Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Why Not CC-By?

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Aug 11, 2007

Originally posted on Half an Hour, August 11, 2007.

Responding to David Wiley.

This post goes a long way to explain the genesis of the OEL. However, significant questions linger.
First, the OEL is not meant to be “the license” that replaces all other licenses...: CC By-NC-ND, CC By-NC-SA, CC-By-ND, CC By-NC, CC By-SA, GFDL, CC By, (OEL goes here)... Public Domain is impossible to put at the end of this list.
The U.S.-centric nature of Creative Commons has long been a problem, and this is most clearly evidenced by its attitude toward public domain. So I accept the idea that there needs to be a license to the right of the list.

But why is it called the Open Educational License? Why not just call it the 'Open License'. Or 'CC-Open' Or some such thing that does not tell readers that educational content is Open for Business?
Second, there is a major mechanical problem with the way CC By is used by people. The Attribution requirement of all CC licenses, including CC By, states “You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.”
This problem is generated by an equivocation on the word 'specified'.

I 'specify' my attribution on every page of my site. At the bottom where I say 'Copyright 2007 Stephen Downes'. The attribution to me would be as I have specified it, 'Stephen Downes'.

But of course you are interpreting the word 'specified' to mean 'citation instructions'. What good grounds are there for this interpretation? Especially given that 99 percent of CC-By resources do not provide 'instructions'.

This problem is the sort that doesn't exist until a lawyer finds it. It is a case of using the letter of the license to act against the spirit of the license. This is far too common in the world of law and licenses. It is certainly not a problem specific to CC-By.
Third, in the preface to the draft I described a family of scenarios in which the requirement for Attribution is effectively a form of discrimination against people and groups of people.
Of course, as you say, "political and other messages could be embedded in Attribution requirements." I would even go so far as to suggest that political and other messages might be embedded in the content itself! But I digress.

If the requirement of posting content is to post a message contrary to your own interests, then don't post it. It seems farfetched to expect that the creation of another license will change the intent - and the tactics - of organizations intending to put political messages into their licenses.
Fourth and finally, in the context of open education we don’t need an attribution requirement embedded in the license. We have a citation culture... Attribution is a social norm in the academy (as well as a matter of policy), and we can depend on this social norm and existing policies to encourage proper citation.
That's a noble sentiment but demonstrably false.

The sentiment requires the isolation of an academic culture from the wider, more commercial, culture that surrounds it. But in the internet era, these cultures are thoroughly mixed. Academic content is considered fair game by people poised to copy - with or without attribution - for commercial profit in exclusive markets.

Moreover, if attribution is the norm in the academy, then posting a requirement that use of my work be attributed is, in fact, the norm. It should not change any academic use of my work.

And again I iterate that the only people harmed by CC-NC-By are commercial exploiters who seek to cordon off the market foracademic content as their own and to systematically loot it for their own benefit and at the expense of people who most need free - and noncommercial - content.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jul 13, 2024 11:49 a.m.

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