We previously wrote about the U.S. Department of Education’s (Department) Notice of Proposed Priorities (NPP) for discretionary grant programs. The Department offered 13 proposed priorities, specifically mentioning Open Educational Resources (OER). Essentially, if the priorities are adopted, grant seekers could receive priority if they include OER as a component of an application for funding from the Department. OER is included in Proposed Priority 13–Improving Productivity:
Projects that are designed to significantly increase efficiency in the use of time, staff, money, or other resources. Such projects may include innovative and sustainable uses of technology, modification of school schedules, use of open educational resources (as defined in this notice), or other strategies that improve results and increase productivity.
As mentioned, the NPP includes a Department definition of open educational resources:
Open educational resources (OER) means teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.
Comments were accepted through September 7. There are 228 public submissions listed in the docket folder at Regulations.gov (note that some of these items are essentially duplicates, as contributors who submitted comments via a document attachment were given two unique IDs if they also included an introductory note in the text field on the submission portal). There are a few submissions that commented on the OER provision of the NPP. The following is a brief breakdown of these comments, based on relevant keyword searches of the docket.
Creative Commons appreciates the inclusion of OER, and highlights the importance of public, standardized legal and technical tools for OER to be successful:
The OER movement is poised to greatly further global access to and participation in education, but only if a critical mass of educational institutions and communities interoperate legally and technically via Creative Commons. Why is interoperability important? Because in its absence, content such as OER cannot be aggregated or mixed and then shared further in a legal or efficient manner without securing special permission from the original creators. Interoperability requires standardized, public licenses that grant rights in advance. Creative Commons licenses are the global standard for open content licensing, grant rights in advance, and are easy to understand and use. Institutions, teachers, and policymakers in all arenas should be required to implement and recommend use of CC’s tools for educational resources.
Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, International Association for K-12 Online Learning, State Educational Technology Directors Association, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, The Student PIRGs, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
The signing organizations appreciate the inclusion of OER, and suggest strengthening the definition of OER described in the NPP by: (1) replacing the conjunction “or” with the conjunction “and” to ensure that derivative use is clearly allowable; and (2) replacing the phrase “permits their free use or repurposing by others,” with the phrase, “permits sharing, accessing, repurposing (including for commercial purposes) and collaborating with others.” Under this approach, the revised definition would read as follows:
Open educational resources (OER) means teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain and have been released under an intellectual property license that permits sharing, accessing, repurposing (including for commercial purposes) and collaborating with others.
The signing organizations also encourage the Department to make the innovative development, use, expansion and dissemination of OER an element of several other priorities, including Priority 2 (Implementing Internationally Benchmarked College and Career-Ready Elementary and Secondary Standards), Priority 4 (Turning Around Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools), Priority 5 (Increasing Postsecondary Success), and Priority 7 (Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education).
State Educational Technology Directors Association
The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) appreciates the inclusion of OER, and echoes the suggestion made in the joint comment above for the strengthening of the definition. In addition, SETDA endorses the inclusion of OER in Priority 2 (College/Career Ready Standards), and suggests OER be included in a new proposed priority entitled, “Technology, Innovation, and School Reform”:
We believe that investments in technology for learning represent a new baseline infrastructure for education, including investments in the human resources necessary to make best use of the new tools and services enabled by this infrastructure. Under this priority, projects designed to support innovative approaches to school reform could focus on one or more of the following priority areas … (a) Transitioning from print to digital instructional materials, including especially those employing open educational resources …
Council of Chief State School Officers
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) appreciates the inclusion of OER, and highlights the importance of OER as a way to providing quality resources to students:
The nation’s chief state school officers are committed to ensuring that all students have access to high-quality instructional materials and other resources and OER represents an important tool for reaching this goal. Many states are already leading in this important area and welcome the opportunity to seek federal support for furthering their work, particularly as it contributes to supporting cost-effective implementation of the CCR standards. We urge you to preserve this priority in the final rule.
1105 Media strongly supports SETDA’s recommendations for strengthening the NPP, especially the addition of its proposed new priority, “Technology, Innovation and School Reform”, which suggests that projects designed to support innovative approaches to school reform could focus on one or more of the following priority areas … (a) Transitioning from print to digital instructional materials, including especially those employing open educational resources …Comments Off
Last year, we kicked off our global case studies effort, inviting you to share your stories—individuals, projects, and companies who use Creative Commons for different reasons and to solve different problems. Through the CC wiki, we attempted to capture the diversity of CC creators and content by building a resource that inspires new works and informs free culture.
Thanks to your contributions, the Case Studies project has grown into an incredibly valuable resource. But like all wikis, the Case Studies wiki is evolving. Everyday, more people and projects are using CC, and existing projects are continuously making themselves over.
To keep up, we’ve made the Case Studies project easier to navigate and ultimately more useful and participatory for the community by revamping the portal and building a new rating system, implementing lessons we’ve learned from other successful wiki communities such as Wikipedia. What’s new:
- We used Semantic MediaWiki (an extension of MediaWiki) to organize quantifiable elements into a few common properties. Take a look at the case study for Cory Doctorow and you’ll see a new box on the right that provides an at-a-glance view of some of the project’s main properties. These properties are common to all case studies and their values can now be easily browsed.
- The ability to evaluate each case study by Page Importance and Page Quality. We drafted an Evaluation Guide with some basic criteria for what determines whether a case study is of high, medium, or low importance and quality. These criteria are meant to serve as starting points; we want you to edit and improve them as more case studies are evaluated and added. Each criteria that is not met comes with suggested edits to improve existing case studies.
What you can do now:
- Visit the revamped Case Studies wiki!
- Evaluate a Case Study
- Improve a Case Study by adding relevant data, updating old information, or editing the prose so that it sparkles
- Translate the new instructions. See the Portuguese translation of the evaluations page as an example.
- And as always, add your CC story or one you’re familiar with
The goal of the new features is to encourage better quality and contribution. Please use and help us improve them!Comments Off
It’s with great pleasure that we announce the recipients of the first CC Catalyst Grants Program. Out of a grant pool consisting of more than 130 applications, seven projects have been selected for awards up to $10,000 each, to catalyze projects that contribute to the commons.
Thanks to your generous support during the Catalyst Grants campaign, we raised almost $50,000, 100% of which will directly fuel the grant awards.
The applicant pool offered an impressive array of project ideas from around the world. We couldn’t be happier with the turnout and fantastic proposals from a variety of fields. Although we unable to fund more proposals this time around, we hope to run the program again next year and leverage our experience to raise a larger pool of funds so we can do still more. We also learned a lot about what makes a strong proposal and will share these guidelines with the community.
We encourage you to take a look at the remaining grant pool, and if a project catches your eye, you can leave the team a note on the wiki discussion page. Many projects are seeking specific expertise or support and would welcome the opportunity to work with others to make their idea a reality.
An enormous thank-you goes to the Catalyst Grants Review Committee, comprised of regional representatives nominated by CC Project Leads. Thank you, Hiram Meléndez Juarbe (Puerto Rico), Bassel Safadi (Syria), Paul Keller (Netherlands), Paul Kiwehlo (Tanzania), Jane Hornibrook (New Zealand), as well as Chiaki Hayashi (Asia Projects Coordinator) and the CC staff members for your thoughtful review. This process benefitted from your generous input.
Thank you as well to all the applicants for your efforts and great ideas, and thank you to those who supported the fundraising campaign that made this all possible.
With no further ado, here are the recipients of this year’s CC Catalyst Grants Program funds:
- #8: Arabic Open Educational Resources (OER) Platform
o To build a fully functional online educational system that provides free sharing of educational resources.
o Applicant: Jordan Open Source Association (Jordan)
- #9: Assessing the effect of license choice on the use of lexical resources
o To measure the correlation of the openness of the license with the use of a WordNet (semantic net works similar to enhanced thesauruses) and create a server that will offer a unified, online interface to all open WordNets.
o Applicant: Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies; Nanyang Technological University (Japan)
- #17: CC Commentary
o To establish a collaborative, database-driven online commentary of worldwide scope for the six CC core licenses
o Applicant: European Academy of Law and Computing (EEAR) and newthinking communications (Germany)
- #36 Creative Commons Latam Conference 2010
o To host a two day regional conference where Latin American free culture communities and Creative Commons Latin America chapters will gather together to share experiences and discuss common projects (output to include publications)
o Applicant: Bienes Comunes Asociación Civil (Argentina)
- #40: Developing a methodology to run Creative Commons license-based architectural competitions.
o To build a methodology for running alternative, open license-based two-phase architectural competitions
o Applicant: KÉK – Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre (Hungary)
- #57: Implementing a web site that will provide technical and legal support for Latin-American publishers of academic journals to satisfy open journal standards
o To design, develop, and implement a website that will provide technical and legal support for Latin American publishers of academic journals to satisfy open journal standards
o Applicant: Derechos Digitales (Chile) and Fundacion Karisma (Colombia)
- #127: etcc: remixing the visual arts
o To organize a remixable art exhibition that seeks to explore ideas of creation and appropriation in the visual arts sector.
o Applicant: Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (Australia)
One of the questions people often ask about Open Educational Resources is “do they really increase efficiency?” Creative Commons has worked with many OER innovators, and their stories indicate that it does. We thought it would be useful to gather pointers to some of these examples. Please read on, and leave a comment with other great examples of how CC-enabled OER can increase efficiency for teachers, students and self-learners. Note of course that increasing efficiency is only one benefit of OER.
Negotiating permissions on the web
As a baseline, CC-licensed OER increase efficiency overall because it helps clarify user rights and responsibilities from the start. Copyright law rewards the authors of original works with a bundle of rights for a fixed period of time. Generally, a work cannot be shared or adapted without the permission of the rights holder (in the U.S., there are limitations and exceptions that temper the exclusive rights of the copyright holder–for example, fair use). Materials that remain under all rights reserved copyright require a potential user to ask permission first. The rights permissions process is usually long, difficult, and expensive. Solving the permissions problem is one reason Creative Commons came to exist in the first place–CC licenses let authors mark their creative works with the freedoms the creator wants it to carry. Creative Commons helps lower the transaction costs associated with using and sharing creativity on the Internet.
Even if educators want to share their teaching materials, if the rights are not clear to the end user, the resources will be used less, or not at all. To enable creative, innovative, and legal downstream use and remix of educational resources, clarity is essential. Creative Commons licenses are specifically designed to be easy to apply and simple for creators and users to understand.
The human-readable deed simplifies the terms of each license into a few universal icons and non-technical language, making it easy for teachers and students to understand right away how they can use the educational resource. The lawyer-readable legal text has been vetted by a global team of legal experts. The machine-readable code enables search and discovery of the educational content via search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and others.
Search and Discovery
The findability of quality educational content online is one of the fundamental challenges for teachers and students today. Properly licensed open educational resources can help users find content that they know they can use, customize, and reshare. Many existing search services integrate licensing information so users can filter for content that is licensed under Creative Commons licenses. CC licensing information is integrated with sites such as Google, Yahoo!, Flickr, Fotopedia, Jamendo, Blip.tv, Vimeo, Open Clip Art Library, and Wikimedia Commons. Other websites host (or point to) open educational resources–DiscoverEd, Connexions, CK-12, Flat World Knowledge, Curriki, OER Commons, and others.
Translations and Accessibility
OER can increase efficiency when materials are published under a license that permits the creation of derivative works (all Creative Commons licenses that do not contain the NoDerivaties (ND) condition allow this). OER can be translated into other languages and transformed into alternate formats–such as for display on mobile devices–more easily than materials published under all rights reserved copyright. MIT OpenCourseWare uses the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (BY-NC-SA). Nearly 800 MIT OCW courses have been translated into other languages, all without needing to ask permission from the copyright holder.
Bookshare is the world’s largest accessible online library for persons with print disabilities. Bookshare was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Education aimed at creating the first accessible versions of open digital textbooks. U.S. Copyright law permits some authorized entities to make accessible copies of books–and permits particular authorized disabled persons to access these vetted versions. This access is incredibly important, but the exception is limited, and does not apply for users outside of the United States. Open textbooks are low hanging fruit if they are released under a license that permits the creation of derivative works, because these can be more easily converted into accessible formats, such as audio and Braille refresh. No extra permissions costs have to be incurred or royalties paid for these adaptations to take place.
Customization and Affordability
OER can increase efficiency for teachers because they can be customized, easily updated, and oftentimes developed less expensively. Chuck Severance, a clinical professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, was able to publish a textbook in 11 days because he remixed an existing book. The remixed book Python for Informatics: Exploring Information, is a remix based on the openly licensed book Think Python: How to Think like a Computer Scientist. Students are able to take advantage of the University Library’s Espresso Book Machine to print on-demand copies for approximately $10. Python for Informatics is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) license.
Education publisher Flat World Knowledge is a commercial textbook publisher that incorporates Creative Commons licensing into the core of their business model. Flat World Knowledge offers free and customizable online access to their textbooks, all available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) license. If users want a physical copy of the book, he or she can order it from Flat World, usually for under $50. Flat World Knowledge is competitive with traditional publishers from the get-go, hiring quality authors, peer-reviewing texts, and professionally editing content. Flat World Knowledge recently released information that 800 colleges will utilize their open textbooks this year, saving 150,000 students $12 million or more in textbook expenses. Affordability of educational materials, especially textbooks, is an increasing concern for students and their families. According to a widely-cited 2005 GAO report, college textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation over the last 20 years; Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) suggest the increase is closer to 4X over roughly the same time period.
During the summer of 2007, the Virginia Department of Education realized their high school physics textbook wasn’t working – it was out of date and did not include information about state of the art scientific advancements. With various stakeholders from both the private and public sectors, the Secretaries of Technology and Education developed an open physics textbook under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) license. The goals of the textbook development project were to provide all state physics teachers with up-to-date physics texts with emerging content, to create a database where content could be centrally located, to determine how the value of the textbook could be measured, and to decide whether the project was worth replicating for other subject areas. The book was developed and delivered to students within six months, 6 to 10 times faster than the 3 to 5 years officials were told would be necessary to develop a similar book under the traditional model.
The Internet and digital technologies have transformed how people learn. Educational resources are no longer static and scarce, but adaptable and widely available, allowing educational institutions, teachers, and learners to actively use, build upon, and share Open Educational Resources. OER enables teachers and students to find the content they know they can use, remix, and reshare–legally. OER helps address problems associated with language and accessibility, and empowers teachers to deliver customized, relevant content to learners, supporting individualized learning and student achievement. Engaging with the global OER community can help save time and money. These are just a few of the ways that Open Educational Resources helps increase efficiency. Please help us out by providing more examples in the comments, or add projects to our Case Studies.3 Comments »
Today the Open High School of Utah (OHSU) announced the release of ten semesters of openly licensed curriculum materials. The OER are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. The resources are available via OHSU’s OpenCourseWare portal. From the announcement:
Technology rules at Open High where their approach to learning embraces the idea that teaching shouldn’t be as static as the textbooks on which it’s based. Shattering traditional methods, the Open High School of Utah curriculum is built from open educational resources. These resources are the foundation for their content and are aligned with Utah state standards to ensure the highest quality educational experience. The teachers enhance with screencasts, interactive components, and engaging activities to create high quality curricula for their students.
The Open High School of Utah is a public online charter high school. As DeLaina Tonks, OHSU’s Director, told us in an interview a few weeks ago, “The objective behind creating open content is to create free and simple access to knowledge and information through collaboration and innovation. The OHSU mission dovetails nicely with that of open education because we are among the first, if not the first, secondary school to create our own OER curriculum and share it worldwide.”
Congratulations to The Open High School of Utah for being a leader–both in vision and practice–for the Open Education community.Comments Off
CC BY by Steve Jurvetson
Registration is open for two open education events set to take place in early November in Barcelona, Spain. Open Ed 2010 is the seventh annual open education conference that is “the world’s premiere venue for research related to open education” and is focused this year on OER: Impact and Sustainability. Early bird registration for the conference has been extended until September 24th.
The other notable event is the Mozilla Foundation’s Drumbeat Festival 2010: Learning, Freedom and the Web which is launching the same week as Open Ed. The Drumbeat Festival is the culmination of the year’s local Drumbeat events held throughout the year and the various open web and education projects engendered by them. Registration for the festival is now open at the site; alternatively, if you are already attending Open Ed 2010 you can register for Drumbeat for an extra 50 euro. Those interested in participating in both events can send an email to email@example.com.
Two months may seem like forever in internet time, but open web and education activists aren’t the only ones traveling to Barcelona in November. The Pope will be visiting around that time as well, so event planners are advising that you register and book accommodations as soon as possible.Comments Off
The iftar is the meal that breaks the fast of Muslims during the month of Ramadan. In the Arab world, it is traditionally associated with families sitting all together and enjoying the first meal of the day. CC Iftars, moreover, are social events where people celebrate the breaking of the fast, socialize, and talk about innovation, creativity, and the open web. The meetings are cozy, informal, and community-driven. They can feature lightning talks, engaging presentations, film screenings, or live remixes of CC-licensed works.
CC Iftars have been organized thanks to the great efforts of our Arab world communities, led by volunteer teams in Dubai, Amman, Damascus and Cairo. Each city’s iftar focuses on a different theme. In Dubai, it’s “mash-ups,” Amman’s is “fast-sharing,” Damascus’s is “remix!” and Cairo’s is “share!” Guests include educators, media professionals, artists, technologists, students, and members of the local CC jurisdiction teams. Each program is filled with performances, screenings, inspiring talks, and debates. The local volunteer teams have done a fantastic job pulling together the programs, finding speakers, and designing event t-shirts. In some cases, like in Dubai and Amman, there are themed competitions as well.
A big thank you to Aramex, who has been our incredible regional partner and supports the iftars in each city.
Best of luck to the teams in Dubai, Amman, Damascus, and Cairo. We hope you’ll be able to join them, break the fast, and share ideas!Comments Off
yolink, “a next-generation search technology,” has added CC license support to its updated browser plugin. yolink’s browser plugin allows you to quickly scan your search results by specific key terms, effectively simplifying your more complex or advanced searches. Once you’ve found a relevant article, you can then share it with others via social media sites or a Google doc—all through the browser plugin window. The plugin has added CC license support, which means if you start a document with CC licensed site content the license will be retained and displayed in the doc.
For example, say I run a Google search on “Creative Commons”. Via the yolink browser plugin, I quickly scan the Google results for the Wikipedia article. If I want to start a Google doc with a particular passage, I don’t have to visit the Wikipedia page to manually copy and paste it—I can simply click on the check box next to the text I want and create a Google doc, all within the plugin window. yolink will automatically create a Google doc with the selected text and paste in the CC license info. See:Comments Off
When we published Open Doors and Open Minds, we promised a companion piece that discusses in detail some of the legal considerations that university administrators and university general counsels may wish to consider in adopting a public access policy. I’m happy to say that this is now available. This excellent companion piece, providing a thorough overview and careful analysis of legal issues related to public access policies, is written by Simon Frankel and Shannon Nestor, who are lawyers at Covington & Burling, a prominent Washington D.C. law firm. It is available in the Reading Room. I wish to thank them for their contribution of this wonderful resource for public access champions, and we look forward to distributing this widely.Comments Off
Lewis Hyde has been writing about the commons for over thirty years. His first book, The Gift (1983), is regarded as the modern classic on Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World–the 25th anniversary edition’s subtitle. His new book, Common as Air, directly addresses the cultural commons, and could hardly be more relevant to understanding at a deep level the work of Creative Commons.Poet and scholar
I’ve taken this opportunity to ask the author a series of long-winded questions about the commons. Many thanks to Lewis Hyde for his forbearance in answering, and for the great inspiration he has given to many who support Creative Commons, and the commons writ large!
Your first book, The Gift, evinces great concern for the cultural commons, in some cases (e.g., commentary on science) very explicitly in language recognizable to current movements that share such concerns. You were probably writing The Gift at about the same time Richard Stallman was becoming what we’d now recognize as a free software activist. Having been a Berkman fellow for a number of years and writing about free software, Creative Commons, and related movements in Common as Air, you’ve obviously been aware of these movements for some time. When and how did your path first cross with one of these movements?
My book is dedicated to my late father, by profession a physicist with a specialty in optics. As the dedication says, it was he who first told me about “Dollond’s case,” an eighteenth-century patent dispute involving telescope lenses in which Lord Mansfield ruled that ownership of an idea belonged not to the person who kept his invention secret but to the person “who brought it forth for the benefit of mankind.”
The point being: for a long time I’ve been aware of the commons narrative in regard to ideas and for a long time I’ve thought of something as old as patent law as being among the methods we’ve devised for moving potentially private knowledge into the public sphere.
As for the more specific modern innovations in this line, I had a vague awareness for a long time but the fight over copyright term extension in the mid 1990s managed to focus my attention. I wrote an essay–“Created Commons”–arguing against such extension; I was co-signatory to one of the amicus briefs in the Supreme Court case, Eldred v. Ashcroft; and I was present on the day that Lessig argued for Eldred before the Court. I consequently watched with attention and admiration as Creative Commons came to life in the years following.
One sentence in particular in The Gift presages current free software and free culture practice: “A gift community puts certain constraints on its members, yes, but these constraints assure the freedom of the gift” (p 107). This sounds exactly like the copyleft mechanism of the GNU GPL–the requirement that an adaptation be distributed under terms offering the public the same freedoms offered by the source work. In Common as Air you argue that copyleft would be better described as copyduty, reflecting that rights come with responsibilities. Two questions concerning this. First, the GPL is often described as a key innovation in the history of free software–clearly it is, but I wonder if its typical description doesn’t seem a bit taken out of history, not cognizant of antecedents in gift cultures nor of the likelihood the precise mechanism would have been invented in a similar time frame had Stallman never become a free software activist? Second, the copyleft mechanism is known as ShareAlike in the Creative Commons license suite–how do you think this terminology comports with your explanation of copyduty?
It is surely the case that the GPL has antecedents in gift cultures. As I explain in The Gift, one old ethic asks that gifts be “kept in motion”; they ought to be passed along in the same spirit with which they were received. Put another way, in a gift culture one is not supposed to capitalize on the generosity of others or of the community.
That said, such ethics belong to custom rather than law; the wit of the GPL was to give legal footing to the gift ethic of the software community. As for antecedents in that line, I note in Common as Air that I found one other example of a gift norm that got grounded in law: Pete Seeger and his friends secured the copyright on “We Shall Overcome,” then set up a trusteeship to donate the money earned to support “African-American music in the South.” That trusteeship has a “claim and release” structure not unlike the one built into the later GPL.
As for links between the Creative Commons license suite and my sense of copyduty, I’m not sure these need be limited to the “Share Alike” option. Many are the duties that arise from a person’s sense of both self and community. One might, for example, feel a duty to contribute to the public domain with no strings attached, in which case “copyduty” would be best expressed by the CC0 tool. That was Benjamin Franklin preferred mode, by the way. He believed that any claim to own his ideas and inventions could only lead to the kind of disputes that “sour one’s Temper and disturb one’s Quiet.” He never took a patent or registered a copyright.
Each of your three prose books concern keeping various aspects of society “lively”, through the circulation of gifts, transgressive art (Trickster Makes This World, 1997), and the cultural commons. Furthermore, the mechanisms required to maintain liveliness change with the overall environment (e.g., The Gift’s portrayal of usury as vice within a tribe, necessity for commerce with strangers) and can have the effect of changing or destroying a settled order (as primarily told through myth in Trickster). I don’t get a sense from Common as Air of the trajectory of the cultural commons in these dimensions–something to feel loss over (such as perhaps close knit tribal groups and pre-enclosure land commons) but never to be dominant again or something ascendant, and if the latter, something that will be digested by the current cultural order, or something that will replace the current order?
The question calls for a bit of soothsaying or prophecy and that makes me think of a remark of Foucault’s cited at the end of Trickster: “I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.” Are the cultural commons doomed to enclosure, or will they thrive and therefore alter (or replace) the current landscape? Hard to say! What I’ve tried to do in the book is describe, as clearly as I can, the cultural tensions we now live with, believing that clarity is the precondition of action, however action itself eventually plays out.
That said, for a thoughtful survey of how the commons, cultural and otherwise, might thrive inside of, or along with, with current conditions I recommend Peter Barnes’s book, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons. One of Barnes’s points is that our debates about the future often imagine only two actors: the government and private business. Barnes suggests a third set, common property trusts (as, for example, the kind of land trusts devised by the Nature Conservancy). There is much to say about common property trusts but for now the point is simply that we already have a mix of cultural modes and should continue to have them going forward with, I hope, the commons recognized and strengthened.
You emphasize in Common as Air that maintaining a commons requires regular “beating of bounds”–for pre-enclosure land commons this involved destroying private encroachments such as fences and cultivation, often with a merry-making and somewhat extralegal components. Preserving the cultural commons necessarily takes a different kind of bounds beating–proprietary bits can’t be “destroyed”, nor must they (patents on math, genes, and other discovered as opposed to invented things, which you dub the third enclosure, might be an exception, as they do fence off areas from the commons). I can imagine at least three different cultural commons bounds beating activities: (1) Building up and expanding the bounds of the cultural commons, sometimes (perhaps increasingly) out-competing proprietary culture (Wikipedia and free software running the internet infrastructure being the obvious examples). This is obviously the strategy of Creative Commons, the free software movement, and similar–and a truly wonderful thing in that it relies entirely on construction rather than destruction. (2) Pushing back when the commons is threatened, e.g., fighting diminution of fair use and other exceptions and limitations, something which groups like the EFF do with some success. (3) Pretending to ignore the current order altogether (except when thumbing one’s nose at it), i.e., unauthorized sharing, especially the self-conscious pirate movement. I am a little surprised Common as Air does not address the third, given it is the clearly extralegal and putatively destructive option–at least superficially most like beating the bounds of a land commons. Surprised but not upset–I suspect that unauthorized use competes with building of voluntary commons, serving as a marketing and price discrimination mechanism for proprietary culture. What is your take on each of these three as bounds beating for preserving the cultural commons, and are there others I’m missing?
You offer a good summary of ways to enlarge and protect a cultural commons. I don’t have much to add except to expand on your third category a bit. It isn’t entirely true that Common as Air avoids addressing the piracy / unauthorized use option. After all, there’s a whole chapter called “Benjamin Franklin, Founding Pirate”! When Franklin ran away from his Boston printing apprenticeship, he broke the law and, in a sense, “stole” the craft knowledge that his brother had been passing on. More to the point, when Franklin was stationed in France after the Revolution, he encouraged British artisans to ignore their country’s anti-emigration laws and bring both machinery and know-how to America–clear acts of piracy from the British point of view.
Elsewhere in the book I discuss the fact that, in the eighteenth-century, Scottish “piracy” of books that London booksellers thought they owned outright triggered the legal battles that arose around the first copyright laws. It took about fifty years to sort that out at the end of which it became clear that the Scottish booksellers were not pirates at all; the London booksellers, rather, were monopolists hoping to fence off the public domain. Here as elsewhere the charge of “piracy” was in fact a harbinger of an enlarging commons.
In Trickster (p. 130) you say that among ways of acquiring things (make, buy, receive, steal, find) the last is the odd one out, for only it is accidental. However, for anyone who lives much of their life on the net, “acquisition” of intangible goods through “finding” is natural, intentional, and perhaps even dominant. In both Trickster and Common as Air (p. 202) you tell the story of a baby Krishna–”who when asked by his mother if he has stolen butter from the pantry, answers with a question of his own: ‘How could I steal? Doesn’t everything in the house belong to us?’” It strikes me that so-called digital natives, culture, and the net are akin to the baby Krisha, butter in the pantry, and the Krishna household, respectively–”How could finding and using any culture on the net be stealing? Doesn’t all culture belong to us in common?” It seems that to the extent there is a vibrant voluntary cultural commons to draw from, the tension between “finding” and “stealing” is obviated. Further, I wonder if “finding” is not the means by which “receiving” scales–gift-giving and -receiving via mechanisms like Creative Commons licenses tend to happen asynchronously, globally, and often with no further relationship between the parties–all in contrast with traditional gift cultures. Thoughts on the sanity (or perhaps mere inanity) of these extrapolations?
You touch on what I think of as the link between the book on gift exchange to the one on trickster figures: the Greek word hermaion means “a gift of Hermes” and is usually translated as “lucky find” or “windfall.” It is the gift that comes out of nowhere; it is an odd sort of gift, then, carrying with it none of the social obligations often associated with gift exchange.
There is a hidden problem in the gift book: much gift exchange takes place is communities with a strong sense of in-group and out-group. Gift giving may be a wonderful thing, but what if you happen to be in the out-group? What if all the scientists are men and they don’t share their data with the women? In the Greek stories, Hermes is potentially in the out-group (an illegitimate child, etc.) and he begins his relationship to the gods by stealing Apollo’s cattle (pirate!).
Well, there’s much to say about all of this–it’s all in those two books. Here let me just say that digital copying and the internet have created a kind of neo-Hermetic space in which many things “happen” outside of any domesticating or ethicizing container. The rules are not clear. Then we get these polar camps: amateur anarchists on the one side, who happily believe we need no rules, and old guard “intellectual property” purists madly trying to enforce and sharpen the rules that worked so well back in 1965. What Creative Commons and others are doing is trying to enlarge the middle ground.
The basic trope–or mischief, as you put it–of Common as Air is a comparative study, a method far too little used, in particular with respect to copyright. Your points of comparison (among many others possible: you mention “children in China”, and “during the Protestant Reformation” as examples) are the 1700s, primarily in the core areas of the United States and colonies that formed it, and current claims about cultural ownership. The critique of current copyright that falls out of such a comparison will be familiar to many readers involved with Creative Commons. However, you tell another story as well concerning changing attitudes not just about cultural ownership, but about culture, and public life in general, across the 1700s and 1800s–could you say a bit about that arc, and perhaps what current cultivators of the cultural commons might learn from it?
The main thing I might add, not fully rehearsed in the book, is the point that Neil Netanel makes in a Yale Law Journal essay, “Copyright and a Democratic Civil Society.” Put simply, in the eighteenth century, at least, if you wanted a civil society that could stand free of the government, the aristocracy, and the church, then you would welcome the rise of an “intellectual property” market. Independent authors, publishing houses, newspapers: all these appear as a print market arises. And right now, of course, we see many of them struggling as that market is undermined.
The Washington Post just published a fine account of the pervasive post-9/11 secret intelligence establishment: who will have the money (and therefore the time and resources) to do that kind of journalism if newspapers like the Post can find no business model fitted to the digital future? Here again we need more thoughtful work in the thinly populated space between the amateur anarchists and the old guard IP purists.
I should leave well enough alone, as you earlier answered that Creative Commons and others are trying to enlarge the (thinly populated as yet) middle ground. That is positioning we like. However, (1) I had in mind another shift occurring across the 1700s and 1800s–very coarsely, from the conception of great people as building on the work of others, with concomitant responsibility to society at large, to the conception of great people as singletons, with no responsibility but self-aggrandizement. In Common as Air you wonderfully note this shift in the changing public narrative about Ben Franklin during and after his life. (2) Does not your answer “money (and therefore the time and resources)” privilege the default argument of “old guard IP purists”? Though business and money are crucial, time and resources may flow from non-pecuniary sources–”cognitive surplus” is a newfangled term for one such source; you’ve described many others. Learning how to fully leverage such sources may be just as important to society as new “business models”–and would seem to be a major determinant of how big of a role the cultural commons has to play in this world. To wrap up, I wonder if you have thoughts on any causal relationships in either direction between popular conceptions of how innovation occurs (by accumulation of knowledge and widespread collaboration, or singularly great and self-aggrandizing individuals) and how innovation is pursued (with or without sharing) and the implications of such?
You are right that I answered in terms of “money” and “business” and you offer one of the useful ways to widen my response–to include all the non-monetary ways to tap time and resources.
I am obviously someone who cares about gift-exchange and sharing in the creation of knowledge and culture but I am also a bit of a contrarian and thus find that sometimes I want to underline the complications that necessarily arise around gift-exchange in our current situation.
In Common as Air I devote some space to the publicly financed part of the human genome project. It makes a good example of an enterprise undertaken in a non-commercial spirit. At the same time, in the background one needs to recognize that funding came from the public purse (in the U.S.) and private philanthropy (the Wellcome Trust in England). Behind each of these lies “money” and “business” (a pharmaceutical empire behind Wellcome, for example).
That said, the Internet has produced modes of production we could not have imagined 25 years ago. Yochai Benkler seems to me to be doing some of the best work on tracking these and suggesting future possibilities. We should keep ourselves open to surprise.1 Comment »