Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Copyright and Fair Use: 3 Tips

I really can't disagree with anything written in Copyright and Fair Use: Compliance Guidelines for Faculty. I try to follow this issue somewhat closely and keep up with the discussion. (And will add this link to our resource list on this page.)

But one thing I often find missing in the discussion is the mention of alternatives to using copyrighted material in curricula. Where is the discussion about open source, creative commons and copyleft movements that break down the barriers of proprietary intellectual property and broaden the offering of how those materials can be used?

Creative Commons, open source and copyleft licensed content is virtually EVERYWHERE on the Web! Some social media networks have even embraced the Creative Commons by allowing users to safely browse content in a discrete section of the Web site. Flickr's Creative Commons is rich with photographic content available for free use! This blog has scads of free resources linked in the navigational bars to the right of this narrative post.

The Understanding Copyright vs. the Creative Commons provides a straight-forward overview of the comparison and contrast between copyright and Creative Commons licensing. And a simple Web search will produce hundreds or thousands more great resources for information on this movement.

So the next question is usually: But WHY? Why would anyone want to give away their intellectual property? If we stop to think about the way that technology has changed the way that we learn and consume information, the answer becomes clear. Distribution. How great is an idea if its audience is drastically limited by cost and copyright?

If we are browsing an online bookstore or searching the Web for a good reference book on a given topic and our search results bear both free and costly alternatives, which will we be most prone to choose? Which will we be more prone to share, to pass along and to distribute to others? Credibility and quality being somewhat equal, the free one, right? And with all the free high-quality textbooks out there (and increasing in number every day), fewer and fewer course developers are relying on expensive traditional textbooks when opting for the free, open-license textbook gives learners easier accessibility earlier in the academic semester (since many students must wait for financial aid refunds to even purchase their books). And how likely are learners to carry those books around with them through their daily life? (HINT: Not nearly as likely as they are their smartphone or i-Pad tablet.)

So how does the author/creator make a living by giving away their product? Again, the magic is in distribution. The more widely distributed your work, the more widely recognized your name. The more widely recognized your name, the higher the demand for your presence in academic professional environments, speaking at conferences and leading teams of academics. While it would certainly be easier to stick with the way things have always been and wait for royalty checks from a book publisher, the potential in that paradigm is limited (after all, who would BUY a textbook if they weren't a registered student compelled by a professor's syllabus? And yet millions eagerly absorb no-cost academic content for free from outside of academia!). And quite honestly, the model flawed. We are still fighting copyright battles everyday in court!

In fact, many universities are very anxious about how the e-learning boom will be impacted by the copyright laws currently on the books and those yet to be written in response to the new challenges brought by technology and an increasingly open academic environment on the Web. Like it or not, times are changing and we have to decide where we fit. In fact, it's time for us each to decide. Which team are you on?

Open Access Textbooks provides guidance for authors wanting to apply Creative Commons licensing to their works, as well as several ways for educators and learners to get involved in the open textbook movement.

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