Creative Commons giveth, but does it also taketh away?

from Michael Cerviere’s post on ScribeMedia

I regret to say that I have not been able to participate much this summer in the eduMOOC: Online Learning Today…and Tomorrow course. But I did step in during Week 5 for the live session, the format of which had been changed from an Elluminate room holding 100 people to just listening to a panel while using the Twitter hashtag #edumooc5 as a backchannel (ah, the vagaries of learning online).

The recording is here for the session, which featured Ray Schroeder (UIS) Moderator, Cable Green (Creative Commons), Larry Ragan (PSU World Campus), and Jeff Newell (IL Com College Board). One of the issues discussed was the use of Creative Commons to share materials created by educators. Some school districts now require their faculty to use Creative Commons for everything they create, an approach that was lauded by the panel and several listeners. The question briefly came up about the possibility of monetizing this work, even with a CC license. But it wasn’t fully discussed.

Well, that’s a problem. I watched this happen with Academic Earth in 2009. A number of top universities, including Stanford, MIT, and Penn, release the lectures and materials given by their faculty with a CC license. MIT even has its own community site (called OpenStudy) to enable people following the courses to have their own space for discussion. Then Academic Earth “repackaged” the “content”, building courses around the content and publishing the resulting “course” on a website with for-profit goals (in this case, with the permission of the university).

The CC license I use says attribution/non-commercial/share alike. That means that you’re supposed to say you got it from me, not use it for commercial purposes, and share your stuff back.

When big universities began sharing open coursework, I was enthused. But repackaging it inside a for-profit product or website seems to violate the intent, if not the letter, of CC licensing. The model for Academic Earth is that they abide by the CC license by not charging for any of the university, CC-licensed content, but then they add other “non-university” content where advertising (presumably click-through, but they could have something else in mind) makes the money. So the free content is the draw, then the ads come in. Is this commercial use?

Even if the repackaging were done by the institution itself, or a non-profit company, it doesn’t seem right. If a professor creates a lecture and Creative Commons licenses it as I do, a public or non-profit school could still take all the stuff and repackage it, charging for the class without passing on any royalties to the professor.

It was never my intention to provide free content to entities who might put a framework around it, call it their own, and charge people. My intention was to make my work free to individuals to use, without charge.

I am lucky enough to work at a college where some intellectual property rights are spelled out in policy — so far, at least, I “own” what I create as part of my regular job, so long as I’m not receiving special compensation. I could copyright my work, and some of my colleagues do. I used to think this was bad, it was closed, how could they do that?

Now I’m not so sure. If a CC license means that our work is free to be taken and repackaged for profit, I’m not liking this at all.

Update: I am seeking out sites that are ad-revenue based but use other people’s content. Here’s one.

2 thoughts on “Creative Commons giveth, but does it also taketh away?

  1. It seems clear enough to me that this violates the intent of the non-commercial element of CC licensing. I guess the problem is how to protect that, given the weak/untested power of CC in legal terms.


  2. The legality (which I don’t see as enforceable with regular copyright either) may be less important than establishing norms of use. Baaaad precedents being set here.


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