The American Association of University Professors is an important organization, and its emphasis on protection the intellectual property rights of academics is admirable. It is precisely because their work is so important, and because they often seem to be right on the verge of connecting all of the dots related to copyright, publishing and academic freedom, that their statements sometimes frustrate me.
In November the AAUP issued a report on “Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications” that has been widely and justly praised for addressing the revolution in scholarly communications in the digital age in a comprehensive way and keeping the issue of academic freedom firmly at the center of the discussion. As this article in Inside Higher Ed puts it, the AAUP is updating long-standing commitments in light of a “whole new world.” For example, the AAUP has recently reaffirmed its position that the copyright in online courseware should remain in the hands of the faculty creators of those courses, a position that was also endorsed by the Duke Academic Council last week.
It is because the AAUP sees that copyright ownership is an integral part of academic freedom that I find its new report just one dot short of a complete picture. The juxtaposition of two quotes in the Inside Higher Ed article underscores just how close the AAUP gets to seeing the core of the problem:
“While the expanding digital world has promised to make information freely accessible to a global community, commercial forces have locked up most research behind paywalls and ever-more-restrictive licensing agreements,” the report reads. “Any consideration of open access” must conform with the organization’s 1999 “Statement on Copyright,” which concluded that “”it has been the prevailing academic practice to treat the faculty member as the copyright owner of works that are created independently and at the faculty member’s own initiative for traditional academic purposes.”
Policy on Electronic Course Content
For help deciding whether course content in Blackboard or some other digital form is fair use or requires copyright permission, consult this policy document adopted by the Academic Council in February 2008.
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