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?