A good place to start in a discussion of intellectual property is Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, since it is the basis for intellectual property (IP) laws in the United States. It reads:

This image provides the text to Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 in the US Constitution, which is called the Copyright Clause. It reads: "The Congress shall have Power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

The assignment for this post was to “Make your own case for and/or against Intellectual Property as a legally protected right.” My position aligns fairly closely with the original copyright clause in the Constitution. I think IP should be a legally protected right–but the intent must be to promote the progress of science and useful arts, and these protections should remain only for a limited time. I argue in favor of limited intellectual privilege in place of a strict conceptualization of intellectual property.

The Misnomer of Intellectual “Property”

According to Kinsella, IP “covers several types of legally recognized rights arising from some type of intellectual creativity, or that are otherwise related to ideas. IP rights are rights to intangible things—to ideas, as expressed (copyrights) or as embodied in a practical implementation (patents).” Intellectual property rights include patents, copyright, industrial design rights, plant varieties, trademark, trade dress, and trade secrets.

This infographic created by the author outlines the 7 major areas of intellectual property: patents, copyrights, industrial design rights, plant varieties, trademarks, trade dress, and trade secrets.

Many argue that intellectual “property” isn’t an accurate term. Property rights are an economic necessity designed to address the scarcity of resources. For example, if I own a particular cow, that prevents you from owning that cow. The resource is finite. In this way, “property” is rivalrous. Intellectual “property,” on the other hand, functions differently– it is non-rivalrous, and “It is possible for someone to teach a work of the mind to another without unlearning it himself” (according to Lawrence Lessig).I can own a copy of a software program without having to take it away from you. There is no “natural scarcity” in intellectual property.

Consequently, many have proposed the use of different terms to more accurately capture the intellectual property debate. Out of the list of proposed terms compiled here, I’m inclined to agree with the term “intellectual privilege,” since I believe it more accurately captures this rivalrous/non-rivalrous distinction.

The Proper Scope of IP

I observed that many anti-IP rights thinkers support their position by quoting U.S. Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin (like on p. 32 here, and also here). For example, some point out that Benjamin Franklin, obviously a pre-eminent inventor, never once filed for a patent. Franklin praised open knowledge:

Life-like painting of Benjamin Franklin
Ben Franklin: inventor of bifocals, electricity, and intellectual property?

That we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of Others…we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.

So, this seems to present a contradiction. Men like Franklin were influential in the writing of Article I, Section 8, clause 8 (either Ben Franklin suggested to Madison that the clause be added, or Jefferson and Madison discussed the clause in a series of letters). So why, then, would Madison, Jefferson, and Franklin accept an IP provision in the Constitution if they felt strongly about open knowledge? They understood the benefits of intellectual privilege and wanted to ensure its place in their new government.

This audio clip offers a long but interesting discussion of Ben Franklin and intellectual property by Lewis Hyde, professor at Kenyon College-

 

Hyde is also quoted here, explaining that,

Like many of the founders of this country, Franklin didn’t really see copy or patent rights as “rights”… He saw them as temporary monopoly privileges, designed to encourage writers and inventors to produce things that would ultimately accrue to the common good. To the extent that he supported these sort of monopolies, it was to coax the best out of people.

Black and white sketch of four Patent Office examiners working in an office and examining documents.
Patent Office examiners at work published in Harper’s Weekly 10 July 1869.

In reference to copyright law, Madison also wrote:

Monopolies tho’ in certain cases useful ought to be granted with caution, and guarded with strictness against abuse.  The Constitution of the U.S. has limited them to two cases, the authors of Books, and of useful inventions, in both which they are considered as a compensation for a benefit actually gained to the community as a purchase of property which the owner might otherwise withhold from public use.  There can be no just objection to a temporary monopoly in these cases: but it ought to be temporary, because under that limitation a sufficient recompense and encouragement may be given.

Thus, even though the Founding Fathers believed in open knowledge, they argued we should have limited IP for both moral reasons and financial reasons. Out of all of the objectives of IP listed here, and “debunked” here, I found the morality/fairness objective and the financial incentives objective of IP to be the most compelling.

Intellectual Privilege and Fairness

According to Locke, every person has a natural right over the labor/products that he or she produces. Appropriating the works of their hands is unjust and equivalent to a violation of themselves. If we want to look at even more historical texts, an old Biblical proverb states, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” The person who does the work, in other words, should be the one to benefit.

Many who argue against IP claim that it primarily supports the elites; it helps large corporations make money by copyrighting anything and everything. However, I think IP, properly crafted, can also protect the individual from losing all the benefits of his or her individual labor to the elite or powerful.

Let’s say you write a great book and publish it with a small company. A massive publishing company republishes your exact book in a cheaper copy and under a different author name, and consequently no one buys your version. You spent 6 years of your life working on this book, and you get no money and no credit; the massive company gets all it all because they have power and resources and you do not. Consequently, IP protections have the potential to protect the little guy (you) from the elites; it has the potential to make sure that the “laborer” is the one who gets the wages.

Lessig argues that IP is non-rivalrous and thus should not be treated like rivalrous property, and I agree, these are two separate categories and we shouldn’t treat them as identical. However, while ideas are an infinite resource (rather than a scarce resource), the tangible benefits proffered by those ideas can be finite. Someone is going to profit from a great work of art or an invention or a new drug, and those benefits certainly are finite. Ideally, IP laws make sure that the person who bears the burden of production or creation is the person who reaps the benefits (the person who gets paid). A moral distribution of the costs and benefits in a society sets up a “fair playing field” for economic activity.

IP Creates Financial Incentives

One of the most common arguments in favor of IP protections is that, without IP, no one would have an incentive to invent. If they are not guaranteed the fruits of their labor, they would not work hard or be creative. For example, for every new drug approved by the FDA, it takes 5,000 to 10,000 experimental drugs, 10-15 years of research and an average of $1.2 billion. What motivation would companies have to devote these amounts of resources to developing drugs without IP protections, without some assurance that they will have the opportunity to recoup the costs of production at the end of the arduous development process?

(Side note… I hesitate to bring up this example because pharmaceutical companies can/do abuse the patent system in terms of choosing profit over protecting the public good, but, I digress. That discussion is outside the scope of this post).

As discussed here:

An inventor has a natural right to reasonable compensation for his efforts, but does not have any right to hoard his learning if such reasonable compensation is available. The Federalist asserts that the rights of inventors and authors stand on the same logical premises.

Returning to Article I, Section 8, the whole purpose of IP in the first place is to “promote progress.” Limited IP protections can promote progress by providing a guarantee for a return on investment.

IP: Intellectual Privilege

So why do I like intellectual privilege instead of property? IP, properly construed, balances two competing demands: the privileges of the creator, and the well-being of society. Consequently, I think IP should not be “absolute protection,” nor should it guarantee creators the right to capture the full social value of their inventions. Doing that favors creator or inventor, and fails to appropriately balance the competing demand of the public good.

Article I, Section 8 explains that IP protections should exist “for a limited time.” Ben Franklin argued for short-term IP rights so inventors/creators don’t get the rug pulled out from under them as soon as they invent something, but not so long as to stifle innovation or hinder the public good. I think the term “intellectual privilege” encourages us to consider this type of balance in IP. The term “intellectual privilege” was coined by law professor Tom Bell. He explains the benefit of this term:

We face a choice between two ways of thinking about, and talking about, copyright: As an intellectual property that authors and their assigns own, or as an intellectual privilege that they merely hold. Perhaps no label can fully capture the unique and protean nature of copyright. Recognizing it as form of intellectual privilege would, however, help to keep copyright within its proper legal limits.

The cover for Tom W. Bell's book entitled, "Intellectual Privilege: Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good"
Tom Bell’s book on intellectual privilege

As Bell explains, if we reframe”copyright” to “copyprivilege,” and “owner” to “holder,” this loosens the grip on IP, and encourages us to “[rebalance] the public choice pressures that drive copyright policy.”

Sometimes we assume that if protecting IP promotes progress, more protections mean more progress. Or, we assume that if IP stifles creativity, we should get rid of it altogether. But I think that usually good policies aren’t found at the extreme of either end of the spectrum. Intellectual privilege that provides limited protections for a short period of time in specific circumstances offers us an opportunity to reward the hard of work of the laborer yet still protect the public good.

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