Congratulations to Gabe Menard recipient of the Daniel G. Hill Prize for Best Graduate Paper in Sociology

Gabe MenardPhD student Gabe Menard is the 2016 recipient of the Daniel G. Hill Prize for the Best Graduate Paper in Sociology. This award is presented annually to an Ontario resident graduate student and is chosen on the basis of the quality of a paper published between July and June of the award year.

Gabe received the award for his paper, “Copyright, Digital Sharing, and the Liberal Order: Sociolegal Constructions of Intellectual Property in the Era of Mass Digitization.” which was published earlier this year in Information, Communication & Society. This paper grew out of the paper Gabe wrote in the Second-year Research Practicum course; we featured it earlier in our From Practicum to Publication series.  We have pasted the citation and abstract below.

Copyright, digital sharing, and the liberal order: sociolegal constructions of intellectual property in the era of mass digitization


Intellectual property (IP) rights policy has long been driven by rights-holder interests, leading to IP regimes focused on protecting private property at the expense of broadening public access to cultural works. The rise of instant, low-cost digital sharing practices, however, forces the sociolegal construction of IP as ‘property’ into crisis by contradicting the conception of creative works as commodities that can be exclusively ‘owned’ and exchanged. This cuts into a classic social science debate over how best to balance individual rights against collective interests, which has played out in liberal society through tensions between contradictory principles seeking to uphold the sanctity of private property (the principle of ‘Individual Freedom’) while also correcting social inequality (the ‘Equal Means’ principle). While IP policy has historically developed largely in accordance with Individual Freedom, digital sharing of creative works is premised instead on Equal Means. As these forces collide, the question at stake is whether crisis in the status quo conception of property rights disrupts existing power relations, with implications for the logic of policy development in the digital age. To address this question, I test for continuity of the predominant trend in IP policy-making using recent legislative changes to the Canadian copyright regime. I find that, contrary to expectations, policy changes do not manifestly favor rights-holders. Rather, legislative outcomes are split between modest protections for rights-holders and clear gains for rights of open access. I take this as evidence of the increasing complexification of IP policy in response to mass digitization.



BJS Prize for article on social media in the Egyptian Uprising

bjs-certificateCongratulations to Professor Robert Brym and graduate students Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard and Tony Huiquan Zhang who recently received the British Journal of Sociology 2016 Prize for their co-authored article, Social Media in the 2011 Egyptian Uprising.

Established in 2009, the BJS award is presented bi-annually to the authors of an article published in the past 24 months that “in the opinion of the judges, makes an outstanding contribution to increasing sociological knowledge.” The article by Brym, Godbout, Hoffbauer, Menard and Zhang was published in May 2014. Professor Brym recently attended the BJS Annual Lecture at the London School of Economics and accepted the prize on behalf of the team. While there, he recorded a short podcast about the paper and the experience writing, publishing and receiving the honour. Congratulations to all five authors!

You can access the winning paper here. The following is the citation and abstract:

Brym, R., Godbout, M., Hoffbauer, A., Menard, G. and Zhang, T. H. (2014), Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising. The British Journal of Sociology, 65: 266–292. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12080

This paper uses Gallup poll data to assess two narratives that have crystallized around the 2011 Egyptian uprising: (1) New electronic communications media constituted an important and independent cause of the protests in so far as they enhanced the capacity of demonstrators to extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events, and warn comrades of real-time threats. (2) Net of other factors, new electronic communications media played a relatively minor role in the uprising because they are low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attract many sympathetic onlookers who are not prepared to engage in high-risk activism. Examining the independent effects of a host of factors associated with high-risk movement activism, the paper concludes that using some new electronic communications media was associated with being a demonstrator. However, grievances, structural availability, and network connections were more important than was the use of new electronic communications media in distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers. Thus, although both narratives have some validity, they must both be qualified.

P2P Regulating Digital Rights

Every student in the Sociology PhD program at the University of Toronto completes the Research Practicum course in their second year. This course involves each student working directly on a research project with a faculty member through the various stages of research and writing while also meeting with other graduate students in the course to tackle the hurdles of clarifying, strengthening, and sharpening one’s ideas in a journal-length research article. In this series, we highlight the practicum papers that went on to become published articles, and the students who wrote them.

Menard, Gabriel. “Copyright, Digital Sharing, and the Liberal Order: Sociolegal Constructions of Intellectual Property in the Era of Mass Digitization.” Information, Communication & Society, ISSN 1369-118X, 08/2016, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp. 1061 – 16

One of the defining features of our age is the ability to share information, ideas, knowledge, and entertainment in ways never before imaginable. Gabriel Menard began the PhD program with an interest in the social and political implications of the internet and instant communications technology. For him, the practicum was an opportunity to explore some ideas he had about the tension between access to information and regulation.

When he began planning for the practicum, Gabriel decided to ask Professor Jack Veugelers to supervise the project. Professor Veugelers is a specialist in social movements, political sociology and social theory. Though Veugelers’ own research is not connected to intellectual property rights, Gabriel knew he would provide useful support for this project because he had worked with Professor Veugelers as a Research Assistant and had developed a strong rapport with him throughout that project, What impressed Gabriel the most about Professor Veugelers was his ability to condense a “messy jumble of thoughts and ideas into a very clear and succinct summary of points.” Gabriel said that it didn’t really matter that his paper wasn’t in Professor Veuguelers’ substantive area of research, because he knew that his keen analytic mind would help him make sure he had all the elements of a strong paper in place. In the end, he found that the advice he received from Professor Veugelers was instrumental throughout the project, but especially crucial when Gabriel was revising the paper for publication. Professor Veugelers helped him restructure the paper around a cohesive narrative, and to fine-tune the analysis so as to more effectively communicate his findings.

Gabriel’s paper focuses on copyright reform in Canada. He started the project hoping that the Canadian case could illustrate some of the complexities of IP reform – and the tension between access and regulation – with more nuance than previous literature. The guiding research question is whether digitization of communications and media is having an impact on the development of intellectual property rights regimes. Gabriel was interested in this because it taps into a much broader discussion of whether and how digital technology disrupts existing institutions. With intellectual property rights, the tendency for a long time has been for rights protections to increase over time (with consequences for access to information and social inequality), but it seems digital technology might be disrupting this trend. The paper was about exploring that disruption.

For data, Gabriel used the text of legislative committee meetings, Parliamentary debates, and bills related to copyright reform in Canada (centering on the 2012 Copyright Modernization Act). During the practicum period, he accessed the data online, coded it for what stakeholders in the debate sought during committee meetings (as copyright reform was being considered), and compared that with the policies that came out of the reform process and into law.

By the time he finished the practicum, Gabriel had fully analyzed this data and found that, contrary to what much of the literature would lead one to expect, corporate interests are poorly represented in outcomes of the reform process. This finding caused him to interrogate the data through a variety of theoretical lenses. The practicum was a great venue for this. It provided him with the opportunity to explore a variety of literatures, theoretical frameworks, and academic perspectives even while focusing on his own particular research questions. Gabriel claims that the most useful aspect for him was the sheer diversity of feedback, which helped him consider the project from a wide variety of angles. Ultimately, Gabriel suggests that the poor representation of corporate interests is bound up with the rise of internet sharing practices which force us to reconsider longstanding assumptions about how, and to what extent, creative works can (or should) be exclusively controlled by individual legal ‘owners’ of those works.

When he finished the course, Gabriel’s paper was solid but he felt that it was bulky and cumbersome to read. He presented a draft at the annual European Consortium for Political Research Workshop in Spain shortly after the practicum had finished, and used the summer and part of the fall to consolidate his feedback. In early January, Gabriel submitted a revised draft to Information, Communication & Society, and the article was accepted for publication.