OpenFiction [Blog]

More discussion of open sharing licenses

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on June 15, 2006

Joseph Wang has put up a few suggestions for changes to the MIT OCW license in a post on his blog. I’ve encouraged Joseph in e-mail to split this discussion into two questions: First, what is in fact the best license for open educational content, and second, how might MIT OCW consider changing our license. I think it’s most productive to put off the second question until the first one has been given careful thought, as the logistical issues attendant to changing the MIT license mid-stream are secondary to issues raised in the first question.

I did promise a response to his blog post as a first step, so here goes:

Joseph’s argument privileges remix over other types of OER use. The underlying premise is that if materials do not support the most flexible possible remixing, they have little value. I’ve discussed elements of this view in previous posts, but very quickly there’s no doubt the creation of derivative works plays an important role in the ecology of OER, but there is increasing evidence that OER also serves a valuable resource function to a much wider audience, and that reference value is not impacted by the NC clause.

The objections Joseph presents to the NC clause also need to be unpacked a little more thoroughly. The basic argument is that the NC clause limits participation among millions, and also inhibits Joseph’s use of the material as an individual, though little information is provided on exactly how or why. It would be great to get a little more information on why the license is limiting from his view, and why in his view, the NC clause means he can’t edit and republish the materials, since that is explicitly permitted by the BY-NA-SC license.

While I don’t yet have a handle on Joseph’s particular take on these issues yet, the “limits collaboration” objection has been raised before. The correct yardstick for such discussions, though, is not “how much more could be done with the openly shared material on the web if only the NC clause wasn’t there?”, it’s “how much open material would be openly published without the NC clause?”. In other words, LPWDWR. The NC clause supports far more collaboration than no open publication at all would.

It’s important to remember that open sharing projects emerge in real circumstances with real people involved; announcing that MIT would publish materials from all their courses in five years meant finding consensus quickly on some issues. It’s been argued that we might have undertaken a faculty education initiative to convince faculty the best license was one without an NC restriction (which I consider still open to debate), but that would have held considerable risk for the success of the project. If the price of publishing openly is a non-commercial restriction, is that too high? MIT OCW has spawned quite a number of collaborations that are compatible with non-commercial use, none of which would have occurred if the materials had not been published.

I hope this is a good point of departure for a useful discussion.

A few additional notes on particular points:

  • Creating a custom text for teaching online is permitted by the MIT license, provided the organization doing it is not-for-profit
  • Faculty do publish a wide variety of polished and rather raw materials on the site, from full text books to e-mails sent to students during the course
  • More than a thousand student works are currently included on the site, and students contribute more and more each year

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