Licensing Portal for Educators/Licensing Examples

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Creative Commons wants to make it easier for people in education to offer and find works that are available for creative collaboration. Here is a brief example of what we have in mind.

The scholar and the teacher

Professor Isaac is a physics professor at a famous university. He has written a new article that includes several colorful diagrams. He hopes that the diagrams will help physics students understand the novel ideas about the laws of thermodynamics that made him famous years ago. He doesn’t want to get paid for use of the diagrams, and he doesn’t even need credit for them. He just wants to contribute back to the store of physics knowledge upon which his own successful career was built.

Ms. Newton is a high school physics teacher designing her first course. She wants to get her students excited about physics by helping them build a website about key developments in physics over the centuries. The students want to include excerpts and diagrams from physics articles they find on the Internet. Ms. Newton isn’t sure what to tell them. She knows that the articles may be copyrighted even though most of them don’t have a copyright notice. The students could contact the authors to ask for permission to copy the articles, but they are running out of time to enter the website into a national competition.

Creative Commons hopes to make it possible for Professor Isaac to remove the copyright restrictions that automatically apply to his articles and to dedicate them to the public domain. Ms. Newton’s students would be able to search for physics articles in the public domain, and to find out that they could copy Professor Isaac’s diagrams — and their own modified versions of the diagrams — onto their website without special permission from anyone.

Copyright Barriers

When it comes to finding and identifying educational resources, there are a lot of barriers that educators come across that often inhibit their ability to create and remix meaningful content. Below is an extensive example of why clear and open licensing is needed in education.

The Situation

David, an eighth-grade teacher, is spending class time this week studying the solar system. Coincidentally, this is the same week that the mission to Mars successfully lands a robot on that planet and begins explorations. David is excited about the idea of integrating these current events into the lessons, so he spends some time at home collecting news stories and NASA images about the Mars program. He then combines these texts and pictures into a series of worksheets that challenges the students to understand several different facets of the mission to Mars.

The class goes really well, and David tells some of his colleagues how excited everyone was about those lessons, and how well all of the students did on the assignments. Word gets round, and pretty soon he has received several inquiries from teachers at other schools, asking whether he could share his worksheets. Given the interest levels, David decides that he would like to just post the worksheets in a public place on the Internet for everyone to use, but he’s not sure what the best way is to go about this.

David meets with the Librarian

He realizes he needs to ask someone for advice, and decides the school librarian ought to know about such matters. The librarian, who happens to be unusual in that she does in fact know about such matters, advises him that he should not post his worksheets publicly unless all of the constituent materials are in the public domain.

David thinks that the pictures might be in the public domain since they came from NASA, which is after all a government agency and all government work should, in theory, be in the public domain, but he isn’t positive. He is also feeling pretty certain that the news stories are not in the public domain, since they probably came from non-governmental sources.

The Librarian’s advice

The librarian tells him about open licensing, explaining that he may still be able to publish and share his worksheets if all of the news stories come from openly licensed sources, such as those published under Creative Commons licenses. David decides to check out all of these issues that night.

What David must do

1. Make sure NASA images are in the public domain (or openly licensed). 2. Make sure news articles are in the public domain or openly licensed (i.e., under a CC license). 3. Revise the worksheets accordingly.

Step 1

David starts with the photos from NASA. He returns to the image archive that contains photos from the mission to Mars, but he cannot find any information associated with the photos or anywhere on those pages about the copyright status. Indeed, he clicks on all of the links at the bottom of the page, including “Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories”, “Privacy Policy & Important Notices”, and anything else that might be relevant, to no avail. David finally navigates to some other part of the NASA site, clicking through four links to get there, where he encounters some guidelines regarding the use of NASA imagery (see box below).

Based on those guidelines, it looks like he is free to use the images, though the phrase “generally not copyrighted” leaves him unsure of how he should verify that the images are in fact not copyrighted. If it turns out they are copyrighted, then who is to blame? David shrugs and decides he had better move on to the texts in his worksheets since he has spent an hour already trying to find and then decipher the permissions associated with the NASA images.

Step 2

As David suspects, much of the text he finds regarding the mission to Mars comes from commercial publishers, such as the New York Times and Sky and Telescope Magazine. Both of these organizations have clearly posted all-rights-reserved copyright notices at the bottom of their web pages. He will have to search for replacement text. Fortunately, the librarian has given him some ideas of how to look for openly licensed materials, so he is able to search for Mars-related materials using the “Advanced search” functions on Yahoo and Google. (Both Yahoo and Google have built in CC licensing search capabilities.) Unfortunately, there is not much openly licensed text available, at least none that he can find. There are some great video resources on SciVee, so he adds links to those resources into his worksheets, though those obviously won’t add much value to the printed versions. David also stumbles on OER Commons (a site that curates OER with extensive metadata), where he is able to find some lesson plans on Mars from the Tech Museum of Innovation, licensed using Creative Commons. He decides to adapt some of this text and incorporate it into the worksheet.

Step 3

David had assumed that his worksheets were basically finished, but now that he wants to share those worksheets freely, he finds that he is back at the beginning. After searching for openly licensed material, he has a better idea of the resources that are available for him to use. However, he realizes that he will have to re-think the construction of the worksheets for a shareable version. Given the paucity of open resources on the topic, he decides to include links to the various news stories accompanied by original text that he will write himself. He changes the worksheets to direct the students to do original research on their own, online, leaving class time for debate and collaboration with other students. This makes it possible for him to at least point students to the copyrighted resources online.

Finally, after much time spent on revision, David feels like he has finished a whole new set of worksheets, now composed of only NASA images, text derived from the Tech Museum of Innovation, and his own words. He thinks that all his effort should not go to waste, and wants his worksheets to be used widely, especially since he is interested in finding out how other teachers and learners might use and improve them. He concludes that the best way to accomplish this is to release the worksheets using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.

David meets with the Librarian again

He stops by the librarian’s office the next day with the worksheet files on a pen drive to seek her advice about where to post the resources publicly. The librarian looks over the worksheets with a scrutinizing eye and relays some bad news about the license David has chosen.

“I’m afraid you cannot use this license for your worksheets,” she says. “Our administration is likely to be concerned about including these NASA images, even though it seems likely that they are in fact in the public domain. You could not find any terms of use for the actual images you used, and the terms you did find on some other part of the NASA site make it seem like you have a responsibility to fully verify their copyright status before publishing their images. The school district cannot afford to assume this liability if it turns out that these images are in fact copyrighted by someone.”

David is very irritated. After all, he spent hours poring over his new worksheets after being told he had to take three simple steps. Now the librarian is saying he can’t license them in the way he wants, simply because there might be a chance that the photographs are not in the public domain after all.

David throws his hands in the air. His reaction is basically along these lines:

“I have spent many hours reviewing the copyright policies associated with my original worksheets, then searching for appropriate replacement resources, then reconstructing the worksheets to try and ensure that all of the included materials are openly licensed or my own words. And now I discover that there are additional issues beyond even those. This is ridiculous. I give up. And I’m getting out of here before you tell me that my use of these materials in my classroom may not be acceptable even considering the copyright exceptions and limitations (fair use) for education that ought to protect me. So much for the supposedly open educational commons!”

Even if David does not say these exact words to the librarian, this is what he is feeling. At this point, all the work he has done is mostly wasted. He might as well go back to using his original worksheets. Since is unable to share them, he is probably protected by fair-use considerations if only his students use them in his classroom. Most teachers are unlikely to persevere to the extent that David does. If we are trying to build a true education commons, we cannot afford to throw up barriers of the sort that ultimately turn teachers like David away.

Creative Commons Opens Copyright Barriers

Creative Commons licenses are not a replacement for copyright; they are an addendum to copyright that gives you, the educator, more options than you originally had or even knew about it. The licenses effectively open up copyright barriers by supplying you with new knowledge about copyright and the rights you can choose to retain or give away for your own benefit and that of the educational community.

As an educator, it is a benefit for you to share your works with other educators, especially since so much of academic progress is a result of collaborative efforts. Creative Commons not only enable educators to share legally and freely; Creative Commons licenses also enable educators to share easily. Because CC licenses are easy to use and understand, copyright barriers are opened. License terms become signposts for how to share one’s work rather than hurdles of confusing legal language.

CC Licenses enable educators to
1. Easily search for and locate educational resources
2. Easily identify and understand the license and its terms
3. Easily remix those openly licensed works that are clearly interoperable to produce derivative works
4. Easily tag your own resource so that it readable (and thus, searchable) by machines and humans

CC licenses are the only licenses that have all of these attributes: machine-readability, technical interoperability, and strong legal standing, not to mention social credibility. CC licenses are recognized world-wide; they have become the global standard for open resources of all kinds, except software.