So I posted this news item over on the OCWC blog, but given the touchiness of the whole “free” debate, I thought I’d put my own thoughts on the matter over here.
The first thing to realize is the Consortium has no position on for-profit ventures involving courseware. We don’t endorse them, we don’t attack them. And our members can decide on exactly how they wish to enforce their copyright — the Consortium requires that institutions release at least ten courses to non-commercial use — but beyond that institutions have discretion in how they choose to manage their licenses. It’s a baseline, not a line in the sand.
So with that off the table, let’s talk about commercial use.
I tend to not be as religious about it as some. I tend, for example, to see a difference between ad-funded efforts and resale efforts, and I think the share-alike clause tends to cover many concerns that the non-commercial does. Were I releasing something, I’m not entirely sure I’d forgo the non-commercial restriction — I think, quite frankly, it’d depend on the nature of what I was releasing. The goal would be to get it into the hands of those people that could use it in the most effective manner possible. To the extent commercial activity does that I’m in favor. To the extent it doesn’t, I’m opposed.
So, do commercial ventures ultimately aid or hinder the distribution of material? I think that ends up being a policy issue — not a philosophical one, which is why tracking these ventures like AsiaOnline ends up being so important. If we could get past the “free as in beer” tirades and start looking at some real world data we might actually get somewhere on this, or at least find some common ground.
That’s why I greet things like AsiaOnline with a combination of excitement and trepidation. I think the movement is young enough that we can bear to see how some of these things play out. The key here is not resistance, but vigilance.
I know, an edupunk forgoing resistance for vigilance … have I sold out already? But for every EMI there are a dozen Matador and Merge records, a dozen indie labels that make the revolution possible — how do we distinguish between the two? How do we foster innovation and distribution while preventing monopolization and appropriation? I’m may be accused of begging out, but I’m not entirely sure we have an answer on that yet. In the meantime, there are numerous ways to proceed, and that’s good.