Clarifying the 5th R

There have been a number of responses to my decision to introduce a 5th R – “Retain” – to my 4Rs framework. Bill, Darren, and Mike have responded, among others. Some parts of the responses lead me to believe that I wasn’t entirely clear in my initial statement, so let me try to clear a few things up.

The original 4Rs were not an attempt to create a new group of permissions that open content licenses needed to support. Many open content licenses, from the CC to the GFDL to the OPL, already granted the rights to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute long before I created the 4Rs framework. I created the 4Rs framework specifically for the purpose of helping people understand and remember the key rights that open content licenses grant them.

The right to Retain – i.e., make, own, and control – copies of openly licensed content has always been a right granted by open content licenses. Generally speaking, it is impossible to revise, remix, or redistribute an openly licensed work unless you possess a copy of the work. As Mike pointed out, the right to retain is strongly implied in open licenses, but never called out directly. Consequently, it has never been addressed directly in the discourse around open.

I maintain my original purpose for creating the 4Rs framework in adding “Retain” and arriving at 5Rs. The purpose of the framework is to help people understand and remember the key rights that open content licenses grant them. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that both producers and users of open content were unaware of, or forgetting to consider, this critical right to Retain.

As I said above, at least 3 of the original 4Rs are impossible to do without the right to Retain. This makes Retain a fundamental or foundational right, and yet it is completely ignored in the discourse around open. This is why I felt the need to call attention to Retain, and this is why I now place it at the head of the list of 5Rs – retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.

Thinking along these lines – about how the systems we design can proactively enable people to exercise their right to Retain – has already proven extremely useful to me personally. (As I wrote about recently, we’re in the middle of designing a new OER transclusion system at Lumen.) If the right to Retain is a fundamental right, we should be building systems that specifically enable it. When you specifically add “Enable users to easily download copies of the OER in our system” to your feature list, you make different kinds of design choices. (Unfortunately, you can see all around you that many of the designers of OER systems either failed to think about how to enable users to exercise their right to Retain, or have purposively taken specific actions to prevent users from exercising it.)

Postscript. The name of my blog is “Iterating Toward Openness.” This name is meant to very publicly demonstrate my shortcomings as a thinker about and practitioner of “open.” I didn’t understand everything I needed to about open when I kicked off the open content work in 1998, and I still don’t understand enough about it today. My goal is to be constantly (if incrementally) refining and improving my understanding and appreciation of open. The change from 4Rs to 5Rs reflects one such improvement in my understanding. Who knows – maybe another seven years from now I’ll add a 6th R.

5 thoughts on “Clarifying the 5th R”

  1. In a sense, when the publishing industry added their own “R” (for “Rent”) in the past few years – the game changed. So it is necessary to add an “R” (for “Retain”). Until then invention of “Rent” – we could *assume* “Retain” – but that is no longer the case. So it is time to be more explicit about the “Right to Retain” as an important aspect/benefit of OER.

  2. __Who knows — maybe in a few years we’ll control and manage Personal API’s with licensed rights enabling us to benefit lifelong from the entire collection of educational resources that have proven personally useful in our gaining knowledge. Policy makers have a responsibility to all of us to fully understand Copyright, Fair Use / Fair Dealing, and CC as we iterate towards Personal-ness.

  3. Nice blog, David, thanks for that! Especially the “enable users to exercise their rights” is to me a compelling argument for the value of the 5th R in its own. For me, this is about the “control” of an OER. E.g. a lot of OER are PDF’s and when the editable source is not published with the pdf’s, revising becomes difficult.

    But “teach as you preach”: should you not revise your “License and Attribution” section on the right side of this blog to “… any of the 5R permissions”;-)?

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