In the summer of 2014, as an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing, I had the good fortune to assist with coordinating a modestly successful crowdfunding campaign for and co-edit Open Music Theory. Open Music Theory is what Kris Shaffer, my co-editor and the project lead, has called a "critical textbook," that is, a pedagogical text that is "multi-authored, physically hackable, and legally alterable." It is, "an open-source, interactive, online 'text'book for college-level music theory courses." The brain-child of Kris and his colleagues Bryn Hughes and Brian Moseley, Open Music Theory received generous financial and technological support from the ed-tech start-up Trinket, and crowdfunding from a community of backers interested in music, critical pedagogy, and open academic resources. Yet, I still think calling it a "crowdfunded research project" has a tendency to obscure the numerous ways in which the project received direct and indirect institutional support in the years before it became the subject of a crowdfunding campaign and acquired its most recent, and truly beautiful, usable form on GitHub. So, when I was contacted about the possibility of contributing to the MediaCommons Field Survey on crowdfunding and academic research, I thought at first I might write a piece addressing what the authors of the CFP might call "ethical vulnerabilities" of crowdfunding academic research, or "neoliberalism in academic culture." I ultimately decided, though, to provide some practical discussion about the intellectual property issues raised by crowdfunded research projects. While critical discussion about the propriety and potential consequences of translating the crowdfunding model to academia needs to continue, crowdfunding of academic research projects is already happening--will we or nil we, and researchers and collaborators in such projects need to be thinking about how crowdfunding complicates traditional notions of who owns or controls the various work products of the academic research process and why. Here as elsewhere, I use the term "intellectual property" very broadly, to describe the bundle of rights accruing to the authors of academic work by virtue of ethical, disciplinary, institutional, and legal structures that have evolved to regulate everything from when someone should be named as a co-author or cited as a source of information, to who owns the patents and copyrights associated with academic research output.
Most full-time (and many part-time) faculty and staff at colleges and universities are asked to sign an intellectual property agreement as part of their employment. These agreements supplement, and sometimes override or even create potential conflict with legal defaults that arise pursuant to copyright, patent, and trademark law. In addition, institutional review board rules governing principle investigators and the use of research data influence relationships among collaborators, and protect the rights of study participants. Disciplinary conventions regarding citation and attribution, and who exercises control over research sites and data may give rise to ethical and in some cases even legal obligations to give credit, request permission, submit to pre-publication review, etc., when making use of the fruits of academic research. This ethical-regulatory maze can be tricky to navigate even when research occurs within the accepted and established boundaries of institutional practice. For those working on crowdfunded research at the fringes of established practice and beyond, even a maze would be preferable to the uncharted quagmire in which they might find themselves. Offering a comprehensive guide to negotiating the intellectual property quagmire is well beyond the scope of a single blog post. Nevertheless, I do have a few ideas to offer about where one might begin. Academic researchers engaged in crowdfunded projects can mobilize and join forces with faculty and students on their campuses to push for a comprehensive review, and if necessary, an overhaul of their institution's intellectual property policy, including the intellectual property agreements that govern their rights vis a vis the institution. Unclear or draconian intellectual property policy and unwieldy bureaucracies can give rise to a "better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission" culture in which the most vulnerable participants in large-scale, non-traditional research projects--undergraduate and graduate students, research subjects, contingent faculty, and soft-money contractors--are least protected. Campus legal advisors need to abandon their "we have a form for that" mentality and treat individual cases with nuance and a complete understanding of the legal, ethical, and disciplinary context in which they arise. Institutional administrators and legal counsel should be attentive to how the relationship between colleges and universities and their students and employees is and should remain different from the relationship that exists between for-profit corporations and their customers and employees. The Media Commons "Collaborators' Bill of Rights" and the "Student Collaborators' Bill of Rights" drafted by Miriam Posner, and her students and colleagues are both excellent examples of what this sort of proactive discussion--among stakeholders at all levels--about intellectual property and academic research can accomplish.