Yes, Stephen, but Who Cares?

Stephen comments on Stian’s post:

I don’t want to say “this is exactly what I meant,” but, this is exactly what I meant!. And it’s why I use the NC clause in Creative Commons. e-century reports: “One of the major reasons for this change was because some companies are trying to archive the articles published by us for pure commercial purpose – they will ‘lock up’ all those articles on their websites and ask readers to pay to access them. This is obviously not right, and against our intention to keep all articles openly accessible to all readers, no matter where they are archived.” So, don’t tell me any more that this won’t happen. It does.

Yes, Stephen, it happens. But who cares? There is still a free copy available, and anyone who wants to find it can. When I Google for one of the articles, Google will show me multiple results. I’ll click on one, and maybe it will be behind a paywall. So I’ll go back to Google and click on another result. Then I’ll read it for free. Or maybe the first one I click on will be free. Or maybe I’ll just quit using the default Google search and start making my queries through the advanced search interface so that I only find freely available CC licensed material in the first place.

What you’re describing seems to be an information literacy problem, not a licensing problem. It appears to be an extension of the “tax on uneducated people” argument. By that argument, we’d need to ban a variety things ranging from selling lotteries to selling cigarettes to selling printed copies of public domain books. And maybe we should, because we could argue that people who buy these things ought to know better, and that we have an obligation to protect the uninformed from their own poor choices (in this case by using the NC clause). Because there are a variety of other scenarios in which the NC clause precludes access, we can’t universally say that using NC promotes access better than not using NC. We can only universally say that it protects the unenlightened from themselves.

Maybe we should modify the old saying as follows: Fool me into paying for openly licensed content once, shame on you. Fool me into paying for openly licensed content twice, shame on me.

I guess I could bring myself to care if you said “I use NC because I want to prevent people from being exploited,” because I can also care about that. But I don’t think that’s your point. Am I wrong?

6 thoughts on “Yes, Stephen, but Who Cares?”

  1. I care, David.

    Because the next result on Google won’t be the free version, it’ll be another pay version. And the next and the next and the next. That’s how SEO works.

    And in some places, like your iTunes or your Kindle, the free version simply won’t be available at all. Want the free version? Use 10-year old technology incompatible with today’s learning systems.

    Or they’ll lobby governments to keep the free versions complete unavailable. “Unfair competition,” they’ll cry. They’ll force agencies like the BBC to stop distributing educational content. Convince Africans that locked-down mobile phones with no free content are good enough. Take cities to court to prevent them from offering free internet. Stall internet deployment to keep paper copies and publishing viable in the developing world.

    I simply don’t understand how you can’t see this, when it’s right in front of your eyes.

    1. Because the next result on Google won’t be the free version, it’ll be another pay version. And the next and the next and the next. That’s how SEO works.

      Plenty of CC BY and BY-SA works are available to exploit, so we should see this now. Examples?

      The most obvious counter-example is Wikipedia. Articles are copied many places, but I’ve never seen a copy (often ad-laden) appear above the original hosted at in search results.

      One might argue that Wikipedia is the exception that proves the rule, that other non-profit sites don’t have its popularity and their content will appear beneath ad-laden copies in search results. Fine theory, but provide real world instances!

  2. Stephen’s reasoning seems to imply that the public domain should not exist. After all, those private interest with their market power and monopoly through network effects will just take everything for themselves and close it up. But that reasoning is wrong. The public domain should exist. Stephen, you really want to argue against the selling of printed copies of public domain works?

    Off course network effects lead to market concentration, monopolies, etc. etc. As David pointed out, those problems are orthogonal to the ones the licence aims to solve: give access and give it without restriction on field of use, because the commons and the greater good are better served if people try not to control the use of their ideas and creations.

  3. I can hear the exasperation here 😉 I think, as in almost everything, the truth lies somewhere in between. No doubt, from an ideal perspective, you are correct David – as long as access has not been removed to the initial open copy, placing additional copies behind a paywall is just so much trickery that will (hopefully, eventually) be outed.

    But what Stephen describes happens (with alarming regularity, in my experience – we in the open ed community take savviness with Google and licenses issues too much for granted), and as commercial pressures increase on web properties/companies (as they are sure to do) this is only likely to worsen.

    Is the answer to “ban” all but the “NC” license? Well no, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Stephen call for a “ban.” But cautioning people on the possibilities seems reasonable. I’d go further – if you work in OER and insist on using a license that permits commercialization, make sure you are also active in net neutrality, open index and open access movements.

    There are these possibilities we enable through our acts of sharing and the license we choose, and then there are the real world politics and economies that easily negate all these good intentions. This isn’t a “Yes, but…” but a “Yes, and…” between you too, if you ask me.

  4. I don’t believe that the NC clause (or lack there of) is the main problem here, but rather the choice of using a BSD-equivalent CC license. It’s always been surprising to me that so many in the OER community have chosen to embrace the singular BY attribute over Share Alike. Share Alike would be the most effective compromise that recognizes there is benefit to allowing some commercialization, while also taking into consideration how many educators (or content creators) don’t want their creations copied/revised and then monopolized. No amount of discussion is going to eliminate the fact that many OER advocates will always strongly object to the idea that a public commons IP good could be appropriated commercially; many believe at a very fundamental level that OER should always be a public commons good or, at least, not available for capitalist intellectual property corporate empire building. To me, using NC to temper the BY license is a kludge, a contradiction, since the main purpose of allowing BY *is* to permit commercialization and the removal of content and subsequent derivatives from the commons.

    Regardless of what I have said above, if this discussion over NC and the example of electronic databases seems contentious now, wait until publishers begin adding value to the BY licensed content behind their locked doors.

Comments are closed.