Week 8: OERs – The copyright question

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba.

Our instructor has asked us:

Is the preponderance of different types of licenses making it easier to reuse resources, or is it adding another layer of complexity which in effect works to place a barrier on using oer? In other words, are all these divergent licenses actually restricting the ways in which resources can be reused? Would it be simpler if we just had copyrighted work, which had to be cleared and public domain work which was free to use. Post your reflections in your blog.

The short answer is ‘yes’, all these divergent licences are restricting the ways in which resources can be reused, and ‘yes’ it would be simpler if we just had copyright work which was all rights reserved or public domain.  But would it be better without them?  I’m not so sure.

If you consider the original purpose of copyright as declared in the US constitution and referenced by wikipedia article about copyright being “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” you would have to wonder what all the fuss is about.  It seems quite reasonable to allow limited periods of exclusivity as a reward for one’s labours.  Sadly, the original intent of copyright has been perverted over many years to serve as a means of protecting corporate incomes.  As reported by Wikipedia, the limited period in particular has ballooned from a period of less than 30 years for an individual in 1790 to 120 years for a corporation in 2008.

So why have permissive licences become so tangled and complicated in terms of the variations in restrictions?  Are we making it all too hard for ourselves?  I think part of the answer relates to altruistic protections ensuring that work shared for the common good of all is not exploited for profits.  For example, licencing your work for non-commercial use (cc-nd). Another example is the share-a-like licence which requires any derivative works propagate the same licencing terms, ensuring they too remain in the public domain.

The other major aspect to this is the egoboo factor.  The term egoboo refers to the ego boost one receives as a result of sharing their work with the world (online).  The creative commons base licence and all derivatives ensure attribution as a requirement to using one’s work. This reminds me of a blog post relating to a presentation by George Siemens where he discusses the concepts of connectives and collectives in the context of networks.  He suggests that while humans like to be social and part of things larger than ourselves, to a certain extent, we also crave autonomy, individualism, and recognition for our own personal contributions to the wider network in which we reside.  Egoboo is part of this desire.

Denying ourselves a sense of individualism and a source of egoboo may well be more counter-productive than negotiating the complex array of open licences. In short, without the flexibility afforded by the range of licencing options, there may well exist significantly less desire to share works at all.  It is perhaps another one of life’s necessary evils.


Copyrights of publicly funded research

I am responding to a blog post by Stu where he highlights the benefits of the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

Artefacts created by publicly funded institutions should be licensed in the public domain, using licences such as the creative commons. I agree with you Stu. This ensures that it remains in the public domain, including all derivatives for future generations to enjoy. As a semi-active researcher, it bothers me that I no longer hold the copyright to papers that I have written and published in journals. In fact, one publisher had the gall to reprint a paper I wrote as a book chapter, and then asked me to buy the book, and encourage my institution’s library to do the same.

As a researcher it also frustrates me when I come up against paywalls for articles. It is frightening to me just how much of the global body of knowledge is owned by such a small number of very large corporate conglomerates. I am encouraged by the actions of Princeton University and many others who are creating policy:

aimed at broadening the reach of their scholarly work and encouraging publishers to adjust standard contracts that commonly require exclusive copyright as a condition of publication.

Academic publishers have been on a good wicket for a long time.  It’s time for a change.

Week 2: Introduction to Open Educational Resources (OERs)

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba.

Open Educational Resources provide an opportunity for educators both individually and as collectives (such as institutions) to work collaboratively rather than competitively on the creation of knowledge and artefacts.  These artefacts can vary ranging from topical content, lesson plans, and teaching approaches, to curriculum maps, and assessment tasks.  The output of these collaborative efforts are then freely available under special copyright licensing for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing to a world-wide audience.  So why a special copyright license?  Consider the following very prolific Australian advertisement.

This advertisement is placed at the commencement of all (legally) purchased DVD and Blu-ray movies in Australia and has done-so for the past 10 years.  Copyright provides a legal mechanism for creators of non-tangible goods based on intellect, to be protected in a similar way to tangible goods.   You wouldn’t steal a car, right? Modern society in the 21st Century has seen an information revolution where knowledge and content has shifted from scarcity to abundance, making it a commodity that can be easily traded, shared and also stolen.  But is it really stolen?

The concept of reuse, adaption and sharing through copying is quite a shift from the traditions that have held for so long.  Ironically OER initiatives seek to use copyright law provisions to protect similar non-tangible goods from exclusivity and control.  The creative commons licence states that any reuse of such licenced material must also be licenced the same way.  An example of theft in this instance could be a company taking creative commons (non-commercial) work and selling it as their own.

The ultimate measure of whether there is any future for OERs is whether business models can be successfully built around it.  Altruism alone in my view will not sustain the OER movement.  A large part of the world economy is based on the capitalist model – a free and open market for trade in all manner of wares, including non-tangibles such as intellectual property.  This is a competitive model of wealth creation where scarcity and exclusivity provide an edge or advantage.  The principles of the OER movement shifts more towards a communist model where ownership is less important and collaboration is favoured over competition.

After reading about both the Cape Town and Budapest declarations, I am undecided as to whether I would sign.  The declarations hold high ideals in the interests of the greater good, but when faced with the pressures of capitalism to return on investment, ideals are easily compromised.  It would be a worthwhile exercise to follow-up on institutional signers and evaluate their performance against the strategies outlined in the declarations to see whether they are holding to their ideals.

The Cape Town Declaration’s 3rd strategy (Open education policy) makes specific mention of government funded educational resources, ideally being open in the vein of OERs.  In the Australian higher education context, and despite a more left-wing government, there is a continual push towards a competitive model between institutions.  While an OER approach among government funded universities would be quite advantageous in terms of pooling resources and sharing work, it does mean Universities will have to find other ways to differentiate themselves to again compete for market share and funding.

Considering the ideas expressed by Eric S. Raymond in the Cathedral and the Bazaar, there is evidence to suggest that sound business models have emerged in the open source software movement.  Companies like Red Hat, and Canonical have managed to carve out a market and survive and prosper by bundling and supporting the open source operating system GNU/Linux.  Educational institutions may well be able to innovative in other ways to give them an edge over their competitors, while sharing intellectual property through OERs.

Always interesting times.