The workshop that wasn’t
So I’m officially not blogging about a workshop that I attended yesterday regarding the state of education and copyright law. It’s the first event I’ve participated in that was officially declared off-blog, which marks a milestone in my experience with the development of the blogosphere. The point really was not to quote people, so they’d feel comfortable speaking off the record. A really amazing conversation between a very diverse group including representatives from government, NGOs, university IT programs, flunkies from open sharing initiatives, librarians, lawyers, and even a few real live educators.
I have to admit I was looking forward to the conversation after dealing with the IIEP-OER forum. OpenCourseWare has always been in my mind an experiment in changing intellectual property practice that is enabled by the internet, rather than an educational technology or distance learning initiative. In OER circles, the persistent criticism arises that OCW is somehow insufficient, that it doesn’t provide a comprehensive learning experience, which is a criticism borne of seeing the project as an attempt at distance education. I think everyone agrees that we’d like to see OCW resources be as comprehensive as possible (with the caveat that the more “comprehensive” some resources are, the more embedded cultural, academic and technological biases can become–a problem if you see yourself as designing for the benefit of the world rather than a particular group of students). But I digress.
While the mood was light and the conversation lively at the education and copyright workshop, the ultimate conclusions were more pessimistic than I’d expected. I think there is a certain amount of freedom from the more onerous educational copyright issues in OER that come from working outside the constraints of the TEACH Act. In OER, it’s either open, or it’s not included. But I do see rocks ahead, of various sizes. We are creating silos of content by using different open licenses, and it’s an issue that I’d like to be out ahead of. I’m not sure how much can be done, but at least within the OCW community, we can work toward some awareness of the implications of choosing particular licenses, so projects don’t end up with buyer’s remorse.
The other emerging issue I see is that of reliance on fair use. The TEACH Act is no help to an OCW, but there’s a considerable amount that might be done with the provisions in fair use for criticism. I met a few people from organizations that rely on this pretty strongly, and can see ways opencoursewares might do the same. The problem is, what happens when you apply fair use in the context of Creative Commons licenses? Can the materials appropriated under fair use then be considered to be under the license? I’m skeptical. And even it it’s fair use in the context of the opencourseware use, that doesn’t ensure that downstream uses will be. Again, I don’t think it’s an insurmountable problem, but it’s one we need to be out ahead of.