There’s a lot to unpack in this post by Alan Levine about his attempts to license (or un-license) his photographs with Creative Commons Zero (CC0). The way I think about these things is:
Standard copyright: “All Rights Reserved” — I do the innovation, you do the consumption.
Creative Commons licenses: “Some Rights Reserved” — I have created this thing, and you can use it under the following conditions.
CC0/Public Domain: “No Rights Reserved” — I have created this thing, and you can do whatever you like with it.
I’m not precious about my work. I donated my doctoral thesis to the public domain under a CC0 license (lobbying Durham University to ensure it was stored under the same conditions in their repository). My blog has, for the last five years at least, been CC0 — although I’d forgotten to add that fact to my latest blog theme until writing this post.
For me, the CC0 decision is a no-brainer. I’m working to make the world a better place through whatever talents and skills that I’ve got. While I want my family to live comfortably, I’m not trying to accumulate wealth. That’s not what drives me. So I definitely feel what Alan says that he’s “given up trying to be an attribution cop”.
I care about the commons, but want to shift the Overton windowall the way over to a free sharing economy, rather stay fixated on copyright. To me, things like Creative Commons licenses are necessary to water down and mollify the existing extremely-litigious copyright industry. If I’ve got complete control over my work (as I do) then I’ll dedicate it to the public domain.
An aside: if you’re theory of change involves obligation, then you’re better off using the CC BY-SA license. Why? It means whoever uses your work not only has to cite you as the original author, but they must release their own work into the commons.
The thing is that despite this all being couched in legal language (which I’m very grateful to Creative Commons for doing) I’m never, in reality, going to have the time or inclination to be able to chase down anyone who doesn’t subsequently release a derivative work under an open license.
In my experience, reducing the barriers to people using your work means that it gets spread far and wide. Not only that, but the further it’s spread, the greater your real-world insurance policy that people won’t claim your work as their own. After all, the more people who have seen your work, the greater likelihood someone will cry ‘foul’ when someone tries to pass it off as their own.
So I’ll continue with my policy of licensing my work under the CC0 license. Not only does it mark out my work as belonging to a community that believes in the commons, but it’s a great conversation starter for people who might be commons-curious…
Image via CC0.press (just because you don’t have to attribute doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t!)
My short answer to this would be yes we do need to protect Open Education and the Open Web. We need to protect them from commercial, proprietary providers looking to profit from creating silos. How do we do that? I’d argue by innovating in ways that are different from those looking to make a quick buck.
It’s obvious, but worth stating: I’ve no problem with people charging for services. The issue is more to do with the overall landscape. If all you’ve got is shiny silos from which to choose, it’s a frustrating pseudo-choice. Openness proposes and provides a different way to do things than following the logic of the market.
The problem is that ‘Open’ is an ambiguous term and seems to have become the latest fad. Martin Weller points out that in many ways ‘Open’ is the new ‘green’:
The old “open vs. proprietary” debate is over and open won. As IT infrastructure moves to the cloud, openness is not just a priority for source code but for standards and APIs as well. Almost every vendor in the IT market now wants to position its products as “open.” Vendors that don’t have an open source product instead emphasize having a product that uses “open standards” or has an “open API.
As Audrey Watters has eloquently stated, the fight is now who gets to decide what counts:
This battle involves the ongoing struggle to define “what is open.” It involves the narratives that dominate education – “education is broken” and “disruption is inevitable,” for example – and the “solutions” that “open” purports to offer. It involves a response to the growth of corporate ecosystems and commercial enclosures, built with open source technologies and open data initiatives. And all of this, I would argue, must involve politics for which we shouldn’t let “open” be an easy substitute.
As the term ‘MOOC’ (Massive Online Open Course) has shown, you can’t have it both ways: if a term includes enough ambiguity and flexibility to be widely adopted, then those who originally defined it no longer have control over the definition. It’s out in the wild. Like a virus, the definition mutates over time.
It’s not the word ‘Open’ we need to protect, it’s the spirit behind it. We’re fighting a losing battle if we expect a word to mean the same thing for all eternity. Instead, as a community we should create, sustain and release new terms to help shed light on the things we believe to be important and hold dear.
Finally, as Audrey reminds us in the quotation above, to align yourself with an agenda of Openness is a political statement. As such we should be prepared to get our hands dirty and fight for what we believe.
“A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.” (Father Strickland)
Working in the open comes naturally to me. I’ve never jealously guarded ‘my’ work and really cannot comprehend a person who would rather work in a closed and restricted environment.
Both this blog and my doctoral thesis are CC0 licensed, which means that I’ve donated them to the public domain. If you want to take my work, copy it word-for-word and pass it off as your own or sell it, that’s fine. Seriously. Do what you like. I’m flattered you like it.
I found out today that the minor rewrites I submitted after my thesis defence have now been accepted. I now go onto the ‘Pass list’ at Durham University meaning that I can call myself Dr. Belshaw. This makes me happy.
Another piece of news I received today was via Twitter from Joe Wilson attending the NAACE conference 2012 (#naace12). NAACE is a membership organization for those involved with ICT education in the UK and beyond.
Doug Belshaw's work on digital literacy being referenced at #naace12 as basis for new national standards well done @dbelshaw
(Note: Joe made a typo in his haste – I’m actually @dajbelshaw)
This came as a bit of a surprise. Whilst I’m aware of people referencing my work, I didn’t realize that NAACE as a body knew of/was using it. Certainly their press release (if that’s the right one) doesn’t mention anything. But to insist on acknowledgement (see discussion here), I feel, is a form of ownership. And no-one owns ideas.
The most important value of working in the open for me? Impact.
I write about things that interest me and ideas that I hold to be good in the way of belief. As a consequence, and like most other people, I think the ideas expressed in my work may be of use to others. If ‘impact’ is getting others discussing, debating and accepting your ideas then, yes, I want to impact other people.
Academics in UK universities will soon have to demonstrate their ‘impact’ under the terms of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). I can’t help but think that one of the best ways for academics to achieve this is to dramatically improve the accessibility of their work. The easiest method? Release it under the least restrictive license you can. This seems so obvious to me as to be a no-brainer.
There are some caveats, of course: less restrictive licensing may be problematic for commercially-sensitive areas and huge fields.
Let me explain.
There are two main reasons why I can ‘afford’ to give my work away without asking for attribution or compensation:
1. I know that most people will, actually, reference it (and there’s a large chance that those who don’t will be called out by others in such a relatively small field)
2. I have a salaried occupation that does not depend upon me attracting funding to commercialise my ‘Intellectual Property’.
Perhaps I’m young and naive but I can’t help think that, if you can, you should give away your work. For free. Without copyright.
That’s how ideas gain traction.
This week is Open Education week. There’s lots of stuff on the JISC website about it.