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Why does "open" matter?

Why does "open" matter?

Written by Karen Fasimpaur
October 18, 2012

There is a lot of talk about “open” these days. It’s the new black. It’s cool and hip, and marketeers are calling their products “open,” whether they are or not.

But what does “open” really mean? And why should we care?

For the purposes of this discussion, “open” refers to content that can be remixed, modified, and redistributed by anyone.

There’s an endless supply of free content on the Internet. How is open different from everything else that is free? In the United States, any content that is not public domain (by virtue of its age or designation as such by the creator) is copyrighted, whether or not it is indicated as such. Subject to certain exceptions such as fair use, the copyright owner has exclusive rights to reproduce, prepare derivatives, and distribute the copyrighted work (section 107 of the copyright law).*

Open-licensed content, though, can be reused and redistributed without prior permission.

The most common open licenses are those provided by Creative Commons. An attachment below summarizes the various licenses and gives more info about open resources.

As educators, why should we care about open? Some of the reasons include economics, remixability, and promoting a culture of sharing. We’ll explore each of these in the chapters that follow.

Open image credit: j nygren; CC BY
Open OER_handout-v4.pdf

What is the cost of “closed”?

In classrooms where connected learning is happening, there is a demand for lots of digital content, and the unfortunate fact is that many schools cannot afford to purchase all the commercial digital content that teachers and students need to create a rich learning environment.

Fortunately, there is now an ocean of free and/or open content on the Internet. The challenge is sorting out what is best to use. This obviously involves curation, but there are other issues to consider as well.

There is a large body of content that is currently free, but not open. That means content that is freely available, but is published under an “all rights reserved” copyright. With that content, users must make a determination of whether their intended use falls under fair use. Reading the terms of use for a site may be helpful in that process.

Also, things that are free, but not open, may not be free for long. Many who have started with freely available content have later decided to charge a fee for it and/or to put it behind a firewall. While this is certainly their prerogative and understandable, it can be inconvenient to educators who have had an expectation of being able to use the content freely.

Advantages of open content include that it is free, it will always be free, and it is unambiguously legal to use.

Another important consideration related to the economics of open is in the broader area of public policy. For materials created with government funding, it is good public policy to make sure that those materials are open licensed for sharing. Think of all the taxpayer dollars that are going into grants for new curriculum and other content. Shouldn’t those materials be available to be used by all?

Beyond the economic and legal reasons to prefer open, there are perhaps much more significant benefits of usability and culture that open can promote, which will be discussed in the next two chapters.

Money image credit: Andrew Magill, CC BY

How does “open” contribute to our ability to remix?

Like many, my interest in open resources grew out of remix work I was doing.

In creating podcasts and other multimedia products with students, we often have a need for photos, drawings, music, and video. Putting together various third-party works like this into a new work is called “remixing” — kids do it all the time, and it’s quickly becoming a significant part of most creative processes. Why reinvent the wheel when you can use others’ great material to build on?

And for all the reasons already discussed, using open content facilitates remixing. There is a huge pool of open licensed illustations, photos, music, and video clips there for the taking.

Remixing applies to teachers as well. Thoughtful curriculum preparation often involves customizing and piecing together different works in order to differentiate instruction for students.

While in the past, this might have involved physically copying, pasting, and photocopying together a variety of print resources, this has now been made easier in the digital realm. Web sites like Curriki, CK12, and Hippocampus provide excellent resources that can be used for this.

Beyond the licensing advantages of open, this brings up the issue of technical remixability. Materials that are provided in a “source” format (e.g. text, jpgs, mp3) are more easily remixed, than those in formats like PDFs.

Remix soup image credit: Gideon Burton, CC BY SA

What are the broader implications of a culture of open?

Sharing is good. We learn that as very young children.

On the Internet, many people share rampantly. However, traditional copyright does not fully enable the type of sharing that many intend when they post online. That’s what Creative Commons (CC) and open licensing are all about.

And as we begin to share our intellectual property, like photos or lesson plans, openly, sharing becomes more ingrained in all parts of our life.

When I started sharing my own photos and other content under CC, I did it timidly on only selected pieces and with a relatively restrictive license (CC BY NC SA). Over time, I found that the benefits of sharing far outweighed any possible detriments. Over time, I’ve begun to share more and to share under a more permissive license (generally, CC BY).

Perhaps, open is a portal to all kinds of good things — more openness, sharing, and collaboration will all make the world a better place.

Read on to see how you can share and be more open.

Video credit: Jesse Dylan,, CC BY NC SA

Sharing image credit: Alec Couros, CC BY NC SA

How can I be more “open”?

When posting online, most people have the intention of sharing. However, without an open license and an open format, there may be unforeseen obstacles to others receiving the full benefits of your magnanimity. Here are some things you can do to be more open and to share fully.

Post to sites that encourage open licensing. There are many web sites that include an option to open license your work. These sites are beneficial because consumers know they can go there for open licensed content. Posting to these sites enables more sharing by everyone. Digital Is uses an open license (generally, CC BY NC ND; CC BY in the case of this resources), and here are a few other sites that allow easy open licensing:

  • Flickr – photo sharing web site with over 225 million open licensed photos
  • Vimeo and YouTube – video sharing sites that support Creative Commons licenses
  • Slideshare – presentation sharing (Powerpoint, etc.)
  • Wikispaces – wikis for everyone
  • Curriki – curriculum and educational material sharing, specifically for K-12

On all of these sites, it’s your choice whether or not to apply an open license to individual works.

Include an open license on anything you are willing to share The simplest way to do this is to include a Creative Commons license along with your copyright and attribution at the front of your document or along with any digital content. For example, this could read:

  • “© Copyright 2012 by Karen Fasimpaur. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY).”
    As shown here, you can include a link to the license from the Creative Commons web site.
  • A more sophisticated way to include an open license on your work is to use the Creative Commons license-choosing tool. Using this tool will give you access to the artwork relevant to your license. It will also provide a snippet of HTML code that you can paste into a website with your work. By doing this, your work will be indexed by search tools, like Google, as an open-licensed resource. This will help more people find your work.
  • Which Creative Commons license you choose is up to you. The most “open” license, the one that promotes the broadest sharing, is CC BY.

Post in the most open formats possible. In general, formats like text, HTML, RTF, and JPG, are more open because they can easily be opened and edited. Proprietary formats, like PDF or Flash, are more difficult to remix and use.

Share the information about openness with others — teachers, students, anyone at all. All of the resources here are open licensed, and below are some additional items you can use with others to share the love!

Open OER_info.doc

note re: section 107 of the copyright law

from Why does “open” matter?

* The exception to this is the murky area of fair use.Section 107 of copyright law says:

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Various organizations have interpreted this language to produce guidelines with specific examples of what they consider fair use, but hte law itself is gray. The point of this discussion is not to promote any particular interpretation of fair use, but to discuss alternatives to it, namely, open content.

There are other resources on Digital Is that cover fair use and its interpretation.

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