This week’s readings were an interesting selection of work dealing with open access, copyright and archiving in the digital age.
I was particularly interested in the juxtaposition of Willinsky’s The Access Principle and Lessig’s Free Culture, though I must admit I came into these readings already in agreement with much of what both authors said. It is interesting though to consider how many scholars are pushing for a greater degree of access to their work. Willinsky attributes this drive to a variety of factors including prestige and citations, but also the fact that subscription journals have been creating knowledge ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ which is particularly a problem in developing countries. The impression I got from his writing is that scholars are concerned with both of these factors in that there is a desire to fix the latter problem but also a need to do so while being mindful of the former.
The desire for one’s work to be read, and copied by way of citation, is of course fundamental to academia and knowledge production. In reading Lessig’s chapter I found myself wondering how it came about that in the academy we worry about plagiarism a great deal, but seem mostly content to rely on internal methods to deal with it. In my experience copyright rarely factors in, or at least is much less of a concern than plagiarism. The differing “norms,” to use Lessig’s term, between the academic community to culture at large are interesting, and while I would like to think they are somewhat attributable to academic high-mindedness, the cynic in me thinks its because there is simply less money in journal articles than in Disney films.
Similarly the Rosenzweig piece was interesting but largely stuff I was familiar with. Coming from a department that was very much doing digital humanities a lot of the ideas presented this week were familiar, so I wanted to take a moment to talk about some direct experience I have.
In 2011 I my adviser and I published an article in the online journal Game Studies, which was one of the very first academic journals devoted to the humanistic study of games. The journal has always been freely available online and collects no authors’ fees. It is supported by The Swedish Research Council, The Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils for the Humanities and the Social Sciences, the IT University of Copenhagen, and Lund University. The journal is obviously run on a pretty low budget: when our article was published they had nobody on staff who was technically-minded. I ended-up providing HTML support to the lone staff member for the formatting of our tables, and you can see from how badly they look that it did not go well.
That said, I’m quite happy that the field’s flagship journal is open access. I would much rather have to offer a little technical help than to have to pay fees, or know that my work is locked behind a paywall. This is also my most-cited work, though at 5 citations that is not exactly Earth-shattering.
This article also illustrates some of the problems with archiving digital data that Rosenzweig was discussing. This article comes from a study of Faunasphere, an online casual game that was different from most games in many respects. The game was only playable online, and shortly after this article was published the game was shut-down, and its accompanying forums closed. If you click on any of the 10 or so forum posts we cite in the article the links will redirect you to the homepage of the game’s developer. They used to redirect to a message explaining that the game had been shut-down, but now there is no indication whatsoever that Faunasphere existed.
For game scholars the preservation of our material is exceedingly problematic. We are often working with commercial products, like Faunasphere, that are extremely resistant to archiving and preservation. The source code for the game presumably lives on somewhere at Big Fish Games, but the release of code by a game company to the public, even when the game is no longer available, is almost entirely unheard of (it does happen, just very rarely). Video and computer games are also extremely vulnerable to platforms and hardware becoming obsolete, and many scholars use emulation to illegally play old or unavailable games for research.
To return to my article, it also demonstrates the problem of citing Web sources in a Web-based article: they can vanish. Nobody can verify that what we wrote about the Faunasphere forums is true. So here is a scholarly work about something that does not exist using nonexistent evidence.
I’m not really sure what the solution is here. In this particular case we were not claiming anything controversial, and my coauthor is extremely well-regarded in the field, so I can’t imagine any negative fallout coming from this. As a research though it is disappointing.
Lastly, I wanted to mention a thought I had regarding the Korsakow projects. As I was watching them I found myself enjoying them much more than the other digital projects we have looked at this semester. I occurred to me that the reason for this is that they were not created to present, provide, or deliver information, but were much closer to art projects and documentaries. In this context I was much more willing to engage with their nonlinearity and experiment, and I realized it was because I was much less concerned with missing something. Unfortunately I think this is probably a bad sign for digital projects.