Edited Inksheds on


Laura Atkinson, Sandy Baardman, Pat Sadowy, Stan Straw

Imagine: five stories about ethics and writing and ownership, and there are no technological hitches. Would our response to these stories have changed by insertion of Internet or chat page or fax or photocopy? I don't think so. Maybe that means ownership and authorship are, after all, not so complicated.

Having to act ethically - is it or is it not contextually bound? Is it absolute? Are there mitigating circumstances?

So who does "own" the work? Are we all thinking of Dorothy Wordsworth & the journal entry of the daffodils? Or Pound's revision of "The Wasteland"? And is there a difference between "creative" and "academic" writing? -- Betty

Perhaps we need to break down the word "author" into names and describe the contributors' types and/or stages; if cumbersome as part of a title (eg. By G. --, inventor & writer, G.D., editor & transitions). It could be collapsed into initials that could be added after contributors' names [E.W.; I.R. (inventor & revisor)]. -- Tania Smith

Questions of text authorship and ownership break down if you think of all text as being collaborative to some extent. Writing is only your own insofar as your "voice" comes through in the writing. All other input can be referenced and thanked, but in many of these cases "input" is confused with "authorship" hence "ownership." -- Theresa

A general reaction? Part of me wants to retreat to a lonely town and never ever collaborate with anyone. What a tangled, anxious, awkward web of need and support and - power. The naming of an author is the identification of power: that is, he whose ideas prevailed is first author. That may not be the case in dialogic collaboration - perhaps in that case authorship has more to do with responsibility than with power. . . The metaphors are so often metaphors of power - e.g. money metaphors. How much investment does one have? How much credit does she get? How indebted is he? ownership/property -- Susan

We are thinking of Margaret's dilemma from our point of view as academics - what about her point of view as original author? Surely she has a right to invent and then dissociate herself from that invention, and not be credited for her original work. If she releases her results for others' benefit, then her investment ends and her ideas continue. -- Tony

I am reminded as I write that "ethics" has to do with relationships so if there are different dilemmas here (and I take it there are) then I would want to look at the relationships among people, and between people and text to try to figure a way through the dilemma. -- TH

The group refers to the U. of M. policy about responsibility for the whole - but is this policy necessarily ethical? Seems to me to be a case of "legality" vs. "ethics." I'm wondering about the disciplinary contexts of these stories -- these contexts are important to understand the conventions, practices, assumptions, about co-authoring (the ethics of co-authoring). -- Philippa

The poetry example raised, in my mind, questions about the creative process itself. I think of poetry as the most personal and intimate of literacy forms, yet poets do not write in a vacuum & have many influences, editors.

Ha! Most of these cases, I'd wager, apply to students and teachers in the sciences and social sciences. Some of these "stories" - the collaborative process described, even if flawed - I'd love to see this kind of collaboration in the humanities. So we figure that the medium of exchange matters: information, text, money (sometimes), "grades" or other prestige. The audience matters - so fundamentally the text isn't at issue maybe. It's maybe (possibly; tentatively) a question of faith that exists among the individuals involved in text production.

On the last question first -- there does seem to be a real difference between something such as a poem and an academic paper. While we talk about the "art of writing, we also think of poems as a different or particular kind of artistic expression. There is something personal & individual about this -- although I can think of many examples in which a group does the same thing (performance, dances, films). A "group poem" seems a very odd idea, to me, in the same way a "group painting" would be odd. -- Jane M.

"Ted pulls a fast one" reminded me of this, but this in a way was even harder to deal with . Ted's co-authors were surely right to pull his name off. No collaborator has the right to jeopardize co-author's academic careers by including them unwittingly in plagiarism. -- Ann Beer

Well, I'm not sure we answered any of our questions. Actually, the main part of our discussion was about invention, could it ever not be an individual act. Most of us believe that invention is always a collaborative act -- on a continuum I suppose.

Margaret gives away the store -- Question of power relationship -- no matter what Margaret said about not caring about what happened to it, the prof. still shouldn't take it over. Seems like cannibalizing your students. No matter what she said, his is the power. . . . After discussion, I think my first response is blinkered & simplistic. I was struck by one feature & grabbed it like a dog a bone. Questions: what if Margaret's work were of e.g., medical importance? Are we talking about credit or attribution or ownership or what? What are the criteria for judging this situation? Who gets hurt (Russ's question)? -- Kenna

The author (or producer of text) must actively decide what to accept, what to reject, what to partially accept, and actively pursues ideas & connections raised by others. This is inherent in the writing process. It is the writer in a world of people, observing and reacting. There are no wholly separate authors, if we follow the notion of "contributor" to the end of the range of possible contributions. -- Jane M

There are conventions and traditions of shared work by professional writers (of all kinds). Ideally, in a corporate world, no-one should be given credit for the whole thing. And that bugs me: policy statements etc. that nobody can be fingered as authoring. -- Lynn H.

I think I want to say that there is an important distinction to be made between collaborative invention [the process we all engage in before we write because there is no such thing as an "original" idea -- we are always influenced by all those we have read or spoken to and co-authoring (the process of jointly thinking through, drafting & revising a project.)

Things that strike me: how unique each of these ethical situations is; how much the ethics of authorship/writing depend on social relationships; how these social relationships are always power relationships. -- Michael Sider

If you think of authorship not as a kind of financial ownership, but rather as an act of giving away (Ursula LeGuin says -- or creates a culture that says -- that you can only demonstrate ownership of something by the act of giving it away), much of the difficulty of many of these situation evaporates & it becomes a question of what's polite rather than what's right. [ marginalium] . . . So I still think the question is (a) politeness & reasonable human social interactions, and that (b) "credit" is the issues that makes things complicated and legalistic. But the real ethical issue here is whether an "important" ideas can be (or should be) suppressed because someone who "owns" it doesn't understand or accept its importance (or even might want to suppress it -- though Margaret, it's clear, doesn't say that). -- Russ

--> seems in part overly scrupulous -->wonder how many respected published authors were promiscuous "borrowers," "lifters," "stealers" of family stories, lover's secrets, friends clever sayings, insightful passages they read somewhere, but forgot -- or DIDN'T. -- K. Voltan

The underlying shared theme here is the status or practical value that all types of publishing assume: marks, points for hiring/tenure/promotion, eminence as an artist. We are also being asked to assume the individual identity of each person named, though that is questions in the theory we read. All this feels very real, but it may be missing some deeper questions and thus ways out of the conundra.

I suspect there may never be a definitive set of rules -- the sciences have a set of rules. This is not to say that they are ethical. Having been involved in a three person collaboration in the sciences where the "rules" destroyed the relationship, I question the value of the rules.

The discussion about shared/co-authoring seemed to hark back to invention. At what point can authorship be claimed? Can intentions be post hoc as this story might suggest (i.e., Roberts comes on board as author after the fact? -- Mary Kooy

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