June 03, 2003

Why cc.edu is a good thing

Unsurprisingly, before the license language has even been announced folks have begun arguing that the Creative Commons Education (cc.edu) license is a bad thing. Below I present an extended argument explaining why cc.edu is a great thing for the “open education” movement and similar efforts. The draft language should be appearing on the Creative Commons site later today.

So people are already complaining. Their argument goes like this:

1. We wish all content would be open and available for anyone to use without discrimination against fields of endeavor (e.g., commercial, educational, or military uses).

2. A cc.edu would allow the owners of content to discriminate against fields of endeavor (make their works openly available to a subset of people, reserving use rights from others).

Therefore

3. Any cc.edu would be counter-productive to the cause of providing free and open educational opportunity because it will prevent some individuals from receiving the rights to use some educational materials.

The second proposition of the conclusion (it will prevent some individuals from receiving the rights to use some educational materials) is true. However, the first (it would be counter-productive to the cause of providing free and open educational opportunity) is not.

Creative Commons makes an assumption that there exists a subset of all content rights owners who do not feel the need to say “All Rights Reserved” but would rather be willing to say “Some Rights Reserved.” My fundamental assumption in backing the creation of cc.edu is that the size of this subset decreases as the number of rights reserved decreases. In other words, most people want to reserve most rights, there are only a few people who would be willing to reserve only a few rights, and there are extremely few people who would be willing to reserve extremely few rights. For example, the vast majority of movie, music, educational, and other content creators reserve all the rights available under the law with regard to their content (approximately, “all people reserve all rights”). By comparison, almost no one puts their material completely in the public domain (approximately, “no people reserve no rights”). This covarying relationship is true for a number of reasons, including desires for compensation, laws applying copyright by default, and the related effort necessary to release rights to content, among others. Figure 1 (the olive diagram below) illustrates this concept graphically.



To state it formally, if S represents the Size of the subset of all content rights owners who desire to retain a certain proportion of rights to their work, and R represents the proportion of Rights they desire to retain, the relationship between these two variables is approximately S &proportional; R.

If the relationship between S and R has been correctly characterized above (and I would love to hear dissenting views as long as they point to something in the real world as an example), then creating cc.edu, which will allow people to reserve more rights than a standard cc license (or more specifically, will allow them to give up the same rights under fewer circumstances), will increase the number of people willing to make their materials available. In other words, cc.edu will result in more material available for free and open use supporting learning.

I see two remaining arguments why cc.edu is bad (although I’m sure others will emerge):

1. “People who had formerly licensed material broadly under the standard cc will begin licensing under cc.edu, thus decreasing the amount of material available to everyone for any purpose. Therefore, cc.edu is bad.”

2. “Our eventual goal is the freeing / opening of content. Cc moves us significantly toward this goal. By retaining more rights, cc.edu moves us backward. Therefore, cc.edu is bad.”

In response to 1. This argument assumes a goal of opening all content for any purpose. That is not my interest or purpose. I am interested in getting materials in front of people who are trying to learn. In the license language we have tried very hard to keep the definition of “educational use” broad in terms of actors engaged in the uses and the contexts where they might make the uses. However, because I cannot meaningfully differentiate between rights to use materials “to support learning in any context whether formal or informal” and the rights allowed under the standard cc license, cc.edu is somewhat more restrictive. I have argued above why I think this restriction will result in more content being available for educational uses. I am not concerned presently with making all content free for military research or other purposes. I am focused on supporting learning. I hope proponents of “open education” will be similarly focused.

In response to 2. This argument also assumes a goal of opening all content for any purpose. Over and above that difference, however, is the assumption that people who current retain all rights can make the rather large leap directly to reserving few rights with a standard cc license. I don’t think any of the things we know about adoption of innovations suggest that this would be the case. It seems to me that people need a migration path from retaining all rights to releasing many. The cc.edu is an intermediate step which, I believe, will eventually bring many people to the standard cc license, fulfilling the goal opponents of cc.edu have set for themselves.

If you have comments on this post, please subscribe to the cc.edu mailing list and share them there.

Posted by david at June 3, 2003 01:14 PM | TrackBack
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