Book By: McSherry, Corynne
Review By: Heather T. Wagoner
Career Counselor
Miami, Florida

Who Owns Academic Work? addresses the topic of intellectual property that captures the timely and visceral exchanges resonating throughout the disciplines. McSherry affirms this age old question as she posits the term “battling” without mincing words. Although many writings on this topic isolate issues to the fields of engineering and science, McSherry broadens the discourse to essential definitions of ideas, data streams, expressions, and creation in a range of fields.

McSherry outlays the historical basis from which many of today’s essential questions arise in this thought provoking chronology.  As the sociologist Camille Paglia often affirms “old fashioned timelines provide the visual track recording the rough shape of rising and falling cultures” (2005). McSherry goes beyond a mere historical timeline to reveal that cultural value and precedent for intellectual property harkens back to the  guild craftsman when knowledge was privy to a coterie of individuals for their common good.

What McSherry brings to light is the clash between a perceived utilitarianism that may or may not exist within academic circles; a university system which intrinsically presumes by affiliation any academic products fostered therein; a perpetuating and regenerating source of “gifting”. One may recall Sherlock Holmes famous quote” What one man can invent, another can discover” which affirms the nature of what McSherry calls data streams, and the flow of these among academics. Access to these data streams are privileged and suggest some type of “gifting” or ability to use the data streams toward a discovery which will perpetuate and broaden the disciplines. This is in large contrast to the marked integration of private funding sources that often pits researchers against their academic ideals.

A highlight of the book is a discussion of legal cases. For example, the initial complaint of “Pelletier” was rejected due to the commonly held regulation that data and research is owned by the university itself. However Pelletier’s legal team injected a provocative blending of terms when they contended that, in the quantitative scientific world, creativity (a wholly qualitative realm) is a plausible construct for protection.   

Why would an academic advisor posit such an interest?  These very discussions are central to the way we prepare and disseminate information to our students. Many advisors are being asked to prepare their work for electronic mediums, encouraged to collaborate with the private sector in grants, become authors, or even develop programs, theoretical approaches, or curriculum.  These very developments, intrinsic in the advisor’s role, necessitate the understanding of intellectual property.


The author concludes by noting a landmark case where intellectual property, as a part of the university in lieu of the researcher, was considered a type of “feudalism.” This is the very essence of the Craft Guild – an important component of the feudal society. One thing is assured, with McSherry definition of the realm, the discussion of intellectual property concept has only begun.

Paglia, C. Forget Focault Remember the Facts. Ask Camille in Salon.  Retrieved Sept 12, 2005 from http://www.salon.com/it/col/pagl/1998/11/04pagl.html

Who Owns Academic Work? Battling for Control of Intellectual Property. (2001). Book by McSherry, Corynne. Review by Heather T. Wagoner. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 288 pp . $16.95 (Paperback). ISBN# 0-674-01243-7.

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