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“Attribution Only” as Default Policy—Otago Polytechnic on the How and Why of CC BY

Jane Park, April 22nd, 2008

A month ago, I blogged about CC’s Role in Open Access at Otago Polytechnic; specifically, on their adoption of CC BY as their default IP policy. For those who don’t already know, Otago Polytechnic made a novel decision last year to essentially reverse the standard policy of most educational institutions. While other university staff must obtain permissions to release their work under a license different from “all rights reserved” copyright, Otago Polytechnic staff must explain why they don’t want material published openly under CC BY, should they desire standard (restrictive) copyright or another license. Not only does this eliminate all the red tape before getting your work out in the open, it sets open access as an educational imperative. (And by open, they mean really open–free to copy, distribute, adapt and derive the work for both commercial or non-commercial purposes.)

Because of this inversion in standard IP policy, ccLearn was curious to learn how and why and what exactly Otago Polytechnic did and thought to arrive at this decision. While most institutions, especially educational ones, slap on the non-commercial term, Otago seemed to think differently about doing so; in fact, they never even considered it.

Read on for an interview with Leigh Blackall, from the Educational Development Center at Otago Polytechnic. Some things about Leigh: he lives in beautiful Dunedin, New Zealand, develops his own educational resources with his wife Sunshine and dog Mira, and judging from this photo, is a forward thinker who will climb most any mountain.

Leigh Blackall, CC BY
Photo: Leigh Blackall CC BY

Can you say a few words about yourself and your position in the Educational Development Center at Otago Polytechnic? What specifically led you to the work in Educational Development?

I am officially titled as a Programme Developer which means I help develop new and existing courses here at the Polytechnic. That involves helping teachers to develop new skills or identify new avenues for their services, or to help them make courses more efficient and effective. I found my way into the educational media business because of my interest in media production and design generally. I started creating animations and movies for training in Australia. Later I found myself running a business in producing media for education, but then open source, open content and the free web services – generally referred to as Web2.0, came into my life and things changed. Now here I am in beautiful and progressive New Zealand helping teachers think about ways to integrate some of this into their practices.

In your article, “Educational Development at Otago Polytechnic,” you write that the EDC was established in 2006 “for staff development, online and flexible learning development, and research into educational development.” Can you expand on this a bit? What is the EDC’s mission, or overarching goals?

The bottom line of the Programme Development aspect of the EDC is to help faculty to provide educational services to existing students more efficiently and effectively and/or find ways to provide educational services to people we are not currently reaching. (There is a significant economic motivation behind this because the public funding we get is sadly not enough to sustain the whole operation). So this involves a lot of staff training in the effective use of the Internet and things like Open Educational Resources (OER), which in turn means that we have to be up with the play, hence research and development.

At the end of 2006, the fund for the EDC “started to engage in content creation.” Do you mean the creation of Open Educational Resources? Why was it important for Otago Polytechnic to offer free online content?

Initially OER was not the intention behind the fund. We had to change a few things first, starting with our policy on Intellectual Property. But once that was done, it gave a green light for those of us wanting to get into OER. Why did we think OER was important? Well, public education has never had enough money to do what it needs to do. In saying that though, it has at times been very inefficient with what it has tried to do. When the leadership of the Polytechnic made available money for the development of content (amongst other things), we knew it would be a finite amount and not enough to sustain the staff training and content development we were aiming to do.. or to then maintain and update what it was we managed to achieve. So it made sense to first find out what was already out there and available for reuse and adaption (OER) and then to focus our energy on the participation and creation of educational resources that filled the gaps. By making the resources freely available, by using socially networked platforms like Wikieducator, and by trying to establish collaborative networks around our subject areas, we were counting on the strengths of the OER movement to help us sustain our efforts beyond the initial funding. Imagine if we all did that!

At the same time, it was difficult for EDC staff to find “existing content with copyrights that could enable reuse.” Since, Otago Polytechnic has adopted CC BY as their default license, I imagine that by reusable content you mean not only the ability to share, but also to build upon, remix, adapt and reproduce the content. How did OP come to focus on the need for this level of openness in education?

Yes, we soon realised that while there is a huge amount of open courseware out there, there wasn’t a lot of open educational resources, or certainly anything that was ever going to easily meet our needs. You see, teaching and learning will always be a context specific pursuit and so we all need the freedom to adapt and reuse content to what ever context we might be working in. So most of the open courseware out there is not open for easy adaptation, and often carries with it a Non Commercial restriction, which could be at some stage counter to what we find ourselves operating in.. who knows? And anyway, it is ambiguous to us what exactly is commercial. So we knew that we didn’t want to use or make derivatives on content that could restrict us or anyone else we might later be associated with. We needed a maximum level of flexibility with our content and CC BY provides that. Over arching all this, and it is in our IP policy as so, we wanted to adopt the practice and principle that information and knowledge should be freely shared.

Did this realization lead naturally to an awareness of Creative Commons licensed material? How did Otago Polytechnic first hear of Creative Commons?

Well, I think probably since MIT OCW and surrounding free and open source thinking, there have been people in our organisation who have been aware of CC et al for a while now. So it seemed to me that when the opportunity arose to review our IP policy, all the pieces were in place. The key people seemed ready and willing to embrace it. I mean, who in the media and communications game hasn’t heard of Creative Commons by now? If you know someone, send them our way, I’m setting up a new and open course they can enroll in. :)

How did Otago Polytechnic decide on CC BY for their default Intellectual Property Policy? Can you elaborate on some of the specific steps that led to this choice; for instance, did OP consider other licensing options that were ultimately rejected?

Well, I think I might have already covered some of this. As for other licenses.. no we didn’t look much into the other licenses. The group of people who drafted our policy quickly saw that CC BY was what we wanted, and no one challenged that proposal. So CC BY was the first proposal, and it stayed that way. I mean, we did discuss the other options – well CC BY SA was the only other option for us, but for similar reasons to the NC restriction we decided that CC BY would be the simplest most flexible stance to take.

It probably should be made clear at this point that people in our organisation who own or are responsible for IP have the ability to use licenses other than CC BY—it’s just that they are meant to explain to the managers why they have choose to do so.. As you say, a kind of inversion to what was in place before, where people had to ask permission to be free, now they have to ask permission to be not free. :)

What about legal and technical interoperability of open educational resources? Can you say a few words about OP’s view on this and how it might have played a role in its IP Policy? Why did OP choose CC BY over the alternative CC licenses?

I find this part the hardest to explain, and in a way the answer is in your question. CC BY is the most simple to understand and easy to honour license available on CC. (Public Domain is not something commonly recognised outside the USA). If we had added other restrictions like NC or SA, then we would somehow have to monitor that, and manage what resources were what. With CC BY as our default, at least we know that anything originating from us simply requires attribution and nothing more; that’s pretty easy to ascertain and should be familiar practice to educational practitioners. But Share Alike or Non Commercial.. that requires a discussion, and with that comes complexity.

But CC BY only serves to make the content we create easy to use. Obviously the majority of resources out there use CC BY SA or equivalent.. this creates a small issue because it then means that if we sample and make derivatives from such content, then we are obliged to use the same license. This is a bummer and something I try to bring up in every forum.. but the copyleft movement is strong and uncompromising and I so far haven’t succeeded in convincing any of them to go CC BY. I guess they still worry about derivatives becoming closed. Personally, in education, I don’t see that happening for much longer. I think everyone will come to see the simplicity and flexibility of CC BY, and that alone outweighs all other concerns.

Most universities simply offer their content online under “all rights reserved” copyright, with sometimes an option to license the content openly. Otago Polytechnic revolutionizes this standard concept of openness by defaulting all content CC BY with the option for the individual to restrict. What has OP gained by having CC BY as their default policy? Can you elaborate on some of the specific benefits?

What have we gained? Your attention for one! Last time the CC Blog referenced our story, hits to our website and staff blogs went through the roof! Over time, this recognition will continue to grow through the attribution requirement with our content, and maybe that will translate into attracting funding or even students.. but really, as great as the recognition is, it doesn’t immediately change much in terms of the situation in our courses, and this is where we remain focused. We want the skills and capacity of our teaching staff and their students to continue to grow and develop; we want easy and quick access to what ever information resource is needed at the time, and the freedom to reuse it in anyway we see fit; we want to share our experience and expertise with others in similar fields so we can explore collaborative practices and networked teaching and learning; and we want to find ways in which to operate more efficiently and effectively. Our adoption of CC BY is a significant step in that direction as it removes at least one of the artificial barriers to any of that possibly happening.

What about some challenges? What are they and how does OP propose to overcome them?

At the moment, one of the biggest challenges we face is the reliance that some faculty have with all rights reserved content. This content is preventing us from developing OER practices. In some subject areas OER does not yet compete with the quality of published and restricted resources and so it is argued that using OER would compromise the quality of our services. In other areas faculty are still convinced of the possible financial gains they might make by restricting and selling content. In other areas faculty simply don’t have the time to rethink the way they teach their courses, let alone participate in OER development however beneficial it may be in the long run. All of these issues are not surprising and certainly manageable challenges that we address through normal staff development activities and support services like savvy librarians.

What advice would you give other institutions that have more restrictive open access policies?

Well, if you’re reading this then you yourself probably aren’t the one that needs convincing, no doubt it is your management. So you have a careful and indirect educational role to take. My advice would be to snuggle up with your IP lawyer if your place has one and start finding an in there. Respected 3rd parties can carry a lot of influence if they know how to play their game, and if you don’t have the lawyer on side then they could shatter all your dreams with heavy spoken opinions that really are just that.

If like us you’re lucky enough not to have one of those, then you need to watch for your next chance to participate in the review of your IP Policy. This could be a long road depending on how much support you have from key people around you.

In all these counts, it always helps to move things along by working with staff and growing things at the grass roots. If you can skillfully organise a significant event to draw attention from the local newspaper and the CClearn blog :) then that will help too. An event alone won’t do it because key people will find an excuse to miss it, so you might have to try and work it in with other things that are already happening.

Don’t be like me and flood every meeting with obsessive single mindedness. You’ll only risk alienating yourself.. I was lucky to have a very supportive boss who knew how to cope with me. Be patient, professional and diligent. It will happen when it is meant to happen.

Any last thoughts?

What was that I just said about myself?…

To find out more about Leigh and his projects, visit his WikiEducator page. To find out more about Otago Polytechnic, visit their WikiEducator page.

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