Cory Doctorow is reporting over on BoingBoing that a draft of a forthcoming copyright treaty has been leaked and it apparently contains a number of very concerning provisions—some of which so much so it’s hard to believe they could be enforced. Here is one:
That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet — and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living — if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.
Now, MIT OpenCourseWare has been accused of copyright infringement a couple of times (all instances of which were resolved by clarifying ownership of materials we believed to have been clear and none of which involved litigation). Would this mean that the next time it happens MIT OpenCourseWare would have to be denied Internet access by MIT, who runs our origin server and thus is our ISP? By Akamai, who handles our worldwide distribution? Would MIT have to cut off Internet service to itself, as OCW is not a separate legal entity?
Now in addition to not being an economist, I am also not a lawyer, but as this is being reported, it ranges from confusing to very alarming. Secret treaties that undercut the free flow of ideas and information to serve the needs of corporate interests are not a reason I voted for Obama, or rather they are, but that’s because they were the MO of the previous administration. I have resisted jumping on the “dissapointed in Obama” bandwagon because my yardstick has always been “Better than McCain?” but this would truly disappoint.
One passage in the CED report that felt like a bit of a flat note from the OCW perspective was the following:
No one would likely argue with the proposition that the financial services sector has been continuously revolutionized by the introduction of new technologies to deal with financial information, from the invention of the telegraph to today’s electronic-banking networks. The music, video, and movie industries are being transformed as information once encoded on vinyl, 8-track tapes, CDs, or DVDs becomes detached from a physical medium and takes on the special characteristics of intangible digital data, capable of being copied and freely distributed to 6 or 60 million of one’s closest friends via peer-to-peer networks.
Information is also at the core of higher education. Institutions of higher education create knowledge and disseminate it. They pass it on generation to generation, and put it in a social context. They help students structure, organize, navigate, and produce it. How has higher education been affected by the forces that are transforming these other sectors?
Well, yes, I suppose. The financial services example is probably closer to teaching and learning in my mind than the music/movie example. In movies and music, the whole of the product is digitized as information. In the financial services the products were not actually digital information, but were supported by information flows. The the innovations (if you want to call them that) that have had the big impacts were mostly conceptual, at least as I understand them and clearly IANAE.* The mortgage-backed derivatives were not information per se, but a new concept enabled by information technologies (sadly).
Now research is clearly about the creation and dissemination of information/knowledge, but education seems to me less so. I’d agree that with respect to knowledge, education is about how to “put it in a social context,” to “structure, organize, navigate, and produce it.” But the emphasis as I understand education is very much on the social context, structuring, organizing, and navigating and less on the “it” (i.e. information). If this were not the case, MIT would have undercut its model by releasing the information from its classes via OCW.
Some of the tacit skills for understanding social context, structuring, organizing, and navigating information are imbedded in the courseware, and this makes them a unique and valuable resource resource, but many of the tacit skills are not, or at least not accessibly so. Virtually every conversation I’ve had with people responsible for improving educational systems who want to use OCW comes down to a discussion of how to use the materials to get students thinking critically—developing these tacit skills—rather than how do we get information to the students. The information itself in most cases is not that hard to find.
So while I agree that information is maybe core to research, and crucial for education, I’d suggest it is the set of skills required to make information useful that are at the core of education, and they are really difficult to digitize. Some day I expect we’ll have computers subtle enough to teach these skills (maybe sooner than we think) and it will be a boon for global education. Information by itself, even as well contextualized as OCW is, doesn’t do this. That’s one of the reasons we’ve never presented OCW as distance learning, but rather as educational resources.
* I am not an economist
…this week of OCW office appliance and dear friend Haier T. Microwave, who was discovered this Monday with the latch torn from his door. Foul play is suspected and the investigation continues. In the mean time, he is yet another victim of the global battle to share courseware openly.
A memorial service will be held in the MIT OpenCourseWare offices just prior to his being carted away for recycling. In lieu of flowers, the staff requests that friends and family contribute instead to the Haier T. Microwave Fund to Buy a New Microwave. Donations accepted through the MIT OpenCourseWare site.
On a personal note, I shared many a lunch with Haier over the years, and in the past few months had taken responsibility for his care and cleaning. I am saddend that he met with such an untimely end and pray the perpetrator is aprehended and punished appropriately. I appreciate the many expressions of support I’ve received from the OCW community.
Made it for a communication piece I am working on. It captures the external and internal growth of MIT OpenCourseWare traffic very nicely, I think. (Hurting elbow whilst patting self on back.)
The Committee for Economic Development, a non-profit, non-partisan business led public policy organization (their description), has issued a really excellent report on openness in higher education. It addresses an exhaustive array of facets to openness in the higher education context including OER, Open Access, and openness in administration and certification. The report is a great opportunity to understand the breadth of the open landscape as it stands today.
There are a few factual errors regarding OpenCourseWare that ought to be noted. On page 18, the report vastly undercounts the number of OCW courses available through the Consortium at 5,000, when the most recent self-reported figures from the membership are closer to 13,000.
More concerning is the characterization of MIT OpenCourseWare’s agreement with Elsevier, which on page 28 is described as:
…a more straightforward and operationally simple definition of fair use so as to ease rights clearance for MIT’s OCW; Elsevier now provides blanket clearance for up to three tables and 100 words per article for thousands of Elsevier’s articles.
Our agreement with Elsevier governs our use of their materials under our open CC license and in no way defines or limits our recourse to fair use with respect to Elsevier’s or any other content owners materials. Were we to use materials employing a fair use approach, they would have to appear on our site with all rights reserved. Elsevier has agreed to allow OCW to publish materials under our CC By-NC-SA 3.0 license, which makes the materials available for downstream reuse. It’s a very important distinction.