The Woody Guthrie Public License

Kevin Carson wrote a book a few years ago called Organizational Theory:  A Libertarian Perspective. In it, he develops a number of concepts that ought to be central to university thinking about research and innovation. Carson picks up on Ronald Coase‘s question–if markets are supposedly so much more efficient than hierarchical planning, why do we have so many hierarchical companies and institutions? Carson then spends much of the book working through such things as the separation of knowledge and power and how authority allows one to push costs onto workers and community and secure benefits for oneself, or one’s company–meaning, company owners.

In a research setting, one might ask, why should universities, which argue for the value of open laboratories, broad exchange of information, for collaboration and public spiritedness, be suddenly transformed into agencies seeking to own and control pretty much anything that faculty and students might dream up, make, invent, or document? The claim at universities for discovery is based on market anarchy–that is, based on a disregard for commercialism, hierarchy, and authoritarian control of inquiry. At the same time, now, we are confronted by the argument that university ownership and control is altogether good when it comes to inventions and other research assets, and even necessary for the public to realize a “return” on all that “investment” of research dollars. How can one have open labs and closed control of everything meaningful? How can that control be viewed as a good when it is primarily dedicated to making money from exploiting the right to exclude others? It’s a real puzzler. One might think that it’s not so much puzzling as absurd, working at cross-purposes to university research and discovery–at cross-purposes to the fundamental role of universities in our society.

In any event, Carson practices what he advocates, and makes his book available with the Woody Guthrie Public License. It might be a license that universities ought to consider using as their default for all research assets in which they take an ownership position:

Woody Guthrie Public License

May be reproduced without limit, with attribution.

“Anyone found copying and distributing this book without permission will be considered a mighty good friend of ours, because we don’t give a durn.”


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