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Wrangling software: Computing professionals and the interpretation of software ownership in the university computing environment

, University of Minnesota, United States

University of Minnesota . Awarded


This project explores the way information about law is transformed into organizational policies and practices. Existing literature emphasizes the state and organized professional groups as primary interpreters of the law and as creators of legal implementation strategies in the organizational setting. This case study of university responses to software-related intellectual property protections focuses on the role of computing professionals in the creation and implementation of university policies and practices related to software ownership. This case challenges and extends existing research about professional construction of the law by examining a loosely organized profession, computing, and a law for which the state provides little or no regulatory enforcement. This research finds that professional boundary maintenance among computing professionals is difficult in a labor force environment where demand for professionals outpaces the availability of persons to do the work. Professional boundaries remain undefined or fluid, and credentialing efforts fail, in markets for which labor supply cannot meet the demand. However, control over physical machinery serves as an alternative boundary maintenance mechanism within the organization. Managing usage rights, and consequently software ownership permissions, through the digital protections already provided in the software and hardware systems is often justified to 'protect users from themselves,' but with consequences for information exchange. Organizational emphasis on data privacy, file sharing, and security compete against pressures toward information openness in the university setting. The closed-machine system of dealing with privacy, security, and consequently ownership, align with the professional boundary maintenance efforts of computing professionals and is reinforced by bureaucratic organizational concerns of the university in desired outcome, if not fully in terms of philosophy or justification. Academic and technological scripts of openness and autonomy present opportunities for computing professionals to broadly interpret the increasingly restrictive policies on who can have full access to computing machinery. Rather than resist closed systems through rule breaking, copying, "stealing," or "piracy," computer professionals resist closed systems through active support of open source technologies, through extra efforts at ensuring interoperability among different computing platforms and programs, and primarily for those computer users who can also be defined as computer experts.


Cleveland, L.L. Wrangling software: Computing professionals and the interpretation of software ownership in the university computing environment. Ph.D. thesis, University of Minnesota. Retrieved August 5, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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