Finally, Which License?
Hopefully, I have complicated the principles of privileging license interoperability and allowing for unfettered commercial use that are the basis of recommendations that all in open education should use the Attribution license. As Steven Weber explains in The Success of Open Source, “the essence of open source is not the software. It is the process by which software is created” (56). The process of commons-based peer production as has been demonstrated in open source software development, when applied to OER, and how copyleft influences this process, are both important perspectives that can that lead us to a better understanding of the potential of copyleft:
- Copyleft doesn’t prohibit interoperability as a fault of the license as some would imply, but rather restricts it to enable certain benefits that could could offset the license incompatibility issues.
- Copyleft can assist authors by protecting content in order to encourage and enable future collaborative production of derivative versions and new content through increased trust among creators, whether individuals, commercial interests, or both.
- Copyleft doesn’t so much prevent or discourage commercial use of open content as it privileges a different business model that can help to sustain the education commons, while it also rejects the “business as usual” approach of proprietary content development and sales that could negatively affect commons growth.
- As more educators become acquainted with the benefits of copyleft, some educators may find that Share Alike meets their concerns about enclosure and choose it instead of licenses which use the No Derivatives or Noncommercial restrictions.
Given all of these reasons, I would love to claim that educators, in the words of Andrew Rens, should “share with those who want to share” and only use copyleft licenses (qtd. in P2PU 15). Much as David Bollier believes that copyleft provides a sustainable commons for software development (43), I believe that Share Alike can do the same for OER in many circumstances.
Nevertheless, when license choice is viewed as rhetorical, it’s clear that like any other rhetorical situation, the strategies used depend on the particular context. Any blanket recommendation of Share Alike or Attribution for every context in OER over simplifies the complexity of license choice. Educators can talk about personal license preference, as well as the reasons why we each prefer certain licenses. But, ultimately, license choice will also depend on the specific audiences, exigencies, and constraints. Educators will need to consider the rhetorical velocity for each specific instance of license use in order to build a more robust projection of how best to meet the rhetorical situation.
Instead of general recommendations, open education could use more reports that would function as case studies to assist individual teachers and new open content initiatives in rhetorical evaluation of license choice.For instance, in their description of how they decided on which license to use, P2PU lists five implications of license choice that were important factors in their choice of Share Alike for their project:
- “Including other peoples’ materials in course design/outline and on P2PU platform;
- Others using P2PU materials;
- Collaboration with other projects
- Participant’s rights
- The rights of P2PU volunteers/ course organisers” (6)
New open content projects will similarly need to discuss priorities for content development and use while considering the community of users that will be the primary contributors and/or audience for the content they produce.
Then consider how genre, which I have not addressed at all in this text—my thinking is more centered on open textbook production than other genres—could be a significant factor requiring different considerations, such as in the following two examples:
- Textbooks. In 2002, the top five textbook publishers had estimated revenues of $2.7 billion (Thompson 204). Because of the potential market value of enclosing successful open textbook projects, it is not unreasonable to assume that open content useful for constructing textbooks needs protection via copyleft in order to stimulate involvement that sustains the education commons. Moreover, because the textbook market for large introductory classes is more lucrative (Thompson 196), a first year composition or general education math course would be more susceptible to enclosure than open textbook materials created for an upper level graduate course, a much smaller textbook market.
- Policy documents. The commercial value of a policy document created by an academic professional organization, one intended for higher education administrators to use as boiler plate text to draft versions for their institutions, likely has much less commercial value than course materials and might benefit more from Attribution instead of Share Alike.
In summary, I would like to offer some general strategies for license choice that could assist OER content creators. Educators new to creating and sharing open content need to go beyond the basic advice in the recommendation of The Cape Town Open Education Declaration FAQ, “that creators consider the differences and choose the license that appeals to them the most.” Selecting a license based upon one that "appeals" to the creator can result in a writer-centric choice. Authors need to think carefully about the particular context in which the content is meant to be reused. They should consider how the rhetorical velocity of the text will be affected by specific licenses, and when making their final choice, it would be best to err toward valuing a sustainable, education commons.