Dimension: The Evolution of IP: The Past and Future

We draw attention to the evolution of IP as a dimension that writing studies practitioners should include in their IP instruction because IP legislation, policies, and practices are moving targets. As the study participants we interviewed emphasized—and as scholarship both inside and outside writing studies has explained (e.g., Woodmansee & Jaszi, 1994; Rooksby, 2016, respectively)—what IP is and how it is understood and protected has changed over time. Thus, when writing studies practitioners make IP-related decisions—and when they prepare students to make those decisions—they need to consider that past decisions may not apply. Moreover, future developments may change what IP decisions practitioners make as well as the choices available for consideration. As writing studies practitioners, we benefit from carrying the process orientation that characterizes writing instruction to IP. That is, we do well to teach IP as in process, not as fixed and monolithic but rather as contextually situated in time and place.

Video pedagogical takeaways

In the Evolutions of IP: The Past and Future video, interview participants suggest several options for having IP conversations with students and colleagues regarding its history and future. We offer the following pedagogical takeaways, based on these interview responses, our larger study, our review of the literature, and our experiences on the IP Caucus:

  • Address explicitly that notions of IP, including copyright and plagiarism, have evolved over time and prevailing understandings are relatively recent developments historically.
  • Discuss to what texts IP applies—noting its reach beyond print publications to other productions, including creations like genetically modified fruit and hybrid animals—and the implications of such applications of IP, including how they define and read texts and understand what property can be owned.
  • Ask what they know about copyright—what it is, what it does, and how long it lasts. Ground discussions in their popular (mis)understandings.
  • Ask them to prognosticate the consequences of recent IP developments (e.g., court cases, events in the news).
  • Provide examples of ways in which their educational experience is shaped by IP policies (e.g., what course texts instructors assign, whether courses are offered online).

These options ask us as writing studies practitioners to reinforce for students and colleagues that prevailing approaches to IP are not natural but are constructed. They reflect certain ideologies and ways of thinking at particular points in time and place, and identifying these can help students (and other academics) better understand the motivations behind IP decisions and policies.


As ways of getting the historical conversation started among ourselves and our students and colleagues, we suggest below five resources connected with the Evolution of IP:

  • 1. Bently, Lionel,&Kretschmer, Martin. (n.d.). Primary sources on copyright (1450-1900). Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge. Retrieved from
  • 2. International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP). (n.d.). About. ISHTIP. Retrieved from
  • 3. Ratliff, Clancy. Plagiarism and authorship: A review and retrospective of the CCCC IP Annual [from this special issue], as well as previous publications of the IP Annual, the annual publication of the Conference on College Composition and Communication's Intellectual Property Caucus, available at
  • 4. Rife, Martine Courant. (2006). Why Kairos matters to writing: A reflection on its intellectual property conversation and developing law during the last ten years. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 11(1). Retrieved from
  • 5. Woodmansee, Martha,& Jaszi, Peter. (Eds.). (1994). The construction of authorship: Textual appropriation in law and literature. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Certainly more texts than those listed discuss the historical contexts and predicted future of IP, but these suggestions can serve as productive starting points. As with all the resource lists we provide, this list is not intended to be comprehensive but a beginning.

Moreover, as with the resources we recommend for other dimensions, the resources listed here might be associated with more than one dimension. For instance, we might suggest Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi's (1994) The Construction of Authorship as a text to use for starting conversations with students and colleagues about legal as well as historical aspects of IP. We might also reference the Conference of College Composition and Communication IP Caucus's IP Annual as a resource for discussing the legal dimension of IP, given its coverage of major IP legislation each calendar year. Or we might recommend Peter Baldwin's (2016) The Copyright Wars as a resource for discussing the evolution of IP as well as IP's grounding in economic systems. These and many other resources we selected provide helpful perspectives across our four dimensions, but we ultimately chose to list resources under the dimension with which they arguably most engage.