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Purpose: This paper reviews ethical issues inherent in the theorisation and practice of knowledge management (KM) with specific attention to the conflict of knowledge ownership between organisations and individual employees.

Design/methodology/approach: Relevant literature was identified and reviewed via EBSCO host and ISIWeb.

Findings: The paper notes that knowledge, although rooted in individuals, is often claimed or treated as owned by organisations, creating a conflict of knowledge ownership. The paper argues that such an approach to appropriation and management of knowledge leads to tension in knowledge processes between organisations and individuals, and also among individuals. This situation may, in turn, jeopardise individuals’ knowledge processing behaviours, and pose difficulties to organisations in managing knowledge effectively.

Research implications: Offers a number of potential research questions that may be turned into research hypotheses and assessed experimentally to refine and develop an ethical approach to KM.

Practical implications: Highlights the need for a renewed moral contract between individuals and organisations, built on ethical constructs of trust, fairness, and justice, which may in turn lead to effective KM practices.

Originality/value: Offers an original conceptual approach to understand and resolve the conflict of knowledge ownership between organizations and individuals.


This is the authors' manuscript of a work originally published in the Journal of Knowledge Management, available at



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