Applying Rhetorical Velocity
Assuming that the shared primary goal within the OER community is the continued growth of a sustainable education commons, both Attribution and Share Alike represent two diverse ways to understand openness in achieving that goal. In defining openness in reference to open content, Wiley uses the metaphor of an open door, a representation that favors Attribution as the most open of licenses: “A door can be wide open, mostly open, cracked slightly open, or completely closed. So can your eyes, so can a window, etc.” (“Defining”). A definition of openness that is inclusive of the effects of copyleft requires more dimensions to that metaphor. The width of the door is only one of the factors, but we must also consider how much content that sustains the commons comes through that opening at a given time, and whether or not the door opening becomes wider or more narrow over time, or even closed.
While continuing to build on Wiley’s metaphor could be useful for thinking about openness, we can use rhetorical analysis to better project the effectiveness of different open content licenses. Because Creative Commons licenses provide users the opportunity to reuse and even remix a work, they are rhetorical instruments that define and/or limit the potential future uses of a rhetor's text. Jim Ridolfo’s theory of rhetorical velocity can help us to draw on delivery, one of the five canons of rhetoric, as a framework for understanding the rhetorical effects of license choice:
Simply put, rhetorical velocity is a theory of rhetorical delivery where a rhetorician strategizes the ways in which a third party may revise, recompose, and redistribute a text. In this sense, a future instance of plagiarism (such as a journalist lifting a large amount of text from a press advisory and using that text in a way advantageous to the rhetor) may be a completely desirable and intended rhetorical outcome. Thinking about rhetorical velocity may include considering a number of questions related to social values/rhetorical norms, technology, law (copyright & IP), labor, and probability. (“Rhetorical Velocity (Concept)”)
Rhetorical velocity, I believe, can therefore be helpful for thinking about how the choice of either Attribution or Share Alike works as a rhetorical strategy for maximizing the present and future potential reuse of open content toward achieving a sustainable education commons.
For example, let’s imagine that University X decides to contribute all of its teaching materials to the education commons. The materials consist of course catalog descriptions, class course syllabi, assignments, video and audio lectures, and many readings or learning modules collaboratively written by departments to supplement course textbooks. The body of materials is of high quality, and its release would be used and remixed by others.
Let’s apply rhetorical velocity to Wiley’s concept of the maximally open door metaphor as a first step in rhetorical analysis of license effects, and let's imagine the commons of derivative matierals that would grow from University X's content over a ten year period. Figure 3 (below) represents a projected potential of the original texts shared by University X to be reused for producing new content depending on whether Attribution or Share Alike is used, and the potential for that new content to be re-licensed, and new derivatives created, and so forth, over ten years. Content begets new content which begets new content, the original University X content being the ancestor of subsequent generations of content. The graphs represent the potential for the commons of content that results over ten years based on which license is used when University X originally licenses their documents.
Obviously, we cannot know with any certainty the exact ratio of potential use of the content for the two licenses, as my graphs would seem to depict. As with any analysis that seeks to define a rhetorical situation prior to the creation of a text, it’s a useful thought experiment only, not a definitive quantitative prediction. Rather, this graphical model represents the idea that Attribution, because of interoperability and the opportunity for commercial proprietization, is a better choice for OER. This because it results in more derivative content, regardless of the quality of the resulting content.
Figure 3: Projected potential reuse of open content licensed by University X as Attribution or Share Alike based on the metaphor of how wide the door is open.
However, the problem with the simplicity of Wiley's metaphor of the open door is that one might assume that any derivative content is good for open education, even though the choice of license for releasing new content may be better or worse for growing the commons. By applying other concepts of rhetorical velocity, a better model emerges for evaluating licensing choice. Danielle Devoss and Jim Ridolfo explain that rhetorical velocity involves looking at “the future possibilities in terms of possible positive, negative, and neutral outcomes for recomposing, remixing, and appropriation.” Keeping the focus of this analysis on the outcome of how license choice affects building a sustainable education commons, I have defined the future potentials of appropriation as follows:
- Positive appropriation. New content results that allows for new derivatives that provide future opportunities for the commons to grow; this includes content created with licenses such as CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, CC-BY-NC-SA, and/or CC-NC-BY. Permission to produce derivatives is a necessary condition of sustainability because content needs to be adaptable to glocal conditions (Downes, “Models” 37-38) and to grow the commons through derivative works.
- Neutral appropriation. New content does not allow derivatives, but it can be used and shared by educators and learners. It includes the following two licenses: CC-BY-ND and CC-BY-NC-ND. These works add to the commons, but they do not assist in sustaining it since the work cannot be built upon by the creation and sharing of new versions.
- Negative appropriation. New content that is enclosed and not released under a Creative Commons license, whether commercial or non-commercial use. These works do not add to the commons at all, even if they are publicly posted to a website or sold in the markeplace, because they cannot be freely shared with others.
Figure 4 (below) represents the implementation of this schema for the potential results after ten years of new future derivatives of University X’s initially sharing of content. Within the graphs, the beige and green areas represent the potential commons created by University X's original content. Once again, this is a projection of the future use in creating new content, not an exact science, nor am I attempting to predict the quality of the new derivative content. Just the way that it could be licensed. The point here is to show that the maximally open door metaphor by itself (illustrated by Figure 3), which does not qualify future use to consider interoperability, is too simplistic a model for gaining any understanding of how Creative Commons licenses support commons growth.
Figure 4. When the desired outcome is a sustinable commons, a licensing model projection must take into acount the postive, neutral, and negative appropriation of Attribution-licensed content.
The representation of Share Alike does not change from Figure 3 to Figure 4. Because all derivative content created from Share Alike-licensed content uses the Share Alike license again, there is either no appropriation or all appropriation is positive; all content derived from Share Alike content can continue to build the education commons.
Meanwhile, the representation of Attribution has to be revised from Figure 3 to Figure 4 to account for the the wide range of possible licenses that Attribution content can be relicensed as (or not). I have also chosen to define negative appropriation to be derivative content that is not part of the commons generated by University X's content, as is represented by the dark blue color in Figure 4. Additionally, some negative appropriation at stages in the life of a commons may also cause decreasing future positive and neutral appropriation, resulting in less future growth for the subset of the commons created initially by University X's open content. For example, imagine a community of educators has created an open textbook project, and Company A participates in the project. Company A finds way to sell services related to the textbook and contributes all improvements in the textbook back to the community. This would be a desirable partnership with commercial interests.
Next, assume that the community has used the Attribution license and imagine what happens when the open textbook created by the community becomes commodified. Along comes Company B who invests considerable resources into developing the textbook further, only Company B chooses not to re-license their new version, and Company B sells it in the marketplace instead. Because the sale of Company B’s book is very successful, Company A feels it cannot compete with Company B through continued investment in developing the open textbook with the community; after all, Company A’s investments are assisting Company B who has achieved competitive advantage by building on Company A’s work and not re-licensing the revised, improved content. If Company A continues to work with the community to build the resource, Company B will likely continue to negatively appropriate the work of Company A in order to maintain or build their market share.
In this type of scenario, one could easily imagine that Company A would either withdraw from the project completely or follow the lead of Company B and not re-license their development of the textbook. The entire situation could cause negative ethos for the project that could affect future participation in the user community of teachers. Some educators involved in the community would likely feel outraged at Company B's actions and might stop contributing to the development of the textbook; other educators, who otherwise would have adopted the textbook, might likewise boycott the book. Thus, the attrition of the user community and the loss of Company A's future contributions would lead to decreased positive and/or neutral appropriation. Less new derivative content of the project would be released into the commons as a result of Company B's actions.
In order to discuss this example and its effects further, I want to introduce a new term: rhetorical acceleration. To define rhetorical acceleration, I am drawing on the physics concept of acceleration as change in velocity over time and applying it to Ridolfo’s rhetorical velocity. Rhetorical acceleration can assist us in talking about whether or not the rhetorical velocity becomes more or less favorable in terms of outcomes over time through subsequent generations of appropriation due to the introduction of a specific factor. For example, a kairotic shift initiated by a single event in the future may change the outcome of overall appropriation in a favorable (i.e. positive acceleration) or unfavorable (i.e. negative acceleration) way.
With open content licensing, rhetorical acceleration indicates when a particular type of appropriation, influenced by the license being used, has a cascading effect on some/all future appropriation. In this context, positive acceleration indicates that a factor considered in rhetorical analysis has a significant effect on increasing the growth of the commons; negative acceleration, a shrinking in growth. Figure 5 (below), an example of the effects of negative acceleration, is a revision of the Attribution model from Figure 4 to account for excessive commercial commodification of the type in the Company A & B scenario early during the ten year period of commons growth. The visual represents the potential effects of enclosure resulting in decreased future use and future derivative versions of University X's content over what would have happened without commodification. The outcome could be a smaller commons than was initially predicted.
Figure 5. An illustration of negative acceleration. When an OER project released under Attribution is enclosed, it may result in decreasing positive and neutral appropriation over the long term.
So while commercial use is often cited as a benefit of Attribution licensing, in some circumstances, it may result in less content being added to the commons than one might suspect. Thus, for those educators who do not want to use Share Alike but fear the negative effects of enclosure, the combining of the Noncommercial restriction with Attribution may be beneficial in OER projects.
To further compare Attribution and Share Alike, in the next two sections, I will discuss factors that can result in positive rhetorical acceleration for open content due to copyleft. In order to make such future projections, I am assuming an OER production model that includes the “three complementary dimensions” attributed to open source by Daniel E. Atkins, John Seely Brown, and Allen L. Hammond:
- “intellectual property policy”
- “virtual distributed collaboration”
- “community governance models” (38)
How licenses, the "intellectual property policy" of the content, affect collaboration and in what ways they facilitate various community development models, should influence the potential appropriation of content. When this is take into account, the copyleft restriction that all derivatives must be licensed under the same or similar license can result in two important outcomes:
- trust that other participants in the commons cannot enclose the content created by the community
- the potential stimulation of an ecology of commercial development both enabled and protected by copyleft
These two outcomes, I will argue in the next two sections, are significant reasons why copyleft can help to build a sustainable education commons.