Posts tagged creativecommons

OpenEd week 13 - The OpenCourseWars

The OpenCourseWars (13 pages) is a short story depicting a possible future for open education from a historical perspective. Written by David Wiley, it is both highly entertaining and informative. It not only has given me more insight in some problematic issues of open licensing and consequences, but also shows interesting and appealing futures of learning with in an open education landscape. After an overview of the most important issues, and some personal reactions, I describe my personal ideas about the future of open education, from a slightly different persective than David’s.

2005 – 2012: The OpenCourseWars

The initial beauty of open education quite rapidly turns grey with problems of the NC license again, with public opinion turning against OCW. Problems with defining Non-Commercial quickly becomes not only a theoretical problem, but a real problem indeed:

Creative Commons’ own publicly posted discussion draft of Proposed Best Practice Guidelines to Clarify the Meaning of Non-Commercial in the Creative Commons Licenses suggested we approach the meaning of the term noncommercial from the “Nature of the User”. To put it simply, the guidelines asked if the would-be user of the noncommercially-licensed material was an individual or non-profit institution. If so, everything was kosher. If not (if the would-be user was a for-profit company), then they were not permitted to use materials. Seems very straightforward, right? MIT OCW, however, saw things in a very different way. They provided their own definition of Noncommercial, in which they said, “Determination of commercial vs. non-commercial purpose is based on the use, not the user”, and that as long as you’re not trying to make money off of their materials, they were cool with whatever else you did.

So on the one hand you had Creative Commons suggesting that Noncommercial should be determined by the nature of the user, and on the other hand you had MIT OCW defining the very same clause of the very same license in the completely opposite way. I had known about this problem for years, and had email discussions with a number of people at both Creative Commons and MIT hoping to get it fixed. But the problem was extremely thorny politically, and nothing had happened yet.

The publishers, clearly not very happy with the whole open education movement, follow with a brilliant strategy attacking the NC clause, and win in court: the NC clause is struck down, and all the content that used to be licensed only for non-commercial use, suddenly became available for commercial use. After this apparent success by the publishers, they could now use and commercially distribute the OCW content, which they did. Still, they would be obliged to mention the Creative Commons license, and share the (now commercial) content under the same open license (Share-Alike). Surprisingly, they even ignored this clause, and they did not Share-Alike, because the publishers thought they could attack and bring down the SA clause as well… but to no avail, and to their own demise.

This lack of judgment started a great new movement in open education, led by students, who happily participated in creating a vast infrastructure of open content. But… another licensing war mounted the surface: CC versus GFDL. This was settled as well, finally, and then there was the dawn of a beautiful period in open education: power to the people, in this case students. David uses the following quote to explain that younger university faculty started to ignore the standard opencoursewares altogether in favor of working:
Putting professors’ lecture notes and things on an university website where students can’t trib test questions and photos and things makes about as much sense as using email. It’s for old people who just don’t get it. I mean, even this eBook reader thing I just got from my sister (who finally graduated, by the way) is pointless. Why would anyone use a device that won’t let you trib
Tribbing is contributing, as you might expect. On the other hand, the opencoursewares are R/O, or read-only, and is "associated with the kind of “authority” young folks want to rebel against, and embodies an entire generation’s frustration with top-down, un-democratic, un-participatory approaches generally.”

Following the pandemonium concerning licensing, opencoursewares, and learner participation, a new kind of university emerged: the competency-based university, where students only had to pass a test or exam to be accredited. One of the first universities adopting this model, a traditional online university, started an IBM/Linux like collaboration with the largest site for open content educational materials, creating an enormous synergy; increasing the quality of learning materials, and cost savings for the university itself. A spin-off of the university provided an additional service, where students could approach experts worldwide through Skype for personalized support, paying a certain fee. This service initiated a kind of e-lance economy in itself, because anyone could be an expert. These experts, most of them students, were not inclined to give bad service, because they would be rated by the user, and bad ratings lowered their future chance on flexible employment.

NB.Despite the beauty of the above depicted future, I have an extra note about the accreditation-only model: it will only be valuable if the diploma itself represents value, which depends on the type of assessment: if it is personal, competency-based, and practical, I think these universities might have a chance for survival. If they don’t, and assess students with normal exams and tests, I see little future in this model.

An important quote in the postlude represents the most important difficulty with current OCW initiatives:

Generally speaking, OCWs were difficult-to-sustain R/O endeavors that relied on relatively small numbers of university employees and outside funding. As important as they were, they could never scale and were unsustainable in the ways their original funders wanted them to be. On the other hand, OER projects were generally democratic remix projects that lived and died on the quality of the trib’ing.

Embracing the trib culture, David says, opens up opportunities for new business models and new ways of learning, something I totally agree with. He created a very interesting future history of open educational resources, going through different transitions, mentioning important problems in licensing, student contribution, and describing great opportunities in learning, competition, and creating value in society. In all, the end depicts a very similar look on the future as I have described earlier (and just posted on this blog), about "How I want to wake up one day…".

Criticisms and additions

I will provide some additions and criticisms to the very interesting view on the future of open education, by using the same narrating style David uses.

The shift from a teacher-centered university, with professors standing on a stage and transferring knowledge, towards a learner-centered university happened slowly but steadily, when experts are no longer able to transfer knowledge any better than high quality video and multimedia learning materials. In addition, traditional classes turned into some kind of open (and closed) discussion groups in an online virtual world, and face-to-face interaction started to happen in smaller groups for brainstorming and praxis, and large groups in conference like gatherings, organized by students.

Decentralization started to spread into all facets of the learning process, including curricula: students were more and more able to follow learning tracks personalized for them. When the point was reached that faculty and university educators were no longer able to make personalized tracks for each and every one of them, this process is finally decentralized and students were able to make their own learning profile and track, changing and adapting it along the way. Any student could make any track he or she wanted, by aggregating courses, and finding experts to help him (gain knowledge, get employed). These experts were initially paid by universities to do this, but later on another mechanism started to mount, replacing this financial incentive with another one. Lifelong learners got involved in this process, and learning networks came into existence where different facets of society are represented: industry, university, and lifelong learners (including students as we know them today).

Facing quite some opposition, the replacement of normal faculty by these learning networks (ranging from a few to thousands of people) took some time. Learning networks gradually overtook the role assumed for so long by universities: they started to accredit the people in their networks, and were responsible for creating meaningful resources for learning, including challenges and prize competitions, something that became very popular in these learning networks. Universities changed their business models, and flexibly offered hardware (rooms, technology, labs, etc.) and services (creating high-quality materials from bare content, catering, human resource management, etc.) to these learning networks.

New diplomas and certificates were popping up everywhere online, and it seemed that any group was able to give out diplomas, creating quite a disturbance and call for the past. It was not long before a standard appeared, a kind of Netiquette, applying to these diplomas. Diplomas were still given in abundance, but the information relevant to the diplomas were instantly available and linked to the diploma. A group of open source software developers, linked with the group responsible for the diploma Netiquette, created software that aggregated the information of different online diplomas and certificates, automatically scrutinizing them with a number of criteria. Their site,, became the number one portal for certification quality check. In the years to come, they developed an advanced technology that could provide anyone with advise on career and learning, based on all the aggregated information.

When trust in diplomas and certificates was restored, other facets became more important. Since any learner was putting their learner results directly on the web, data about their added value was much more consistent and valid than any diploma, which soon assumed a decorative role, a kind of achievement award, only to be given to persons really having shown something, and usually in combination with some kind of research fund. Someone’s online ID, being aggregated by more and more advanced machines, took over the role of certification, and after the students, the companies and industry quickly became aware of this. For persons in a learning network, this created another incentive to add value to a network, because added value would return to you in employment opportunities, and/or access to expertise. Adding value clearly happens not just personal social networks, but merely in professional learning networks. A person’s online ID, combined with the social and professional “tacit” contacts, provided everything a person needed. If someone was not inclined to help anyone in his or her learning (and, by now employment network), (s)he was probably not helped either.

OpenED Week 7: Copyright issues (cont’d)

This week continues the interesting topic of copyright, copyleft, and the public domain. The following resources have been digested this week;

QUESTIONS: Can you think of license options that CC is currently missing that would benefit the open education movement? As the CC and GFDL licenses are incompatible, how can OCW content be legally remixed with Wikipedia content? Some people claim that the Creative Commons ShareAlike clause provides most of the protections people want to secure from the Creative Commons NonCommercial clause. What do you think these people mean, are they right, and why? Is copyleft good for the open education movement? Why or why not?

Instead of making a personal (independent) blogpost on copyright issues, I have tried to reflect more on other people’s thinking this week.. I have taken some of the blogposts about this subject that interested me most, and criticized, applauded, or augmented them with my own musings. In remixing my thoughts with others, I hope to answer some of the questions above. First my favorite Creative Commons video:

Fair use… morality & control-ability

I question the implication that remixing Wikipedia content “illegally” would cause problems. I really don’t think that a non-profit organization as Wikimedia will bother much tracking and suing people or institutions who do this, because they don’t care and don’t have money. A rich institution like MIT, who might care about reuse (Open Courseware licenses are usually somewhat restrictive), and has the money and expertise to proceed, will still be very careful I reckon. Their name and fame, for many institutions and individuals a motivations for opening up, is at stake when publicly going to court without clear moral backings. An example is Blackboard, a company that became widely despised after their failed patent suit. Especially if the remixing concerns free educational content or expanding knowledge worldwide, which is in line with the objective of Wikipedia and MIT. In my opinion, Meg asks the right question:

"Why haven’t we focused more on expanding “fair use”? Certainly this would be one way around the above conundrum [i.e. “illegal remixing”]. It would also help solve problems with using copyright materials.”

Rob Barton has a similar view:

"I hope something can be worked out so these licenses can be more compatible with each other, but it seems unlikely to happen quickly. In the mean time, it may just be a liberal application of fair use that allows a mixture among the various incompatible licenses, along with a sprinkle of a gentleman’s agreement not to sue."

And there we are… Like Meg, Rob is not seeking the license incompatibility in more licenses or license agreements, but in an expansion of fair use, or gentleman’s agreement not to sue. But then… who will decide on the fair use..? I think no one in particular, but the process of use and reuse, of remixing and adapting, and of claims and cases, will in the end make out what is to be allowed, and what not, and that this will become clear for the end-user. It might be just better to see how things evolve over time, let people do things wrong (who hasn’t ever downloaded films or mp3’s illegally?) than to commission some kind of document containing the ultimate solution.

  • Letting the definition of fair use evolve and expand over time to overcome license incompatibility is better than to design new licenses and set new rules.

In addition to this intelligent perspective of redefining fair use, I question the control-ability. I can imagine it will be pretty difficult to monitor restrictions imposed by these licenses, or by the people making the resources licensed as such. I think that if the use of resources do not really go against one’s own personal moral standards, one would use them anyhow. I don’t think a small private educational publisher in some poor country would consider asking permission to MIT to use and their resources, especially if they improve them, if their financial position would not even allow the smallest contribution. They would just do it. And maybe even doing a good job, because their competitor might offer similar resources for a much higher price…

  • Moral values are stronger indicators for the reuse and remixability of artifacts than rules and restrictions.

Creative “intermediary” licenses?

Greg Francom explains his opinion about Creative Commons and educational content, and I was tended to agree with him, but later on, I was somewhat reluctant to agree with him.

"Is any restriction of freedoms bad? I can see the value of having intermediary licenses such as share alike and non-commercial as a kind of gateway to help apprehensive individuals begin to license their original work. These licenses, however, still restrict end users from using resources in certain ways as David Wiley points out. I agree with him that the ideal and future goal is the public domain.”

Greg has a good point: the wide range of licenses will get more people involved, but other aspects, such as the presentation and the entry level are important as well. As Rob says:

"CC works because it is simple, and I believe it is important to keep it that way."
Rob Barton is right… keep the barrier low! Make and present it simple! This is key, because otherwise most people will get confused and NOT license their content.. which subsequently becomes copyrighted automatically. The presentation of the of the CC licenses on the Creative Commons website, their great videos and their international marketing, in combination with the wide range of possibilities, is attractive to nearly anyone.

Regarding the restrictions of some Creative Commons licenses, I acknowledge the difficulties mentioned, but I do not agree to the full 100% with Greg, Wayne's and David's concerns. I would want any licensee to consider his/her license very well, and that the choice of license should be an informed one. So when someone chooses a specific license, specify the main problems that relate to this license. Make the NC and SA discussions as clear as the licenses themselves, and inform institutions about it. I also agree that Non-Commercial and Share-Alike clauses sometimes create inefficiency or incompatibility, but I don't think that the ideal and future goal for learning materials is solely in the public domain… I will try to explain that by commenting on another quote by Greg:

"I think that when people say that share-alike will cover all of the needs of the non-commercial clause… […] If a company sells a creative item that is licensed with the share-alike clause and not the non-commercial one, then they are also required to release this item for free to the general public. Selling an item that you must also provide free to the public would not work very well."
Mmm… Share-Alike covering all the needs of the Non-Commercial clause… I don’t think so. Imagine me being professional photographer, and I put my pictures online under CC-By-SA. Some other guy could for instance make a beautiful photo book, or agenda, with my pictures, and sell that commercially. He could bring out this book as Share-Alike, meaning that anyone interested in re-publishing or remixing this photo book would have to name the original author (me), and put the same CC license on it as I originally put on it. But he would be able to sell the photo book or agenda or whatever other artifact he made out of my photo material. And there are situations thinkable when I would not agree to this, for example when I sell my own photo books and agendas on my website.

  • Share-Alike and Non-Commercial are complementary, not the same.

Greg forgets that remixing can happen in different ways and that Sharing Alike is not just copy-paste the original content and provide it online under a Creative Commons license. Remixing is adding content, changing, localizing, translating… etc..: which means adding value. And the remixer might want to be paid for that added value, which is totally acceptable. Or the original creator might not be willing to enable remixers this kind of use… because it interferes with their own business model, or just because it does not feel good… which might be a pity, but totally acceptable as well.

  • Not offering the Non-Commercial clause will create more copyrighted material.
  • The future of open learning materials resides in the whole copyright spectrum: copyleft is good for education.
To explain this in more detail, consider the value for the creator if he (or she) can commercialize his artifact, whilst putting it openly on the Internet. I have explained that not allowing him to forbid commercial use by others means that he might copyright his stuff. By acknowledging potential future or current commercial value for the creator you draw individuals and institutions into a more open, or less restricted, domain. In fact, more reuse and remix possibilities are achieved because of Creative Commons and copyleft. Möller states that
"there may be circumstances where -NC is the only (and therefore best) available option, but that number of circumstances should decrease as the business models around free content evolve."

And he may be right that commercial use might even create more value in the end, but shouldn’t this judgment be made by the creator?

Value of Public Domain

To get back on last week’s discussion about what the value of the public domain is versus CC… I think I want to point out to Greg Francom that he should not forget the opportunity losses when you do not offer other licensing options to individuals, which might be less ideal for the remixer. If they do not license their content, you know it will be copyrighted and all rights reserved. I believe in the diversity of possibilities offered by CC and think that a much larger number of people would open license their materials if all options are offered, isn’t that real openness? I can imagine different situations where the creator indeed would restrict the use somewhat, because otherwise he or she will not be able to profit from it. I agree that the public domain is more useful for the remixer, but what about the value of reputation of the original creator?

  • If you do not specifically disallow commercial use by including the Non-Commercial clause in your CC license, it is possible that you will loose some opportunities for making money out of your CC licensed content, whether educational or not.

Another thing I would like to stress is the relative risk of imposing some rights on an artifact. The owner of the artifact A who reserves some rights, always runs the risk that there is a viable alternative artifact B licensed less strict, and the remixer will prefer B at the cost of the owner of A.

  • Restricting reuse on an artifact involves the risk of replacement by a more openly licensed alternative.

Stephen Downes, as one would expect, has an opinion about the NC (Non-Commercial) clause of Creative Commons:

"And again I iterate that the only people harmed by CC-NC-By are commercial exploiters who seek to cordon off the market for academic content as their own and to systematically loot it for their own benefit and at the expense of people who most need free - and noncommercial - content."

Is there no commercial use possible that will enhance the product? There are arguments in favour of enabling commercial use, because that will stimulate innovation around the content, or provide services to people, making the content or product more attractive. Open source experiences usually provide us with an answer, with a longer history in open licensing. You could argue that commercial exploitation of open source software has caused successful adoption of it. Take Linux, which is the foundation of many large businesses, not only having instrumental value (as the software used within the company), but as the core around which the business is built. I don’t think anyone can deny that commercial use can have a positive effect on the development of open content, whether software or educational resources.

So what exactly is commercial use? I do not specifically know in what way open source software forms the “raison d’être” of organizations like RedHat or SuSe. The source code remains open, I suppose, but the code that is added as well? Translated to educational resources, what about adding pictures, changing the format, and specifying the resource to a specific context, and sell the package to customers that are in need of such a thing? Should this be forbidden? Or don’t you agree that this enhances public value? I suppose commercial applications in many cases form the last step towards true end-user value. The valorization of half-useful open educational resources cannot or may not happen without at least some commercial exploitation. We should not forget that these organizations or people do add some significant value to the resources, whether it is in marketing, aggregation, contextualization, or in any other service value. People or organizations sometimes do not have the time or knowledge to search and aggregate, put into sequence, translate, or fine-tune content that is freely available online. Why should it made impossible if there are people/organizations willing to do that for a certain prize? You see that I here criticize NC, but I am not against it, as I explained earlier.

So.. is Creative Commons perfect?

No. It is not, and I don’t think they claim to be. Although there are a lot of options available to the users of the licenses, some are left out. Some of us discussed the Attribution clause, which is included in every Creative Commons license. I agree that this should not be always included, because one could think of instances where, for example, you don’t care that they attribute your content, but you want your content to be shared alike. I also think that users of CC-NC licenses should be able to define instances of commercial use they want to disallow: "Some Commercial Use Reserved". In that way the creator can protect the commercial value of his creation in more specific terms, meanwhile opening up for other uses, including commercial ones, which might increase value in the long term.

Interesting… the definition of “free” (According to OXFORD English Dictionary)

1 not under the control or in the power of another. 2 permitted to take a specified action. 3 not or no longer confined, obstructed, or fixed. 4 not subject to engagements or obligations. 5 not occupied or in use. 6 (free of/from) not subject to or affected by. 7 available without charge. 8 generous or lavish. 9 frank and unrestrained. not subject to the normal conventions; improvised. (of a translation or interpretation) conveying only the broad sense; not literal.

OpenEd week 6 - Copyright

This week, and the next, will be centered around copyright issues. Initially I regarded this as something not so interesting, but after reading some background material (including a comic book, Bound by Law), and grasping the valid concerns stated by the authors, my interest had grown like a lotus in the mud. It is a truly interesting and dynamic domain, and the decisions made nowadays will greatly influence our future possibility to stand on "the shoulders of giants", small or large. I will shortly discuss the public domain, copyright, and the rise of open licenses in relation to these concerns with copyright legislation. Also, the relation with open educational resources, and the value of these if being put in the public domain, is discussed.

The following background readings in copyright and the public domain have been used in this blogpost. Basics of copyright
I will discuss the basics of copyright to start with, followed by a short explanation of the public domain and the open licenses that cover the space between these two extremities. Copyright is an apparently simple right to get or have: the origin of the work has to be in the author holding the copyright. Copyrights hold for
  • Books, manuscripts and speeches and other nondramatic literary works
  • Computer programs
  • Music (lyrics and recordings)
  • Cartoons and comic strips
  • Photographs
  • Drawings, prints, and other works of visual arts
  • Motion pictures and video recordings
  • Dramatic scripts, plays, and screenplays
  • Games
The rights related to copyright concern reproduction (also of derivative works), production and distribution of copies, and the performance and display of the work publicly. Two moral rights are recognized by the US as well, which concern attribution and integrity. They allow the author of a work to claim authorship and to prevent the use of his/her name for something he/she did not create or for a derivative. Moral and copyrights are not omnivalent, some cultural works, such as sound recordings and architectural works can be protected by other rights. The length of the copyright depends on the year of origin of a work, and of course the country where the material comes from, because of differences in laws over time and geography. Fair use implies that copyrighted material can be used "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research". It also applies in other areas, as some of the examples below:
  • Quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment;
  • Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations;
  • Use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied;
  • Summary of an address or article with brief quotations, in a news report;
  • Reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy;
  • Reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson;
  • Reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports;
  • Incidental and fortuitous reproduction in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.
Public domain
On the other side of the spectrum there is the public domain, where works can be used for whatever reason by whomever. Unlike earlier days, it now applies that if works are published without further notice, they are copyrighted, instead of part of the public domain. Instances of public domain works include works where copyright is expired, governmental works, titles/slogans/names and other works that cannot be copyrighted (although possible with trademarks), forfeiture, and abandonment (through for example Creative Commons licensing). It is impossible to appropriate or copyright content that belongs to the public domain.

It is interesting to discuss the boundaries of public domain and copyright. It could be difficult to distinguish PD and copyrighted content, and because of that, people may use apparent PD works (but are not PD) to develop new works (derivatives), which they put in the public domain, and that is illegal. A number of open licenses, or copyleft licenses have been brought into existence, to grant some subset of copyright to the public or to prevent commercialization or other use not intended by the creator, and to improve the reuse and remix of works. They usually forbid proprietary distribution, but can include more specifications on how to use the material (software, images, etc.).

The space between
The GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License, used by, amongst others, Wikipedia) and Creative Commons licenses exert a number of controls on the use of the work they license, but what controls exactly and how do they differ from copyright and public domain?
  • Public domain comprises the body of knowledge and innovation (especially creative works such as writing, art, music, and inventions) in relation to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction. This body of information and creativity is considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage, which, in general, anyone may use or exploit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes. (Wikipedia)
  • The purpose of GFDL is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document “free” in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this license preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others. This license is a kind of “copyleft”, which means that derivative works of the document must themselves be free in the same sense.
  • The GFDL can be compared with the Creative Commons (CC) Attribution/ShareAlike license. Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from “All Rights Reserved” to “Some Rights Reserved.” In specific, these are the most common options Creative Commons offers;
    • Attribution (By). You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request.

    • Noncommercial (NC). You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only

    • No Derivative Works (ND). You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.

    • Share Alike (SA). You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.

Creative Commons offer to license your work using other ‘open licenses’ that are most commonly used, or to copyright it, or to put it in the public domain. Actually, almost any type of protection can be found and utilized on their website. Offering your work under a Creative Commons license does not mean giving up your copyright. It means offering some of your rights to any member of the public but only on certain conditions.

So how do these domains relate to each other? Creativity is by no means a stand-alone feature of a person or institution. Quite the contrary, it needs a rich public domain, as been said by Judge Alex Kozinski in the dissenting opinion for the 1993 White v. Samsung Electronics case. Lawrence Lessig, a prolific writer on copyright issues and one of leading persons behind Creative Commons, explains that new cultural works are built on top of others, and that copyright prevents this to happen, because of the trouble of having to consult the copyright owner, buy off the rights, etc. These are all all transaction costs, thus strict copyright legislation will favour large companies over individual creators. The value of the public domain, he explains, cannot only be measured in terms of profit, but also "comes from the content of a work being placed into the Public Domain to be discussed in print, copied, derived, modified, mixed, remixed, or respun into some new work." Copyright would therefore, if applied rigorously on almost everything, stifle innovation and progress. And, interestingly, that is quite the opposite of the original intend of setting up copyright legislation, which should "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts".

David Wiley challenges us to think about the value of the public domain in relation to the the "open domain", where works are conditioned, but open to use. As we have seen, there are different ways to openly license your cultural works, allowing different levels of freedom to use, remix, and distribute. The question is impossible to answer, because
  1. No specification is made about which Creative Commons license; and
  2. It is common wisdom that overprotecting works is as dangerous as underprotecting it, and that creativity needs a rich public domain.

Both the public domain and copyrighted domain are needed, because public good requires a mix of public and private. Individuals may find incentives in the possibility of owning their works and being able to make money out of it. Other don’t see the value of protecting it and just give it away to the public. It will depend on the author, but also on the work that is created. Therefore, by asking what would be the net benefit of licensing (ALL) works under the GNU Free Documentation License, would imply that it would be impossible to copyright works. This, in turn, would take away the incentives I just mentioned, causing a negative effect to the public good, because innovation would stifle. Making all works available for reuse and remix under these licenses might not have a positive effect on the net value of the public domain in the longer term.

The same arguments count for the issue of simply placing OER in the public domain and the net benefit for the open educational resources movement. Most educational institutions are (like) private organizations and have to compete with others, and increasingly in an international playing field. Their educational resources therefore, can be considered as something that could be competitive advantageous. By opening up, but not allowing commercial use (which is a difficult clause), the barrier for such an institution becomes lower. Also, because many OER-initiatives depend on the contributions of many individuals, whose reputations are of paramount significance to them, it might be impossible to become sustainable if contributors cannot impose attribution.

As Rufus Pollock explains the reason for copyright; "Thus while making existing knowledge open is optimal (for public value), such a strategy may not be compatible with ensuring its creation in the first place. When the first-best solution of up-front funding is impractical or inefficient we may have to make difficult trade-offs between the costs of restricting access and the benefits of providing creators with greater incentives to produce work."

Evidence shows that the benefit of placing work in the public domain (PD) is that public domain works are more likely to be made available to the public. Pollock also showes that this access to older (PD) works generates value not only for the consumer but also revenue for the firms involved in re-issuing these PD works. Older, coppyrighted works gathering dust in vaults or even rotting away generate no revenue or value for society, and represent a tragedy for any nation’s cultural heritage.

So what about Open Educational Resources?
There are three broad possibilities that apply for educational resources:

  • Do nothing will mean that the works are copyrighted. Still, if openly placed on a website, the works can be used according to the "fair use" doctrine, meaning that copyrighted works can be used without consultation for some educational or non-profit purposes.
  • License your work, and choose a license that is very open (GFDL, CC-By), open with more restrictions for use (CC-By-NC-ND), or plain right copyright it.
  • Give the work to the public domain and state that it is part of the public domain.

We have seen that not doing anything will mean in most countries that the content is copyrighted. This would not be a good option for social welfare. License the work under copyright laws at least makes it clear that it is copyrighted, but will cause it to be used for purposes determined by the author, and permitted by the author. This is not a good option within academic circles either, so that leaves us with a number of open licenses, out of which the creator has to choose a license to his or her likings. Creators need to be informed well, because the different provisions of the Creative Commons licenses can create incompatibility with other works, licensed differently.

Freedom of expression?
Lawrence Lessig explains that the United States (and possibly other nations as well) are currently facing an enormous threats regarding copyright legislation. Strong political movements try to extend copyright terms over longer periods of time, which benefits only the copyright owners. These are, taking into account that copyright already lasts 75, 95, or 120 years (depending on the type of work), family or publishers of the copyrighted content. They have the power to decide if and how material is used. The following premises explain that extending copyright does not create incentives for people that might be responsible for progressing science or creating useful arts, but merely granting a windfall to existing works.

  • Copyright law’s constitutional purpose: to promote the progress of science and the useful arts; and
  • Creativity needs a rich public domain; scientific progress and new useful arts are built on top of existing ones.

Lessig states that this strong political group, existing of lobbyists from Hollywood and recording industry, aren’t so much defending the rights of creators, they’re defending a certain business model. This group intends to create a permission culture, rather than "a world in which there are few barriers to entry, where a blog can create a major political scandal, a $218 digital film can go to the Cannes Film Festival, a podcast can reach tens of thousands of listeners, a mash-up can savagely criticize the government’s respons to a hurricane, where recording and remixing technology better than anything Phil Spector ever had may come bundled free with your laptop." Current copyright legislation creates more and more barriers for creative individuals, who do not possess the time, money, or knowledge to clear their works of copyrighted material. In addition, the clearance itself is an enormous barrier of creating new material to start with.

He also refers to the lack of requirement in current copyright legislation of filing or renewing copyright. This results in a vast domain of works, where "it’s so hard to know what material is available and what material is not available… So there’s this mass of unsorted material out there that could or could not be available for public use creating vast uncertainty. As we said, just at the time that technology is enabling all sorts of new creativity, to build on this material and do stuff with it, the law is getting in the way and locking it up."

In the end, a clear warning is stated by Lawrence Lessig; "We live in a time when our culture is increasingly tone-deaf to legitimate criticisms around the world. If there’s ever a time when we have to open up the opportunity for people to be critical and spread their creative message it’s now. Yet, just at this time, there’s this copyright war that’s shutting down channels of communication in the name of defending property rights. But in defending those property rights what you’re also doing is disabling an extraordinary system of expression that could be doing our democracy an extraordinary bit of good."

Aoki, Boyle, and Jenkins (Bound by Law) confer that although copyright seems to eradicate opportunities for artists, and that copyright might stifle innovation and the progress of science and useful arts, it should not be neglected or violated. It can be a valuable tool for any kind of creator, also when he or she wants to share the work without charge. But they agree with Lessig that the system should not slide out of balance any further. The Creative Commons initiative therefore is very positive, because it provides low barriers for licensing work in any way a person wants. And clear information as well, which is needed to get people and institutions aware of the lost value of overprotecting works. The barriers are extremely low, and it provides, in absence of good copyright legislation, a great counterpart that will make the increasingly complex and abundant online world of information more transparent and useful.

OpenED: Giving Knowledge for Free

Open Educational Resources, past & future (1/3)
Three interesting papers about open educational resources are discussed this week in the course “Introduction to Open Education”, given by David Wiley. These papers, although partly overlapping, show some interesting facts about OER, motivation, production, copyright, and all other related issues, as well as some compelling ideas and arguments about the future learning landscape in which OER have to prove themselves sustainable and useful. Since my thesis focuses on this future, trying to figure out how a sustainable OER environment will look like for Delft University of Technology, and possibly other technical universities, especially the reports that show a glimpse on the future addressed my interests most. Both the OLCOS report as the Atkins, Brown, and Hammond report had a strong focus on the future, where the OECD report mainly introduced OER, described different OER models, showed interesting projects, and included more facts about OER-related aspects. This post will discuss a report commissioned by the OECD, named “Giving Knowledge for Free, the Emergence of Open Educational Resources”.

  • Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD, 2007)
  • Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS, 2007)
  • A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond, 2007)
What do these overviews of the field have in common? What do they emphasize differently? What are the aims of the authors of each report? Do you see a bias toward or against any ideas, organizations, or approaches in any of the reports? Which report spoke the most clearly to you, and why do you think it did? Based on where the field is now, and these initial ideas about where it might go, what part of the open education movement is most interesting to you? Why?

OECD report OECD Report
The OECD commissioned a report on Open Educational Resources, specifically mapping the worldwide OER landscape. Through a large survey amongst universities (and OER stakeholders), several workshops, and based on extensive literature research, the author (Jan Hýlen) and research group tried to answer the following questions:
  • How can sustainable cost/benefit models for OER initiatives be developed?
  • What are the intellectual property rights issues linked to OER initiatives?
  • What are the incentives and barriers for universities and faculty staff to deliver their materials to OER initiatives?
  • How can access and usefulness for the users of OER initiatives be improved?
The OECD report describes the context of its study, and a number of challenges that need to be addressed by educational institutions. It then intends to define open educational resources (OER), by explicating “open”, “educational”, and “resources”. It continues with an overview of all institutions involved, and by explaining the varying setups or models adopted by institutions. Other important current issues that are discussed are the motivational factors of sharing OER, licensing OER, sustainability issues, and access and usefulness of OER. The report ends with a number of policy recommendations on different levels, ranging from international to institutional.

The context and challenges

Through globalization, also in the educational world, universities have to act both more collaboratively and are faced with more intense competition. Universities and educational institutions have been slow to adjust to the needs of lifelong learners, a group increasingly important in the knowledge economy. Technology has caused major economical and social changes, which both offer great opportunities for higher education, as well as pose numerous financial, technical, and qualitative challenges. A number of developments that can have a great impact concern the larger role of learning and games, the rapid growth of creative participation in developing digital content with web 2.0 tools that enable users to “contribute to developing, rating, collaborating and distributing Internet content and to develop and customise Internet applications. The rise of user-created content, or the so-called rise of the amateur creator, is a central pillar of the participative web and comprises various media and creative works (written, audio, visual and combined) created by Internet and technology users (including content from wireless devices such as photos).” This trend is seen by all discussed reports as one of the most important issues influencing the OER landscape.

What are OER and who produce/use them?

So what are open educational resources? The report shows that defining OER is very difficult, but adopt the most commonly used definition of “digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research”. Open educational resources are offered online on websites, mostly in English, and the OECD identified over 3000 Open Courseware sites worldwide in 2007. This is not even a complete picture, because there are numerous sites that do not offer courseware, but freely available educational resources that are not considered courseware. The focus on courseware is that the origins of this worldwide movement can be found at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), with their ground-breaking
Open Courseware (OCW) initiative in 2001. This initiative adopted quite a top-down approach of creating resources, pre-reviews all materials before publicizing it on their website. Many OCW initiatives that followed copied this approach, but some took another turn. The Connexions project for example, which even predates the MIT OCW initiative, enables users of OER to produce or improve OER through easy-to-use tools, addressing the user-generated content culture in a better way. The OECD report shows the different categories of producers of OER, making a distinction in the scale of operation and the type of provider. This last factor is the most interesting; it shows that there are several initiatives, such as MIT OCW and other OCW initiatives, follow a centralized “institution” provider model, whereas others, such as Connexions and MERLOT depend on a community of producers who collaborate “wiki-style” to create content.

The important issues for providers of OER

There are numerous reasons for institutions and individuals to use, share and create open educational resources. Because my task is to develop a plan for the OER project at my university (and possibly other technical universities), the results of the research findings interested me very much. For example, the respondents indicate that barriers for producing and using OER in their own educational setting are little support from management & no reward system, lack of time & skills, and little interest in pedagogical innovation. A lack of business model for open content, something pointed out as an important challenge in the OLCOS report, has a negative influence in the production of OER as well. An important finding is that for individuals altruistic reasons are not as important as more personal practical considerations. After a few interviews with participating teachers at my university that certainly holds true. On the other hand, (possible) financial gain is considered by respondents as the least important factor for sharing and contributing resources. More than 60% percent of the respondents found the following issues very important in the production of OER (in order of importance):
  • Be acknowledged as the creator, also when resource is changed/adapted;
  • Have a quality review of the resource;
  • Know the changes made to the resource;
  • Know how the resource is used and by whom;
  • Be rewarded personally for contributions (not financial).
The motivation for institutions to be involved in this “open” movement comes forth from both positive altruistic, financial and marketing effects, and from threats and negative effects of not being involved. The drivers for involvement are the same as mentioned in other reports, such as better access, better hardware (including cameras, mobile technologies, media equipment) and software (i.e. Web 2.0 tools) that empower users to develop and improve online content. The following table gives a nice overview of the drivers, inhibitors and motivations for developing and sharing open educational resources.




Widening participation in higher education Altruistic reasons Altruistic or community supportive reasons
Bridge the gap between non-formal, informal and formal learning Leverage on taxpayers’ money by allowing free sharing and reuse between institutions Personal non-monetary gain
Promote lifelong learning “What you give, you receive back improved” Commercial reasons

Good public relations and showcase to attract new students It is not worth the effort to keep the resource closed

Growing competition – new cost recovery models are needed

Stimulate internal improvement, innovation and reuse

Underlying drivers

Underlying inhibitors

Technical: Increased broadband availability; increased hard drive capacity and processing speed; new and improved technologies to create, distribute and share content; simpler software for creating, editing and remixing. Technical: Lack of broadband and other technical innovations
Economic: Lower costs for broadband, hardware and software; new economic models built around free content for recovering costs. Economic: Lack of resources to invest in broadband, hardware and software. Difficulties to cover costs for developing OER or sustaining an OER project in the long run.
Social: Increased use of broadband, the desire for interactivity, increased skills and willingness to share, contribute and create online communities. Social: Absence of technical skills, unwillingness to share or use resources produced by someone else.
Legal: New licensing regimes facilitating sharing of free content. Legal: Prohibition to use copyrighted materials without consent.

Copyright issues

Copyright plays a central role in sharing open content. On my university, the content management system (Blackboard:(…) is stuffed with copyrighted material. This does not create a problem, because it is a closed resource. Teachers use large amounts of copyrighted materials, which is much more difficult when you want to “open up” to the rest of the world. Fortunately, open licensing of content happens more often, and the tools to do that are becoming better usable. I am not so much interested in the clearing of copyright within open educational resources, but more so in the licensing of “new” open educational resources. Creative Commons is a license that seems very clear and useful within the OER landscape. It is the most commonly used license as well, and is being adopted by my university as well. Producers of OER can say whether they want to attributed, if content can be used commercially, if the content should be shared with the same license, and if derivatives can be made of the work. The value of these licenses, and its future impact is being questioned by many, such as Our Worship Dr. Wiley :), who argues that the Share-Alike option can create problems. He therefore drafted his own license , specifically for Open Education, to overcome these problems. It seems that it will have to compete with the Creative Commons Learn division, but we’ll discuss this later.

Sustainability of OER

This is the most relevant part for me, because my thesis concerns the sustainability of the OER project at my university. Obviously, I will not focus on just economical, or just social sustainability. An ICT environment needs both financial support as social and institutional acceptance, making it a complex, intertwined issue. In designing viable alternatives for sustaining OER I will address the different aspects relating to this concept, such as costs and benefits, technical compatibility, social and institutional acceptance, and social gains. Sustainability, or the continuous ability to meet the goals set by the organization, is not purely a financial issue, but motivation, usefulness and quality of materials, and other issues are important as well.

Wiley (2006) explains that there are two important challenges concerning sustainability in an open education program. The first challenge is meeting the costs for creating and redistributing the educational resources. The second challenge is to create resources that will be used and reused, i.e. valuable resources! The creation of OER requires individuals to put time and effort in developing them, digitize material, checking for copyrights, and provide quality assurance. Costs that are made for providing bandwidth or other costs for the dissemination and sharing of resources need to be taken into the sustainability account as well. The second challenge, providing usable resources, has to do mainly with the format of materials, and consequently the ability to reuse the materials. Reusability of materials, explained in more detail later, concerns the ability to contextualize, translate, adapt, and use educational resources. This is important, because the effectiveness of education depends not so much on the information itself as on the way the information is brought to students. There is a trade-off to be made here. Although reusability is an important objective in open education programs, many resources are published in formats that do not allow easy formatting and localization. As explained by d’Oliviera , in many cases it involves much less knowledge and costs to produce materials formats less easy to adapt or localize, than in more flexible formats as XML. The reusability issue and the costs to transform materials into more flexible formats, such as costs for training, technology, and mechanisms, are part important when discussing sustainability, because they both addresses social acceptance as the economical viability. The illustration below gives a nice overview of the main sustainability challenges.

Reflecting sustainability, or the "ongoing ability to meet the goals of a project", on the above, it means the the ability to produce, share, localize, and learn from open educational resources. This does not imply that solutions are always to be sought in the financial domain. Benkler (2005) explains the peer production of Open Educational Resources as a way to achieve sustainability. Open source software may provide with technical tools without substantive investments. Wiley (2006) claims that sustainability can be reached through the reduction of friction and decentralization, capturing intrinsic motivation of individuals to contribute without financial recompensation. He literally states that decentralization means the active involvement of students. This decentralization happens through the peer production of open resources and sharing them in P2P (peer-to-peer) networks. In a blogpost, he posits it very clearly:

"It seems to me that sustainability and scalability are problematic only when people rely on others to do things for them. Scalability and sustainability happen more readily when people do things for themselves. Centralizing open educational services is less scalable/sustainable. Decentralising them is more scalable/sustainable. Wikipedia has two employees and well over a million articles in multiple languages. We need to learn this lesson if open education is really going to reach out and bless the lives of people."

Downes (2007) follows the same argument, saying that the centralized model (MIT) uses more resources, and is likely to cost more, but offers more control over quality and content. The distributed model (Connexions), which assumes co-production of resources and decentralized management, may involve numerous partnerships, and rely on volunteer contributors. These approaches are much cheaper, but there is less control over quality and content. The table below shows a number of initiatives that are involved in the production of information, but following apparently opposing models. The examples of Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Brittanica are added on purpose, to show that a distributed control and management does not necessarily means lower quality. The quality review process and maintenance, as well as the production of information resources, is opened to a much larger group of people.

Low Control & Costs High Control & Costs
Wikipedia Encyclopedia Brittanica
Connexions MIT OCW
LabSpace LearningSpace

The OECD report sums up a number of possible revenue models that can be adopted to make a program more sustainable. The revenue or funding model is an important aspect that should be addressed, but there are more. First of all, it should be clear what objectives the institution has with the OER initiative. The following factors are always seen in the context of a project’s goals, since sustainability is described as the ongoing ability to meet the goals of a project.

  • Organization: The configuration or model for the project. Is the centralized MIT model preferred, the decentralized Connexions model, or something in between?
  • Non-monetary incentives: Another interesting topic regarding sustainability is finding non-monetary incentives of participants, so that they can be utilized to build communities, and to sustain activities within the environment. How can you engage volunteers in production, support, and management?
  • Resource types: The types of resources that will be offered, and the media formats in which these resources will be shared are important considerations, because there are many instances when a certain format inhibits the reuse (for example videolectures, PDF, etc.).
  • End-user reuse: What kinds of reuse will be best contribute to the project goals? How will support be offered to the end user in case of reuse of content? Will this be done centralized, or decentralized in a network of volunteers?
  • Ways to reduce costs: How can the costs of a project be reduced, while still meeting project goals?
  • Funding model: How will the project be funded, now and in the future? (funding models will be explained a little later)
What about access and usefulness?
An important challenge is the ability to find OER that are relevant and of high quality. Metadata (data that describes resources or data) addresses this problem, but it can be a laborous task to add metadata to resources. And the fact “Everything is Miscellaneous” (David Weinberger), which means that descriptions of data and resources depend on the context in which they are used, and on person (or technology) using them, adds another dimension of difficulty to the matter. Like the matter on reviewing materials (i.e. pre-publication versus post-publication), there is the matter of adding metadata before and after publicizing materials. This metadata can also be about the quality of content, and the report offers an overview of the different possibilities in managing quality.
  • Peer reviewing is one of the most used quality assurance processes in academia. MERLOT has adopted this type of quality assurance process: after publication, materials can be peer reviewed. The process of peer reviewing is expensive and time-consuming, and for the greater part the resources linked to on the MERLOT site are not reviewed.
  • MIT, and many other OCW initiatives, rather closed enterprises use internal quality checks to make sure the content put online is of a certain quality.
  • A more decentralized way of managing quality is letting quality emerge from the use of contribution by users. Users can comment or rate materials, and usage of materials can be logged and made public. This way addresses the importance of the relation between context and quality. A very interesting example can be found in the "lenses" concept of Connexions.
  • Word of mouth, or recommendation systems are another way of managing quality.
Furthermore, the report questions the usefulness of higher education that offers a specified curriculum, delivered to a large group of students, and to be completed at a predetermined pace. By describing emerging technologies affecting the OER movement, it refers to the OLCOS research, which will be discussed a bit later.

So what does this all mean?
The OECD describes a number of implications on international, national, and institutional level. On an international level, as argued by Atkins, Brown, and Hammond (2007), technological and legal interoperability should be fostered. OECD also mention a higher awareness and the development of a sound knowledge base on the production and use of OER. On a lower level, it is recommended that nations take a holistic approach to all kinds of digital learning resources and their impact on lifelong learning. The possibility for personalized learning increases with the availability of resources. Besides open learning resources, open source software and open licensing should gain considerable attention and promotion. On an institutional level, OER can have deep impact on the processes and protocols, affecting pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment. As mentioned before, universities both have more opportunities for collaboration and face more international competition. New generations of students will expect certain educational practices that fit their lifestyles. Their use of technologies should be reflected in education, so a well-reasoned IT strategy that includes e-learning should be implemented in each higher education institution. The report does not describe in detail the implications for learning, which is more elaborately discussed in OLCOS (2007).

Extra resources (not linked)
  • Benkler, Y. (2005), “Common Wisdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials” @
  • Downes, S. (2007) “Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources” Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge & Learning Object, 3, 29-44 

Creative Commies, Gates and Marx

An interesting picture below this text, addressing Bill Gates’ argument that copyright reformers are today’s communists … well Bill, to explain it in the words of Karl Marx:

"In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.” (

Bill GatesBut Bill isn’t dumb, he knows this already. His social being is one that is opposite to many copyright reformers, not just because of his education, or wealth, but more so because he is responsible for this social being. By building up Microsoft, when the economy of professional bureaucracies was still favorable to him, and copyright law enabled him to make his billions, he formed a social being that determined his conciousness, his identity. By saying that copyright reformers are right, that indeed copyright law has turned into fetters of development, he would throw away his identity. Anyway, that would not be a wrong thing to do, but difficult. Because understanding is the first step to forgiveness. And, by quoting Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘understanding means to throw away your knowledge’. He might then even support this free and open culture… mm, or am I being too idealistic now?

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