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Re: [ba-unrev-talk] Licensing of the unrevii email archives (wasre: Progress on...)

John Sechrest wrote:
>  At least from the public university point of view (where I teach),
>  the finances are so problematic, that they are having to
>  grub for as much non-state funding as they can get. They look
>  around for all means of making something financially viable.
>  Even to the point of diminishing longer term gains in terms of
>  dreams of big funding, or short term financial gains.
>  It is very clear that when people are hungry, they don't look
>  for what is right, but what is most likely to feed them now.
>  So what you indicate above is the universities getting hungry
>  enough to eat thier own seed corn....    (01)

John-    (02)

So true... Much environmental and social destruction is driven from
poverty -- either poverty of finances, poverty of the spirit, or poverty
of the imagination.    (03)

It was very sad that in the largest boom period in our economy's history
over the last ten years the support for public institutions eroded so
much -- from universities through aid-for-dependant-children. (I guess
the message "greed is good" took on a new twist...)    (04)

Here's an Atlantic article on the topic of university's and private
research, called "The Kept University":
  http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/03/press.htm    (05)

>From the second page of the article:
"World War II, however, ushered in an era of public support for higher
education. The role of university scientists in the Manhattan Project
and other wartime initiatives -- such as the development of penicillin
and streptomycin -- convinced public officials that academics were
uniquely capable of undertaking crucial research initiatives.  ... The
Bayh-Dole Act changed this, and not simply by creating incentives for
corporations to invest in academic research.  What is ultimately most
striking about today's academic-industrial complex is not that large
amounts of private capital are flowing into universities. It is that
universities themselves are beginning to look and behave like for-profit
companies."    (06)

And from page three:
"Traditionally, universities regarded patents as being outside their
orbit, generally believing that proprietary claims were fundamentally at
odds with their obligation to disseminate knowledge as broadly as
possible. Today nearly every research university in the country has a
technology-licensing office, and some have gone further. ... The
surprising twist, however, is that although university licensing offices
are churning out patents, most of these offices are themselves barely
breaking even. ... Far from restraining universities, however, the
difficulty of turning a profit seems to have made them more aggressive.
... In their zeal to maximize revenue, many schools are not only raising
questions about their nonprofit status -- they are getting into some
embarrassing skirmishes with their own students and professors over the
rights to potentially lucrative ideas. In the most extraordinary case to
date Peter Taborsky, a student at the University of South Florida, wound
up on the chain gang of a maximum-security state prison after colliding
with his university over the rights to a discovery he made as an
undergraduate." (Not to scare you too much, Chris...)    (07)

And from page four:
"The freedom of universities from market constraints is precisely what
allowed them in the past to nurture the kind of open-ended basic
research that led to some of the most important (and least expected)
discoveries in history. Today, as the line between basic and applied
science dissolves, as professors are encouraged to think more and more
like entrepreneurs, a question arises: Will the Paul Bergs of the future
have the freedom to explore ideas that have no obvious and immediate
commercial value? Only, it seems, if universities cling to their
traditional ideals and maintain a degree of independence from the
marketplace."    (08)

I hope these small quotes tempt you or Chris to read the entire article
(which is very long with many details) in hopes you will find the
figures and statements in it of use in your own relations with your
universities.    (09)

It's a shame because the natural place for someone like me to be with an
interest in OHS type things (even without a PhD) is a support role at a
university working on a free digital library project -- but I know that
just about every such university position (even as a graduate student)
would require me to sign over my copyrights and patents to the
university as opposed to the public, and if or when I left there I would
effectively be prohibited from directly continuing work on such
projects. I believe such is not quite the case in Europe where there is
more protection for individual authors, although even then the point of
being in community is to make a larger work, and then if/when I left
even if my part came with me the whole might remain proprietary
effectively preventing me from continuing it. And sadly, as people in
academia have told me, even an agreement otherwise with a department
chairman is really meaningless in the long term as people shift jobs...
The fundamental issue is university culture... Obviously as a government
employee, one would usually be producing things released to the public,
but unfortunately the government usually contracts out any interesting
research these days to universities or private enterprise (e.g. NASA
employees mostly manage contractors etc. and while there are in-house
research slots they are few and far between).    (010)

Some notable exceptions are projects like the Multivalent Browser (with
its emphasis on free licensing) or several others I know of. However, I
wonder how thick the ice is beneath guaranteed long term university
participation in such free efforts -- I get the feeling everyone of them
represents some brave academic sticking their neck out for a time
against their university's licensing department.     (011)

Obviously, the collapsing of the PhD pyramid scheme (producing more PhD
academics than spots in academia, like recently happened with llama
has also had an effect on funding -- and put universities in a position
where they can rely more heavily on poorly paid adjuncts and post-docs
etc.. making bargaining positions over freeing copyrights and patents
worse for researchers due to over supply. For background, see:
specifically the PhD jobs vs. production numbers at:
  http://www.magpage.com/~arthures/c-jobest.htm    (012)

Unfortunately, rather than conclude we need another World War (heaven
forbid) to renew public support for research, probably the next World
War if not fought over oil (needless) or water (indirectly about energy
too) will be about the so called "developed" nations against the so
called "developing" nations fighting over licensing of patents and
copyrights. Some rumbles are here:
"In my innocence, I thought that Intellectual Property meant nothing to
people like us living in small developing countries. Given the high cost
of patents, the chances of an inventor in a developing country being
able to effectively protect an invention and successfully exploit it are
almost none. Developing country inventors own less than 5 % of world
patents. If we exclude the big developing countries like India and
Brazil and the Newly Industrialized Countries, this figure drops to less
than 1 % of worldwide patents. How then can I living in a developing
country hope to gain anything from the world Intellectual Property
system? ... And Microsoft Corporation whose net assets are more than
seventy times that of Sri Lanka wants the Sri Lankan government to
devote a large part of its Budget to maintain an enforcement system to
protect the intellectual property rights of Microsoft Corporation..."
This sounds vaguely to me like the beginning of rhetoric like in the
American Revolution of "taxation without representation" -- given the
first come first served aspect of many patents, developing nations
effectively pay a tax for a process they were substantially excluded
from participating in for whatever reasons (despite their enormous
populations of potentially creative people).    (013)

One main hope to avoid such a World War over patents and copyrights is
to create enough free content so those in either the developing or the
developed world will have an alternative, just like solar or wind or
insulation shows how pointless it is for U.S. citizens (or any other
people) to die for oil or oil company profits. GNU/Linux is a bright
spot in all this, as is OpenOffice and many other projects. Sadly, I
don't think one can count much on the universities as collectives to
play a lead role in this effort over the long term unless and until
university culture undergoes a massive shift in perspective. Many
individuals in universities are in the main probably quite sympathetic
to free knowledge (especially as long as "moral rights" are honored) and
many individuals in universities (faculty, staff, or students) do in
their spare time advance this cause. One good thing I can say about
universities is that unlike many private companies (like IBM in the US),
the copyright and patent policies generally let you keep what you work
on in your spare time if it is unrelated to your paid or course work. So
it is possible for a person to sustain themselves in a university
community doing proprietary work by day and radically different free
stuff by night in a way not open to most for-profit employee engineers
or researchers.    (014)

Another solution is for private foundations and government funders to
awaken to the issues and put restrictions on any grant funds requiring
the results to be put under free licenses.     (015)

Given an obvious lack of much funding for free projects, another
approach is voluntary simplicity -- to want and need less so one can
focus on the things one finds truly important. 
I am pursuing that now as my wife and I look to greatly reduce our
living expenses so I may devote more time to free works.     (016)

Unfortunately, most graduate students, post docs, and even most
university staff and junior faculty are already doing "voluntary
simplicity" of a sort but not getting that much freedom to release their
works because of current university culture -- which reflects the last
decade or two of the pendulum swing towards "greed is good". Yes, they
can publish and publications contain free ideas (unless previously
patented), but engineering something like an OHS is about building and
evolving artifacts more than just ideas (though ideas are essential),
and each step in refining an artifact falls under copyright, and the
next step usually ends up a derived work of the previous. Let's hope the
pendulum is starting to swing the other way, towards "free knowledge is
good".  At this point, how can an academic reliably collaborate even
with a colleague at the same university on a work if one of them might
move to another university with a different copyright agreement and have
the whole thing turn into a nightmare? [I've heard of such cases...] It
wouldn't surprise me if academics someday soon finally get fed up with
the whole patent and copyright restriction thing when they figure out
they are not getting the financial benefits implicitly or explicitly
promised them, but are paying a real cost in terms of the university
non-profit mission, public support, and their own freedom of
collaboration.     (017)

Maybe such a movement by academics just needs a catchy name...    (018)

-Paul Fernhout
Kurtz-Fernhout Software 
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com    (019)