A couple thoughts on the AsiaOnline translation of OpenCourseWare

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.

Jaw-droppingly stupid ruling on the Potter Lexicon

Sorry, but this is horrendous news:

A federal judge in New York today put the kibosh on the planned publication of a contentious book version of the popular (now defunct) fansite, ruling it violates Rowling’s creations.

U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson Jr. dismissed defense arguments that the Lexicon was protected under fair-use provisions of copyright law.

I know readers here won’t need a primer on how ridiculous this is. The right to compose literary guides to extant works has existed for hundreds of years. Take, for example, the multiple guides to James Joyce’s Ulysses (incl. one written by his friend Stuart Gilbert). Or the guides to Middle Earth, many of which I would guess Rowling has on her own bookshelf.

Art has always been a conversation, and works like lexicons are one of the many aspects of that conversation. But it is apparently more important for the courts to protect the rights of millionaires to make more money than it is to keep that conversation open — just yet another example of our culture’s readiness to raid the infrastructure of the past while refusing to pay our own productions forward. Rowling’s influences: C.S. Lewis, T.H. White, Roald Dahl, and J.R.R. Tolkein would shake their heads in disgust at this behavior were they alive today. My sense is all those authors thought they were building a world to be shared between them and their readers, not building a walled garden with a EULA pinned on it.

Business Installs

Because I’d really forgotten what a typical business laptop looked like, I thought I’d not make trouble and just have my new job give me a standard business laptop. You know, being the new guy, I didn’t want to ask for all kind of weird blogger crap.

It’s been kind of an interesting experience, because I am so used to only having a home laptop, I’d forgotten how streamlined your average corporate machine is:

  • No integrated webcam
  • No SD card reader
  • No integrated micrpohone
  • No pre-installed movie editing software

I don’t think this is unique to my current situation, mind you. I’m sure most universities have quite similar default machines.

And I take full responsibility for not thinking through my request for a default install — other than the absence of new media features it is a sweet machine, and I found an old webcam to throw on it and I’ll buy some movie making software and screencasting apps.

But isn’t it funny we live in a world where business machines have MS Access and InfoPath installed by default, applications that only 2% of the end users will utilize, but things like movie making software and webcams and screencasting apps are still an oddity on business machines?

Might one of the simplest things to do at a university be to talk to your IT department about what a modern default install and hardware config might look like? Just in case a professor *does* get an urge to Skype someone or hang out in Second Life or webcast her class?

If we are serious about participatory media, it belongs in the base spec.