Thursday, November 04, 2004

Reading ahead

The class on education revealed the lock which tradition can put on change. Those old institutions--Berkeley, Stanford, MIT-- and their brands raise huge barriers to entry and force new entrants to conform to "quality" standards set by the old. Unsurprisingly, in the world of information provision as in the world of politics, incumbents have a significant advantage, particularly if they can force competitors to talk on their terms.

I hope the class on IP can continue the discussion. The institutions of IP, as we tried to show in looking at print and copyright, are very old. (Universities were, inevitably, among the very early and very powerful holders of copy). And as with universities, old institutions of IP are imposing themselves on the new forms in unexpected and often retrogressive ways. I'm assuming that you all know a good deal about IP and its problematic relation to new forms of communication. The purpose of the class is to use what you know, what we are reading, and the topic of the class to understand the relationship between IP and notions of information quality.

The reading for this week (November 10):

Carla Hesse's paper was part of a symposium orchestrated by Daedalus that included James Boyle, whose work we looked at earlier, and Richard Posner, of whom a little more below. Hesse gives a good overview of the "long durée of intellectual property, indicating critical moments in the development of IP and showing the accumulated baggage that it has carried from print culture into the digital world. Like many others who look at the evolution of IP, Hesse suggests that IP is fundamentally incoherent and increasingly unbalanced.

Posner's article represents the viewpoint of the "law & economics" school. It assumes that the creation of efficient markets will solve all problems--and that efficient markets can, ultimately, be created with the help of IP. So in contrast to Hesse account of incoherence, it suggests an underlying coherence.

Neither Hesse nor Posner addresses very directly the question of quality, and both (Hesse implicitly and Posner directly) set aside the role of trademarks. I hope we can address the relation between these two. Consequently, I've included the opening chapter of Naomi Klein's anti-branding manifesto No Logo and The Economist's highly predictable response that brands play a useful role in signalling quality and in allowing consumers to exert pressure and impose standards on producers.

The reading for the following week ,(November 17):

Steve Weber will be with us for the first couple of hours to discuss his book The Success of Open Source. Again, I'm assuming that most of you are familiar with the details of Open Source software. I'd like to push beyond the confines of software to discuss the notion of extending Open Source to other domains and the challenge of quality assurance in so doing. Benkler's essay (the other paper in the reading) and Weber's conclusion both look at this idea. My article "PG tips", in the optional reading, uses Project Gutenberg to consider why quality may be problematic for some of these other "Open Source" projects. O'Mahony & Ferraro note the formal structures emerging around this apparently "self-organizing" system, while the two remaining pieces, "Wiki Wars" and "Who Knows" discuss Wikipedia, the first looking at the problems of quality surrounding the entries for the presedential candidates, and the second at the move towards a more formal institutional structure for Wikipedia.


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