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Who Owns Academic Work?: Battling for Control of Intellectual Property [Paperback]

Corynne McSherry
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 14, 2003 0674012437 978-0674012431

Who owns academic work? This question is provoking political and legal battles, fought on uncertain terrain, for ever-higher stakes. The posting of faculty lecture notes on commercial Web sites is being hotly debated in multiple forums, even as faculty and university administrators square off in a battle for professorial copyright. In courtrooms throughout the country, universities find themselves embroiled in intricate and expensive patent litigation. Meanwhile, junior researchers are appearing in those same courtrooms, using intellectual property rules to challenge traditional academic hierarchies. All but forgotten in these ownership disputes is a more fundamental question: should academic work be owned at all? Once characterized as a kind of gift, academic work--and academic freedom--are now being reframed as private intellectual property.

Drawing on legal, historical, and qualitative research, Corynne McSherry explores the propertization of academic work and shows how that process is shaking the foundations of the university, the professoriate, and intellectual property law. The modern university's reason for being is inextricably tied to that of the intellectual property system. The rush of universities and scholars to defend their knowledge as property dangerously undercuts a working covenant that has sustained academic life--and intellectual property law--for a century and a half. As the value structure of the research university is replaced by the inequalities of the free market, academics risk losing a language for talking about knowledge as anything other than property. McSherry has written a book that ought to deeply trouble everyone who cares about the academy.

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Editorial Reviews


Corynne McSherry makes a compelling argument about the ways intellectual property debates figure in the university today. Who Owns Academic Work? is at once one of the most important recent books on the contemporary university and one of the most interesting on intellectual property issues as well. (Mark Rose, University of California, Santa Barbara)

Who Owns Academic Work? is required reading for anyone interested in the peculiar author-function of academics, and in the ways it both resembles and differs from the protocols of intellectual property law. McSherry's intellectual and empirical skills make this work both thought-provoking and informative. (Mario Biagioli, Harvard University)

In the best tradition of cultural studies, McSherry chooses an unfamiliar object of study, approaching it from without rather than from within... What is significantly different here (and stunning) is the thesis that intellectual property has produced a crisis in the research university and that, in turn, the question of scientific research has "troubled" intellectual property principles... At stake is the maintenance of a "community of science" in which trust and exchange of ideas has historically characterized the climate. (Jane Gaines, Duke University)

McSherry is concerned with the future of intellectual property at a time when universities continue to combine a place in the market economy with their traditional role in a gift economy. Her second worry is the flip side: what will be the effect on universities as our standards and definitions of intellectual property change, especially given the way the public domain is eroding?...The book provokes much thought about issues that most academic scientists likely do not consider in much depth--copyright, patent and data ownership, and the "work-for-hire" exclusion of individual employee's rights in the US...McSherry ably demonstrates that universities are going through a second revolution. Academics should be wary of what that revolution may bring. (Steven M. Bachrach New Scientist 2001-12-01)

This book provides not a legal but a cultural analysis of the social production of academic knowledge...[McSherry] forces us to look at the data stream of modern society that passes through a series of institutions, all of which attempt to enforce conflicting ownership claims. When a professor delivers a lecture to students, is he or she making a "gift" to the world in general? Or to the community of students concerned? Or does the professor retain the ownership of everything in the lecture?...This is a highly stimulating work. (Anthony Smith Times Higher Education Supplement 2002-02-02)

This collection of essays...asks us to consider who has the legal and social right to academic freedom in theory and practice, and what conditions are put in place to limit or enable that freedom to exist. This is a collection of essays about the limitations of academic freedom, but it is equally a collection about the social nature of the university...The collection does what it sets out to do: provoke the reader into participating in this important ongoing dialogue...Anyone working in academia, in any capacity, should think about these issues and enter into the critical dialogue of which these texts are a part, thus ensuring we put theory into practice. (Batia Boe Stolar Canadian Literature)


Corynne McSherry makes a compelling argument about the ways intellectual property debates figure in the university today. Who Owns Academic Work? is at once one of the most important recent books on the contemporary university and one of the most interesting on intellectual property issues as well. (Mark Rose, University of California, Santa Barbara) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674012437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674012431
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 4.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,719,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I reviewed this book for the Journal of Technology Transfer. I thought it would be a simple explaination of legal cases and their implications on university IP. Though it had that at the beginning and end, the real meat of the book is the middle, which explains the university culture better than any book I have ever read. Without understanding that culture, it is hard to know the impact of the cases that McSherry cites. It is often a tough read, but well worth the effort to learn about the history of the copyright system, the role of the gift-economy and commercial ecomomy clash that commercialization issues force on universities as well as the particulars of cases that have the potential to dramatically change how the university functions based on the precedence of several key legal cases. Those whom I have recommended it to, have agreed with me that it is a very valuable book!
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9 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Apparently, while Corynne McSherry was a law student at Stanford writing this book, she was looking to carry over some sort of unexplained grudge from her graduate days at UCSD. I didn't know her personally when I was also a graduate student at UCSD, but McSherry was friends with a small subset of students in my laboratory who, instead of doing science, seemed to spend a majority of their days sitting around thinking of ways to try to torment me on the sole basis that I was a highly talented, passionate female scientist. It didn't work most of the time, but still, what a pain in the choo-choo that was!

Anyway, it might go a long way toward explaining why this book reads so much to me like McSherry took a page from the Karl Rove Book of Slime and created this hit piece disguised as an academic work. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Agouron Pharmaceuticals, the other half of the "Pelletier v Agouron Pharmaceuticals" lawsuit that is so prominently featured on the opening pages of this book, paid her way through law school in exchange for allowing them to hijack what may have started out as a reasonable thesis (mostly the middle part of the book covering the history of intellectual property in academia), but ended up being some sort of convoluted, sick argument in support of pharmaceutical companies stealing as much basic research data they can from academic scientists, falsifying whatever they aren't able to steal, and publishing it all as their own independent research.
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