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November 10, 2003

The Virtue of Disorder: Sloppiness, Serendipity, and Openness in Educational Materials

When I wrote my recent tutorial article on Creative Commons licensing for video content, I looked for examples of where the liberal terms of a CC license served the purposes of a broad spectrum of society.  It's easy for the SCOs of the world, along with the RIAA and MPAA and other extremists, to paint CC and GPL and other nuanced applications of copyright as being some pinko-commie-leftie plot to undermine the economy and society and Mom and apple pie and all that's good in the world.  

I think I did an OK job demonstrating that that's not the case - that reasonable people everywhere can benefit from applying copyright law with a fine touch rather than the sledgehammer approach of "All Rights Reserved".   In this most excellent piece in this month's Syllabus magazine, James Boyle reflects on copyright and digital restrictions as they affect educators and teaching.  In the piece, adapted Boyle's keynote address, "The Virtue of Disorder: Sloppiness, Serendipity, and Openness in Educational Materials" given at the Syllabus 2003 conference, Boyle explains the power of the Internet as...

...that which makes available to me your thoughts on how to teach calculus to 10th graders; that nifty little graph that you have for showing fractionation in a distillation process; that beautiful animated GIF illustration of a molecule which is sitting on your course Web page; the nice song that you made; the photograph you took of the Civil War Memorial or the battlefield.  

Now can you use that stuff?  He goes on to explain why Creative Commons licensing can help educators.

Our new system of copyrighting everything the moment itís fixed ... means there are vast numbers of peopleóand educators are the best exampleóproducing things that they affirmatively want to share, putting them out there, and having other people say, ďI just donít know if Iím allowed to photocopy this to my class. Every time I think twice about that. Every time, I try to contact you, send you an e-mail, get your permission when you in fact never wanted to copyright the thing in the first place or at least are perfectly happy for me to reproduce it.Ē

That is a loss, a social loss, every bit as real as the loss suffered when someone pirates a song. Itís a loss from failed sharing, a loss from failed collaboration. It doesnít mean we should give up on fighting the losses from piracy, but it means we should counterbalance that by [considering] other kinds of losses that are produced when we have a system so ill-tuned.


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Comments

Larry -

Would you consider sharing your thoughts about the Acacia Research Corporation patent situation.

We have emails flying around campus about this (one excerpted below).

"and they obtained this patent, as well as four others, when they bought Greenwich Information Technologies. (The claim is on a conceptual patent.) They have already sent letters to various universities and other organizations seeking proper licensing, i.e., money. "

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