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NERCOMP Session – Copyright in OpenCourseWare March 14, 2008

Posted by ficial in conference, EDUCAUSE_NC08, IP issues, NERCOMP.

This next presentation was by Daniel Carchidi and Lindsaey Weeramuni, both at MIT, talking about copyright and how the Open Course Ware system deals with it. There were two parts to this. First was an overview of copyright in general, and the second focused on OCW specifically. My impression listen to this, and which was confirmed later during the QA period, was that OCW takes a very conservative approach to copyright. This is quite intentional on their part. It reflects the priorities of MIT for that particular project, and not any position on copyright in general. [My thoughts and comments are enclosed in square brackets.]

Most of the about 30 people in the room had heard of or visited the MIT Open Courseware site. [an interesting example of the marketing value of sharing content – in theory the contributors have given for free some content on which  in theory they could maybe have made some money, but in practice both the individual providers and the institution have gotten a great deal of good publicity out of it. I don’t know the finances well enough to know if the value are on par with each other, but my off-hand guess is that the publicity is worth as much or more than the content itself.]

Dan leads off the presentation with an overview of Open Courseware. In 1999 there was wide-spread discussion [references would be nice here – sounds familiar, but actual links would be even better] that distance learning would make traditional, classroom education obsolete. In response to that, the MIT college president formed a committee to examine the situation. The committee produced two main results. First, they felt that MIT had missed the wave in terms of commercial exploitation of distance learning. Second, and perhaps more importantly, they concluded that the MIT experience didn’t transfer to distance learning. That is, there was value to the experience of being at MIT that could not be provided via an on-line experience. The president then asked, essentially, “what now?”, and the committee went back to work. After further consideration, they decided that the MIT course materials should be provided for free on the internet [I would love more details about this process – What objections were raised and how were they countered? What were the perceived costs and benefits, and how has reality matched? What lead them in that direction to begin with? etc.] With that, MIT started the Open Courseware project, with a goal of publishing material for all their core courses.

Some useful clarifications / re-iterations:
– OCW is NOT an MIT education. It’s missing the experience in the classroom and lab, and the presence of teachers and fellow students
– OCW is NOT a certificate or degree program
– OCW is permanent [at least, as much as any info is]
– OCW is open to the world
– OCW contains all course material (lecture notes, lab descriptions, problem sets, tests, etc.)

There is a LOT of material in OCW now. [I’d last looked through it several years ago and found it a little sparse, though impressive even so. Now it is truly amazing.] Just last fall they hit their publication goal/milestone of having every core course in OCW.

At this point Lindsey stepped in for Dan and talked about the intellectual property issues of OCW. Prior to her current position at MIT, she worked in the publishing industry, so she has a good perspective from both sides (the side asking to use material, and the side that controls the material).

OCW uses one of the Creative Commons licenses for all their material. She didn’t spend too much time on Creative Commons itself – that topic is easily an entire presentation in itself [It’s definitely worth spending some time reading the Creative Commons site. It’s an increasingly widely used system for licensing works, and it’s useful to understand the various options and what it can and can’t do for you.]. MIT uses the non-commercial, attribution, share-alike (by-nc-sa) options for their license. In brief, people are ENCOURAGED to use, modify, re-mix, etc. the content, as long as they’re not selling the results, as long as they refer to MIT as the originator, and as long as they like-wise share their modifications if they publish them. [That’s my pithy paraphrase of her high-level summary – if you actually want to use Creative Commons you must read the actual license. There are some complexities and specific, legal wordings that are completely glossed over here. It’s also worth noting that Creative Commons is not something that circumvents copyright or replaces copyright. Instead it relies existing copyright law to create licenses that let people use material is specific ways, just like any other license. It just happens that the specific ways are very unrestrictive compared to most other licenses traditionally used in the publishing world.]

MIT has had a lot of success moving protected material [highly restricted] into the Create Commons environment. After they hit their initial publication goal they did a comprehensive review of their material. They found that about 1/3 of their courses still had some copyright issues (by the restrictive standards MIT is using for OCW – more on that later). Most of those problems were in the lecture notes for a course – that it, the material that the instructor would use when teaching (a more detailed breakdown is available in their slides). Conversely, 2/3 of their courses were completely OK. An important conclusion of that review is that it’s possible to have a very rich repository of publicly available material that respects copyright.

Then Dan gave a bit of Copyright 101. [for full details on the law, check out the law itself] Copyright protects works of authorship (see the slideshow), i.e. ‘the creative product’. In their work with faculty, these are the lecture notes, problem sets, tests, etc. Things that are NOT covered include ideas, concepts [patents cover those two], facts, raw data [including research data, I guess; explains why researchers are often a bit paranoid about sharing / publishing their source data in addition to their results / conclusions], names, and titles. [To protect the latter sorts of things, look into trademarking – it may or may not apply, but copyright certainly won’t.]

The people who get the protection [copyright is, at least originally, about protecting a publisher from economic losses, though these days it’s cast as more about controlling how content is used – the two subjects are related, but they are by no means the same] are the author, or the employer in a work-for-hire situation (where the contract assigns the rights to the employer), or anyone to whom either of the first two have assigned rights. A copyright holder has exclusive rights to reproduce, to distribute, to display, to create derivative works, AND to grant licenses to others. In OCW the creators still hold copyright to their work, but grant license to MIT and the OCW system (via the Creative Commons  licensing tool set). Among other things, the law means that works are NOT freely available UNLESS it is EXPLICITLY in allowed – that is  failure to claim copyright explicitly does not give up rights, and simply citing the creator is NOT enough without the copyright holders permission.

Copyright is an evolving set of laws. Since 1976, any tangible publication [how does electronic publication fit into that? I assume it’s covered in some particular clause of the law, but I’m not willing to dig through and find it just at the moment] automatically has copyright protection. Prior to that the work had to be registered with the Library of Congress. Copyright has an expiration [at least in theory – in 1998 it was extended for 20 years] and works published before 1923 are in the public domain. This set of older publish material is drawn upon heavily by history courses, and to a lesser extent in goverment courses.

The was definitely some early resistance by faculty to contributing material to OCW, but over time people have become enthusiastic about it. About 90% of MIT faculty participate by contributing material to the project. Students also contribute. There was a nice quote of a student about how pleased she was to have her work published in the OCW system. [How does OCW publish count, professionally speaking? presumably it’s less valuable than a journal publication, but at the very least it’s publicity. I imagine hiring and tenure committees will have to tackle this question and make some kind of policy at some point. Some discussion in the NERCOMP 2008 blog also touches on this idea]

MIT threw a lot of resources at the OCW project. It’s very team oriented. There are OCW team (6 people) who deal with manging the program, the publication managers and the dept liaisons (11 people) who work with faculty, a production team (4 people), and an intellectual property team (2 people) that makes sure the published material adheres to OCW’s policy. [numbers cone from the OCW team web site] Plus they consult a fair amount with the general counsel, and have two sizable advisory boards. In addition to the human resources, it’s clear that the institution embraces this project at the highest level, which makes it possible on a cultural as well as a technical level.

There was a nice few slides covering where and what kind of IP issues they encountered in their review of the repository. The most common areas of infringement are in the lecture notes, and the most commons types of infringement are images, text excerpts, and multi-media (clips, simulations). There are potentially very difficult issues in resolving those infringements. For example, much open source software is licensed using the GNU General Public License (GPL), which is incompatible with the by-nc-sa Creative Commons license that OCW uses [this is a fairly widely discussed issue – in brief, the GPL allows commercial uses, while the CC non-commercial, well, does not]. There are three main approaches they use to resolve IP issues (in no particualr order):
– remove the offending material and replace it with a specially commissioned replacement (MIT has graphic artists on hire for this kind of work)
– negotiate for usage rights with the copyright holder
– ??? [see the slideshow (coming soon…) – the talk was very fast at this point and I didn’t catch the last method]
One general rule is that if material can’t be sourced, it can’t be used.

There were quite a few questions from the audience:
Q – You deployed students to take notes in the courses. Is this typical?
A – It depends on what already exists. If there are no lecture notes then the students’ notes form the core.

Q – How do you handle publishing links?
A – Published links are only to publicly available systems. We can put plain text addresses [URLs] which users can go to and/or research on their own, but we don’t do direct links to non-public systems.

Q – How do you deal with custom programmed materials (which don’t work too well with CC)?
A – If it can’t be released using a CC license, it’s not released.

Q – What the background of the Intellectual Property managers who are making the decisions?
A – Lindsey has extensive experience in the commercial publishing world. Her assistance has an art background, but has received IP tutoring.

Q – How much of the repository is actually captured lectures?
A – It depends on the courses. There are about 1K hours of video, ~30 full courses. The focus has been on curriculum, not actual presentation.

Q – How do you deal with text books being posted?
A – Most of the time, you can’t. At best, you can put a link on the reading list section, with links to amazon or the publisher so users can buy it themselves.

Q – Any thoughts on leveraging social systems to adapt and modify the OCW system?
A – There’s now a Open Courseware consortium that contains a lot of institutions world wide. Now that MIT has met their base goal, it’s thinking more about what to do next. E.g. making high school focused adaptations, with feedback from HS teachers.

Q – Has the OCW movement changed the way copyright holders view their IP at all?
A – I’m glad you asked. We just a few days ago made a partnership with Elsevier, one of the big names in journal publication. We got permission to use data from any of their journal articles, with particular limits.

Q – What about fair use, especially with respect to Elsevier material (the negotiated deal sounded like it was all pretty much covered by fair use)? Do you never invoke fair use?
A – It’s a hot topic among consortium members. From the beginning we made a decision NOT to rely on fair use. We decided to be especially conservative because of the high profile – we didn’t want to expose MIT to any negative repercussions. We think fair use is important and valid, but not quite appropriate for OCW. In OCW we’re not just using the material ourselves, we’re publishing it for others to use. [This is a really rich and interesting topic. It would have been great for MIT to push this a bit, but I can totally understand why they didn’t. I hope that now the MIT has paved the way with OCW in general that some other group tries to do more with fair use, because if we don’t exercise it, we could lose it]

Q – What does ‘maintain’ a course mean?
A – Because of the structure of the publication process, we have a relationship with the professors: we know if their teaching a new course, what changes have been made, etc. Very relationship based.
Q – A follow up, if a course is no longer active, is it removed?
A – They’re kept in the archive.

Q – What about ITunes?
A – it’s another distribution channel. A big part of our audience (of a certain age) is introduced to professors via a lecture on iTunes.

Q – What are you mechanisms for dealing with infringement at MIT (outside of OCW)?
A – OCW is not involved. The general counsel handles it. Hopefully the OCW experience provides cultural knowledge/precedent.

Q – This presentation has been pretty black and white. What/where is the ambiguity?
A – A lot is actually case dependent, but we couldn’t get into the details in time we had

Q – How did you convince faculty to participate?
A – Shame :) Some departments resisted in entirety, at least at the beginning. Over time as they’ve seen success and faculty benefit they’ve come round. There were lots of objections (e.g. no one will come to class), but we’ve generally found the experience did not bear out. There have been some tricky cases involving publishing (e.g. textbook) vs open release (would one be in competition from other). [this has interesting parallels to objections to lecture capture at Williams – hopefully we’ll eventually see success too]

Q – What are some benefits to the faculty?
A Lots of feedback from the users. Lots of citations in other publications for things published in OCW. Lots of visibility and publicity. Great organized and recorded courses. It counts as dissemination for NSF grants. Students use it to shop for courses. Students use it for review notes. They can see what their peers are doing. It improves teaching.

And then time was up. I think this discussion could have gone on a while, and I’d love to hear more about / from the OCW Consortium at some point.



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