Managing collaboration

The Pathways workshop is to be a collaborative experience; participants, supporting faculty, and creative director/digital dramaturge Kate Pullinger to conceive, author, and produce a work of networked fiction.

But how, in such an environment, are we to value and recognize intellectual contributions and intellectual property? If everyone involved is an “author,” then are we to be left with a tangle of competing IP claims for the resulting work?

Back in the 1980s, free software pioneer Richard Stallman famously confronted this problem, faced with managing the contributions of hundreds of contributors to the code for the Emacs text editor. Stallman’s solution to the problem was to turn copyright on its ear and create a ‘copyleft’ license, consigning the work itself to the commons, and putting the rights to reuse, rework, remix, and redistribute ahead of the right to control copying or use. The result was the GPL1.

That worked very well for software projects. But the same idea has been employed to good effect in Wikipedia—where an indeterminate number of contributors labour to make the entries there better and better over time. Rather than a tangle of IP claims from competing contributors, Wikipedia begins with a blanket CC-By-SA licence: essentially a ‘copyleft’ license like Stallman’s GPL.

But can this work in the world of fiction and creative writing? Examples are few and far between? Is a copyleft approach necessary to manage collaboration at scale, or are a number of networked private IP claims workable?


  1. The story of Stallman’s predicament and the solution that came out of it is retold nicely in Chris Kelty’s excellent book, Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008)