If you want to share, say so!

I took part in the Open Content Licensing for Educators online course that ran all last week.  It was run by the team at WikiEducator and was a great insight into the many copyright issues that can be addresses by creating Open Educational Resources using clear and open licensing terms.

I know that many educators don’t think in terms of “licensing” their work, but really, whenever you make something that can be used to help either you or others teach, it’s a “resource” and the way that you indicate how you are prepared to let others use that resource can be considered a “license”.

The thing that became screamingly obvious as I worked through the online course content last week was that…

a) All educators need to get much, much better at MARKING our work (where we’re allowed to) with some form of designation that indicates how we wish to share it. We all produce resources, but very few of us consciously consider marking those resources with a “license” to indicate how we want to allow (or restrict) others to use them. Creative Commons is ideal for this purpose, but there are other options too, such as AEShareNet.

The point is, whatever you choose to use, use something. (I know that some of you will rightly point out that the copyright for work you produce for your employer is technically the property of your employer…  I don’t even want to go down that slippery slope right now… I’m just saying that, where you are able, when you are allowed, PLEASE add some indication to the resources you produce to indicate how you will permit further reuse and remixing of those resources. I’m sure we have all experienced the frustration of finding a good resource that we’d like to reuse, but cannot find any mention of how the creator intended to share it… when it’s not marked as shareable then have to assume it’s covered by full All Rights Reserved copyright, and therefore we are technically unable to use it until we get permission… it’s a pain in the neck!)

And secondly..

b) For education, the best type of license is a CC-BY or a CC-BY-SA.  These are the only two CC license types that are classed as “Culturally Free”, meaning that they allow real sharing, reuse and remixing by others. Adding the well-intentioned NC (Non Commercial) or ND (No Derivatives) to a CC license can still make it difficult for people to use your stuff easily and legally, and in some ways are almost as restrictive as full copyright.  There are obviously places and situations for all six of the various CC license types, but for education and to allow real freedom to share, BY or BY-SA are the best ones.

Whatever terms you decide to use (although I’d encourage you to use the most free – libre – license you can) please mark your work – worksheets, powerpoints, IWB presentations, videos, etc – with something to let downstream users clearly know what they can and can’t do with your work.

Why Creative Commons?

Although I’ve not managed to keep up fully with the Open Content Licensing for Educators course being run by the WikiEducator group this week, I have managed to spend enough time with to do a bit of thinking about copyright, Creative Commons, and what all this stuff means to me as an educator. The course has been a good introductory overview of these issues, although I was already fairly aware of much of  the information being shared. The real value was in connecting with other educators from all over the world and hearing so many different perspectives on how traditional copyright can be so debilitating, especially in the developing world.

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on this copyright law stuff, but I have been taking a keen interest in the work of the Creative Commons folk for quite a while now and I try to take every opportunity to promote the benefits of the Commons. Reading through the forums, it’s clear that this hasn’t been the case for everyone, and it’s been great to see so many interested educators taking their first steps towards knowing more about CC and OER, and sharing ideas on how it can benefit them. As an exercise in spreading the excellent work of Creative Commons, the course appears to have been a great success.

Because I feel like I’m coming at the course content from a slightly different perspective, I decided to make this short video as a summary reflection on what Creative Commons means to me. It was prompted by a comment by Wayne Mackintosh in the previous post on this blog, where he pointed me towards a similar reflection video by Justin Cone, the producer of the Building on the Past video. As someone who has been pushing CC for a while, I thought it would be appropriate for me to take the opportunity to capture a few thoughts about it.


I’d love to read some comments about how Creative Commons has made a difference to what you do as an educator.

Better than Stealing

The Internet has made it easier than ever to find virtually any digital resource we might want. The ability to locate, download and use a piece of music, a passage of text, a video or a photo for our own use is so trivially easy to do that in the excitement of knowing we CAN do it, we sometimes overlook the question of whether we SHOULD do it.  The idea of the Internet as a place where things are freely shared has become so much a part of our thinking that we sometimes believe we have a right to reuse whatever resources we happen to find online.

One of the casualties of this cavalier approach to sharing can be a loss of respect for the intellectual property of others. In a world where everything appears to be so freely available, it is easy to overlook the fact that someone, somewhere, owns these resources.  We tend to rationalise our use of them, reasoning that if people put them on the Internet they must be willing to share them.  And that’s not always true.  Some people do not want you to take their work without asking.

On the other hand, some people ARE prepared to share their work. There are many who would be thrilled to think that someone wanted to look at their pictures, listen to their music or read their writing. The problem is that we don’t always know the author’s intentions. It would be nice to be able to tell, clearly and unambiguously, what the terms and conditions are for using their work.

This is precisely what Creative Commons sets out to do. Creative Commons is a set of conditions that clearly outlines the terms under which an author will allow their work to be used.  All CC licences require attribution, or some acknowledgment of the author, usually with a link back to the original work.  They provide a distinction between commercial and non-commercial uses, allowing the author to choose whether they will allow someone else to use their work to make money or not.  CC licences also provide options for whether the work must be used exactly as is, whether it can be edited, adapted and remixed, and can also stipulate that a work must be shared under the same conditions as it was made available.

Applying a CC license to your work is easy. The Creative Commons website, found at www.creativecommons.org, provides a couple of simple questions to define the conditions under which author is prepared to publish their work, and then generates badges, computer-readable code and an easy-to-understand license document.  It’s a very simple process that will help make it much clearer to anyone who wishes to use the works exactly what they are legally able to do with them.

The huge benefit for educators is the removal of the many barriers created by traditional copyright. Teachers are able to locate thousands of CC digital resources that can be freely used with students without worrying about violating copyright or interpreting the often vague “fair dealing” law. These digital resources can be used, remixed and, most importantly, republished back to the web, all without fear of a copyright violation since the terms of use are clearly and explicitly stated upfront.

Of course, not every resource will be available under a Creative Commons license, so students still need to be taught about traditional copyright and the responsibilities that accompany it. If suitable resources are not available under CC, and permission cannot be sought for its use, then all the usual copyright restrictions still apply. However, Creative Commons offers a viable alternative for the legitimate remixing of digital media, while providing an excellent environment in which to frame discussions with students about the legal and ethical responsibilities of being a good digital citizen.

This article was written for, and recently published in, Australian Teacher Magazine