Just wondering, in case it matters to anyone.


Ryan Anderson

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Ah, the balmy days of June! This list of don'ts came at the end of a turbulent two weeks following the OAC's rather chaotic foundation on Ning. This thread summarized exchanges between the administrators at a time when Max Forte had resigned as one before leaving the network later on publicly stated grounds of malpractice by the admins. It came after a thread, 'Intellectual property', had generated a lot of posts and high feelings.

Max's contributions left with him, but, as I recall he was advocating an anarchist approach to the issue of copyright. I made a facetious contribution along the lines of 'Of course the admins will uphold the letter of the copyright law'. This was interpreted as a straight policy statement and attacked as such. So I took it down, not knowing then that responses to it would also be deleted. This in turn led to further accusations of high-handed behaviour by the admins. There was not much give and take then.

This is the context for what we proposed for the Ning Terms of Service:

Registering as a member of Ning requires your acceptance of the Ning Terms of Service. Violation of the Terms of Service is a personal matter outside the purview of the OAC.

In other words -- and this was the prime reference intended -- violations of copyright by members are up to them and we do not take collective responsibility for the consequences or, for that matter, their actions.

In any case, the atmosphere was so charged that the matter of suggesting rules was dropped. I think it would be fair to say that the admins' experience of the first few weeks encouraged us to adopt a passive, laisser faire posture, anything to avoid the flak we were getting on all sides, for doing things, not doing things. Probably it is time to have a discussion about the OAC's constitution. But it is worth bearing in mind that formal clarity in rule-making is not the only way for a network like this, with its built-in informality, to manage its collective affairs. There has to be a compromise between explicit laws and implicit culture. We are not a bureaucracy.

It is interesting that both the political crises we have had to face over the last month or more have involved intellectual property rights in general and Max in particular. It is because I know that this question lies at the core of global capitalism's contradictions today (and not just as an academic issue), generating polarized and sometimes quite violent attitudes, that I raised it on the OAC Policy Forum early. This is why I would not admit being wrong in the simplistic terms offered by Harry/Igor/Jeremy. The issue is too broad and contentious to be reducible to a yes/no answer in an online forum. That there is room for dispute is obvious, but to seek to isolate copying of names or posts from the wider struggle over ownership of ideas in an age of enhanced mechanical reproduction is disingenuous.

For the record, I think it would be an exaggeration to say that the OAC admins have been operating without any rules whatsoever. They may have been implicit, our response may often have been slow, even timid, but we have forged a way of responding to crisis at least that I think is obvious from the last few weeks. This has erred on the side of doing nothing rather than something and letting members take the initiative rather than us laying down the law. We are learning all the time and our team membership is evolving. It is still the case that most of us have never met each other face-to- and we have to coordinate across 8 time zones.

The issue of anonymity has been vehemently contested by a small minority, including by someone who now admits to be operating under two aliases in our network and whose interest in the issues he has pursued so vigorously has never been declared. We have a member who is rapidly accumulating friends without ever posting a comment. As Paul says, we have deleted commercial spammers summarily. But we have not banned any member for violation of the real name rule. Perhaps this is something we need to address collectively in a public forum.

There have also been accusations of intimidation in discussion threads, but this has been left to occasional public comments by members. If we go down the path of airing every issue in the Forum before the admins can act, we will be here a long time, many members will weary of the wrangling and the OAC will be rudderless. We should accept that the admins team is a needed executive for the OAC, with extremely limited powers, which looks after matters of common concern that individual members can not do by themselves or together. The present admins were largely self-selected (we have lost four so far) and we gave ourselves until December to get the place established and ticking over. After all people need some security of tenure to do a job. By all means let us clarify the rules by which we operate and, come December, we can place it all on a more accountable footing. Until then, perhaps it will be recognized that we have committed ourselves to making this the sort of place that Fran has expressed so beautifully. Rome was not built in a night.

Paul Wren said:
Ryan, to answer your original question:
What are the rules about plagiarism here at the OAC? The real answer is that we don't have any rules about plagiarism. In fact, we do not have any explicit rules at all. Keith posted a draft of some rules back in June on the OAC Policy Forum group, in hopes that members could discuss them prior to implementing some rules for this place. Since then, only one member has replied. Anyone interested can read them in the OAC Policy Forum, but I'll provide a quick summary of these proposed rules here:
1. Don't be a jerk.

2. No spamming.

3. No porn.

4. No soliciting.

5. Comply with the Ning Terms of Service.

The sanctions for the above would be a progression from warning to account deletion, with the rapidity of the progression depending on the circumstances.

Should there be an explicit rule about plagiarism? I would say yes, now that a case has presented itself. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, because we have no rules for anything.

Even though we still do not have any rules in place, the admins have sent warnings to people when their abusive or otherwise inappropriate behavior was brought to our attention. We have also deleted accounts of people who are clearly joining the OAC to sell something and have no interest in anthropology. But it would benefit us all to have some clear and explicit rules that are made available to everyone, and for which clear consequences exist.

I will be posting some follow-up comments with a few ideas for us to kick around.

"This is why I would not admit being wrong in the simplistic terms offered by Harry/Igor/Jeremy. The issue is too broad and contentious to be reducible to a yes/no answer in an online forum."

Sometimes it's best to be direct. Stealing content and placing it under your name is neither broad or contentious. The basic ethic about attribution need not be linked to larger issues about global capitalism and control over intellectual property. That tactic, to me, is little more than a smokescreen. The issue with Nikos was cut and dry. Maybe it was a mistake on his part, maybe not. The fact is that he posted something that was not his own, and there are plenty of informal rules against that. Not only that, but I am sure that pretty much anyone in academia is familiar with the basics of giving proper credit. In any case, the solution was simply to link to the original source and cite Forte. Done.

This is was NEVER about access, but about giving credit to the original author. This is a standard online and offline.

Do you really want to push for a model that gives no credit to authors in the name of open access????

"That there is room for dispute is obvious, but to seek to isolate copying of names or posts from the wider struggle over ownership of ideas in an age of enhanced mechanical reproduction is disingenuous."

This isolation was clearly necessary in my view, in order to avoid conflating several issues.

I understand your concerns with knowledge production and control. I have plenty of issues and interests in the subject myself. I do not, for example, understand why so many academic journals can't find a way to make at least some of their material available to a larger audience. That's an access issue.

But I am not an advocate of taking articles, blog posts, or books and publishing them under some other name without giving the authors credit. That is an attribution issue. I am not looking to subvert individuals based upon some vague ideals about online freedom. To me, that's not the way to go. I do not see how crediting people with their work is in any way restrictive. Not allowing people to READ or ACCESS work is restrictive, and that's the problem I have.

There is a an emphasis here at the OAC on challenging the ways that information is produced and distributed. And that was one of the reasons I came here in the first place a while back. I'm into it. At the same time, there is still a need to uphold the rights of individuals in this process of "opening" access to anthropological media--and to pay attention to ethical and political issues that arise. Do you really want to erase the author as we know it, especially when all we do to earn our keep is produce and distribute information? Hmmm. I am not so sure about that one. I think this case with Max has really illustrated where things can go wrong if there are no rules and if "group freedom" is upheld to the detriment of individuals.

Maybe a general plan could be a push toward producing new material that challenges the ways that media in anthropology is actually distributed. Maybe instead of supporting the idea of hijacking already produced and copyrighted material, the goal should be to start publishing online articles/media that are open for anyone to read without a fee. Of course, I still think that individual authors are going to want some kind of rules about copyright and plagiarism to be in place...unless you want to go for an author-free wikipedia thing. But then, we already have wikipedia.
Keith Hart wrote : "(...) The issue of anonymity has been vehemently contested by a small minority, including by someone who now admits to be operating under two aliases in our network and whose interest in the issues he has pursued so vigorously has never been declared."

I already said why I pursued the issues. First, anonymity : one can see my comments on the related thread in the "OAC policy" group : http://openanthcoop.ning.com/group/oacpolicyforum/forum/topics/memb....

Another example, making real names compulsory would, for example, certainly exclude cyber-activists living in authoritarian states (who can also be anthropologists).

About why I pursued the other issues, I already stated that I did it because I like the work of Max, and I think it is a very important work, I respect it, and I respect him. And I didn't want the OAP to be endangered, muddied or made blurred.

I don't have great expectations toward the present Ning network. It could certainly bear interesting fruits, but I remain sure that it would be better to choose another name. Yes I know, 13% of the members already expressed their opinions on the matter. I won't insist.

I decided to leave sometimes ago. But didn't I have to point out the blatant case of plagiarism (be it voluntary or not) ?

Now, I will gently leave, and hope things will get better.

To be honest, I don't think this is the most interesting thing Max has written. And I don't feel like getting involved in the discussion. And do you know the thing called "hyper-link", which is pretty much common practise on the net ?

Take care.
For those of you who were wondering what happened to the "World Anthropology" thread and for the rest if you didn't, it has been taken down by Ning at the request of Max Forte under the conditions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We were not given any notice of this action, although Max was able to preserve a copy of the thread on his site.

For the many members who are not US citizens, the DMCA allows people to claim copyright to materials posted by someone else on the internet, and to request that they be removed. The internet provider/site hosts are required to comply with the request, whether the claimant has proved they hold the copyright or not. Max sent such a "takedown" request to Ning, and posted a comment to his plagiarism thread including this:

From the NING team’s email message to me (MF), received today (28th September) at 3:42pm:

“our Terms of Service require that Network Creators and members of social networks have all of the rights necessary in the content they upload or publish to their social networks, including license and copyright. Ning takes the rights of intellectual property owners very seriously and complies as a service provider with all applicable provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (”DMCA”). Our policy is to respond to the valid notices of alleged infringement we receive according to the DMCA by expeditiously removing or disabling access to allegedly infringing material and terminating members, when appropriate, according to our Repeat Infringer Policy. We received your communication of 9/28/09 and promptly disabled access to the content entitled “World Anthropology”."
As Network Creator, I have deleted the discussion 'World Anthropology 2' because it constituted an additional threat to the integrity of the Open Anthropology Cooperative.

For this reason I started a new discussion by the title WORLD ANTHROPOLOGY number 2. Get a look and you will understand.
Anyone wishing to continue this discussion might refer to the thread 'Making rules and enforcing them'.

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