Creative Commons (CC) licenses have been hailed by the Open Educational Resource (OER) community as an answer to the challenges posed by copyright. As an alternative to the “permission culture” of traditional “all rights reserved” law, CC licences have turned copyRIGHT into “CopyLITE” by providing creators of works the opportunity to relinquish some rights of their work for use and reuse by the wider society. In spite of the advantages CC licences bring to the Open Education movement, the multiplicity of licences available (six in total), and the conditions associated with them (four in total), means that the CC licence is not as straightforward as users would like it to be.
At a recent JISC institutional strand meeting on OER, it emerged that existing CC licences are not adequate for application to clinical materials, due to the high proportion of complex images from various sources that need clearance, and calls were made for more sophisticated CC licences to respond to the perceived gap. If such calls are heeded, CC licences will become more complex, and the list of licences will continue to grow in future. However, this complexity is likely to increase the existing confusion around licences and rights. Is there a need for a complete shift in thinking away from the “some rights reserved” philosophy which underpins CC licences?
Some have suggested opting out of the Berne Convention, arguing that CC licences are only watered-down versions of traditional copyright laws. I suggest an alternative solution: instead of copyright laws being automatically in force upon the creation of a work – a new global convention, CopyFREE – where the default position is that there is no need for any form of licence. Under copyFREE, the onus would be on creators of works to make a case for their work to be protected from copying. The copyFREE argument would be similar to the “presumed consent” position put forward by the British Medical Association for organ donation, where persons are deemed to have given their consent to organ donation unless they have registered to opt out.
We need to acknowledge that traditional copyright laws emerged at a time in our collective development history when there were no mash-ups, digital natives or generation Y. We need a 21st century copyright treaty which is more responsive to the needs of a society where openness is a defining feature. Will CopyFREE lead to more creativity, innovation and knowledge sharing for public good as opposed to private profit? Let the debate start.
Samuel Nikoi (26 October 2009)