Monday, August 17, 2009

The New Colonialism in OER

To what extent is OER part of the cultural imperialism being felt “globally”?

For example, is copyright really an issue for teachers in Kenya? I doubt it. It certainly wasn't a an issue where I worked in NZ 3 years ago. By that I mean, no one was concerning themselves with issues of copyright, so no one was affected by it. People happily taking images from a general Google image search and placing them in their slide presentations without a second thought. It's only when we go outside our individual practice, where our work represents something larger than ourselves (like an institution) that we may be confronted with issues of copyright... that there is an interesting point of difference to consider in terms of the benefits of remaining small and agile in practice...

If a place has no conception of the idea that an expression of an idea could be property, then does the introduction of OER become a vehicle for furthering cultural colonisation through copyright? Would it be right for a country like the USA, and those with similar such notions, to encourage a nation who has no conception of such a property to begin releasing its "intellectual property" as open?
“There is an overall culture of sharing knowledge here, even if this isn’t called ‘Creative Commons’ We had the launch of CCIndia in early 2007, but there seems to be little activity there… I think CC is a bit too conservative and too respectful of copyright issues. Copyright has not worked for us (in the developing world) for generations. Generally speaking, copyright in any form, including CC, doesn’t fit in too well with Asian ideas of knowledge, since it enables those controlling knowledge and information over the rest, and we find it impossible to emerge winners in this game. It is a colonial law, not meant to serve the interest of the people of those parts of the globe that are not ahead in the information race! Why should we be as respectful to it, as, say, Lawrence Lessig is?”
Indian journalist Frederick Noronha as quoted by Marco Fiorette in his article Tragedy of the Commons.
In many respects, OER and the Creative Commons licenses help propel US centered ideas of copyright and intellectual property, indirectly inserting such ideas on the back of moral concepts such as sharing, freedom and openness, as though sharing, freedom and openness didn't exist before, and that the only way to protect such notions is with legal instruments that recognise copyrights in the first place!

I attended the sessions at the Open Education Conference in Vancouver by Lila Bailey, Counsel, ccLearn, Creative Commons, and Lindsey Weeramuni, Intellectual Property Supervisor, MIT OpenCourseWare. Lila did a pretty good job of explaining the issues around Creative Commons' and ccLearn's global ideas, but one thing that struck me is that it all stems from US law in the first place. I asked why instead doesn't CC International and ccLearn find a country with more progressive laws (if any) relating to copyright, and use that as a basis to build up a creative commons. Obviously it couldn't work because for some well known if all too often unquestioned reasons - US law is the dominant force in copyright. My question was a red herring.

Glory By Binyavanga Wainaina questioning other Western born "aid" initiatives.

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license.


Mark Smithers said...

Nicely put and thought provoking as usual. I'd be interested to know how Lila and Lindsey responded to your question. Also is there a better way than CC to provide open material?

dave cormier said... you might enjoy some of the debate in here. great to meet you... and wish we'd worked out more time to chat.


Jared Stein said...

While I disagree with the use of the loaded terms, I think you raise an interesting question that Western OER advocates must address: what does encouraging "openness" mean to a culture that is already open? Does accepting notions of "openness" imply acknowledgment of (sometimes alien) 3rd-party intellectual property law? How might that tacit acknowledgment be used against one in the future?

Leigh, I want to also note that when you clarified the distinction between "global" and "international" during the conference, I was nodding my head in agreement, and glad that there are challenging points of view in a sometimes homogeneous niche community.

Chris Lott said...

In the end, Creative Commons "is what it is" right? It's a legal operation that works with existing legal systems. It's not a revolutionary force.

Regardless of non-Western or Asian or Indian ways of knowing and sharing, India has a copyright system in place that is of the same type as that in the United States and is a signer of the Berne Convention. CC has explicitly and purposefully chosen too create a model that works with those existing legal systems as a complement rather than a discrete alternative.

CC doesn't fit in with Asian ideas of knowledge and sharing-- that seems perfectly clear to me. But that's just a reflection of the fact that the system in place in those countries *themselves* doesn't fit in with those ideas.

Seems to me that all of these discussion come down to the essential split between reform and revolution (CC is the former and people are down on it, but no one is quite clear how to proceed with the latter and still maintain their livelihood) which naturally propagate through the medium of individuals and institutions (as you note, it's a lot easier to ignore copyright as an individual than as a member of an institution... see the dyad in the first clause).

This is, seriously, the bind that had me believing I was done with the whole education game when I came to Open Ed. I'm not yet convinced that *in this respect* OER represents a significant colonialist force (given the way of the world it seems a bit like sparking my lighter to light a fire in front of someone who is already staring into high-power lights in an interrogation chamber... just not sure it's important), just as I'm not yet convinced that CC is to be avoided because it is designed to work with existing law (pragmatically, I don't see hope of a revolution but I do see hope-- in fact the reality-- that CC can allow forward progress).

Seth said...

Leigh, glad I could meet you at OpenEd09. It was unfortunate we didn't have more time to talk (and that I missed meeting Sunshine). I wanted to point out a couple of things:

1) It seems to me that in this post your criticisms are more about Creative Commons, rather than OER. OER does not inherently mean using a Creative Commons license, although they're are the most common. In fact, OER need not even involve licensing. For example, if a given OER is in the public domain, then there is no license, only a lattice of copyright law and precedent to support. If a nation has no sense of intellectual property, that doesn't prevent them from releasing OER, only mitigating, in some ways, its definition. Additionally, if someone feels that they are oppressed by Creative Commons, they and others like-minded can create their own license, and in my mind it still counts as an OER by definition. Of course, compatibility concerns may arise over time, but in some ways that can be provided. Or, the incompatibility could be used as a buffer for culture imperialism. I believe copyright can help just as much as it can hurt. In summation, be careful about conflating OER and licensing.

2) I understood, in part, your reasons for wanting to use the word "international" versus "global," but I find myself wanting the entire case laid out. I would be interested in some links to others who feel the same way about the word choice. I also find it a little curious that you would prefer the word "international," which seems to conjure the idea of across nations, rather than across individuals, which I feel is your ultimate aim.

3) You raised this issue of teachers on the ground not being concerned about copyright in your Myths, Lies and... post. Again, I find myself asking: Are you really content with a situation in which copyright law says one thing, but what teachers do is entirely another? If a teacher ignores copyright, does that mean that is the ideal? If copyright law needs to change, so be it, but I disagree with the idea of ignoring the copyright issues simply because teachers in Kenya and NZ don't address them. One last thing: you seem to assume that U.S. copyright is an absolute negative and cite that it could be different (though your post acknowledges that you aren't sure which countries might have more progressive laws). I wonder what the results would be if you thought about the benefits of the U.S. system as currently constituted? Or is this simply about U.S. unfairly getting its way? Mind you, I'm not entirely defending the U.S. system, but it seems like international efforts by their very nature, will require compromise on both sides.

Leigh Blackall said...

@Dave that post was in Feb! That was ages ago.. I should have seen that by now and a link to it should have been included here. Twitter is killing my reader. off to read and write there.

@Jared :) I don't think I use loaded terms on purpose.. or if I do, its my way of foot noting.. little reminders that if you fired those loaded terms there'd be a whole other array of blog posts. Saving for later.

@Chris, you're right - practically speaking this is an non issue. At least not one that can be solved. For me its more an awareness thing.. a question of morals and ethics to be considered every step of the way. No end, no beginning, just a sense of atmosphere. You said: "given the way of the world it seems a bit like sparking my lighter to light a fire in front of someone who is already staring into high-power lights in an interrogation chamber... just not sure it's important" - where "the way of the world" might be that colonising force I'm referring to. CC as an instrument of colonisation is nothing compared to Youtube, the Internet, movies, music, music video, brands and products, logos and television. Collectively these are all blinding lights and this little campfire only burns a little.

Leigh Blackall said...

@Seth I think my response would be similar to Chris.. these problems don't really have solutions, they just are.. my writing about them is akin to a funny Gary Larson cartoon of 2 cows grazing in a field. One looks up with a startled look on her face and says, "I just realised something, we're eating grass".

Only one direct thing though.. Public Domain isn't a concept shared the world over, nor is Fair Use.. rejecting copyright though, wiping it from our minds.. it might not be too late for that.. I suspect the majority of the world is still ignorant of copyright, so we could pretend like it never was and get back on track creating and expressing without the protectionism.

Seth said...

Thanks for responding to my comment. It looks like our disagreements might be more fundamental than I thought. Nonetheless, I look forward to hearing more on the subject as it strikes your fancy.

I do understand what you're saying about Public Domain and Fair Use not being completely international. I do not agree that the abolishment of copyright is an ideal state.

There is value in awareness making people aware of the "international" consequences of OER and thinking about our ethical responsibilities as OER producers and consumers, so I hope my comment didn't come across as negative. I'm trying to lighten up after the last post I responded to. I know from talking with attendees that many at OpenEd09 appreicated your thoughts.

Bronwyn hegarty said...

I think you have made a very thought provoking post Leigh. I have to point out that even though teachers may appear not to care about copyright as demonstrated by their disregard for giving attribution to people's work - for example as you say taking images and not acknowledging the source - I think they just don't always know what is expected.

For example, there is a perception that because information is so freely available on the web then it is ok just to take it.

Three years ago plus people in the NZ organisation you are referring to were concerning themselves with issues of copyright. When teachers started to move from the f2f classroom to the virtual classroom 13 yrs ago, they did realise they had to change the way they used material. I believe the online teachers moved first. However, people in the f2f classroom still carried on "flaunting" the copyright regs - not even acknowledging sources of readings and handouts.

As use of the online classroom has become more prevalent and awareness about correct use and citing of online sources has grown, so has the correct citing of paper-based material evolved.

It was interesting to find out the other day that "quoting" material can also apply to snippets from video and audio not just text.

I am all for the public domain but still think people have a right to be acknowledged for their work. And if only we could lose the bureaucracy and confusion (Seth's post illustrates some of the issues) and just go with a fair use policy for all information with people acknowledging others' work and maybe giving a donation for material they use - what a wonderful world that would be. Would this encourage more OER or less I wonder?

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Bron, nice to hear from you. Are you missing me? I miss you :) is nice being away this long and meeting new people.. but there's a sense of home about Dunedin and EDC work. Who would have thought hey!

"Everything fair use" would be the most practical. Perhaps educational work could have a special exception like news and journalism has? Although I hear that is eroding too. For me as an individual, rejection of copyright outright is easier. I'm still thinking on how to express that on what I publish without acknowleging copyright in the first place...

Attribution, sharing, openness etc are moral issues, not legal. And it saddens me I think, to see them becoming legal and bureaucratic. But if we did find a way to widen "fair use or dealings" to such an extend so as to afford practically no restrictions on education, then OER is non existent. Everything would become an OER, and so OER would be nothing. Nor would there be an opportunity for inadvertent influences I'm calling colonialism to take root.

sparker said...

Yes I can see your point Leigh, OER is a stroke of social engineering genius IMHO. It's "Free" for all (Nothings free), to be utlised by all for the greater good of mankind so there is a real moral imperative to support it right? Who benefits? The poor uneducated with no access to knowledge? The elephant in the room is not colonialism and copyright it's colonialism and idealogy, colonialism and educational indoctrination, consolidation of international currulum and standardised ways of thinking. In other words INSTITUTIONALISED THINKING ON A GLOBAL SCALE FOR A GLOBAL ECONOMY. Perhaps that OER possibility seems unlikely to some but Julian Huxley founder of UNESCO (Big OER driver) puts the noble aims so much better than me.

"There are thus two tasks for the Mass Media division of Unesco; the one general; the other special. The special one is to enlist the press and the radio and the cinema to the fullest extent in the service of formal and adult education, of science and learning, of art and culture. The general one is to see that these agencies are used both to contribute to mutual comprehension between nations and cultures, and also to promote the growth of a common outlook shared by all nations and cultures." p. 60

A noble liberal colonial cause, a big idea using open educational resources and creative commons as a major lever to these ends.

UNESCO: Its purpose and Its Philosophy

sparker said...


Anonymous said...

hyvä, hyvä.

Bronwyn hegarty said...

Yes that is what i meant and you put it so well. Yes I am missing you and our lively debates. A sense of belonging to a place and a team is an important part of enjoying the job eh. I wonder how freelancers get on.

I agree attribution, sharing, openness etc are definitely moral issues and certainly test peoples' integrity. What chance is there when humans as a species have such a potential to be corrupt?

Benjamin Geer said...

Here in Egypt, copyright remains largely a foreign concept in practice, and while the resulting freedom is beneficial in some ways, it also has its dangers, as this anecdote from Richard Jacquemond's book Conscience of the Nation: Writers, State, and Society in modern Egypt shows:

"In 1994, on the occasion of the republication of one of the best-known novels by Ihhas abd al-Quddus, Ana hurra ('I am Free,' 1954), a journalist discovered that this new edition of the novel contained more than a hundred changes to the original version, completely altering its nature. Ana hurra is the story of Amina, the daughter of a good family who rebels against the moral and social conventions of her milieu, the criticism of bourgeois morality being one of the favorite themes of the book's author. In the altered version, numerous additions had been introduced aiming to portray Amina as rash and self-obsessed: where the author had written of her 'stubbornness,' whoever had corrected the novel had added the adjective 'stupid'; her happiness and freedom had become 'deceptive,' her imagination 'unrestrained,' etc. Worst of all, where the original version had ended with the heroine's cry 'I am free!' the corrected edition now added, 'she imagined, in her ignorance, that marriage was a hindrance, and she lived a dissolute and depraved life because of her false idea of freedom.' Called upon to explain the changes, the publisher, Maktabat Misr, justified them by pointing to the necessity of bowdlerizing the ntext in order to allow it to be exported 'to a Gulf country,' the standard formula used for Saudi Arabia."

I think that use (and enforcement) of the Creative Commons licences could be a good way to prevent exactly this kind of problem, while allowing the kind of beneficial free copying that is traditional here.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hello Benjamin, thanks for the very thought provoking comment. At first I was nodding in agreement, but then it became clear to me that Creative Commons licensing does not prevent this from happening... at least not the licenses commonly accepted as open.. the only license that could prevent this misappropriation would be "No Derivatives". And then Egypt would need a legal structure that can support the enforcement of such a license - in other words: Copyright law. I suppose Egypt has such laws, or if it is in free trade negotiations with the USA, it soon will have such laws.

What I mean is:
1. Only the ND prevents this example - and ND is not strictly an OER if we follow the "Free Cultural Works" definition.

2. Policing and enforcing ND will take resources that may not already exist

3. Enforcing ND requires a legal framework that recognises Copyright largely consistent with the USA's inception of the idea, and that then introduces a number of other issues that I would say outweigh the example you cite.

Benjamin Geer said...

Egypt already has copyright law; it just doesn't have much enforcement. I think the Creative Commons "No Derivatives" licence is a good option for literary works; what problem do you see with it? If authors wish to permit derivative works, the CC licences still have the benefit of requiring derivative works to be labelled as such; this would indeed prevent the problem I mentioned, because the publisher wouldn't be able to pass off a derivative work as the original.

Leigh Blackall said...

In "open educational resources" the ability to make a derivative is pretty fundamental, in the case of your story - a translation for example. Most people I work with in OER accept only:

*Public Domain
*Share Alike

Restrictions beyond these end up preventing free and open use of a resource.

I was thinking more about your story, relating it to the position I am taking here in this post - rejecting copyright law. I think I would say that it is not copyright laws that protect the work. There are other, more humane elements that do. For a start, in this day and age it wouldn't take long for news to spread about the derivative being significantly different from the original - thus helping to drive sales of the original, and hurting the reputation of the publisher. Also, the existence of the derivative is a positive thing in other ways. Setting aside our political and moral views about the publisher's edits, there now exists a second version of the text that may be more acceptable, or more readable for a certain audience. It is only our belief in ownership and property that propels us to consider the new version illegitimate. Without conceptions of ownership, the story is free to folk and evolve along with the millions of other stories in time.

So for now and for ever, and in the absence of any practical implementation of Egyptian copyright laws following ND, we can rely more effectively on people's moral sense and desire to seek the truth, what and where ever that may be... and trust forces outside our life's time frame.

Benjamin Geer said...

It's great to make derivative works, but it's wrong to attribute them to the original author. When a reader buys a book by a certain author, they trust that they're reading that author's work, not a forgery. Authors, too, care about their reputations, and therefore want to make sure that readers only attribute works to them that they actually wrote. For this reason, in the medieval Islamic state, it was traditional that you could copy books for free, but you had to get the copy certified by the author to ensure that it was accurate. This didn't stop people from making derivative works (which they did very freely), but it did prevent forgeries of the type I'm describing.

You may be content to "trust forces outside your life's time frame", but this won't do for authors, who need to make their reputations and careers in their own lifetimes. Nor will it do for readers who want to read, in their own lifetimes, accurate copies of the books that those authors actually wrote. Perhaps your complacency stems precisely from the fact that you live in a society where copyright laws are enforced; thus you've never actually had to face problems of forgery or fraud in publishing.

I think you greatly overestimate the probability that, in the absence of copyright law enforcement, bad publicity would prevent these sorts of problems from occurring. Indeed, my example shows that the publisher had no fear whatsoever of being caught, and even when he was caught, he didn't seem in the least bit concerned that his reputation might be damaged; it was enough, he felt, for him to give a commercial justification.

If you're willing to rely "on people's moral sense" rather than on laws in this area, why not in other areas, too? Why not abolish all laws? The answer is simple: it doesn't work. When people can get away with fraud with impunity, many will do so.

The CC licences which allow derivative works are precisely intended to solve this problem, by requiring authors of derivative works to indicate clearly that they have modified the original work.

houshuang said...

Very relevant questions and thoughts. I also understand the annoyance in OER/open movements where the US is always taken to be the "standard", and the danger or absurdness of having to teach people to respect copyright, before you can "liberate" them through the use of CC licenses.

However, I think that between individuals, CC is more often a community thing than a legal thing. I cannot imagine myself ever suing anyone for anything, certainly not for taking a private picture of mine and putting it in a PPT etc. But by using CC, I can explicitly encourage this kind of sharing - and outline the simple criteria I would "request" you to follow. And likewise I am happy when others do so as well.

I've been spending quite a lot of time researching the production of OER in non-Western countries, and often spend a lot of time on this in my talks ( I think the Indira Gandhi National Open University, which released _all_ it's teaching materials - 16,000 documents, many book length, most in English - to be amazing!! However, it's explicitly copyrighted, and doesn't encourage sharing.

I'm not worried about them stopping me from using the texts personally, but what I had in mind was choosing some of the most relevant texts, get them OCRed and into a wiki, and begin to edit it, add resources, etc... Without an open license, I'm not going to that.

Likewise, Indonesia and India have released hundreds of K12 textbooks on the net - wonderful initiative, but again they are in PDF, mixing images and text etc, making it extremely difficult to edit these, translate them, use parts of them etc.

So it isn't that CC is necessarily that important (although I think it can play a valuable role, but it needs to be very carefully thought through), but rather the idea of sharing and opening up which I see CC as promoting - for example with the great ccMixter...

PS: Sorry I missed you at the Vancouver conference.

Leigh Blackall said...

Wonderful comment Houshuang, you've captured it all nicely. CC is more of a community thing for sure, and I'm right into that, if only it could be just that.. I guess what I'm asking is how we might encourage open sharing without the recognition of copyright, especially the USA/Western idea of it. Where I work, we implemented CC By as our preferred copyright license, and that has been good for building a spirit of sharing, but the flip side has been worse - a sudden anxiety about copyright, causing many teachers to restrict access to their resources because not all the content in the resource is strictly legitimate. Before we introduced CC (and copyright with it) they might not have worried so much, perhaps thinking as teachers they are exempt from standard copyright laws, like say, a news reporter.

As you say, you are not personally going to sue, me either. Perhaps the 'owners' of all those wonderful resources you cite won't either.. Maybe all they're worrying about at this stage is providing access. Derivatives are a different idea. CC does make it all easier for sure.. what I would do is contact the 'owners' of the resources and ask permission for each resource you'd like to use. Not as smooth as them simply putting a CC license on them though.

But all this is minor compared to the research you have been doing, finding all the non US based open educational resources. Off to see your slideshare

houshuang said...

I pursued some of these ideas further here:

Stoixima said...

As it happens with everything in life, we should not exaggerate. For sure copyright protection is very important, but what happens when it causes problems to education? Some copyright claims are just out of logic.