Michael Geist - Why Copyright? - 7I just got back from Michael Geist's inspiring presentation "Why Copyright?" - where he laid out some of the issues relating to copyright, open access, sharing, reusing, mashups, and a long list of implications for the potentially pending Canadian DMCA.

It felt like there was much agreement among the faculty and staff who were present for Dr. Geist's presentation. When he was talking about the need for, and the power of, open access, many heads were nodding. People were agreeing, and it felt like we might be about ready to start moving forward on some Open Content (if not all the way to Open Education) initiatives. I've got some ideas that I want to incubate for a bit longer, but I'll be following up with faculty members to see what we can do to move in that direction.

Walking back from the presentation, chatting with two unnamed faculty members. They were saying how eye-opening the session was, and how they had no idea that Fair Dealing was as useful and potentially as flexible as it sounds like it is. How great, that they can go ahead and scan books as PDF and post them in their courses in Blackboard.

"But," I replied, "what if we went further than that, and started sharing course materials on the open web for others to use as well, instead of just locking copyrighted materials behind Blackboard's login?"

"No. I could never put my course on the open web. I'd get sued. I don't worry about this now, because it's all in Blackboard. They have no right to look in Blackboard, so it's safe."

My jaw is still sore from when it hit the elevator floor.

Fair Dealing, and open access, and creative commons, and all of the wonderful things that these entail. Only seen by faculty as ways to get content into their courses. A one-way trip. Roach motel.

I can see I've got a lot of work to do.

Ron Murch hit the nail on the head with his comment/question in the discussion after the presentation. He asked if there was something more we could be doing, rather than just using citations to show the content that has been reused in the context of a course.

Yes, Ron. There is absolutely more we can do.

First and foremost, we need to model ethical and appropriate use of copyrighted materials. Hiding copyright infringements behind the Blackboard login is not good enough. You have to realize that you're modeling this infringement for your students to see. "It's OK to infringe on copyright, because The Man can't see, right?" "uh... if Dr. Whatsisname could do it, why can't I?"

I'm not saying you shouldn't repurpose content in your courses, but do it legitimately. We have a copyright policy here on campus. Use it. Follow it. Show your students what it means to properly use copyrighted materials. Find materials that you can legally use for your purposes. Link to materials that you can't republish directly in the course.

But, that is only half of what we need to be doing.

The other, perhaps more important part, is that we need to walk the walk. We need to publish content in forms, and under licenses, that make it possible for others to use and reuse it. A professor publishing their research publicly in DSpace is a fantastic way to show their students about the power of sharing. An instructor keeping a public blog and/or wiki with resources is a great way to model active contribution.

This is the primary reason I've chosen to publish everything I do online under a simple Creative Commons Attribution license - it's important to model this, and even more important to fully understand what it means to be an active participant in this collaborative publishing medium. Restricting yourself to publishing within the confines of Blackboard (or any other restricted walled garden) is not contributing to the Greater Good.

We can do better than that. We need to do better than that.