Friday, October 12, 2007

Open Ed: Fuzzy and Blue

Creative Commons offers some good options for licensing, but after reading about licensing with the GFDL, Creative Commons and Public Domain, I realize that there are several options missing. What if I want someone to be required to share-alike all derivative works but not give attribution, keeping the work in the creative commons but not telling who originally created it? Apparently this is not an option. Why is attribution the basic requirement for a creative commons license? Perhaps attribution is there so that any future users of the material can be more easily held to the requirements of the author, but attribution often creates extra effort for the re-mixer of a creative work because they are required to attribute the work to someone in a way that the author requires. Often this means that the work cannot be used without attribution having to be placed in the work or on another prominent position of the derivative which does not look good. Indeed the attribution requirement restricts the very people we are trying to empower, the user of the work. The Creative commons website speaks about the most liberal of the licensing schemes, “By attribution you let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it” seems like you should have the above options or even the option to require no derivatives of your work without attribution. I noticed that Houshuang agrees that there should be a creative commons license that does not require attribution.

It looks like the Creative Commons and GFDL licenses are incompatible and do not allow for people to put them together. David Wiley explains this in his posts. A few years ago Lawrence Lessig posted that you cannot legally mix items from OCW to Wikipedia. Lessig talks about how items from Wikipedia are required to be re-shared under the FDL license and items licensed as share alike in OCW require re-licensing under that same license. These licenses were incompatible when he wrote this in 2005. He also explained that the people at creative commons are beginning an effort to put the licenses together in a more compatible way. Hopefully there has been progress in making these licenses more compatible, but maybe that is not the point. Is any restriction of freedoms bad? I can see the value of having intermediary licenses such as share alike and non-commercial as a kind of gateway to help apprehensive individuals begin to license their original work. These licenses, however, still restrict end users from using resources in certain ways as David Wiley points out. I agree with him that the ideal and future goal is the public domain.

Moving on to the share alike and non commercial clause, it seems likely that share alike would fill most people's needs because it requires an item to be used and shared by the remixer with the same license. Non-commercial basically states that users cannot use a work for commercial gain. Would this restriction mean that businesses simply cannot use these items, even if they are not using the actual creative work to make money? A business may need a training on how to do good customer service. They find a great non-commercially licensed item on the internet that teaches about an aspect of good customer service. They desire to use this in their internal training. Would this be allowed since its use does not directly lead to the business making money, or would this be restricted because it is a business using the item? In my opinion the business ideally should be able to use the resource.

I think that when people say that share-alike will cover all of the needs of the non-commercial clause, they are correct because of the above scenario. If the business in the above example were required to re-share their training material it would make not make a difference in their use of it. If a company sells a creative item that is licensed with the share-alike clause and not the non-commercial one, then they are also required to release this item for free to the general public. Selling an item that you must also provide free to the public would not work very well.

Copyleft, or share-alike, is very good for the open education movement. Most importantly, it gives people the freedom to use, remix, modify and share a creative work. These rights must be given by an author or else the open education movement could not even exist. I think that a better question is, “is public domain good for the open education movement.” Copyleft contains freedoms, but it also contains restrictions too, the main one being a requirement to share again any derivitave works under the same license. Public domain does not carry any non-commercial or share-alike restrictions. David Wiley also mentions how much better this is for the open education movement, mentioning the idea of privileging people over content.

Last weeks discussion was about the value of items published in the Creative commons vs. Public domain. I read several posts that did not differentiate these two values. They essentially said that 100 percent of the value of Public domain is realized in a creative commons license. I strongly disagree. In my post I set it at around 50%. This is just an arbitrary number at best, but if you have ever had to reuse creative commons vs. public domain licensed work, you understand that you have to put forth a lot of extra effort when using creative commons, and none when you are using public domain works. Lets look at the scenario of an instructional designer creating a training slide show featuring a creative commons attribution share alike licensed creative work. The instructional designer has to determine how the original author wants to be attributed. This often means defacing the training by adding attribution on the actual slide. The the instructional designer must also figure out a way to license the work again in the same way as the original work. If the instructional designer has a choice of this and a work that is already in the public domain, they will choose the public domain every time. Another scenario could involve a teacher in the developing world, but it would be very similar. So the value of the public domain is not 100% realized in creative commons or GFDL licensing in even the most liberal renditions. Not to mention the commercial value that can be applied to a public domain work which cannot be attached to a share alike or non-commercial creative commons work.

On the flip side of things, we should also look at the creator of a work too. What is the difference for them if they release a creative work in public domain and creative commons. The only real value for releasing a work into the creative commons over public domain is the fuzzy and blue feeling inside that they know the work will be attributed to them and that it will always released using a creative commons license (if they release it with attribution share alike). They could use other clauses, but these would only result in more blue fuzzies for the author, but no increase in the real value of the work to them or others.


  1. Though most people don't remember it, version 1.0 of the CC licenses did not require attribution. However, some analysis by CC folks suggested that around 95% of adopters were using the attribution clause, so they decided to make it standard on every license in the 2.0 versions and beyond. I'm happy to say that there are currently some discussions underway about CC-Zero, a license with no restrictions at all. We'll see where that goes.

    And to address another question you asked, I haven't heard of any progress on the CC - GFDL compatibility problem. We may not ever find any, as the GFDL crowd may find incompatibility desirable, with those of us who don't choose it not being worthy of their content.

  2. Besides the fact that 95% of users chose the Attribution element, you'll find that in a whole lot of countries outside the USA, you can't legally give away your 'moral rights', which include attribution.