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US Court Ruling Adds Clarity to Creative Commons License

Last week there was an important US court ruling that helps to legally clarify the freedoms and limitations of Creative Commons licenses. While it is a US court ruling, I think the ruling is still useful here in Canada as the global body of legal decisions involving  CC licenses is fairly small, so any legal interpretation is a useful thing.

In essence, the court decided that a company that used a CC licensed photograph did not violate the photographers copyright to that photo because the photographer licensed their photo with a CC-BY-SA (Share-Like) license, and the company did not use the photo outside of what the CC-BY-SA license allowed. Or, as the TechDirt byline nicely states “from the but-I-didn’t-think-anyone-would-do-the-thing-I-told-them-they-could-do! dept”.

A photographer named Art Dragulis uploaded a photo to Flickr with a CC-BY-SA license. A company called the Kappa May Group then took that photo and used it as a cover image on an atlas they produced and subsequently sold. Dragulis said that Kappa May violated his copyright by using his photo on the cover of an atlas that they then sold. He also stated that Kappa May didn’t attribute him correctly.

The court, however, disagreed with the photographer, saying that the -SA license does not prevent his photo from being used for commercial activity, primarily because CC licenses have an explicit Non-Commercial clause that he could have applied instead of the -SA clause.

The court ruling also supports how I have always interpreted the -SA clause, and that the -SA clause only applies to derivatives of the original work, and not to a collection that the original work is used in. That is, the original licensed item must be modified in some way that makes it different than the original before it needs to be shared back with a CC-SA license. In this case, the original photo was not modified and was used without alterations, so there is no obligation for the atlas company to re-share the photo. Nor is there a requirement for the company to release the entire atlas with a share-alike CC license as the ruling states that the atlas is not a derivative of the photo simply because the photo was used in the atlas. Instead, the courts considered the atlas a “collection” and the cover image is simply one item in that collection, therefore the entire atlas does not have to be released with a CC-BY-SA license.

This is important because this case will help people understand how items licensed with the -SA clause can be used. This has always been a bit tricky for people working with -SA licensed materials; if I use something with an -SA clause, do I have to release everything I create with that -SA licensed material with an -SA clause? As this ruling shows, no, you do not.

Additionally, it shows that an -SA work does not undercut the financial incentive for someone to use your work, thus somehow “protecting” your work from being used for commercial purposes.  For example, in this case, the photographer may have mistakenly believed that, by adding an -SA license to his photo, that he was removing the commercial incentive for anyone to profit from his work. That is, anyone *could* use his photo for commercial purposes, but they would then also have to freely make available a CC-BY-SA licensed version of their work, thus undercutting their own commercial use of his work. Why would a commercial organization use -SA content when it just meant they would have to release what they created for free? As this court ruling shows, this is not how -SA works when the -SA item is used in a collection and you can use -SA content for commercial purposes when used within a collection.

But more broadly (and more importantly) I think that this case hilights the general disconnect with how people expect (or hope) a CC clause works, and how that clause may actually work. Another recent example of this disconnect is the kerfuffle Flickr found itself in when it announced that it would sell wall art based on 50 million CC licensed photos that had been uploaded to the site by Flickr users. After the community protested, Flickr backed down even though Flickr had the legal right to use those photos under the terms of the CC licenses.

Now, I agree that just because you have the legal right to do something doesn’t mean you should just rush ahead and do it, especially if you are a major corporation. Flickr could have handled this better and rolled their program out in a way that would have benefited both Flickr and the community. I mean, c’mon Flickr, why not compensate the photographers who have their photos used?

But commercial use, like the -SA clause, is one of those clauses that has always been a bit tricky because what is “commercial” is often interpreted in different ways. For some, releasing content with a non-commercial (-NC) clause means absolutely no commercial activity whatsoever. For these purists (for lack of a better term), anyone using their content for any reason where money changes hands is not ok. For those purists who licenses with an -NC license, this may mean even using their photo in a way that might say, raise money for a charity or a non-profit, or offset legitimate costs, like the cost of printing is a no-go.

For others who choose the -NC clause for their material, they may define -NC more closely to the phrase “non-corporate” than “non-commercial” in that they don’t want something they create being used by a private company, but would be ok for a charity or another educator or a non-profit to use for something like fundraising. Still others use -NC to mean “not for profit” but would be ok with charging for a cost recovery. To the point, -NC is an attribute that is open to interpretation, and people often interpret it through their own lens and context.

While there are certainly prevailing attitudes within the CC community as to how to interpret the different CC clauses, the fact remains that working with CC licenses is theoretically simple, but practically complex because we are dealing with law and law is complex. And while CC per se is not law, it does have legal implications because it is so closely tied to copyright law.

Which is why I think that this court ruling is important. The wider CC community needs more legal decisions like Deagulis vs Kappa May to help bring greater certainty and clarity to the many nuances of working with CC licenses. More clarity through legal decisions helps to clear up some of the ambiguity, which ultimately makes it easier to work with the licenses because the community then has something very clear to point to and say, “this is what -SA means”.

Kevin Smith at Duke University has an excellent post about this specific case.

Turning #crappyconf15 into #awesomeconf15

David Kernohan started it this morning.

I’ve been tuning into the #crappyconf15 hashtag off an on this morning. As I wrote about yesterday, I’m working with David Wiley on organizing the OpenEd conference in November in Vancouver. So, timely. At the same time, funny…

….more than a tad bit terrifying (ooooooooohhhhhhhh the expectations!!!!!!!!!),

….and highly educational on what details I need to pay attention to.

So, I want to take the learning one step further and ask you to flip this from #crappyconf to #awesomeconf. In your opinion, what makes a great conference great? And before you say “the people”, let’s take that as the given starting point.

Thinking of the many, many conferences you have attended, what are those things that made it stand out? Maybe it were little touches that the organizers put in place that kicked the conference up a notch for you? Was it a cool extra-curricular event? Something that made the event easier/better/smoother for you? Was it an added event before or after the main conference that made the trip worthwhile?

What do you need/want that would make OpenEd15 a worthwhile conference for you?

Getting ready for #OpenEd15

For the past couple months I’ve been working with David Wiley on planning the November 18-20 OpenEd conference in Vancouver, and things are kicking into high gear as we head into the fall.

David released the program on Monday (and many thanks to our local program evaluation committee Brian Lamb, Will Engle, Valerie Irvine, Irwin DeVries, & Tannis Morgan for help vetting the plethora of fantastic proposals). Keynotes for the conference will come from Phil Hill & Michael Feldstein, and a couple of current & former BCcampus colleagues Mary Burgess and David Porter.

We’ve been working on organizing a social event. It likely won’t be of the same scale as the epic sea cruise of 2012, but, like 2009 and 2012, our location is uniquely Vancouver; the legendary Roof Restaurant on the 15th floor of the Hotel Vancouver. For you radio buffs, the Roof spent 20+ years as the Saturday night broadcast home of CBC radio back in the jazz days when radio used to broadcast off the floor live jazz and big band concerts. I don’t think we can secure 97 year old Dal Richards for a gig (although, amazingly, he still performs), but the venue will still be a great social space at the end of day 1.

The Roof circa 1940

The Roof circa 1940

A more recent photo of The Roof from 2014

A more recent photo of The Roof from 2014

Other than that, we don’t have a ton of planned social activities for the conference, knowing that many of you will be eager to use the time to reconnect with your own groups. We will be providing some ideas of things that you might want to do while in Vancouver – restaurants, clubs, events and such. But for the most part, we’ll leave that up to the people coming to plan how they want to spend their time.

Accessibility and OER will be highly visible at this years conference with a number of accessibility organizations in attendance. The Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD (developers of FLOE), the Centre for Accessible Post-Secondary Educational Resources (CAPER-BC) and CAST are working on an interactive accessibility station that will be set up and running for the duration of the conference.

Early bird rate is $349 US (and the way the Canadian dollar is tanking these days, if you are in Canada and planning on attending, you may want to lock in sooner rather than later). After September 30th the rate is $499 US.

An idea for sustaining accounting open textbooks

It happens often enough that I think we in the open education community need a special copyright irony icon for those times when you come across research articles about open education locked away behind copyright paywalls.

Ironic sign post for company called Copyright

Copyright? by Stephen Downes CC-BY

Here is another one (U.S. accounting professors’ perspectives on textbook revisions, Journal of Accounting Education) that contains a great suggestion on how the accounting education community can create & sustain open accounting textbooks.

The paper is a research study on publishers textbook revision cycles, and while it contains some interesting information about how publisher textbook revision cycles are too aggressive for most accounting faculty, the real meat of the article is at the end where the authors present a potential sustainable open textbook community publishing model  along the lines of the NOBA project.

The study was done through the lens of textbook cost and how textbook revisions are one of the major contributing factors to high textbook costs for students. Quicker textbook revision cycles benefit publishers as new editions undercut the used market. The quicker new editions of a popular textbook are released, the greater the opportunity publishers have to sell new books. Since publishers make no money off of used textbooks, there is a strong economic incentive for them to have new editions hitting the market every few years.

How often? The researchers looked at the revision cycles of 69 accounting textbooks over the course of 28 years and found that the time between textbook revisions is shrinking from a mean of 4.2 years in 1988, to 2.4 years in 2016.

While there are changes that need to happen to textbooks over time, it appears that faculty who teach the subject think this cycle is too aggressive. The researchers conducted a survey of 998 accounting faculty, and showed that 54.3% of faculty felt that this revision period was “too short” or “far too short”, preferring a 3.15 year revision cycle. As the authors note, “there is a disconnect between publishers’ current practices and faculty perception of the frequency with which new editions are needed.”

But the recommendation at the end of the paper for accounting educators to establish a Free Textbook Initiative is a fantastic one.

The authors would like to suggest another version of open-source textbooks, a Free Textbook Initiative (FTI) whereby a non-profit entity is created (led by a university, a major accounting firm, the AICPA, or the AAA) to oversee the collection and distribution of funds for writing textbook materials. This would be accomplished primarily with summer writing grants which would be awarded on the condition that all materials created would be put into the public domain and distributed electronically to students and teachers free of charge. For instance, five different professors might write chapters on accounting for leases. Teachers could then choose which chapter they prefer and assemble textbooks on a chapter-by-chapter basis with one chapter authored by professor A and perhaps another by professor B. Those professors with high usage rates for their material would be prime candidates for additional future funding. In this way, the FTI and the absence of frequently revised commercial textbooks would materially lower the cost of education for accounting professionals and create a role model for other disciplines.

Initially, the FTI model could be maintained and periodically updated by faculty in lower-level, static courses, such as principles of financial and managerial accounting, as our survey results indicate that professors teaching in these disciplines prefer longer periods between revisions. Many of the concepts covered in accounting principle courses have changed very little over time (e.g., transaction recording, preparing budgets, etc.), and any initial efforts to develop and compile new course material will potentially be useful for many years.

This does strike me as very similar to the model that NOBA uses in psychology, with individual faculty authoring and submitting openly licensed chapters on specific topics of expertise that other faculty could then mix and match to make their own custom textbooks.

Where the models are different is in the funding structure. NOBA is also a non-profit with sustaining funding coming from the Diener Education Fund. The authors in the accounting example propose a different source of funding.

Accounting education is uniquely placed to be at the vanguard of change in the creation and distribution of textbook materials because of the unique funding opportunities that are available from the profession. The AICPA (American Institute of CPA’s), individual accounting firms, and many businesses are capable and interested in funding initiatives that benefit accounting education. This is almost unique in higher education.

While I am not as keen about having commercial enterprises fund the development of educational material (see Canadian Geographic),  I do think that professional organizations like AICPA (or CPA Canada here) who already have an established interest in maintaining training and credentialing for their profession are well positioned to take on the task of financially support the development of open educational resources specific to their profession. Indeed, the AICPA in the U.S. already supports students through a scholarship program that gives $32,000 in scholarships to 4 students each year. While $5000 and $10,000 scholarships makes a definite impact for those 4 students, imagine the thousands of students who would be financially impacted with lower textbook costs if some of that scholarship money was turned into sustaining an open textbook initiative?

Source: Hammond, T., Danko, K., & Braswell, M. (2015). U.S. accounting professors’ perspectives on textbook revisions. Journal of Accounting Education. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaccedu.2015.06.004

What Pressbooks EDU means for BCcampus and Pressbooks Textbooks

Open Textbook Summit 2015

Hugh getting ready to talk Pressbooks and LibriVox at the Open Textbook Summit

A few weeks back at the Open Textbook Summit, Hugh McGuire from Pressbooks announced a new hosted Pressbooks offering aimed at institutions called Pressbooks EDU. Since that announcement, I’ve had a few emails from people asking what this might mean for BCcampus and our work with Pressbooks Textbooks.

In a nutshell, Pressbooks EDU does not change the work we at BCcampus are are doing with Pressbooks. BCcampus is still actively involved with development of the Pressbooks Textbooks platform, and will continue to contribute our code back to the core Pressbooks code base. This means that much of the work we (and by we I mean Brad) do in BC on Pressbooks Textbooks could eventually trickle down to this new hosted Pressbooks EDU instance, however individual decisions about what features and code we develop get merged back into the PB core are made by Hugh and his development team.

While we do share our work openly for the wider community to use, our primary mandated area is to serve the post-secondary institutions within British Columbia. BCcampus will continue to support faculty authoring and adapting open textbooks in Pressbooks as part of the BC Open Textbook project and, later this summer, we will be piloting a self-serve instance of Pressbooks for faculty and staff at BC post-secondary institutions to use.

Hugh’s new service now gives an option to institutions and organizations in other states and provinces who may not have the internal support or resources to set up and host their own instance of Pressbooks (and if you are from a post-sec in BC and are interested in Hugh’s hosted option, by all means contact him). Now institutions have a service provider to support them rather than have to take on the technical support of setting up an instance themselves which, of course, could happen as well as all the code is open source and institutions with the resources could set up their own instance of PB.

I see this as a great move by Pressbooks as it will likely bring some more interest to the platform in EDU now that there is a hosted option available. It will also provide Pressbooks with a source of funding to help grow Pressbooks, the business. In my opinion, a healthy business model for Pressbooks, the company, means a much healthier open source product in Pressbooks, the software.

We have worked closely with Hugh and Pressbooks in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Hugh and Pressbooks have been wonderful partners, and I am continually impressed with Hugh’s vision around what a book can be in a networked digital world, which he spoke about again recently at the Open Textbook Summit.

All in all, I see this as a wonderful development for Pressbooks in education, and for the open textbook publishing ecosystem as a whole.

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