Kevin Donovan talks about Students for Free Culture at Georgetown
Georgetown’s alright, but it’s no MIT or Yale—and I don’t really mean academically. You’ll be hard pressed to find Georgetown’s classes on any of the proliferating websites that stream lectures and we’re still paying out the ass for scholarly journals.
Organized by Kevin Donovan (COL `11), a group of Georgetown students is looking to change the University’s current not-so-free culture. They’re the Georgetown chapter of the international organization Students for Free Culture.
The group, which just secured SAC funding last semester, aims to get Georgetown to adopt measures like open access publishing, potentially to reform its patent processes, and to join OpenCourseWare, where Universities can post course materials to the extent that anyone can virtually attend classes. Above, Donovan advocates on behalf of the poor student in Peru and the farmer in Kenya.
When he got to Georgetown, Donovan said was surprised to find it way behind other Universities on projects like these. “Georgetown, I realized, was not as perfect a campus for free culture as maybe I had hoped.”
In his conversation with me, he explained that since the bulk of scholarly journals (in which most professors publish their work) are subscription-only, Universities like Georgetown, if they have already funded their professors’ research, pay twice to hear what America’s brightest minds have to say. That costs Georgetown about $4 million per year, he said. Universities like MIT have slashed that cost by adopting an open-access publishing mandate for their profs.
As for patent policy, Donovan says he’s not entirely familiar with Georgetown’s policy, but that Universities in general have been trending toward patenting their discoveries since the 1980s.
“In this—in anything that restricts information—the problem is the purpose of the University. Is it a commercial entity, or one of Jesuit or higher education ideals? Especially at a Jesuit University, I don’t feel like we should be locking things up.”
Beyond academia, free culture can be seen at play with copyright law.
“Take a look at Girl Talk, this preeminent mash-up artist: A lot of what he does is gray-zone legal, but it’s this whole new form of creativity and, I would argue, value,” Donovan said. “Do we really wanna live in a world where one has to ask permission to make something new?”
Students for Free Culture is still getting its footing, but so far they’re bringing the Girl Talk-like mash-up artist e-603 to campus for Georgetown Day in conjunction with Radio. Sweet.
The Georgetown chapter of Students for Free Culture has a blog, but in Donovan’s words, it’s primitive. Better to explore the main site, he says. You can also catch sporadic updates about free culture issues from Donovan’s Twitter