The OER Meal Deal

Mike from Creative Commons repeats a question I asked in a recent post:

I wonder what the delta is between clearing copyrestrictions adequately such that materials can be published on the web under an open license and just adequate clearance such that materials can be published on the web by an institution?

Steve gives us an answer from MIT OCW’s perspective:

The costs… of openly licensing are actually the costs of licensing under any terms, including full copyright, and it wouldn’t cost any less to do [MIT OCW under] full (C).

This is a bit of a thunderbolt revelation for me. Apparently, publishing is publishing whether open or closed, and the delta in the cost of open publishing over full (C) publishing is $0. What does that mean?

One of the things it means is that all the fundraising, all the grant writing, and all the donating for OER projects isn’t for open publishing. It’s just for publishing. Remember, the open licensing part doesn’t cost anything beyond the cost of traditional publishing. Now, perhaps donors and foundations would never contribute if you didn’t promise to use an open license at the end of the publishing process. But that doesn’t change the fact that the donors and foundations are only paying for the publishing. The addition of an open license costs $0, and presumably you don’t fundraise for things that don’t cost money.

It reminds me of a Meal Deal. I’m sure you’ve heard a guy at a fast food register say, “Hey, as long as you’re buying that burger and fries, why don’t you make it a meal deal? It costs the same amount, and you get a drink for free. Even if you’re not planning on drinking it, you never know…”

I can hear the OER Meal Deal conversation now… “As long as you’re going to clear all the rights and then publish this stuff online anyway, why not make it an OER? Open licensing doesn’t cost any extra. Even though you know hardly anyone will exercise the extra rights you grant them, you never know…”

I guess this revelation helps me understand the general vibe I’ve been getting for the past several weeks. I’ve been sensing that people aren’t really interested in whether or not their users are exercising the specific rights granted by open licenses (e.g., revise, remix, and redistribute). If the applying an open license costs $0, then an apathy toward the end-user value of that $0 contribution makes sense.

Somehow, this really depresses me. It’s had me down in the dumps for a few days now – I haven’t even been able to write this post. My conversation with Steve began a while ago with me asking questions about cost savings. Steve wrote persuasively that MIT OCW does not translate into cost savings, and that we probably shouldn’t look for cost savings in the OER context generally. If not cost savings, then what are the benefits of open publishing? I asked.

Steve responded with a lengthy, detailed list of benefits people receive from MIT OCW. On analysis, however, none of these benefits derive from the use of an open license. These benefits all derive from materials being published on the web and would have been exactly the same benefits even if MIT OCW were traditionally and fully (C). Presumably, this list of benefits in Steve’s post is the list from MIT OCW’s intercept survey – meaning they aren’t even asking users about their experience of benefits that derive from MIT OCW’s use of an open license.

I can kind of cope with it mentally when people not really involved in the space fail to differentiate between the benefits of (1) materials published on the public web and (2) open educational resources. But this conversation with Steve is a repeat of several conversations I’ve had lately. In many cases, people in-field can’t articulate a difference at all, which is disappointing but not depressing. In other cases, more articulate people clearly know the difference and seem to have rejected the necessity of open licenses.

What is going on here? Are thoughtful people really rejecting the value of open licenses? Are less thoughtful people really incapable of understanding the difference between the potential benefits of openly licensed resources and the potential benefits of free web-based resources?

Just to be clear, I see significant potential benefits in openly licensed resources, which is why I will continue to advocate for them. I’m just feeling increasingly isolated in doing so. Help?

8 thoughts on “The OER Meal Deal

  1. While the costs of publishing content may be the same for both open and copyrighted materials may be the same up front, I would assume that for many organizations there can be a significant cost in “protecting” that intellectual property after the content is published.

    An open license can ease the burden of making sure that your content is being used in ways that your organization feels are appropriate.

  2. The value of open licensing lies in archiving, not remixing. It means you can save a local copy and they aren’t going to send spies into your system and sue you for unauthorized copying.

    Well, OK, there’s some value in the remixing. But mostly by commercial entities who want to turn around and sell their ‘value added labour’. Which I (and probably most others) aren’t really interested in enabling anyways.

  3. An awfully depressing tone upon finding out that the cost side of the equation is zero. Freedom is free, or rather open does not equal open wallet, who knew!

    I feel silly enumerating some of the benefits of open content in a comment on opencontent.org, but in an case, non-exhaustively:

    * Copying alone is great (of which archiving is a subset, a very important one — how many resources, even those published by aged institutions, will remain available where they currently are published for decades?)

    * The most obvious case involving creation of a derivative work, translation, is worth to the world, and to marketing institutions globally, massively more than $0.

    * Same for non-linguistic adaptation and repurposing that isn’t really full-on “remix”.

    * Relatively few resources will be “remixed”, but it is hard to tell which ones in advance — unlike software, the case for remix is very broad, but rarely absolutely compelling in any particular instance (as opposed to very narrow, but when it is appropriate, absolutely compelling). (Also it isn’t clear at all that the primary “remixers” are commercial entities. By far the most compelling examples to date are wikis or have “wikinature”, and the most compelling ones are community-based.)

    * The more openly licensed resources there are, the more evidence there is that good materials don’t rely on super restrictive legal mechanisms, hopefully in the long run leading to a less restrictive legal environment, making clearance less expensive.

    * The more openly licensed resources there are, the easier it is to clear things, making clearance less expensive.

    See, not only is open gratis, you get coupons for cash back.

  4. Advocating for Open Licenses (if they are really open and don’t encourage/enable artificial enclosure) results in Simple Access and Free resources plus all of the other potentials of the license (4Rs). Advocating solely for Simple Access and Free (as in Beer) doesn’t; the potential for enclosure is great, you don’t get the 4R benefits, plus it does nothing to change the producer/consumer relationship.

    I for one have not been trying to argue that the open licenses aren’t important, but that by putting ALL of the focus on them we overlook exactly this point – that making things open (in all senses of the word) as part of our actual teaching and learning process, and not simply as a “publishing effort” (which the focus on “open as only license” seems to promote) is the path to “sustainability.” There is nothing wrong with the work you’ve done on licensing, but it is the exclusive focus on licenses, and not following through on the natural implications of the other part of open and free, that seem problematic. And it is unfair to say *you,* as you’ve been doing this too as much as anyone – with open courses, lightweight publishing, etc. The “movement,” though, seems more stuck on using licenses as a way to have the “resources” open but keep the rest of their business unchanged, to have their disruptive cake and eat it too, if you will. And this just ain’t gonna work. Because open isn’t just a nice to have, or a marketing strategy (or if it is, let me outta here.) It’s an overall logical response to infinite copy-ability and un-scarce knowledge. It’s NOT being the record industry. It’s re-inventing yourself before you collapse based on your value to society, not twiddling around with a brokedown model, not moving deck chairs on the titanic. My $0.02.

  5. I don’t think we’re close enough to an “Open tipping point” to be able to make definitive judgments about the difference in value between licensing something as Open or as (C), yet – i.e. the jury is still out, and will be out until we have more history and results to analyze from. We’re just getting started with Open, in the large historical scale of things – i.e. it’s still lonely out here, and will be, for some time.

    My bias is clearly toward Open; it’s both an instinctual bias, and one borne of observation – of small but increasingly larger advantages that are beginning to show results – i.e. significant impacts based on value propositions that have been brought to the public sphere under the banner of Open – e.g. the Open meme has created a psycho-social effect, eliciting more empathic giving of intellectual capital than had been the case, prior. The latter has created a subtle shift in mindset from exclusive and constrained ownership, to community-based altruism (creating a more conscious and powerful virtuous circle of sharing – i.e. “the gift moves”). This is powerful stuff; it’s far more enabling of community and cooperation than (C), and far more enabling of group problem solving than the onerous ownership impediments built into (C).

    We should not discount the powerful psychological shifts that Open elicits, and what those shifts mean, long-term, for an increasingly networked world citizenry – a citizenry that will require newly established cultural norms of non-exclusion if it is to optimally adapt, and survive.

    (C)constrains choice to a greater degree than Open. How much more the former constrains is up for argument, but *any* degree of constraint of access to necessary information in an accelerating information stream within human culture is counterproductive to long-term human sustainability. Another way to say this is that the less constrained a group is to necessary information, and the more that group feels power from sharing solutions, the more adaptable that group becomes.

    Open will continue to evolve in many – if not all – enterprise groups whose output has large impact on human adaptation – e.g. computation; education; medicine/pharmacology; transportation; agriculture, etc.

    I see Open as necessary adaptation in human culture; it’s a randomly generated cognitive mutation that has been around for some time, with roots that go to the very core of, and feed from, our human drive toward empathic sharing. It’s a mutation that appears to have been selected out for rapid new growth because we need cooperation now, more than ever, because the speed of increasingly transparent networks is forcing a new need for solutions to problems caused by the network, itself. Open is part of the virtuous feedback loop of human sustainability; as such, it will take on many variations – variations that are impacted by other human impulses. That said, going back full circle, Open is “out of the box”; there is no going back – not unless Armageddon happens. The more we live in information-accelerated culture, the more necessary Open will be. Consider the alternative – i.e. a world craving for new solutions to problems created by increased information flow and network growth, constrained by (C). How much would *that* cost?

  6. I would love to see language translation integrated into OCW sites. This would be a simple and powerful reuse of materials that open licensing would allow. The free software world has a *lot* of ideas when it comes to both free/open software tools as well as a well developed set of best practices for translation communities (see, for example, the Launchpad approach to translation, https://translations.launchpad.net/).

  7. Aren’t we sort of building infrastructure, too? I know David wanted to remove the moral argument, but I’m not sure it can be completely extricated. I think without the ethos of this movement, the initial funding would never have come to begin with.

    Steve made a point about the “gift economy” that faculty are interested in, but I’ll just toss in the rest of us, too. In a world where high quality educational materials are published online with open access but under copyright you have an environment where people get to learn, but it is a one-way relationship. Change that to open licenses and you have a soil that is fertile for innovation. That we can’t predict the concrete value is kind of the point. Innovation is about creating NEW solutions and developing NEW methods.

    I still think it is premature to take what analytics we have now and assume that means that remix is not going to be a big piece of this pie. The nature of today’s web, and especially with the generation who are currently in the K-12 system (and thus do not register on OCW radar yet), is totally likely to do incredible things with open content. Who knows how many great videos are removed from YouTube daily for (c) violation. I think the faint ping of remix has more to do currently with: 1) it is not yet part of the culture – we don’t know how to do it, 2) it is not easy to do it even if you know how. Remixing comes with ubiquitous open content and at least a handful of easy (and probably free) tools. Admittedly, this is a gut feeling… but I would bet on it.

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