Recently there have been some conversations about trying to craft a consistent message about OER that can be used with policymakers, particularly those in Washington DC. This exercise is necessary because, like it or not, the term “open” requires explaining. As does the term “free.” And a “message” that requires lots of explaining is a message that still needs crafting.
I recently heard the term “unobstructed license” batted around as the potential phrase we should use in our conversations about OER with policymakers. This is possibly the worst phrase I’ve heard recommended yet, for a number of reasons. (1) No one is currently using this phrase, so no one (even folks in the OER community!) knows what it means. (2) Consequently, it still requires an explanation. (3) The phrase is grammatically incorrect, if I understand what it’s trying to mean. I think it’s trying to mean materials who use is unobstructed by a license, or a license that removes obstacles from your use of a resource, or something like that. However, in the phrase “unobstructed license,” “unobstructed” modifies the word “license.” So we find ourselves talking about a license that is not obstructed in any way. An “unobstructed license” sounds more like DMCA or ACTA style copyright – like a license whose enforcement is unobstructed by little nuisances like Fair Use…
I fully agree that we need to unify our messaging around the important idea of OER, especially behind the powerful policy idea that when taxpayers fund the development of courses, textbooks, or curriculum materials, those materials ought to be OER. But how can we communicate this in a way that even congressmen can understand without additional explanation?
Now for the heresy. How about the phrase “public domain”?
Now I know, I know… there’s a widespread feeling that all OER are supposed to use a Creative Commons license. But there’s no reason this has to be true. Even Creative Commons recognizes that some “open” things shouldn’t use a CC license. For example, remember last year, when Creative Commons asked why the White House was using CC BY for it’s photographs when it should have been placing them in the public domain?
Educational materials in the public domain are OER by any definition.
If you said to a congresswoman, “Educational materials created with public dollars should be placed in the public domain” there would be no question what you meant. No further explanation needed. And that kind of message is the kind we should all be able to rally around. So rather than floundering about, looking for a concise way to explain how Creative Commons licenses use copyright law against itself to insure long-term public access and sharing, why not just simplify things? Why not use language the people we’re talking to understand?
Why shouldn’t our messaging in DC focus on the phrase “public domain”?