Who Owns This Text? Plagiarism, Authorship, and Disciplinary Cultures

Edited by Carol P. Haviland and Joan A. Mullin

Reviewed by Erin M. Presley
Eastern Kentucky University

Chapter 1: "Open Sourcery: Computer Science and the Logic of Ownership," by Marvin Diogenes, Andrea Lunsford, and Mark Otuteye

Diogenes, Lunsford, and Otuteye wove their own voices and experiences into the essay as they tried to make connections between their work as humanists and the work of Computer Science faculty at Stanford University. The authors discovered that code is at the heart of most accusations of plagiarism in CS. They also quickly recognized that open source and easy access are important to these scholars but are often at odds with “the corporate, institutional desire to control the expression of knowledge through traditional publication practices and copyright” (p. 22). The authors made personal connections to these issues in an imagined “Burkean parlor of computer science” (p. 22), putting in dialog the CS faculty's interviews and a range of critics and artists such as Lawrence Lessig, The Village Idiots, Paul Simon, Jonathan Lethem, Gerald Graff, Bob Dylan, and The Composition Blues Band (Diogenes co-founded this group).

A central concept that the writers and CS faculty returned to again and again is the toolbox, or for the CS crowd, a set of well-established, openly shared code that students and professionals routinely use without attribution: “what’s important in CS is the idea, not the execution or expression of it in code” (p. 40). To illustrate this point, the writers discussed how conference presentations act as the “main venue of publication” in CS because it is much quicker to disseminate information through conferences and self-publishing on personal websites than through traditional journals (p. 39). Inherent in this struggle between sharing and owning is the role of collaboration in CS. There appears to be a general consensus among CS faculty as far as classroom practices are concerned: collaboration should stop before writing begins, but this is not always the case in industry, which the writers of this chapter suggest sends mixed—and confusing—messages to students (p. 37). Ultimately, the authors wanted their

CS colleagues not only to recognize the tensions and contradictions that characterize their practices and their pedagogy but also to engage their students in sorting these contradictions out, in aiming to work together to make explicit what should be protected and why, what should be available for use and modification and why (p. 48).

By openly discussing these contradictions in the classroom, everyone—whether students and faculty in CS or music or writing studies—involved in the discussion will have a more meaningful understanding of “what it means to be an author today” (p. 48).

Chapter 2: "Collaborative Authorship in the Sciences: Anti-ownership and Citation Practices in Chemistry and Biology," by Lise Buranen and Denise Stephenson

Buranen and Stephenson investigated citation practices of biomedical scientists at public teaching institutions. Three concepts dominated this chapter: anti-ownership, collaboration, and citation practices in the classroom. Perhaps more so than any of the other fields considered in this book collection, this chapter suggested that science faculty openly discuss citation practices with their students in hopes of making the process as transparent as possible.

A discovery the writers make early on—"that scientists were much more concerned about the integrity of data than about plagiarism"—may explain the imperative in the classroom to teach responsibility in citations, because these faculty "understood that passing on this tradition is vital to maintaining society's trust in their discipline, which means imparting to students the conventional and ethical methods by which scientists use and acknowledge their sources" (p. 51).

The scientists subscribed to a collaborative, gift-economy model when it came to citation and authorship practices, such as listing the senior/most important contributor last (p. 63). Authorship clearly can earn contributors "symbolic and remunerative rewards," but it can also "secure the responsibility of the researchers" (p. 69). Indeed, "ownership means not only getting credit but also taking responsibility for one's work" (p. 70). Buranen and Stephenson suggested that while the conventions are different in the sciences, humanities faculty could learn from the classroom practices of scientists by openly discussing the import of proper citations.

Chapter 3: "Studying with Fieldworkers: Archaeology and Sociology," by Mary R. Boland and Carol Peterson Haviland

Boland and Haviland tackled the range of fields included under “archaeology and sociology” by focusing on fieldworkers. They quickly determined that “negotiating ownership in fieldwork is complicated by the inherently collaborative nature of work, by ethical considerations specific to disciplinary practices, by the legal negotiations of property rights demanded of ‘first observer’ work, and by the larger politics of academic work” (p. 81). This chapter began with an overview of the kinds of fieldwork they consider in their study (i.e., observational vs. participant-observer work) with an emphasis on ownership (e.g., most fieldworkers conceive of owning the site or population), the role of collaboration, and the writing process. They found that some of the fieldworkers, especially those involved in participant-observer work, resisted the idea of ownership, preferring terms such as “stewardship” or “student of” (p. 86). They found that a common link between all types of approaches is “the obligation to report their findings” (p. 86).

Boland and Haviland pointed out how fieldworkers seem to divorce the “writing up” of research reports from knowledge making (p. 90). They observed that “authorship is a highly negotiated and collaborative space” among fieldworkers, but they focus on how these scholars avoid discussions of writing in the interviews and in the classroom (p. 91), probably because fieldworkers’ own experiences as students did not indicate that this information was provided in their classrooms. Interviewees “generally expressed a belief that students should have or would have learned to write elsewhere in their academic careers, most often pointing to general-education writing requirements and first-year composition courses” (p. 95).

While the authors offered specific examples of how fieldworkers might engage their students more in that field’s critical conversation, they broadened their scope to remind teachers in all disciplines of the importance of modeling classroom assignments on professional writing and teaching writing as a way of knowing.

Chapter 4: "Appropriation, Homage, and Pastiche: Using Artistic Tradition to Reconsider and Redefine Plagiarism," by Joan A. Mullin

Mullin considered the appropriative roots of visual artists in her chapter and how this foundation complicates citation practices in the classroom. She effectively conveyed the delicate balance that artist-faculty try to maintain in teaching students “not to steal ideas and designs [... but] to take images and build on them” (p. 105). Mullin’s study, which is the most ambitious of the collection in its consideration of faculty from a variety of fields and from two countries, quickly established its goal of putting conceptions of plagiarism from the visual art classroom into conversation with more writerly classroom environments. Because of tradition and the inherently collaborative nature of many of the visual arts (e.g., architecture, film, interior design, etc.), Mullin found that “it can be difficult to define ‘ownership,’ even if an individual does equate her visual work to written (‘mark-making’) text” (p. 109).

Out of all of the chapters, Mullin’s most effectively blended the discussion of professional and classroom practices, even though her scope was the broadest. While including visuals would have enhanced this chapter, Mullin succinctly described spot-on examples that effectively conveyed the range of conceptions of ownership within the fields of visual arts (e.g., illustrators and graphic artists tend to police plagiarism much less vigorously than photographers) and how that range of reactions might inform practices in the writing classroom. She found that “whatever the media, students learn that ‘ownership’ in art has flexible boundaries, determined as much by the producer of a product as by the ‘user’” (p. 111).

While the artist-faculty interviewed for this chapter condemn unethical poaching practices in the art world (e.g., stealing ideas from student projects, p. 117), those same faculty admit that they have had little, if any, training in citation practices, and further, that plagiarism may simply be punished by “quiet ostracizing” (p. 118). Ultimately, these faculty rely on the status quo of their field—that “worldwide recognition depends on creative innovation,” which, ostensibly, should curtail plagiarism (p. 121). The Internet offers an additional complication to this field; “the reliance on the Internet as a substitution for creativity rather than a tool was expressed by several of those interviewed” for this chapter (p. 123). Mullin finished by stating that writing teachers can learn about remix from artists so as to better instruct students regarding voice in their writing practices.

Chapter 5: "Higher Education Administration Ownership, Collaboration, and Publication: Connecting or Separating the Writing of Administrators, Faculty, and Students?" by Linda S. Bergmann

Unlike the other chapters that sought to define what is owned and what qualifies as intellectual property in various fields, this final chapter questioned labeling administrative documents as intellectual property. Indeed, she argued “that administrators—particularly those committed to administration for long parts of their careers—operate in a different discourse community within the university than do students and faculty” (p. 130). She also emphasized that the work administrators produce, such as “boilerplate” documents or speeches used for formal correspondence and occasions, is owned by the university, not the individual (p. 133).

Furthermore, administrative writing relies on collaboration, or “teamwork” as Bergmann termed it, in a way that differs from the other fields considered in this study (p. 136). She drew on the work of Ede and Lunsford, positing that administrative collaborations are typically hierarchical as opposed to dialogical (p. 136). She also noted that typically the highest-ranking administrator usually receives authorship credit for any given document, but that the reasons for this are not just for efficacy but also for the protection of junior collaborators (p. 137). Her interviews support this claim in that most admitted to allowing the publication of documents authored by other people in their name “to enhance the value of the document and to protect their subordinates” (p. 142). She found that the message and the greater good of the institution trump the actual words used in such official communications.

Perhaps the most interesting point from Bergmann’s chapter was her take on the general consensus among administrators about the citation practices of students. She found that “the idea behind this book—the concept that intellectual property might vary from discipline to discipline—was not common to the administrators [she] interviewed” (p. 149). Indeed, she found that most of the administrators she interviewed have little sympathy or interest in the reasons why students plagiarize. The goals of this chapter were at least threefold. Bergmann hoped that administrators will appreciate the nuances of teaching citation practices in the classroom, and that non-administrators—faculty, students, and the general public—will recognize administrators as working in a different discourse community. Ultimately, she showed how complex this issue is by claiming “we must complicate the concept of plagiarism” and recognize “that values about the ownership of intellectual property are not timeless and universal but are centered in the practices of particular groups—even within the same university” (p. 153). Bergmann’s charged closing statement effectively reflected the spirit and sensibility of Who Owns This Text?