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.

 

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One Response

  1. Great post Damian. Certainly, licensing a piece of intellectual property has many forms and this follows the many views of protection one’s own work. From complete proprietary content, owned for the most part by publishers who have hired editors to assemble content to completely open, accessible shared content, there is a wide range of licensed content. This is where individual authors also have disparate views, but for the most part licensing of intellectual property comes done to finance implications.

    The whole world of Digital rights management for protecting intellectual property has changed significantly over the last few years. Apple Inc and the impact of itunes for digital music, App store for software code, and more recently ibook for textbook publishing has a significant impact on the world of digital publishing. Most large publishing companies set up their own protected storefronts to sell licensed digital products, whereas print material is licensed thorough bookstores. This appears to be the newest trend for selling digital material. Even though there is more OER materials under various open licensing schemes, there is a similar breadth in licensing programs to share content for free or for a fee.

    Vince

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