PayPal no pal of mine

terroristPayPal has locked up money in my PayPal account for over a month, and they are not giving it back. All because I made the mistake of using the word “Syrian” in a PayPal transaction.

On December 15th my daughter came home and said that her class was raising money to support a Syrian refugee family resettling in Victoria. We sent the notice out to the people you usually hit up for these kind of kid classroom fundraising activities – our family, a few of who live out of town.

Last day of classes for school for Christmas break was December 18th, and my daughter needed to have all the money into the school by then. To expedite the process of getting their money to us quickly, I decided to set up a donation form on a private page on my blog and have family members send me the money & I would write a cheque to the school to make sure we met the deadline. On the form, I needed to have a description line for the PayPal transaction. I used the phrase “Maggie’s Syrian Fundraiser” (Maggie is my daughters name). Her aunt, 2 uncles, & grandfather made donations.

On Dec 17th I received the following notice from PayPal:

Dear Clint Lalonde,

As part of our security measures, we regularly screen activity in the PayPal system. During a recent screening, we noticed an issue regarding your account.

PayPal is committed to complying with and meeting its global regulatory obligations. One obligation is to ensure that our customers, merchants, and partners are also in compliance with applicable laws and regulations in their use of PayPal.

To ensure that activity and transactions comply with current regulations, PayPal is requesting that you provide the following information via email to ComplianceTransactions@paypal.com.

1. Purpose of payment ********* made to you on December 16, 2015 in the amount of $50.00 CAD, including a complete and detailed explanation of the goods or services you are providing. Please also explain the transaction message: “Maggie Syrian Fundraiser.”

2. Please specify the Syrian Fundraiser will provide aid to the country of Syria, or if it will benefit those living outside of the country of Syria.

Please go to our Resolution Center to provide this information. To find the Resolution Center, log in to your account and click the Resolution Center subtab. Click Resolve under the Action column and follow the instructions.

If we don’t hear from you by January 01, 2016, we will limit what you can do with your account until the issue is resolved.

We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Yours Sincerely,
Samantha
PayPal

Ok. So, obviously using the word “Syrian” raised a red flag. On December 18th, I emailed them my explanation.

Hi there,

My 11 year old daughter is doing a fundraiser at her school to help with the local resettlement of Syrian refugees in our city, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Recently, our federal government committed to accepting and resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees, and there are local fundraising efforts to help support refugee families resettling here in Victoria.

When we began fundraising, a few of our family members asked if there was a way to donate online. I have been a long time PayPal user so I told people to send me a PayPal payment and I would send the money on to the school. I created a PayPal button and stuck it on my personal blog. As of this morning, you should see 4 transactions in my PayPal account from our family members related to my daughters school fundraiser. These are from *****, *****, ***** and *****.

Specifically, to answer you questions.

1) “Maggie Syrian Fundraiser.” Maggie is my daughters name. The school is collecting money to donate to the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee society to assist with the local resettlement of Syrian refugees here in Victoria.

2) The money does not go to Syria. It stays in Victoria BC and will be used by our local Victoria immigrant and Refugee centre to support the local resettlement of refugees from Syria in Victoria BC.

I hope this response helps to explain the transactions. There may be one or 2 more coming thru this weekend from another aunt and grandfather, but I don’t anticipate many more transactions.

Regards,Clint Lalonde

For good measure, I uploaded a copy of the letter to their dispute resolution center on the PayPal site, just to make sure that they had a copy on their files and that my response didn’t get buried in some spam folder at PayPal, like the notices from PayPal usually do :).

I figured the explanation would clear things up.

Ha!

PayPal denied 2 of the transactions and tagged 2 others with “pending review”.  My account was restricted, and when I went in to try to figure out what to do to unrestrict the account, I was given no options.

On December 26th, I called PayPal and asked them why there were still 2 pending transactions in my account, why was there a restriction on my account, and what did I need to do beyond what they asked me to do to get these issues both cleared (credit PayPal – you CAN actually speak to a live person). I was put on hold. When the rep came back he said, “well, you have done what has needed to be done. I can’t see why this restriction is still in place and these transactions are still pending.” The call ended with him saying the restrictions and payments would be lifted in 72 hours.

January 4th. Still no resolution. I get a call from MacLeans Magazine after a reporter there spied a tweet of mine expressing my frustration with PayPal. He tells me I am not alone, and that other fundraising projects related to Syria have been blocked or rejected by PayPal. He writes an article in MacLeans about the problems many of us are having with PayPal.

January 10th I send an email to Compliance.

There are still 2 payments in my PayPal account that have been marked as “Pending” since December 17, 2015.

Could you please advise me of whether those payments will be cancelled or approved?

Either way, i would like to get this money out of the Pending limbo that it is in with you guys, and have no idea how to do that as I have received no further instructions as to what to do to clear up my account.

I believe I have sent you all the information you have asked for and, in a phone call I made to PayPal support on December 26, 2015, I was led to believe that this issue was cleared up and the holds would be removed from my account. That was over 2 weeks ago, and the 2 payments are still being held as “Pending” with you.

Can you please advise me if you need more information from me, or else release or deny these payments asap?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Clint Lalonde

No response.

January 18th – second call to PayPal. Again told that everything looked fine on their end and that the payments and restrictions would be lifted within 72 hours.

January 21 – It has been 72 hours. Payments still pending. Account still restricted. I call back. I am told that my issue is sitting in a back log with compliance because “it is tax season” and that they will get to it in 72 hours.

Excuse me if I sound skeptical.

This is where we are today.

What a gong show.

I’d like to tie this back into something wider – about some social commentary about how a big corporation reliant on data decision making has lost the ability to decipher well-intentioned actions from legitimate threats. I mean, hell, If I was going to launder money for some sort of subversive Syrian terrorist organization, the first thing I would do to hide my tracks is put the word “Syrian” in the description of a financial transaction. I mean, being  a money laundering international terrorist does not mean that I can forgo keeping well detailed and accurate books.

And part of me also wants to ruminate on what this might mean for me in the future. Not only what being flagged in PayPal for suspicious activity, but even writing this blog post and using the word “Syrian” in it as many times as I have has likely got me onto who knows what list.

What if I try to cross the border? Will this silly screw-up somehow get me moved to the special room? I *think* I am being facetious with this line thinking, but in my head I am both laughing at the ridiculousness of this, and feeling the chill of unease as a little part of me wonders, have I triggered something bigger? Have I now been added by some smart/dumb algorithm to a no-fly list based on some stupid PayPal flag? I mean, someone getting accidentally added to “the special list” through no real fault of their own…that doesn’t happen in real life, does it?

Update: January 25, 2016. It is Monday, the day PayPal told me that my account would be fixed. Well, my account is still restricted and PayPal has not released the payments pending in my account.

 

Amazon Web Services coming to Canada

In a blog post on the AWS site, Amazon Web Services Chief Evangelist  Jeff Barr announced that Amazon Web Services will be bringing their cloud computing service to Canada sometime this year.

This is potentially big news for edtech in Canada where our privacy laws have hindered the use of cloud based services where personal data may be stored outside of the country.

These days, it’s hard to find scalable edtech infastructure and services that are not built on AWS (or other) cloud services, and having data stored outside of Canada using cloud services has traditionally been a barrier to adoption for Canadian institutions. Not a deal breaker as there are ways to mitigate and still be compliant with privacy laws through informed consent, etc. But for many, the P.I.A (Privacy Impact Assessment) is a P.I.A. and enough of a barrier that it hindered the use of cloud based services.

For an edtech example, Canvas has had very little uptake in Canada because it is built on AWS.

Of the 25 public post-secondary institutions in BC, there is only a single institution using Canvas, and they are self hosting to work around the data storage issue. With a regional offering of AWS in Canada, I would expect to see a company like Instructure bring Canvas north of the border soon, and it being a serious contender for institutions undertaking LMS reviews.

While not explicitly stated in the release that it will be compatible with all the different provincial and federal privacy laws, it’s hard to imagine Amazon rolling out services in Canada that are not as compliant as possible. Indeed, privacy compliance with federal and provincial laws would be one of the biggest selling points for the service in Canada, as PCWorld notes;

Having a dedicated Canadian region will be important for organizations that need to comply with the patchwork of regional data protection laws Canada has, which requires the storage of some types of data inside Canada, depending on where the storer is located.

Although the question of “does legislation actually make a difference where data is stored in an interconnected world?” hangs in the air, with many seeing these regulations as doing nothing by providing the illusion of data protection for citizens.

And who knows, the TPP may get ratified in Canada and then it is a different data protection game altogether as the TPP clause on free flowing data between member countries would put it at direct odds with provincial & federal privacy laws. And while edtech might win with the TPP in that we get better access to more cloud services,  I have real concerns at what the cost to the rest of our society might be.

Addendum

Shortly after I posted this, Scott Leslie tweeted in response to this post that even if the servers are located in Canada, there is still a question of where the parent company is located.

Photo:Sensitive Data sign, Freegeek, Portland, Oregon, USA by Cory Doctorow CC-BY-SA

 

On weak ties and faculty OER research

Yesterday BCcampus published a research report on how faculty at BC post-secondary institutions use open educational resources. I’m not going to do any analysis or synthesis of the report here. You can read the report.

Really, this is more a public thank you to the OER Research Hub (and in particular Martin Weller and Beck Pitt), and the BC Open Textbook Faculty Fellows Rajiv Jhangiani, Christina Hendricks and Jessie Key. This was an immensely satisfying project for me to work on for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the opportune excuse to work with excellent people.

I always knew we wanted to do some kind of research with our open textbook project, but in those early days (not being a researcher) I had a tough time figuring out how to pull it off. I am not a Ph.D. and, despite the fact that BCcampus as a whole is a research project in the eyes of our parent institution SFU, we don’t do the kind of research typical of research projects. Both Mary and I tried to jump through a few administrative hoops to work with the SFU Research Office to make a research project happen, but it felt like we were getting bogged down in the weeds.

In the fall of 2014, I was pretty well convinced that a research project as part of the open textbook project wasn’t going to happen. Which made me feel like I was blowing an opportunity to be able to give something of potential value back to the OpenEd community. I was (and still am) acutely aware of the need for more research on all things open to further the work we all do, and the thought that we were seeing an opportunity slip away was eating at me.

Then, just as I was reaching peak frustration with our lack of progress on the research front and my own feeble attempts to will it into being, something serendipitously awesome happened. Martin Weller at the OER Hub contacted me and asked if we were thinking of doing any research and, if so, did we need help.

I literally wanted to reach thru the interwebs and hug Martin. But at that point we were still kind of weak tie social media friends and I thought I should wait a bit before commencing the hugging. Besides, he’s a Spurs fan and I’ve spent my adult soccer life rooting for the Gunners, so that would have just been awkward (this was before I knew of his love for ice hockey).

But…Twitter folks. Twitter made that connection happen.

<insert reflective pause to acknowledge the power of weak tie networks here>

Anyway, from there, Martin brought Beck Pitt in, and the research was looking more real than it had just a few days earlier.

On our end, around the same time, we had our first meeting with the BC Open Textbook Faculty Fellows. Rajiv especially latched onto the research angle right away and saw the importance of coming out of the open textbook project with data in hand. A few meetings between Rajiv, Beck and myself and we were off and running….and then stalled….and then took off again….and then stalled….and then took off again.

We collected the data in Feb/March of 2015 via a survey to faculty who use OER in BC. Rajiv, Beck, Jessie and Christina analyzed the data in the spring and summer, and we spent the fall writing the report. If you saw our presentation at OpenEd in November (Beck I am truly sorry that Rajiv and I changed your slides without telling you just moments before you hit the stage), then you got the high points.

And here it is.

All hail the power of the weak ties in enabling cool stuff to happen.

 

Selling your CC licensed content isn't pointless. It's a sustainability model.

Picked up a Raspberry Pi for my son for Christmas and been searching for some projects to do over the holidays. I came across the Official Raspberry Pi Projects book and downloaded a Creative Commons licensed PDF copy of the book from the RPi site.

While downloading the book, I noticed that the Raspberry Pi Foundation (the non-profit charity that supports the development and use of the Raspberry Pi as a computing literacy tool) publishes a monthly magazine called MagPi, available in print and digital, also published with a CC-BY-NC-SA license. I popped over to the Google Play site to take a look at the app and was disappointed by the first 2 reviews of the app that I read.

payCCIt’s not pointless. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. What the Raspberry Pi Foundation is doing is an important piece of their organizational sustainability plan. When you purchase the app, you don’t buy the articles, you support the organization.

It reminded me of an observation that Paul Stacey from Creative Commons made about the writings of Joshua Farley and Ida Kubiszewski in the book Free Knowledge?—?Confronting the Commodification of Human Discovery. Farley and Kubiszewski write,

Conventional economics typically assume that consumption provides utility and what we pay for the goods we consume is an objective measure of the utility they provide.

To which Paul replies:

I find this weird in so many ways. Let me highlight just one – consumption provides utility. Under this logic a tree has no utility unless it is cut down and “consumed”. I expect all of you question the logic of this. A tree can provide great utility without being consumed. It provides shade on a hot day, its leaves cleanse the air we breath, its branches provide homes for birds, its roots prevent erosion, and to many it is a thing of beauty. To assert that a tree has no utility if it is not consumed is, to me, a bizarre premise.

To assume that there is no value in paying for content that you can get for free reflects this “consumption provides utility” economic perspective. To the reviewers, purchasing the app has no utility for them since they can get the content elsewhere for free. They even go a step further and question the wisdom of others who might actually pay for the app. Why do that?

They’ve missed the point.

This is not a traditional utilitarian purchase where you exchange money for a thing. You are not actually buying a thing, but instead supporting the entire organization that keeps the thing going.

In order for this business model to work, however, we have to recognize that when we see an organization that both sells and gives away their stuff for free that this is an important piece of their business model at work, and a path to financial sustainability built on open licenses.  It is not a traditional transactional deal. You are not buying the stuff. You are supporting the entire system that makes the stuff possible. It is a difference that the 2 reviewers of the MagPi app have sadly missed.

 

BC Open Education Infrastructure

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, my role at BCcampus has undergone a bit of a focus shift back to supporting & researching educational technologies in BC with an emphasis on open source technologies. And there are some exciting things happening in BC that I am going to be a part of.

One of the projects that I have begun sinking my teeth into post-opened conference has been the work done by Grant Potter, Brian Lamb, Tannis Morgan and Valerie Irvine, the former BCNet open education working group. Once BCNet announced the end of the group, Mary Burgess and I talked about how BCcampus could provide support for the open education work this group is doing, and I’m very happy that I’ve been given some time & resources to support this group.

The main project on the go right now is (what I’ve called) the BC open education infrastructure project. This is basically the FIPPA compliant (hosted on EduCloud at UBC) Sandstorm instance that I wrote about a few weeks back. I’ve been able to get in and kick the tires a bit more and am able to see a few clear potential use cases for the technology.

In a nutshell, Sandstorm aims to make the deployment of web applications as easy as installing an app on your smartphone. One click installs of popular open source packages like EtherPad and WordPress direct from an app repository/store .

Sandstorm App Store

Screenshot of Sandstorm App Store

At a high level, here are some of the ways I think this could be useful to my work, and to the system as a whole. These are things that are driving me to work on this project.

  1. A simple way for an instructors to deploy open source applications. Instead of having to use the LMS, which may not have the tools you need or even like working with, or impose a pedagogical way of working that you don’t want, Sandstorm provides an app marketplace where instructors can pick and choose the tools they want to use with their students. Need a collaborative document editor? Hit a button and you’ve got an Etherpad instance set up. Need an instance of Git?  Discussion forums? Pick from a few different alternatives, install and share with students. And all the data stays on a locally hosted server under local control. No corporate data mining of students information. Unbundling the LMS.
  2. A system wide sandbox platform. This is my own use case, as one of the projects in my portfolio will be to revive a system wide sandbox process to allow people to experiment with open source edu focused applications. A BCcampus instance of Sandstorm might make it easier to manage that process.
  3. A way to distribute education related open source applications. I’ve been thinking of ways to get Pressbooks Textbooks into the hands of more people, and making a one button install of Pressbooks in something like Sandbox seems like a doable project. Get an instance of Pressbooks into the Sandstorm app store has the potential to get it in front of more eyes and deployed. There are other open source tools that are edu focused that I think could be included, like Candela, TAO, Open Embeddable Assessments, Omeka, and Scalar (to name just a few). I envision an edu section of the Sandstorm app store. It’s premature to be thinking this way, considering the relative newness of Sandstorm, but, this is why we experiment and play.
  4. A powerful tool for students to work with the tools that they want to work with. Give a class a Sandstorm instance and let them decide how they want to collaborate, communicate and work together using the apps in the toolbox.

This work is obviously heavily influenced by Jim Groom & Tim Owens Domain of Ones Own which is, at its heart, about autonomy and control; about giving people the ability to control their own data and their own digital identity. It is also about recognizing that technology is not neutral, and that the systems we set up within our institutions (looking at you LMS) impose a way of doing things that may not be the way that our faculty want to teach. We should, at the very least, try to provide systems that support technology enhanced pedagogical models outside of the narrow confines of the LMS.

But what really excites me about this project is the chance to work with some of the most forward thinking edtech people in the province. And that is putting a big spring in my step.

 

A collection of post #opened15 blog posts

So much great and thoughtful commentary from the OpenEd community in the wake of #OpenEd15. David Wiley has been capturing blog posts via Storify. If there is a post missing from this list that you think should be included, please let us know and we’ll get the posts included so we have a complete archive.

 

This thing called the internet: part 2 of a post #opened15 textbook brain dump

This is part 2 of my post #opened15 brain dump on the role of open textbooks in higher education, prompted by many discussions about textbooks in the wake of #opened15.

In my first post, I touched on the role that open textbooks can play in bringing new people into the open community. This one is a bit more technology focused.

There is the tension around why we are even talking textbooks? Those static, information transmission devices of yesteryear. The textbook (like Powerpoint) is becoming a flashpoint symbol for bad pedagogy. That we should be post-textbook, even post-content, and that textbooks – even open ones – are prescriptive devices that enforce existing power and authority structures endemic in our education system. Textbooks are a barrier to truly progressive pedagogies, and open textbooks set up the the illusion of being progressive when really they are regressive and represent a content-centric view of learning.

Okay, that is likely just me heaping a lot of representational baggage on the poor old textbook. But this isn’t the fault of the textbook any more than a bad lecture is the fault of  Powerpoint. Poor pedagogy is poor pedagogy, regardless of whether a textbook is involved or not.

As I stated in my last post, the real problem (at least here in North America) is that, we have embedded a culture of textbooks so deeply within our education systems that it is almost impossible for many to imagine there are other ways of doing things.

And here is where I think open textbooks (and more broadly OER) are playing a crucial role, because they create an opportunity to see one different way of doing things, enabled by the internet.

See, I have this crazy belief that this thing called the internet has changed things, and I see OER and open textbooks as beautiful examples of what the internet enables. They certainly are not the pedagogical be all and end all of living in a networked world. I drank the networked learning kool-aid long ago.

the internet

But OER and open textbooks do represent one of the ways that higher education has responded to the new affordances of living in a digital, networked world where we can create, copy and distribute stuff with relative ease. And if it takes people using OER’s and open textbooks to help people see that the internet enables new ways of doing things, then that, for me, is progress. This is what brought me to open education. Open education is something the internet made possible.

So, to the innovators – keep on innovating and please don’t pull away from the community. Push the edges, do cool stuff, bring it and share it and show people that there is an open world post-textbooks (open and closed). We are all at different open paths along the spectrum, and in order to continue growing the community we have to have spaces for those on the edges to join – the legitimate peripheral participation places that allow people to build their own bridges into both open, and the net.

 

The Impact of OER on Teaching and Learning Practice

OER Research Hub is in the Cards

The OER Research Hub has published a new study in OpenPraxis looking at the impact of OER on teaching & learning practice.

The Hub has been working with numerous OER and open education projects around the world, gathering data clustered around their 11 hypothesis, and this report pulls data from 15 open projects, including the BC Open Textbook Project, where I’ve been working closely with Beck Pitt and the BC Open Textbook Faculty Fellows for the better part of the past year gathering regional data from BC faculty.

Aside: I think it’s quite excellent that we have a project like the OER Research Hub around capturing data on all these projects and enabling the kind of meta-analysis (like this report) to happen. Big thumbs up to the Hub.

While there is much to dig into here around the 11 hypothesis, a couple things stood out for me.

First, contrary to other findings on remix and adaptability that have shown relatively little customization of OER’s and open textbooks, the Hub’s research reports a relatively high degree of adaptation of OER’s (77.7% of educators, formal, and informal learners reported adapting content). However, this wide difference could be attributed to the fact that adaptation wasn’t explicitly defined in the research and was left open for the respondents to determine what qualified as adapting content.

Interestingly, it is not the open licenses that enables more experimentation with the content (only 14.8% of educators reporting that they use open licenses to share content), but rather the fact that the resources are online that enables adaptation. Being online is a much more important factor in reuse and adaptation that being openly licensed.

With all the recent post OpenEd talk of the value of open textbooks for changing educators practices, one of the more tentative findings that stood out for me showed that educators who are exposed to OER’s tend to seek out more OER’s and are more likely to share their own resources.

The findings here are primarily clustered around 2 projects: OpenStax and Siyavula. In the case of Siyavula, I know they have done extensive work in teacher training around the use and creation of OER’s, using book sprints as a workshop model. So, teachers using OER’s as part of the Siyavula project are not only using OER’s, but are deeply immersed in creating and adapting OER’s with support, which would tend to increase their overall understanding of OER’s. These types of collaborative sprints may also account for the fact that Siyavula teachers reported more collaboration with their colleagues as a result of using OER’s (50%) with over 70% of Siyavula teachers also saying that they often compare their teaching with that of their colleagues.

Also relevant to the open textbook debate and the value that open textbooks & OER’s in general have in changing faculty practices, there is evidence that faculty who use OER’s reflect strongly on their practice with 64.3% of those surveyed saying that they use a “broader range of teaching and learning methods”, and they are likely to compare their own teaching with others. There is also an interesting tidbit that over a third of educators who use OER have blogged in the past year, showing a connection between using OER’s and other forms of open participation.

Photo: OER Research Hub is in the cards Alan Levine CC-BY

Weller, M., Arcos, B. de los, Farrow, R., Pitt, B., & McAndrew, P. (2015). The Impact of OER on Teaching and Learning Practice. Open Praxis, 7(4), 351–361. http://doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.7.4.227
 

Killing technological generativity

If there is one way to kill technology generativity, lock the technology up to such an extent that you can’t even repair it, let alone hack at it to do something new and innovative.

I’ve written about generativity before (in the context of open textbooks). Briefly, generativity is the capacity a system has to be changed and modified by someone other than the original developer to do something new and interesting that the original developer may never have imagined.

As I read this Motherboard article How to Fix Everything, it hit me again just how difficult technology companies make it for their systems to be repairable, much less generative.

“Normally if I purchase a hammer, if the head of the hammer falls off, I’m allowed to repair it and fix it. I can use the hammer again,” Charles Duan, director of Public Knowledge’s Patent Reform Project, told me. “For a lot of these newer devices, manufacturers want to say ‘We want to be the only ones to repair it’ because they make more profits off the repairs. They’ve found lots and lots of way to do this. Intellectual property law, contracts, end user license agreements, lots and lots of ways to try to make sure you can’t do what you want with your stuff.”

A few weeks ago I came across the story of farmer Matt Reimer and his brilliant robotic hack that turned an old tractor into a remote controlled tractor, saving him time, money, and from sending his old tractor to the landfill. If his tractor was a John Deere tractor, he would not have been able to make these modifications as John Deere makes it impossible to tinker with their tractors.

John Deere told the copyright office that allowing farmers and mechanics to repair their own tractors would “make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software.”

Think about that for a moment – a farmer not allowed to fix his own equipment. If you are from a farming community, you know how ludicrous that sounds.

But beyond the silliness of not being able to repair your own stuff (let alone the terrible environmental consequences of forcing people who use their products to live in an even more disposable society), corporations that lock up their technology send a clear message that the only way innovation can happen is within their narrow confines and vision. It limits the scope of innovation to only what a corporation wants, and only in the ways that serve the corporation.

Because we should all have the ability to turn pop bottles into lights.

 

The (open) future is here, it's just not evenly distributed

This is post 1 of a 2 part #opened15 brain dump about open textbooks (part 2 here).

I’m post-conference OpenEd15 metaphorically hungover, so forgive me if this goes astray or meanders.

Textbooks. Ugh. Who needs them.

The one hazard of organizing a conference is that you don’t actually get to attend a number of sessions, so my context here is from the backchannels, the post conference wrap up blog posts and hallway conversations.

The one overarching narrative strand I have come away with is that open has grown to the point where pathways diverge as the nuance and details of actual on the ground projects begin to reach a certain state of maturity.  No longer are we talking of “the promise” or “the potential” of open. There is much “doing” of open in many wonderful ways.  The multitude and variety of projects flying open banners is impressive to see as the field matures.

But there is tension in the community around open textbooks. This tension that there is too much emphasis placed on both the “textbook” as pedagogical tool, and the financial savings to students.

Additionally, there is a divide as to whether open textbooks mark an entry point into open education for new people (and there was a massive number of people at OpenEd for the first time), or whether open textbooks are the beginning, middle and end of the open journey for some.

From my own perspective after working on an open textbook project for close to 3 years, all of the above are tensions I negotiate with myself constantly.

My experience with this project has shown that, for some, open textbooks represent a starting point into open. None of us who are working on this project want the open textbook to be the be all and end all of open. But for many  faculty it will be. For some, they will simply swap closed for open and that will be  innovation enough. And frankly, I’m ok with that. If, at worst, open textbooks saves students money and lowers the cost for access to higher education, that is a fine and worthy application of open that is a very student-centric solution to a problem, as Amanda nicely points out. Cost, in many jurisdictions (especially in the US and Canada) is a major problem that we can solve with OER, and as a community we need to recognize that open textbooks are one pragmatic and practical application of open being used to solve a real problem. There is no “potential to” or “promise of”. This is real and it is happening, and that is a wonderful thing.

However, for some, their switch to an open textbook will mark a deeper journey into open. I look at faculty like Rajiv Jhangiani, who started with an open textbook and found a like minded community at people. Open textbooks were an entry point for Rajiv, as they were for Gill Green, the UBC Geography Faculty that participated with us in the textbook sprint, who came away with the moment that really synthesized what we hoped would happen with that sprint project.

One of the most powerful lessons for me was that I should not simply be focusing on using open textbooks in my courses; I should be encouraging students to build open textbooks as course activities. By doing this, we teach not only discipline specific content, but also increase students’ ability to engage in the democratization of knowledge.

Sure, we created a textbook. But more importantly, an open textbook helped to create space for that moment to occur. For me, this moment was what the booksprint was all about.

Problematically, textbooks are so deeply ingrained in our education systems that trying to find others ways of doing education for many is very difficult, especially in an education world where we continually remove capacity for those faculty who DO want to change and experiment and try different things. Rarely will you ever find a faculty member who says they have enough time to do their job, let alone undertake a radical overhaul of their pedagogy. Often faculty are p/t, or only brought in at the last minute to teach a course and grab at that teacher-proofed course-in-a-box (which I’ve written about before).

But there are faculty out there who do want open who don’t even know that we, the open education community, exist. Or that what they are doing, or want to do, has a name and support and community. Open textbooks have created the space to allow others into the community who may not have even known this community existed. And we shouldn’t undervalue the importance of this.

Part 2.

 

Opportunities to virtually connect at #opened15

We’re just a few days away from the kickoff to the 2015 Open Education conference in Vancouver, Nov 18-20. The plans have all been planned and all that is left is the doing.

If you are not coming to Vancouver next week, we still have opportunities for you to participate.

First, the conference Twitter hashtag #opened15 is where I suspect most of the virtual action will happen.

We will be livestreaming the two conference keynotes. Michael Feldstein & Phil Hill will take to the stage at 8:30am PST on Wednesday, November 18th. Their talk is on Openness and the Future of Post-Secondary Education.

Then, Friday at 8:30am PST, current BCcampus Executive Director (and my boss) Mary Burgess and former BCcampus Executive Director David Porter will be talking about the BC Open Textbook Project and a bit of the history of open in higher education in British Columbia.

The livestreams will be accessible from the OpenEd site. We’ll also archive the keynotes post conference. And in keeping with the spirit of accessibility, we are planning on live transcribing and caption the keynotes.

The BCOER Librarians will be on site doing some impromptu Periscope sessions with session presenters. These will be short (5-10 minute) post-presentation interviews with presenters asking them to talk about the content of their presentation. These are not scheduled and will happen ad hoc at the conference.  Watch the conference hashtag for these Periscope interviews to pop up. And, being that it is Periscope, these will not be archived and will only be available for 24 hours.

I’m really excited about having the Virtual Connecting volunteers on site for the conference and giving people who cannot attend the ability to contribute and participate beyond the conference hashtag and Twitter backchannel. Maha Bali and the Virtual Connecting crew (led onsite by Alan Levine) will be doing some Google Hangouts from the conference. This is a chance for those of you who are not at the conference to be able to interact with conference presenters, keynote speakers and participants. Schedule of OpenEd VConnecting sessions.

via GIPHY

This will likely be my final post before OpenEd next week, and I just want to take a sec to publicly acknowledge and thank some of the people who have been working hard for the past year to make OpenEd happen next week.

We, of course, have been working closely with David Wiley and the Lumen Learning crew, particularly Shannon Coates and Julie Curtis, for the better part of a year since OpenEd 2014 in Washington ended. Personally, it still blows me away that I have had this opportunity to work so closely on a project with David after following his groundbreaking work in Open Education for so many years. Thank you, David.

There are countless volunteers who were part of the program evaluation committee, and who you will see at the registration and information desks,  convening sessions and greeting people at the social event. People have  contributed to locally crowdsourced list of personally recommend Vancouver activities & restaurants, and are handling umpteen tasks, from setting up booths and tables, to hauling equipment, and coordinating the virtual participation (including the fantastic Leva Lee and the BCOER librarians). A preemptive thank you to all for your contributions to OpenEd15.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the BCcampus people who have been working so hard on this event with me for the past year. Erin Beatie will be handling social media and watching the hashtag during the conference, Tracy Kelly and Jason Toal will be doing the graphic recording of the keynotes (with Jason is doing double duty as Dr. Jones at the OpenEd15 social on Wednesday as well), and our extremely talented graphic designer and communications manager Barb Murphy who did all the wonderful visual design for the conference.

To Lauri Aesoph and Amanda Coolidge. Lauri has been the lead planner of the social event on Wednesday, while Amanda has pulled together all the session conveners and has coordinated the special accessibility area, all while planning her own presentations and juggling the demand of coordinating countless meeting requests from people to talk about the BC Open Textbook Project. Both Amanda and Lauri never cease to amaze me with their work effort and willingness to throw themselves fully into a project. I am truly blessed to have them as colleagues.

And then there is Christy Foote. I really don’t know how OpenEd would happen without the efforts of Christy. OpenEd is the last (and biggest) of 3 back to back conferences that BCcampus has organized this month, all of them with the support of Christy Foote. I can’t quite express how in awe I am of Christy and the work she has done, from sourcing venues, negotiating contracts (Christy is someone you want to come with you to the bank when you go to renew your mortgage) to coordinating payments, building menus, ordering shirts and umbrellas……you name it, Christy has taken care of it. Saying thank you somehow seems inadequate for the amount of effort she has put into making OpenEd happen. But, thank you.

Ok, that’s it for now, and likely from me until after OpenEd.  For those of you coming, may the rains hold off, may the conversations be stimulating, the connections plentiful…and the WiFi be strong.

 

An open edtech playground infrastructure (or the magic of Grant Potter)

experiment

Grant Potter and Brian Lamb have been cooking up some open edtech goodness.

Earlier this week, Grant sent me a tweet with a link to a project that he and Brian have been working on, and it is exactly in line with my musings lately around an open web edtech infrastructure.

What Grant and Brian have done is take a whack of current open web infrastructure platforms and launched an open edtech web playground for BC edtechies to try out.

In the backend there is the UBC hosted higher ed virtualized cloud services EduCloud, a fully FIPPA compliant cloud hosting service. On top of this, Docker containers running Sandstorm, a web application platform that has, as a primary goal, making the deployment of web applications as easy as installing an app on a smart phone. One click and you have a fully functioning web application, like Etherpad or WordPress.

While this development stack is mighty impressive in that it represents a very modern web workflow, it is Sandstorm that holds real interest to me because it allows you to build customized web apps that can be deployed with the click of a button. This is incredibly powerful as it allows you to define the defaults of programs that you want to deploy, and controlling the defaults often means controlling how a user interacts with an application. This is powerful.

Say, for example, that you wanted to make a number of different WordPress installations available to your faculty, each with a separate set of defaults, plugins or themes enabled by default. Theoretically, you could create a Sandstorm SPK file (via Vagrant) for the different versions of WordPress you wanted to make available to your users and let them decide which version they wanted to install. Want the standard blog platform? Here is the WordPress button. Want Pressbooks? Here is the Pressbooks button. All deployable with the click of a button.

Well, that is my working theory of how this works right now. How it works when I actually dig deeper into the system may vary from this high level conceptualization. But if this stack works like I think it works, this will make an excellent platform for the simple deployment of customized web applications where the default is set to “education”.

We really need to come up with a proper way to recognize the technical wizardry of Grant Potter. Maybe a medal?

The Award Winning Grant Potter

 

Forget self driving cars, Matt Reimer has a self driving tractor

And he learned how to build it using open courseware from MIT and open source software.

Matt is a grain farmer in Manitoba. Like most farmers (at least the ones I have known in my life) Matt is resourceful and always looking for ways to improve his processes, especially when it comes to saving time. For a farmer, time is critical, especially at harvest when the window of time to get your crop off the field is short.

To help with the harvest, Matt wanted to try to make the tractor that automatically pulls up alongside a combine to collect the harvest. As he talks about in this story from CBC’s excellent weekly tech show Spark, harvesting is normally a 2 person job; one driving the combine, and a second driving a tractor. Normally the tractor driver spends about  5 minutes collecting the grain, then 20 minutes sitting in the tractor doing nothing waiting for the combine hopper to fill up again.

So, he wanted to try to make his tractor doing this automatically and autonomously. Where did he learn how to do this? He found an open course from MIT’s open courseware MITx and taught himself the basics of robotics. He then used open source software to build the robotics that powers the tractor. Bingo. Robot tractor that frees up his hired help to spend their time doing more useful tasks around the farm than sitting around waiting for a hopper to fill up.

Open made this happen. A farmer with a bit of curiosity, access to free and open knowledge and open source software is able to develop a robot that saves him time and money. Love this story.

 

Is it Time for Canada to Implement A Unified Open Strategy for Higher Education?

Transcript of my talk at the UBC/SFU Open Access week forum on October 22, 2015

My perspective on the question is influenced by my work in open educational resources, especially the work I’ve been doing for the past 3 years as the Manager of Open Education at BCcampus, and working on the BC Open Textbook project; a multiyear project funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education to promote the use of Open Textbooks in the BC post-secondary system.

Open textbooks are a subset of Open Educational Resources.OER’s are openly licensed teaching resources, like videos, courses, textbooks and lesson plans. Most often these are licensed with Creative Commons licenses, which allow the resource to be freely copied, shared, modified and reused by educators without having to ask for permission from the original creators. The permission to copy and reuse is given ahead of time by the creator of the resource when they choose to license with a Creative Commons license.

So my perspective on the question “Is it time for Canada to implement a unified open strategy for Higher Education” emerges from this field of OER and the work I have done over the past number of years.  And the fact that I am framing my response as coming from a very specific open perspective tells me that, yes, having a unified national strategy on all things open is likely a good idea for the simple fact that it gets all the various strands of open – open access, open education, open source software, open pedagogy, open data –  in the same room. And any reason to bring people together to talk about their commonalities is a good thing.

However, we can’t assume that open is always a good thing. Facebook, for example, would like us to all to be open and share everything about us. But this desire by Facebook for us to be open is motivated by their business model. The more open we are, the more we share, the more Facebook can better target advertising at us. For Facebook, open is their business model. Is that a good thing?

We also cannot assume that there is a common  understanding of what open means in education… as MOOC’s have shown us. Many Massively Open Online Courses use the word “open” to mean “open registration”. However, to open educators involved in OER, Open also means openly licensed. And for those of you who have worked with, or taken course by a commercial MOOC provider like Coursera or Udacity know that these courses are not openly licensed for other educators to take the content and reuse.

But these are not arguments against a unified strategy. Indeed, a unified strategy for higher education could help to address these issues. To develop a collective voice to help define what it is that we mean by open, and call out openwashing when we see it. Rather than a multitude of diffused voices crying out, a single unified voice can carry weight. So, +1 for a unified approach.

On the other hand, perhaps there is more power in supporting a multitude of smaller voices. After all, the world we live is increasingly built on network models, and the nodes are full of a diversity of opinions, voices, and ways of being and doing that could get lost in a unified strategy approach. A unified approach is not alway an egalitarian approach, and a unified strategy would need to both acknowledge and respect the diversity of voices inherent in an increasingly network oriented world.

A unified open strategy would also have to tread carefully so that it isn’t viewed as a “top-down” approach to open. We have all likely experienced initiatives that have been perceived, correctly and incorrectly, as “top-down” and have likely failed for that very reason. So, the best unified strategy approach is one that acknowledges that real substantive change often comes from both directions, and rarely from one alone.

I know I am coming across a bit down on the idea of a unified open strategy, which I am not. A unified open strategy for higher ed is an admirable goal and one that would have great benefits, like providing a clear and purposeful focus, a single vision often needed to help coalesce support and make projects happen. And in many parts of the world, having a unified open strategy has given open educational resources a boost in profile and credibility.

For example, according to the 2014 State of the Commons report from Creative Commons, 14 countries around the world have made national commitments to open education and open educational resources. These commitments often originate with government in the form of policies driven by the simple rationale that publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources. If we, the public, pay for something, then we should put into place measures that make that something as widely usable as possible and provide the maximum benefit to the public.

When it comes to higher education, many countries have it easier than Canada enacting unified strategies because in other countries post-secondary education is often a national responsibility. In Canada, the responsibility for post-secondary lies with the provinces, not the federal government.

Not that a federal government is the only place where unified strategies can happen. Provinces can work together on unified open strategies, as was the case in 2013 when the premiers of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan signed the tri-provincial Memorandum of Understanding on Open Educational Resources. This three year agreement signed under the New West partnership agreement, has provided projects like the Alberta OER project and the BC Open Textbook Project a collaborative framework to work together on open education initiatives. Recently, the province of Manitoba has launched an open textbook initiative, and we have worked closely with them to set up an open textbook repository and textbook review process with Manitoba faculty. These collaborative initiatives may not have happened if there was not a unified western Canadian framework to enable them.

So, despite opening my talk with some cautious concerns about developing a pan-Canadian unified open strategy, I ultimately agree that the time had come. Open education has been bubbling along for the past 20 years, slowly and consistently building a movement and momentum that is showing some real tangible benefits. The potentials are being realized. Open textbooks, for example, have saved students in British Columbia over a million dollars in textbook costs, and research into the learning outcomes of students using open textbooks vs publishers resources are showing encouraging results that students using open educational resources are doing, at least as well if not better in some cases, than students who use publishers resources in the class. We now need to build on the successes of the past 20 years and push to make open education the default, not the exception. A unified open strategy can help make that happen.

 

A slight shift in focus

Just over a year ago, BCcampus went through a significant change in leadership. Mary Burgess, who was the Director in charge of the BC Open Textbook Project, was named acting Executive Director for BCcampus. This change left a bit of a leadership gap for the OTB project. Mary asked that I take on a leadership role for the project. I agreed and became Acting Senior Manager for the open textbook project.  The initial term was to be for 6 months, but was extended to a year as we went through a ministerial mandate review before Mary was named permanent ED.

During this past year, I’ve done interesting and challenging work as the team leader. Coordinating a project like the open textbook project is massive, and I have been stretched in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But I do feel stretched. And in the back of my mind I knew that I was getting farther and farther away from a significant piece of what I love doing, and that is working with educational technology.

While there is certainly a tech piece to the OTB project, it has been far from front and centre in my day to day work. This past year, you would be more likely to find me at Ministry meetings, preparing budget reports, and working with other provinces on tri-provincial MOU’s. All important and meaningful work. And while I think I am a competent and decent administrator and did achieve much in the role,  it’s not where my heart is. I am an educational technologist, and the work I have been doing has been taking me farther away from that.

So, this summer, I spoke with Mary about moving out of the open textbook leadership role, and back into a role with a deeper focus on educational technology. She agreed and posted the leadership job.

Helping to make the transition easier was the fact that there were extremely capable people working on the project. Earlier this week, one of those capable people, my colleague Amanda Coolidge, accepted the role as the new team leader for the open textbook project.

The timing is very good for me to step aside. We have exceeded the deliverables of the original project, and in the next few weeks, will release the final open textbooks in trades and skills training. Our original AVED project draws to a close, and it feels like we are shifting to a new phase of the project.

Amanda will take over the project for an exciting new phase where the emphasis will be, not on the creation of new material, but the deeper integration of the OTB material within new pedagogical models, like open pedagogy. While we can’t publicly talk about much yet, suffice to say that the next 3 years will see exciting new work in open textbooks in BC. And Amanda is much more capable in leading this next phase than I am. Her background in Instructional Design and deep history with open education going back to her work with TESSA make her a natural for the leadership role.

For me, I’ll still be involved in open textbooks. I’ll finish out a few projects I am committed to, like coordinating the OpenEd conference in November. I’ve got an Open Access week event to do, and am heading to Alberta in a few weeks to do a workshop with eCampus Alberta on OER. But my future role with OTB will see me return to my original focus for the project, which is on technology.

I am eager to get to work on PressBooks and work towards making a self-serve instance of PB available to BC faculty. I am also interested in seeing how we can extend the platform and begin to integrate other tools within an open textbook, and explore how we can deeply integrate open textbook content in other edtech systems.

I also have a couple of other projects that I want to work on. As Brian noted, the open education working group was recently cut by BCNet, and I think there is important and exciting work to be done here exploring the role that open source software can have in higher education. It feels like the state of edtech in higher ed these days starts and ends with negotiating the best procurement deal for vendor software. With the exception of Moodle (and I expect someday in Canada, Canvas), open source software rarely plays a significant role in teaching and learning. I hope that we can set up a group to explore this within the work that Brian, Tannis Morgan, Valerie Irvine and Grant Potter had been doing with BCNet.

There are exciting technology developments, like Sandstorm and Docker, that could provide interesting frameworks for delivering a more customizable and configurable suite of open source software tools to faculty and students. I hope we can explore this.

I feel very fortunate to work with people and an organization who allow me the freedom and ability to shift focus. And I do think that, for the open textbook project and where the project is going in the next 3 years, Amanda is the right choice to take this project even farther. I’m looking forward to working with her in her new role and doing more amazing open work.

 

Copyright, Privacy and the TPP

Sons and daughters, you ain’t getting much for free.
Chalk Circle, 1989

After 5 years of secret negotiations, and just a few short weeks before Canadians go to the poll, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal has been finalized (although it still needs to be ratified in each of the member countries).

And still, no few details on the agreement have been released to Canadians.

TPP-trans-pacific-partnership-fraud

Our Prime Minister has touted  this secret trade deal as being “in the best interests” of the Canadian economy. Because, you know, the economy is the only interest that matters to this particular government, never mind the other public interests a government is supposed to look out for.

Like the privacy of Canadians. Apparently, under the new TPP deal, Canada will lose some of the power it has to protect our personal data as the TPP will “prevent national governments from cutting off data flows, by limiting laws that require local storage of data.” Let that personal data flow!

They see gold in your trees and gold in your people
They’ll be panning for it in your water

It will also take longer for works to enter the public domain in Canada as the TPP will extend the term of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of the creator. 20 more years for publishers to make a few more dollars off of the backs of people who have been dead for decades, and keep our own culture out of our collective hands. What is even worse is that this clause could be retroactive, meaning that works in Canada that are currently in the public domain could become locked up again. And, as the Society for American Archivists notes in their opposition to the TPP, a healthy public domain is, “…essential in fostering new creativity and advancing knowledge. It provides a storehouse of raw materials from which individuals can draw to learn and create new ideas or works.”

Then there are the other aspects of the deal that smell, like removing the ability of web browsers to copy websites – a necessary function of web browsers as this is fundamentally how a web browser works. When a browser visits a website, what you are seeing in the browser is actually a copy stored in your browsers cache of that website.

Or the controversial whistle-blower clause that would make it a crime to post leaked corporate documents on the internet (a clause that was, ironically, first leaked on the internet from the secret negotiations).

Of course, none of these are known because details of the deal have not been released. Just a high level overview.

Here in Canada, we go to the polls in less than 2 weeks, so this timing is critical. The deal will be touted by the current government as a boon for Canada without the Conservatives having to share the actual details of the deal in enough time to make it an actual election issue. Once again, as it has done so effectively in the past, this Stephen Harper government has shrouded their activities in secrecy.

Hold my beer

 

When in Vancouver for #OpenEd15

I’m crowdsourcing/compiling a list of things to do when in Vancouver for people from our of town coming to Vancouver for OpenEd in November.

There are many places on the web to find “things to do” and best restaurants, etc in Vancouver for people looking. What I am hoping to do with this list is something a bit different & lean on the knowledge of the local open community to help uncover things that they love about Vancouver beyond what people can find on Yelp or TripAdvisor. We’ll distribute this list to people coming to the conference.

If you live in Vancouver, or know the city well, then please feel free to add one or two items to the list.

 

Helping Manitoba launch an open textbook initiative

HOW MUCH DO THOSE TEXTBOOOKS COST???????

For the past few weeks I have been working closely with our colleagues at eCampus Manitoba to help them with an open textbook initiative in their province. Today Manitoba launched their open textbook initiative and new site.

The site will look familiar to you if you have ever been to our site at open.bccampus.ca. Because the code is identical, as is much of the content. Thanks to Brad’s API programming and the network architecture we put together at the beginning of our project, the Manitoba site was able to launch in a matter of weeks, not months.

Essentially, the Manitoba site is a replication of the BCcampus WordPress site, including the api’s that pull the textbooks, files and books reviews from SOLR (our learning object repository) and LimeSurvey (where we store our reviews) into the Manitoba site. When you look at a textbook on the Manitoba site, it is the exact same information you see on the BC site since the data sources are the same for both. The only substantial differences between the sites is the branding, plus some of the content that Manitoba has kept off their site since their project is not of the same scope as ours is (yet, he adds hopefully :).

Manitoba is starting with textbook reviews. This has been an excellent tool for us in BC to both getting faculty engaged in open textbooks, and to help address the quality issue of open resources. Like us, Manitoba is offering their faculty a $250 review stipend to get them to look at the open textbooks.

To begin with, Manitoba is shooting for 25 faculty reviews of open textbooks (and if you know or are faculty in the province of Manitoba, consider applying to do an open textbook review). We’re helping Manitoba to manage this review process, and reviews from Manitoba faculty will be licensed with a CC-ND license so they can appear alongside BC faculty reviews of each reviewed textbook.

These reviews are important, not only to help address quality, but to also help recognize adaptation opportunities. If a textbook needs work, that will likely be uncovered during the review process and the reviews can help form the basis of targeted adaptations later on, should Manitoba decide to go down that road.

I’ll be doing a webinar on open textbooks and the review process for faculty in Manitoba on October 22d. If in Manitoba and interested, you can register for the webinar on the new open.campusmanitoba.com site.

Photo: Priceless Expression by Joel Penner used under CC-BY license

 

How Open Works

Got an email from Dr. Tony Bates today that made me very happy as it illustrates wonderfully what openly licensed resources enable.

Earlier this year, Tony published his open textbook “Teaching in a Digital Age” on our Pressbooks platform. It has been a huge success, with over 32,000 unique visitors and 12,000 downloads since it’s release in the spring. It is in use in courses across North America.

Today we had our first report of an adaptation of the book. Tony came across a version of the book that has been translated into Vietnamese (PDF). We are not sure who exactly has created the translated version, but they have done it and posted it freely online for others to use. And we’re all thrilled.

This has always been one of the example use cases used when talking about open textbooks and other Creative Commons licensed OER’s. The CC licenses gives someone the ability to create a translated version for their own market without having to first ask permission to do so. I know this has happened with other projects, but this is the first translation I have come across for a textbook that we’ve been a part of.

Yes, it’s time for me to do the happy dance.

 

 

 

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.