Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Grey zones of openness

This is a third post inspired by my participation in the open course Open Content Licensing for Educators and this time I admit I'm wandering a little off course by not really following the requirements of activity 3.1. However this post is relevant to what I have been reading lately and may be of interest to other course participants so I'll submit it anyway.

The latest unit of the course has taken me on a bumpy ride through the bewildering world of copyright and it has shaken a few of my comfortable preconceptions. Try if you like the case study which asks you to judge several aspects of a fictitious course on Shakespeare from a copyright point of view. The examples are typical of the types of resources that a teacher often includes in a course (regardless of whether it's online or face-to-face) and deciding whether or not the teacher is allowed to include various images, texts and videos in the online course material was sometimes extremely tricky, even after having read the course material on the subject. The simple message is that you have to be very careful when using any material that is copyright. Even if it may appear be free to use in, say, the USA, it may not be so in your country since it is those copyright laws that apply for you, not those in the USA. So I have noted to myself to either get written permission first or simply link to the work. However before you can get permission to use a work you need to contact the right person. If I am writing a blog post about a particular person and there is a good photo of them on their university web site who do I contact? The person in the photo? The university? The photographer? All three? I would ask the university's web master first - what about you?

Here are a few extremely tricky examples related to copyright and Creative Commons that I have encountered and I'm interested in hearing what you think.
  • A few years ago I used a great photo of a office cubicles to show how many teachers/schools universities work in isolation, all reinventing the wheel without ever looking over the wall to see what others are doing. It was a perfect photo that I found on Flickr with a Creative Commons (attribution, non-commercial, share alike) license (I will not provide the link since I fear it is unfair use). So I added the necessary license details to my slide and used it in several presentations. After one such session a student said that he recognized the photo as taken from one of Jacques Tati's classic films, Playtime, which is still under copyright. The photo is however in the English Wikipedia where it clearly states that it is copyright but that Wikipedia has gained the right to show it in that particular context. So the version in Flickr would seem to be falsely attributed since there was no reference to the conditions stated in the Wikipedia version or of the film company. As a result I found another CC photo on a similar theme. However the question remains - how can you be sure that a CC photo is genuine? Are you responsible for unwittingly using a copyright photo that someone has falsely claimed to be their own and put a CC license on it?
  • I often embed films on my blogs but I really feel I'm in a very grey zone. Most films have very prominent embed buttons and sometimes actively encourage you to embed the film elsewhere. However there is almost never a CC license, generally the usual copyright terms that seem to forbid what the embed button invites. I have many times asked permission and received a surprised reply "of course you can!" It is possible to license YouTube films with CC and it's also easy to deactivate the embed option to prevent copying but no-one ever does. We need to see resources clearly marked with licensing terms, it's not enough to have general terms hidden under a tiny heading at the bottom of the website.
  • There are lots of resources on the web that the authors believe are open but are actually closed because they are simply not aware that copyright is default. A few months ago I discovered a wonderful site full of great teaching resources. At the foot of the page was the usual copyright notice from the university so I contacted those responsible writing that it was sad that the material was not open for reuse. The answer was that it was intended to be reused on the grounds that if it's on the net it's free to use. This shows a mismatch between how many teachers perceive openness and the realities of copyright. It also indicates that there are probably vast amounts of great resources that are locked but were intended to be free.
One thing that has become very clear for me in the last week or so of this course is the need for everyone to clearly state the license form of each work we put on the net. If we want it to be under the full force of copyright please make it clear, otherwise show a CC license. There is so much good material in a grey shadow land out there where it is not clear how it may be used and that is a shame. Teachers should be able to quickly see whether or not they can use a resource without needing to study copyright law for months.

I got excellent and prompt feedback on these questions from Wayne Mackintosh of OER university on his blog post, Responding to OCL4Ed 14.02 queries.

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