Copy left is a form of an intellectual property agreement that is applied to a creative product as it is published. The copyleft permits any and all subsequent users to reproduce, modify, or adapt the original creation as they require, thus developing new and different creations. However the primary condition of the copyleft agreement is that any new creation based on the original must also be covered by the same copyleft agreement, thereby permitting the continuing development of new creative products ("What is Right About Copyleft?" 22).
What's needed is a way to say something in the middle—neither "all rights reserved" nor "no right reserved" but "some rights reserved"—and thus a way to respect copyrights but enable creators to free content as they see fit. In other words, we need a way to restore a set of freedoms that we could just take for granted before” (Free Culture 277).
Copyleft appeals to proponents of participatory politics and multimodal composition alike, because when texts are placed in the public domain more readers are more likely to be effected. Furthermore, user/students may remix, convert, and adapt visual and verbal copyleft texts so long as the texts they produce are also publically available for adaptation. Just as Free Software advocates and programmers such as Richard Stallman value user iterations over original design, so writing instruction values revision and/or versioning over initial invention.
Both the theory and practice of copyleft that was pioneered by programmers has transitioned into the writing classroom. Imagine a student-writing project that is initially published to the public domain, and then revised and republished again and again. This activity encourages adaptation over origin, invites students to participate in collaborative meaning making, and displaces the myth of solitary authorship. Further, when users are encouraged to write their interpretations into and on commonly available material they are transformed into culture producers and political agents.
The following resources provide extensive information on issues related to copyleft, open source advocacy, user rights, and Internet legislation/regulation. The sites may provoke and sustain classroom discussions of open source and user right issues: Intellectual Property Online, Richard Stallman, GNU Project, Old+Old+Old=New: A Copyright Manifesto for the Digital World, Open Humanities Press, and The Free Software Foundation.
Neal, Michael, Kathleen Bridgman, and Stephen J. McElroy. “Making Meaning: Developing a Digital Archive for Multimodal Research.“ Kairos 17.3 (1013).
While the entirety of Kairos 17.3 is devoted to boarders and connection in multimodal research, this project is of special interest for ways the theory and strategies ofcopyleft work when applied to digital writing. This Kairos project invites registered users to “participate in the meaning making” by contributing their own interpretations of postcards from the FSU digital and print postcard archive (1). The archive project stresses interconnectivity over linear design through a navigation structure in which links are organized in a wheel as opposed to a hierarchy. Through its radically decentralized composition, the site design and content achieves a variety of remarkable goals. The printed cards from the archive are preserved in digital form, and at the same time the open source invitation for users to adapt the texts is also preserved. Further, the site makes great use of graphics, icons, print text, video, and audio composition. With its attention to primary sources, audience, digital/analog integration, this project is a terrific model for what Domain participants can accomplish in their classes.
Pike, George E. “What is Right About a Copyleft?” Information Today 19.4 (2002): 22-24.
In his helpful article, Pike lays out the history and practice of copyleft. He explains that while copyleft and GPL do not replace copyright agreements and restrictions, copyleft does offer an alternative to completely unprotected creative licensing, one the one hand, and the often overly restrictive practices of copyright and patent agreements on the other. Pike explains that Linux provided the classic model for copyleft agreement in software design. Designers such as Richard Stallman made their inventions freely accessible to other users to develop or augment, as long as all advances to the original inventions remained open to new development. Pike suggests that both the theory and practice of copyleft that was pioneered by programmers can (and has) transitioned into the writing classroom. He imagines a writing project in which an initial draft is published to the public domain, and then revised and republished again and again. This activity encourages adaptation over origin, invites students to participate in collaborative meaning making, and displaces the myth of solitary authorship. Further, when users work with public domain materials they have are able to do more than passively consume archived texts. In fact when users are encouraged to write their interpretations into and on commonly available material they are transformed into culture producers and political agents.
Lawrence Lessig shapes the laws and debate surrounding copyright is driven in part by questions such as the following, “In a world in which technology begs all of us to create and spread creative work differently from how it was created and spread before, what kind of moral platform will sustain our kids when their ordinary behavior is deemed criminal?“ (Remix xviii). Lessig takes-up this crucial topic for users of new media in the following: Remix, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, and The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World.
Rife, Martine Courtant, Steve Westbrook, Danielle Nicole DeVBoss, and John Logie. ”Introduction: Copyright, Culture, Creativity, and the Commons.“ Computers and Composition 27.3 (2010): 161-166.
In their introduction to the special issue of Computers and Writing dedicated to topics such as copyright, copyleft, Creative Commons, participatory culture, and prosumerwriting, the authors seek to strike a balance between freedom and protection. On the one hand, the "cultural convergence" provoked by practices of digital commons can negatively effect already marginalize discourses and cultural producers (161). On the other hand, the intellectual property and copyright laws that profess to protect the rights of producers and consumers are products of "Western marker[s] of control and authorship" and "...little scholarship has tended to ways in which different cultural groups situate their practices of ownership of ideas and texts—both alongside of established legal practices and outside of legal precedent" (162). This introductory article also provides a fine synthesis of ongoing work in the field of composition and rhetoric that deals with intellectual property issues and debates.
—–. Invention, Copyright, and Digital Writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 2013.
Of special interest to instructors of digital writing are Rife's chapters: "A Remixed Theory of (Digital) Authorship" and "Toward a Metatheory of Rhetorical Invention in Digital Environments."
Vee, Annette. ”Carving up the Commons: How Software Patents Are Impacting Our Digital Composition Environments.“ Computers and Composition 27.3 (2010):179-192.
According to Vee's abstract, "Since the 1980s, there has been a general trend in U.S. courts to allow certain aspects of software programs to be patented. Digital composition scholars and teachers are indirectly affected by these decisions through the software environments in which we compose but we are also directly affected through our increasingly code-based methods of composition. Just as we can no longer limit our study of writing to text, we can no longer limit our considerations of intellectual property law to the copyright that governs text. Here I examine arguments forwarded by legal scholars and programmers against software patents; these analyses offer not only a convincing critique of the patent system, but also imply that our legal system should treat code more like writing than engineering. An exploration of the software patent debate, then, opens code up for further study in the field of computers and composition" (179).
Wharton, Robin. ”Bright Lines and Golden Rules: Copyright, Fair Use, and Critical Pedagogy.“ Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Technology. 5 September 2012.
In this hyperlinked article, Wharton makes available a variety of useful resources that address faculty concerns with copyright and copyright violation in the classroom. Wharton argues instructors ask the wrong questions when it comes to fair use and copyright issues. Instead of asking, "does the document I am reproducing for student use in my classroom violate copyright licensing," we should be asking, “what are the pedagogically sound options for making this text available?" (par 6). Pedagogically sound options include interlibrary loan, course packs, licensed e-reserves, or maybe using an entirely different text all together. Wharton explains, “Because we all collectively need to do more to integrate Open Source, Open Access, and Creative Commons content into all of our courses. Whenever we have a viable open access alternative, we should use it" (par 11). She suggests that choosing Open Access materials over copyright protected materials whenever possible helps promote a culture of fairness, collaboration, and remix in higher education.
See also, Of Icebergs and Ownership.