This is a short post to justify my choice of Creative Commons license for my blog, which forms our current activity. Having reviewed the various options, the choice was not too difficult for me. I went for the Attribution-ShareAlike license, and have added a rather smart logo to the explanation of my blog to indicate this.
Why this one? Well, for a start, there doesn’t seem to be much point in asserting exclusive copyright over my blog. It is out there as a contribution to debate so if people want to quote or use it, provided they acknowledge where it came from, I am fine with that. It also makes sense to me that, if someone does want to alter or remix it (I’d be flattered if they did!), then, again with acknowledgement, I think that should also be distributed freely.
The decision I have also made is that I am not excluding commercial use of my material. In our reading, there is a good article on this point by Eric Moller. He clearly shows that a restriction on “commercial use” is pointless an unenforceable. What is “commercial use”? Many blogs carry advertising to generate some income for the blogger. does that make them commercial? What we seem to have here is an ideological view that “commercial” use is somehow less worthy to be encouraged than “non-commercial”, a distinction that doesn’t make too much sense in the real world.
I have to admit that I have become sensitive on the use of terms like “commercial” I work for a for-profit education provider, including higher education. Are our courses commercial? Yes, of course, we charge money for people to take our courses and that serves to cover our costs and generate a return for the shareholders who have invested in the creation of those courses and in building the organisation. We will be successful if we provide courses people want to take, i.e. good ones. And there is stringent regulation in place to avoid compromising academic standards in the interests of growth.
In this model are we, for practical purposes, all that different to other universities and colleges? They charge for courses, and depend for their survival on generating enough income from students’ fees and any other sources of funding they receive. They do not have shareholders, which means that they can return any surpluses, but also do not perhaps have the same level of accountability. It is not obvious to me that this is a “better” model than the commercial one. I would also question whether universities are in any sense “non-commercial” as I look at the barrage of marketing they unleash on the world via posters, press, social media, email and so on. They seem very committed to the commercial (and perfectly valid) goal of expanding or maintaining student numbers.
This confusion between what is commercial and what isn’t can even lead to some ethical tangles. According to a paper we reviewed earlier in the course, OpenLearn, the Open University’s open learning platform, cost over $11m to create – these things do not come cheap. Apparently, nearly $9m of this came from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a major charitable foundation. All very well, except that anyone who spends any length of time on the OpenLearn site will find not only some good learning material but also a major exercise in brand-building and marketing for the OU’s paid-for courses. The OU, of course is free to market itself however it chooses. But should a charitable foundation be funding something that is at least partly its marketing programme?
Slightly off-topic I know, but I like to think I have struck a small blow for the false and unhelpful split between “commercial” and “non-commercial” educational use.