I continue to be fascinated by those in “the academy” of higher education (and others) who maintain working “frames of content control” when it comes to ideas and the Internet. I have previously reflected on similar issues in my posts “Free ideas & Pedagogy” from February 2006 and “Following the Free” from January 2006. This is also related to my post “Linking can be law breaking?” from January 2006.

I don’t want to come across as excessively harsh here, because the article I am referencing in this post may have been published prior to 2000– the source code meta tags in the document reveal it was actually made with Word97 on a computer running Windows98. (I know in some schools still running Win98, these clues may reveal little about the publication date, but this was from a university professor, so I’m betting she’s more up with the times and OS upgrades!)

Created by Word97 Win98

Irrespective of publication date, this information is still available on the Internet, along with an extensive “End User License Agreement” (EULA) — and the asserted restrictions on the use of this publicly posted document seem to still apply. It is possible the license is out of date and no longer being used for new documents, but in my cursory reading of the document and associated links I am not finding anything to indicate the use license terms have changed. I am not writing this to rake an individual person through the coals, but rather to briefly reflect on what is implicit and overtly stated on these pages– specifically the references to “licensed use.”

First, let me share the author, title, and link to the original document, and note that merely linking to this page from anywhere else on the Internet without express permission is asserted to be a violation of their End User License Agreement. (I never have and don’t plan to ever purchase “floppy disk” versions of these articles, so I never have been an agreeing party to this EULA.) The document in question is titled “Developing a Philosophy of Teaching Statement” by Nancy Van Note Chism of Ohio State University. This is a short essay, and is a good overview of why and how teachers should create personal teaching statements. What is remarkable about the document, in my view, is the “End User License Agreement” linked at the top of it.

Certainly authors have rights to legally restrict uses of their work. However, it is very unusual in my experience to find someone publishing documents ON THE PUBLIC INTERNET and asserting that they have a controlling right to prohibit anyone from EVEN LINKING to their document without express permission. In my view, this is ridiculous. If the publisher and/or author does not want others to link to a document, it should not be posted on the public Internet at all: it should be posted behind some sort of login or portal that restricts access. Posting a document to the public Internet seems to imply that linking is not only technically possible, but legally permissible. I may be off base on this, but that is my perception. Here are some of the terms from this “End User License Agreement” that applies to this document posted on the PUBLIC INTERNET:

  • The electronic form of the Essays on Teaching Excellence on the enclosed diskettes must be copied and used AS IS, without modification.
  • Access to the electronic form of the Essays on Teaching Excellence must be limited to faculty, staff, and students on your campus, preferably by means of a secure server that recognizes and accepts input only from computer IP numbers assigned to your institution.
  • You must maintain all copyright notices on all copies of Essays on Teaching Excellence.
  • You may not distribute printed copies of Essays on Teaching Excellence to third parties, except as part of a workshop or seminar conducted on your campus for your faculty, staff, or students.
  • You may not modify, republish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, or display Essays on Teaching Excellence, except and only to the extent that such activity is expressly permitted by this EULA or by applicable law notwithstanding this limitation.
  • You may not rent, lease, or sell Essays on Teaching Excellence.
  • You must comply with all applicable laws regarding the use of Essays on Teaching Excellence.

I guess the first relevant question to ask is this: Why were documents governed by this EULA ever posted to the public Internet in the first place, especially posted with reference to the EULA which their very display on the public Internet allegedly violates?!

It looks to me like this use license was created in an era before Internet publication was common, and folks were still distributing content on floppy disks. Unfortunately, however, the publishers did not take the time to update their use license to keep up with the realities of the 21st century networked economy. Several of my thoughts related to this are:

  1. If this EULA actually applies, then these documents should not be linked at all on the public Internet. It may be that the College of Charleston (which is hosting the link above) is out of compliance with the EULA for the materials one of their faculty members purchased.
  2. Restricting access to ideas in this way is actually anti-thetical to the ideals of “the academy.” If there are good ideas here (and there are, in my opinion, in this article) then the author should want the broadest access possible to the document and its ideas. I understand that people and organizations want to make money: Don’t we all? But in our era of plentifully available, free information, people are and will increasingly “follow the free.” Provide access if you want to insure relevance. Otherwise fewer folks will read your stuff, and that is most likely the primary reason it was written in the first place: So people would read it and be influenced by it.
  3. The author should consider an explicit Creative Commons use license, rather than the prose in this antiquated EULA. At least the reference to “diskettes” should be updated– is anyone actually selling content on floppy disks anymore?!

Fair use is part of US law and an essential ingredient of a creative environment where learning is taking place, irrespective of geography. This EULA does not seem to acknowledge this reality. Use of Creative Commons licenses does not remove all complications, but as John Panzer noted in April in relation to feeds, wider use of CC licensing would likely make the intellectual property issues surrounding web publishing easier for everyone to navigate.

I believe accessibility supports relevancy. Want to be relevant in our 21st century networked world, and in the world of the future? Don’t use anything close to a EULA resembling this one when you share and publish your ideas. Use Creative Commons licenses. They are free and much more in line with the ways creative ideas from “the academy” and elsewhere should be shared with a global audience.

For more on Creative Commons as it applies in educational contexts, refer to my Spring 2006 TechEdge article, “Creative Commons in K-12 Education.”

Incidentally, the server which is presently hosting all these “Essays on Teaching Excellence” is not configured (as most webservers are these days) to prohibit directory browsing, so you can browse all the published essays by linking to the directory root. It appears these were last updated on 18 Feb 2005. There is some good content here– Maybe someone with access to it will repackage it under a different EULA and link all the articles from a table of contents page, so more folks can have access to these materials. Judging from the following prose on the “Essays on Teaching Excellence” page of the PodNetwork (which apparently owns all this content), that seems doubtful, however:

The essays are printed on high-quality paper and are camera-ready for your local copy center.

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