Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, September 08, 2006

Attacking plagiarism with cultural norms, not copyright law

David Bollier, French Chefs and the Power of Social Norms, On the commons, September 7, 2006. Excerpt:
A French chef whose restaurant is given an extra “star” in the famed Michelin Guide (on a scale of 1 to 5) can expect a flurry of new patrons, prestige and profits in the coming year. Similarly, restaurants that “lose” a star can see sales drop as much as 50%. Since there is so much money riding on the quality of food served in top French restaurants, why aren’t the recipes and food preparation techniques used by great French chefs protected by copyrights, patents or trade secret law?  The answer, as explored in a fascinating paper by Emmanuelle Fauchart and Eric von Hippel, is that the social norms of the culinary professionals are a more effective tool for protecting the “proprietary” interests of top-flight chefs....Any chef who violates these norms is stigmatized or even ostracized by the community....

Comment. What's the OA connection?  There are several but let me pick out just one.  The French chef solution is remarkably similar to the one that has evolved in the world of scholarship.  In principle, many kinds of plagiarism could be pursued as copyright infringement.  In practice, however, we punish them as violations of academic norms, not as violations of law.  This is reflected in a little-known sentence of the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing:

Community standards, rather than copyright law, will continue to provide the mechanism for enforcement of proper attribution and responsible use of the published work, as they do now.

OA is compatible with copyright as long as the copyright-holder consents to OA.  But publishers who claim they need to hold copyrights in order to prevent or punish plagiarism are blowing smoke.  In the rare case when a copyright is needed to pursue a plagiarist, it doesn't matter whether the author or the publisher is the copyright-holder.  And in the vast majority of cases, no copyright will be needed.  We act like French chefs, not like lawyers.