Learning Technology

Copyrighternicus and Gallilegalo

4 October 8th, 2010 at 07:10

You wait all day for a new copyright issue to come along and then two turn up at once, but they are all slightly different so they can’t sue each other – not like those litigious buses.  Creative Commons have released a new public domain license, but at the same time lost the Creative Commons search option from Firefox. An argument suggests it’s a possible sign of increased CC search options elsewhere – but for awareness of the option and existing of CC searching, the logic is for the concept to be as apparent as possible in as may places as possible.

Copyright is on Xpert’s mind today as earlier on the Xpert harvester went out and found a few more RSS feeds of elearning content – high quality items direct from Adobe themselves. Keen to harvest them I did my usual checks to see if it was “open” – a rather nebulous concept based around obvious signs of it not being “closed”. The content was made available under a k-12 license, which I understand, but to many k-12 is either an improved robot dog, or an absolutely massive  mountain. Joking aside, for at least one sentence, who would know what this means, and how would that alter someone’s perception over whether it was safe to use or not. Are the resources good enough that you would or should perservere, and more simply should you have to?

These resources passed Xpert’s openness test (think of me as a less fussy, less cricket based Norman Tebbit, perhaps a Nigel Laws-on-my-side) and Xpert will be harvesting all this new content. However, with Xpert’s OER borders now sullied by these  K-12 Yankees (over paid,  over here, under licensed –  if you will), the question arises as to what is open, and who is to say what is open or not?

I was left thinking of Copernicus and his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. This humble little revolutionary book started as Commentariolus, a small booklet distributed among his friends in 1514. By 1532 revolutionibus was completed, but Copernicus  resisted publishing because he felt likely to be scorned (See Darwin et al). The book was first published on the day Copernicus died (or so legend has it) and argument exists over whether the dedication of the book to Pope Paul the third was to prevent a possible religious backlash. Galileo, while championing heliocentric thinking over 90 years later, suffered the fate of house arrest and the act of publishing a work by Galileo became illegal.. The Roman Inquisition (which you can expect, but only a little) which decided on his punishment was launched by Pope Urban the eighth, a previous supporter of Galileo’s theories.

So here is Copernicus’ book – released amongst friends, and  then finally to the world. Even so long after its publishing, derivative works lead to publishers being jailed and criminalised. A set of rules designed to make publishing harder, a framework if you will to cause hesitancy and introduce several overheads. Rules driven by a centralised body, prone to arbitrary changes of direction, excessive punishment and bearing a grudge.  So we have two questions

1) The basic – “Can I publish or not?”

2) The difficult – “Who is to say whether I can publish?”

These 2 questions also come with

3)  The awkward – “What do I want to happen after it’s published?”

As a Leicesterite, I am honour bound to suggest we need a copyright John Wycliffe, but those of a more international persuasion may prefer a copyright Martin Luther, but what would be nailed to the door of the church (and what license is that? And is nailing to a door publishing?).

Question 1 seems the simplest to suggest an answer for, and the simplest to propose a system to support. It’s perceivable many people share information in many ways, lending old books,  multiple forwards on emails, links across twitter and this is by enlarge done without consideration of permission, because the act itself is seen as useful and, at worst, defensibly benevolent. Within these cultures though, the norm is to share, and I would imagine with lecture notes and data, this is the norm amongst Universities. Exchanges in twitter and in academia are facilitated by the simple fact that question 1 can be answered (and assurance) with a Yes or a No, often delivered verbally or at least overtly and openly.

Elearning and technology has built many tools to facilitate the simple creation of material, but how often will this infringe copyright? Imagine if the save button in powerpoint brought back our old friend clippit?

“I’m sorry, these pictures aren’t yours”

“Are you sure you’ve not plagiarised these quotes?”

“Honestly, if you save this file I am denying all knowledge”

The movement towards simplification of creation needs to be mirrored with a movement to simplication of publishing. Even the words public domain are not enough, the license needs to be “Yes, you can use this”, or “No, you can’t”.

Question 2 is how long is a piece of string? Or how stretched are my analogies? Ensuring copyright clearance would be like proving the provenance of an atom (Well it started out in alpha century, spent some time in the Oort Cloud, was in one of Saturn’s rings for a while, and then it spent some time, disappointingly, as a kebab sign in Coventry). A litigious culture can’t be prevented from making claims, even the most harmonious relationship can sour or laws can change. Is a take down enough to simplify take up? Is publish and be damned to much of a risk – when really, that’s all we do anyways, but each step to minimise the risk is carried out as a best endeavour. Libel law has the defence of “Qualified Privelege” allowing for a set of points to be met that allow for someone to enjoy a certain degree of protection from the law. Would a copyright qualified privelege be hard to achieve?

Question 3, is perhaps one again that lacks an answer (and Xpert doesn’t speak for every academic), but perhaps can be seen as bringing together the key elements of the internet age. Attribution is a lovely thing, but paraphrasing Wilde – “The only thing worse than attribution, is not knowing you’ve been attributed”. In this embedded day and retweeted age, attribution should be simple. A PDF uploaded to a repository could have it’s bibliography scanned, a youtube film when embedded should display the authors information, a downloaded picture should bring attribution with it. Even these aren’t enough. Attribution should extend to “informed attribution” or “metadata maintained informed attribution“, so usage can be tracked and monitored. Informed attribution could create networks and communities and then eventually people using each other’s materials and subsequently knowing each other. So the act of informed attribution could simply revert to two being knowing each other, and asking each other, question one – “Can I use this?” or question 1 would become “why don’t we build something together?”

Copyright law could well eat itself, and if not, who wants to nibble first? This blog’s author is vegan, so I’ll focus on the vegetables. Who’s a leg man? Come on plenty for everyone! Somewhere, a wishbone snaps…….

  1. Informed attribution has been a long standing goal of the OER community. MIT tried using Turnitin to track re-use, but I believe the experiment wasn’t 100% successful :(. I guess the question is ‘who wants to know?’ Will tracking re-use foster re-use in the first place? Not sure, but using sites which demand an email account to download is off-putting (to me at least). Equally, ‘invisible’ tracking systems may seem a little ‘big brother.’ That said, I agree that social media has a part to play as contributors understandably need to feel the effort in sharing is worthwhile, and knowledge that their content is being used let alone re-used is an important factor.

    Posted by A Beggan
  2. So (for those who don’t know) what IS a K-12 license?

    Posted by H Whitehead
  3. k-12 is the term for American Schools.

    If you release a material as informed attribution – then you must want to know? Else don’t use the item.

    And if you’re not happy being tracked then, again, don’t use it.

    I think there are much neater ways of doing it than email.

    Posted by P Lockley

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