This post will discuss an organization currently redefining copyright law, an important aspect of copyright law not mentioned in previous posts, and an idea in education philosophy.

Creative Commons

First, Creative Commons is an organization seeking to realize the “full potential of the internet”  by changing the way that copyright is handled by the copyright owner. The potential of the internet is, according to Creative Commons, “universal access to research and education.” To achieve this, Creative Commons provides infrastructure that allows for copyright owners and authors to find a balance between the affordances of the internet and the “reality of copyright laws.”

The best way to understand exactly how this works is to consider the “all rights reserved” nature of traditional copyright law. It’s an all or nothing approach. The infrastructure provided by Creative Commons allows for a “some rights reserved” approach. The reason for releasing some of the rights and maintaining others is to maximize the capabilities of the internet by allowing the work to be shared for certain purposes.

Why is this important for writing instructors? 

Creative Commons is important for writing instructors for many reasons. We will discuss two. First, instructors of writing are charged with preparing future generations with effective communication and thinking skills. The rise of digital media is polarizing the idea of intellectual property and the democratization of knowledge. Creative Commons is seeking a balance between these two extremes, and this balance will be very important to future thinkers, writers, editors, producers, creators, and more. The second reason will be discussed below.

Public Domain

Since Creative Commons offers a new perspective (avoiding copyrights) on the idea of public domain, we will highlight this important aspect of copyright law before moving on. The public domain, in summary, is where copyrighted works go when the copyright expires. It allows for works to be available for public use without the limitations of copyright law.

Public domain is, for the most part, easy to understand. Some of the details, however, can be a little tricky with revisions to the number of years after an author’s death before the copyright expires. Cornell University has produced a helpful and up-to-date review of public domain. It’s available here.  One of the most important details is that for any works currently published in the U.S., copyright laws extend for 70 years after the death of the author.

Open Education

The second reason Creative Commons is important for writing instructors, or anyone in education, is its connection to the idea of open education. Open education is an idea that advocates for a sense of openness and sharing of ideas, resources, teaching methods, courses, and more. It is a great example of the application of the balance between keeping some rights and releasing others that’s offered by Creative Commons.

For a great introduction to the idea of open education, see this video by David Wiley. It’s a little long, but it’s worth your time.

Additionally, OER Commons offers a very useful resource for educators of any subject matter. It has lessons, lists, ideas, strategies, lesson plans, and much more. When visiting the site, notice the conditions of use (no strings attached, remix and share, share only) besides each time. Also, open education week is March 5-10 this year.

Lastly, many large universities are making more and more courses available online under the idea of open education. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was one of the first. Since then, many universities have followed suit, including New York University and Yale.  Furthermore, many universities use iTunes U to share information. Note: look for the Creative Commons logo on the pages while exploring these sites.

As educators, these resources are invaluable. They also should help shape what we think about education, our roles as educators, and the possibilities offered by digital tools and the internet.