Paul Stacey


An Exploration of Open Licenses and Financial Remuneration

October was an action packed month with the Creative Commons Canada Salon, Open Education Conference, and BCcampus OER Forum.

Some personal highlights:

The BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation, and Technology open textbook announcement. This initiative will support creation of open textbooks for the 40 most popular first and second-year courses in the province’s public post-secondary system. The open textbooks will be openly licensed and made available for free online, or at a low cost for printed versions, to approximately 200,000 students. I’m especially pleased that BCcampus will lead the implementation of this initiative engaging B.C. faculty, institutions, and publishers through an open request for proposals. Tony Bates’ excellent blog provides additional insight and I personally am hopeful that some coordination can happen between BC and California where, in late September, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills that provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges.


Visual Notes of Honourable John Yap’s announcement at #opened12 (CC BY-NC-SA) by Giulia Forsythe

Giulia Forsythe’s graphic facilitation skills wonderfully captured the BCcampus OER Forum events too. See – BCcampus OER Forum Summary.

The Open Education Conference was fantastic this year. The jam-packed program had an amazing array of sessions organized around micro-themes including – world wide initiatives, business models, open textbooks, open assessment, alternate credentials, social media and OER, data and analysis, and open from a wide range of perspectives including legal, faculty, students and librarians. Open has clearly gone beyond content and is pervading the entire education sector. The conference web site program has presentation materials and audio streams from sessions. I encourage you to explore them and see for yourself how open education is evolving. A stand out highlight was the evening dinner boat cruise with an awesome OpenEd music jam featuring attendees plus Gardner Campbell and John Willinsky, two of the keynote presenters. A conference where the keynote speakers rock out – my kind of conference! Enjoy it yourself:



Special thanks to Novak Rogic for these awesome videos.

While there is a great deal to assimilate coming out of all these events, I find myself thinking about matters from the Creative Commons Canada Salon that took place in Vancouver 15-Oct-2012.

This event featured a panel of practicing artists sharing how and why they use Creative Commons licenses for their works. I found the remarks of documentary filmmaker Ian MacKenzie especially intriguing. Ian referenced the gift economy, alternative ideas on money and the public commons from the book Sacred Economics, and crowdfunding.

Here’s why this is occupying my thinking. There is a natural inclination to think that Creative Commons open licenses are in opposition to financial remuneration. The thinking goes like this: “If I license my creation in a way that gives others permission to freely access and use it I’m forgoing financial compensation associated with charging for access and use.”

As I consider this I am puzzled by what I see in education.

Lets say I’m an educator employed by a public educational institution. My salary is essentially paid for by public taxpayer dollars. Given the way the economy works – if you pay for a good you get that good, it’s natural to expect that works developed by the educator should be freely accessible for use by the public. Yet this is not the case. Course materials educators create during their publicly paid for employment are not freely available to the public that paid for them. Shouldn’t public funds result in a public good?

But, you might say, it takes money to make the course materials educators create available to the public. This is true, but digital changes the economics of doing so. With digital the cost of copying is close to $0. The cost of distributing digitally is close to $0 as was so eloquently laid out by David Wiley in his presentation at the BCcampus OER Forum. See David Wiley’s presentation in it’s entirety Why Open Education and OER, and their implications for higher education institutions.

Lets try a different example. Lets say I’m faculty engaged in research. I apply for research grants from the national government and use those grants to conduct my research. When I complete that research the results ought to be available to the public who paid for them. But, and this is what I find puzzling, public access to the results of research requires another payment of public money in the form of a journal subscription fee even when the journal is digital. Given that the peer-review process is also supported through public funds, the public ends up paying for something three times, as Dieter Stein outlined in his keynote “Open access: effects and consequences in the management of scientific discourse.” at the University of British Columbia’s Open Access Week. The public 1. pays the scientist, 2. pays to publish, and 3. pays to buy publication. Why does the public have to pay three times?

For more on this I highly encourage you to watch Open Access Explained? from PHD Comics.

See why I’m puzzled? The economics underlying public education are not in line with our expectations of how economies work and, even more puzzling, aren’t in the best interest of the public who is paying for it.

But let me come back to my earlier point. There is a natural inclination to think that Creative Commons open licenses are in opposition to financial remuneration. The thinking goes like this: “If I license my creation in a way that gives others permission to freely access and use it I’m forgoing financial compensation associated with charging for access and use.”

At least in the context of someone being paid by public funds an open license that gives others permission to freely access and use the work isn’t in opposition to financial remuneration. The financial remuneration took place. The Creative Commons license ensures the obligation to the public is fulfilled.

However, what if we look at this from the perspective of an artist, a writer, a musician, a filmmaker. I’d expect artists to be thinking, “I made this and if anyone is going to make money on it it’s going to be me.”

Is it possible to openly license your creative work and still make a living?

I keep coming back to this question as it seems fundamental and generalizable to everyone.
Special thanks to Martha Rans for ensuring it stays front and centre in my thinking.

And so with this question on my mind I paid special attention when Ian Mackenzie spoke at the Creative Commons Canada salon.


Ian Mackenzie speaking at the Creative Commons Canada salon.

My exploration of Ian’s remarks around the gift economy, alternative ideas on money, the public commons and crowd funding took me in interesting directions. Here’s a bit of what I found.

Sacred Economics is a radical rethink of societal values, the role of government, and the commodity we use as money. It envisions decentralized, self-organizing, emergent, peer-to-peer, ecologically integrated expressions of political will. Government becomes the trustee of the commons including “the surface of the earth, the minerals under the earth, the water on and under the ground, the richness of the soil, the electromagnetic spectrum, the planetary genome, the biota of local and global ecosystems, the atmosphere, the centuries-long accumulation of human knowledge and technology, and the artistic, musical, and literary treasures of our ancestors.”

Sacred Economics imagines an ecology of money with many complementary modes of circulation and exchange. In a sacred economy, money goes to those who “contribute to a more beautiful world – for community, for nature, and for the beautiful products of human culture.”

I’m not doing the Sacred Economics justice. There is much to admire and ponder in this work. For a more complete synopsis I encourage you to view Ian Mackenzies video on Sacred Economics.

I found the ideas on alternative forms of money intriguing and spent some time looking at Bit Coin see here and here.

I also ended up checking out a Policy Agenda for the Sharing Economy.

Ian has developed expertise with crowdfunding to the extent that he now offers consulting, strategy sessions and workshops on crowdfunding. His web site has a great list of crowdfunding resources and platforms. The crowdfunding platform listing is particularly interesting as it differentiates general crowdfunding platforms from specialized ones dealing with things like Business, Environmental, Scientific, Social Causes & Non-Profits and hey, even Education! Did you know that Scolaris crowdfunds personal scholarship fundraising?

How about Degreed? Degreed is crowdfunding to create the world’s first Digital Lifelong Diploma, which will ‘jailbreak’ the degree and enable learners to reflect everything they’ve learned, from any source, throughout their lives.

At Kickstarter there is a whole section devoted to artists who are seeking and getting remuneration for their Creative Commons licensed work. See http://www.kickstarter.com/pages/creativecommons.

As I consider larger world events around financial markets, bailouts, and countries massively in debt or bankrupt it makes we wonder whether indeed our current economic model and it’s underlying financial system is serving us well. Clearly a sharing economy, alternative forms of money, and crowdfunding are changing social norms. Whole new conventions around getting paid, raising money, and making an investment are emerging.

Creative Commons licenses are situated within this changing landscape. As I explore the financial remuneration opportunities associated with use of Creative Commons licenses it’s important to point out that Creative Commons license options specifically offer creators choices around licensing their work in ways that provide others with permissions that specify commercial or non-commercial use. An artist who openly licenses their creative work with a Creative Commons license can do so in a way that specifies that users can copy, adapt, modify, publish, display, publicly perform and communicate the work but only for non-commercial purposes. This ensures any financial remuneration coming from the work goes to the creator. On the other hand it encumbers the work with restrictions that may prevent users from using the work in innovative and entrepreneurial ways which the creator could benefit from downstream.

There are a great many differing opinions out there around the suitability of different Creative Commons licenses for different use cases. In fact this is a hotly debated topic right now. See:

I especially appreciated David Wiley’s observations on these discussions in a 27-Nov-2012 Oer-community post where he commented:

“Just as there is not One True License, there is not One True Perspective on this debate. A few examples:

  • Some people look at OER issues from the perspective of the content, and some see them from the perspective of the people who use the content. Content-p drives people to favor SA licenses, to insure that derivatives of the content always remain free. People-p drives people to reject SA, so that derivers always remain free to license their derivatives as they choose. Which is the One True Perspective?
  • In this thread we have already seen people who view NC from the perspective of the licensor and others who see NC from the perspective of the licensee. Licensor-p sees NC as enabling and facilitating commercialization. Licensee-p sees NC as forbidding commercialization. Which is the One True Perspective?
  • As we’re also seeing on this thread, we can look at OER from the perspective of Access to content (without which permissions granted by licenses are meaningless) and from the perspective of the permissions granted by Licenses. I recently discussed these two perspectives in more detail on my blog (http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2596). Which of these perspectives is most important? Which is the One True Perspective?
  • As a final example, some people look at “open” from the perspective of a Bright Line test, while others take a more Accepting perspective. Bright Line-p enables people to make clear distinctions between what is and what is not open. Accepting-p enables people to recognize and value movements toward becoming more open, without passing judgments on people who “aren’t there yet.” Which of these is the One True Perspective?

…LICENSING ARGUMENTS ARE ARGUMENTS OF PERSPECTIVE. When we argue that one particular way of licensing is better than others, we’re really arguing that one perspective is better or truer than others. In other words, whenever we make an argument that says “everyone should use a [free | NC | etc.] license,” we are making a _religious_ argument – an argument which dictates the perspective by which we think everyone else should be judged.

When we move licensing outside the realm of religion, we can recognize the … importance of perspective. We can also realize that, depending on the peculiarities of a specific context and the personal or organizational perspectives of a specific licensor, different licenses will be optimal under different circumstances.

It would be great if the world were simple enough that One License to Rule Them All could exist, but it doesn’t. I wish to Heaven we would stop arguing about it, and just respect individuals and organizations to understand their own contexts, goals, and perspectives sufficiently well to pick the license that best meets their needs.”

There clearly are two sides to the open licensing equation. On one side is the creator or licensor of the work. On the other side is the user or licensee of the work. Openly licensing creative works entails considerations of both. Personally I prefer a range of licenses that provide creators choice in specifying open permissions and limitations. One assertion I’d make is that the more open the license the greater the market participation and the greater the innovation opportunity.

As you can tell I’m very interested in understanding the business models associated with open licensing. There is so much more to explore but let me close this post with a couple of additional examples of how Canadian artists are using Creative Commons licenses.

OK, lets take fellow Canadian Brad Sucks latest album “Out of It”.

Brad sells direct from his own website. You can buy the CD & all the MP3s or just the MP3s as a whole album or individually. Brad recommends a price for each but Brad offers flexible pricing – you can type in whatever price you’re willing to pay or download all the MP3s for free. Brad licenses the whole thing with a Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) license and encourages you to copy and share with your friends.

In his blog about the album he says:

“The only reason I, a dude who made an album by himself in a country basement, has had any sort of success is because people took it upon themselves to share my music with their friends. They remixed it, they used it in their videos, they played it on their podcasts, they included it in software and games and it took on a life of its own.

To sabotage that would be a huge, retarded mistake. Instead I’ll be grateful if Out of It worms around the world in even close to the same freaky way I Don’t Know What I’m Doing did and continues to.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying I love you Internets. Thanks for all your support and I hope you like Out of It.”

Hmmm, interesting. One way artists are making this work is by going direct to fans via the web. The Internet and digital formats change the economics reducing the need for middle men publishers and distributors. Personally I’d prefer as much financial remuneration for artistic creative works as possible go directly to the artist so I’m thinking this is a positive direction overall. It’s also fascinating to see flexible pricing and encouragement of copying.

One final example. Celine Celines based in Montreal has started a new company of open fashion. Using open data and Creative Commons (CC-BY) licensed images from NASA Goddard Photo and Video’s Flickr photostream her first collection is a series of silk scarves. The Hubble images captured on silk are beautiful – see for yourself at her online boutique gallery. This is an interesting example of a user/licensee, Celine, making a creative work out of a creator/licensor NASA image in a way I expect NASA never imagined.


Large silk scarve (CC BY-NC) by Celine Celines

I’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities.
The range of business models and opportunities is vast and varied.
Lots more to come in future blog posts.


2 Comments

Great and very responsive post, Paul. Thanks.

Comment by stanchung

Thanks for the interest and comment Stan.
Hope you’re enjoying your Vice-president, academic and research role at Red River College.
Paul

Comment by godsvilla




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