Larry Lessig offers some thought provoking insights into the complexities of ongoing discussions about open content and open source in his recent post, “on the economies of culture.” He writes:

But the important point to recognize is that this effort to preserve the separation is fundamentally different from the effort of many in the “free software” or “free content” movement who want all “free” licenses to permit any sort of use, commercial or not. Imho, they are simply ignoring an important reality about the difference between these two economies. Indeed, they’re making the opposite mistake that many in the commercial world make: Just as many commercial rights holders believe every single use of creative work ought to be regulated by copyright (see, e.g., the push to force what are plainly “fair uses” of copyrighted work on YouTube to pay the copyright owners), so too these advocates of “free content” would push everyone to treat everything as if it is free of copyright regulation (effectively, if not technically). Second economy sorts believe differently — that some uses should be free, and others should be with permission.

I may have fallen into this camp of the naive open content advocates a bit with my latest article for the TechEdge, which I titled “The Ethic of Open Digital Content.” (I’ve finally gotten around to putting it online this evening, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago.) I really think that open content in the “second economy” (to use the parlance of Lessig) is extremely important in the educational realm. I like simple solutions, but I agree that people’s motivations for writing, publishing, and creating are diverse and structures which support the sharing of those works must logically be multi-faceted because of inherent complexities. Here is an abstract of my new article, which should be published in the TechEdge in their winter edition:

Online publication of ideas, particularly through blogs and collaborative spaces like “wikis” used by WikiPedia, provide publication mechanisms for people around the planet at almost no cost. The distribution costs of ideas contained in binary computer code of ones and zeros is virtually negligible, as Nicholas Negroponte observed in his book “Being Digital” published (traditionally) in 1995. Digital content published on the public Internet is much more accessible, offers far lower barriers of production, distribution and access, and offers robust potential for language translations unthought-of in the traditional world of analog print. For economic, pedagogic, and moral reasons, educators in the 21st century need to become “open educators” supporting the free, global exchange of ideas and information in our networked world being drawn ever closer together through the magic of technology.

I do think I am personally experiencing a sort of “bridging” between the “second economy” that Lessig writes about (of WikiPedia, Second Life, and much of the edublogosphere) and the real economy of face-to-face existence. I think many of the intellectual investments I’ve made in the past via this blog, my podcast, and other articles I’ve written related to teaching and learning have had real-world payoffs in terms of connections I’ve made and invitations I’ve received to share and present with others. These evolving interactions are very dynamic but also exciting. I don’t want to be overly naive about the possibilities for “open content,” but at the same time I don’t want to play a limiting role in the possibilities for the resources and collaborative content which the world’s learners seem bound to create together in the years to come.

If you have a few minutes, please check out my full article on this topic. School Library Journal has also published a related piece I wrote for their October 2006 issue titled, “In Praise of Open Content.” I’ll value your feedback on the ideas included in both these pieces. 🙂

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  • Raymond Hartfield


    Thanks for continuing to pubish and press for the use of technology to facilitate the freeing of creative thought. Work such as this is more a mission than you might realize. At the same time, you have an opportunity to take a realistic look at the second economy and hopefully find some viable avenue to move this whole thing into the future. “The mission must prevail…”


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