I wonder what sort of attention that title will bring? I’m actually rephrasing other people’s dismissal of my arguments regarding Share Alike… so please read on to get a clearer picture.

I have recently discovered the seemingly incurable headache of copyright ideology within the free content circles. I have a problem with Creative Commons Share Alike – or not so much a problem with the license, but a problem with a user generated content publishing platform that uses that license as its default and practically speaking its only workable option!

I’m talking about Wikieducator in this instance, but I guess my issues will apply to any platform using a copyleft legality. Copyleft as it turns out, seems to be a type of free and open copyright license that aims to grow free content. In otherwords, as the Share Alike plain English statement goes:

  • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same, similar or a compatible license.

So you should be able to see the intent of this. It is to stop free content becoming closed by third parties. It is a mechanism that some believe will grow free culture. But does it?

What are my issues then?

Share Alike (SA) does not work in education because:

1. Our tertiary and vocational education institution is sometimes in a
training partnership with a business or industry that may require us to mix
learning content with commercially sensitive content (such as blue prints to
machinery, patented product designs, or anything that the partner still
perceives is necessary to remain restricted in access and copy). If we were
to mix any SA content with the partner’s content and redistribute (even on a
small scale) we would be expected by the SA content provider to re-release
the derivative under the SA license, but the partner would understandably
not want to do this because they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that doing so
would result in a loss of income and competative advantage. Result? We will
not mix SA content. To keep things simple, we will use SA content at all
because we will never be able to tell at what point we may find ourselves in
this position.

2. Our tertiary and vocational education institution works with a local
Maori Iwi (clan) named Ngai Tahu. At times we may be working with culturally
sensitive materials that the Ngai Tahu leaders prefer to restrict access and
copyrights to only Ngai Tahu people. We may wish to mix materials in with
that, [such as generic training resources on say – chainsaw maintenance, but with local context] but cannot re-release under SA because of the valid concerns of Ngai Tahu.
Replace the Ngai Tahu example with any culturally sensitive
group or individual and (rightly or wrongly doesn’t matter) we have the same
situation. SA is not usable.

3. We have a large database of materials created long before CC or copyleft
existed. Photographs, video and audio of people demonstrating things. These
people signed release forms for using their image and recording for specific
purposes, and the release did not mention anything about the right for a 3rd
party to remix. We can’t mix SA content with these recordings, because we
don’t have the right to re-release the derivatives under anything but a C or
CC BY No Derivatives – due to the old release contracts.

I want to make a strong reinforcement of what I am trying to say here. SA doesn’t work for educational content. Software is different, encyclopedic articles are different, the needs and purpose of education are very different to the success flags of free software and free reference materials. But I don’t expect that will be clearly understood unfortunately. The problem is compounded by a majority of education and elearning developers who – despite claims otherwise – think of educational content as text books and more or less static content. The 3 examples above are only 3 of many more I can think of, but hopefully it goes some of the way towards articulating where these differences lie.

Now, if you refer to the Wikieducator debate (largely between myself and one or two others, with the odd support for me) my efforts to articulate the issues are largely dismissed as illogical rhetoric. I am at a loss at to how it is rhetoric – or why people would think that I would want to use rhetoric or even want to have this argument! The 3 scenarios above are common, almost daily concerns for me and the people I work for – so how can it be rhetoric?.. I guess I need to get the people I try to represent to speak for themselves on this rather dense issue.. but the frustrating thing is that for anyone who works in my type of environment, these situations are obvious! Why my argument is illogical is of more of a concern however. Either I am missing some very important point in the counter arguments, or I am a very poor communicator when engaged in discussion lists. Which is probably why I am writing here now, in the relative comfort of my blog.

But I feel savaged! Listen to this surprise interview sprung on me by a Wikiversity participant. I joined the audio broadcast to listen to Alex Hayes talk, but when Alex didn’t show, the host turned the recorded mic on me. I knew the host had things to say about me and my arguments against copyleft in education, so I agreed to talk and brought the SA issue up – hoping to be enlightened somehow as to why my argument may be illogical or rhetorical. I didn’t expect the savage and unethical treatment though! I truly do not think these issues are being heard or properly considered. And that is why I think some proponents of copyleft hurt free culture.

Our organisation has a draft intellectual policy that is considering the use of the Creative Commons Attribution license. No link I’m sorry – so you’ll have to take my word for it. It is going through internal consultation at the moment. It is not considering the Non Commercial restriction – nor the Share Alike at this point, as it’s intent is to limit the restrictions on as much as possible, and see that we are contributing to educational development as widely as possible. In saying that though, the draft provides a mechanism for individuals and other stakeholders to place restrictions if they wish. They would have to fill out a one page form or something to indicate restrictions on a particular resource, and so the 3 situations I use above to argue why copyleft is impossible in same instances, can be catered for. CC BY content can be sampled, remixed and the derivative even made restricted if the user wishes (with proper attribution of course) but not the other CC licenses. At this point we are not concerned by possible cases of publishers benefiting from our works without giving back, we might be pleased that someone finds a way to make financial gains from our work, but we are also confident that our work will remain ahead, and more usable than restricted derivatives.

At this point I’d like to insert the personal belief that the legal mechanisms of Copyleft are not what grows free culture. As the All rights reserved sector experiences, there is not much that can be effectively done to prevent pirating and unsanctioned use of content, and so the same might be said for Copyleft. Dave Wiley’s story, and Steve Downes’ comment suggest that in some way too. (Certainly David’s article Why Universities Choose NC and what we can do about it shows an appreciation for the difficulties of winning institutional bye-in to free culture). I believe that free culture is growing from itself regardless of the SA and similar clauses. A quick look at Flickr’s Creative Commons database shows a preference for CC BY over CC BY SA by more than 1 million images. Of course I am guilty as always of over simplifying the issue with this little opinion, but I do think it might be an interesting consideration – that free culture is growing regardless of any legal mechanism. I wonder what other Creative Commons data bases reveal? In this age of information explosion, the competitive advantage goes to the content with less restriction. If the only restriction is the requirement for attribution, then I would bet that such a resource will be reused well before another with a restriction of some sort like share alike… and reuse brings attribution – possibly the only thing of worth with content these days.

Now if we start using the Wikieducator platform to develop resources, we have to accept the Creative Commons Share Alike license. A license that is considerably more restrictive than the Attribution license we are preferencing. For the 3 or more reasons outlines above we can not be comfortable with the Share Alike restriction, so using the Wikieducator Platform compromises the re-usability of the resources we contribute. Now, that would not be a problem for the original works, but some of us are actually thinking to use the wiki as a development platform! No more word documents, no more powerpoints, development straight into a wiki. We don’t have a wiki of our own (problems with IT on that) and one of our own doesn’t benefit from the collaborative potential of the more neutral and internationally reaching Wikieducator, Wikiversity etc. It makes more sense to join forces rather than reinvent wheels.

But the default and effectively only license option is a preventative concern. I believe that Wikieducator should use the CC BY license by default, with the option to turn something into SA if agreement can be struck by the contributors. At the moment SA is the default, with possible consideration of the idea that BY will be supported if the contributors to a particular resource agree. But that’s not workable. We need to start with a BY because BY can be turned into SA more readily – or a quick derivative made and turned into SA. This is much more difficult when going the other way. Which is precisely the intent behind Copyleft generally. To make it difficult to do anything other than share alike. And that finishes the impasse – that is not usable in many educational contexts we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately for the discussion, as evidenced by the discourse and treatment of my contributions linked above, the two perspectives don’t seem to be able to find an agreement let alone an appreciation of each other’s position. Shaggy from the TALO email list linked to some history in the debate and shows that it has been going on for longer than when I inadvertently joined the mosh. Now I want out – and will sadly have to reinvent a wheel so that it roles in a way that gets me and my organisation out of this copyright mud and into Open Educational Resources that are as reusable as WE need them to be. Hopefully the MediaWiki developers will find a way to bring the two wikis (ours and the rest :) together in some way, so the shared vision of open educational resources can build and be reused quickly.

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