Commonwealth of Learning on Open Licenses – My comments

by P

The Commonwealth of Learning has published a chapter on open licenses (part of an upcoming book on the use of copyright for authors, educators and librarians). I believe such a book could be a great resource, and given the CoL’s mission of supporting education I was quite excited to have a look and share it with others working in education and especially open education.

However, after reading the first paragraph I was surprised by some of the statements, which I copied (and comment on) below. Further down in the draft chapter it talks about software licenses, and makes some statements about the history of the GPL and the use of open licenses (or free licenses) that go too deep into the legal details for me to fully analyse. However, I always thought the GPL was legally bullet proof and some of the statements in the chapter would make me wonder about the legal (and negative) implications of using it … I think it would be great if some of the legal experts who are part of this community could have a look at the text and send some friendly and constructive comments to Paul West (pwest at col dot org) if they feel there is room for improvement.

Examples from the first paragraph:

“Some, disliking the business practices of commercial software suppliers and publishing houses, want to replace copyright with open licences.”

This statement implies that those supporting open licenses are not commercial software suppliers. The cases of IBM, Red Hat, Jam Warehouse, and Canonical show that open source software and commercial activity are not exclusive. It also makes the “some” sound like they don’t understand the relationship between copyright and open licenses; a look around the open source developer mailing list will quickly show that this community has built up incredible expertise on copyright issues over the years, and understands that open licenses use copyright.

“Some want to allow anyone to profit from the work of others without even telling them they are doing this.”

This makes the public domain sound like some crazy revolutionary idea, rather than a source of cultural development. In the context of the developmental needs of large parts of the world, a more important question might be, why are “some” pushing for restriction to use an author’s materials 70 years after his death?

It is probably not intended, but the whole paragraph is written as if the open licenses community needed to do some research and thinking. After participation in a number of workshops and conferences on IPR (patents mostly), it is my impression that the strong IPR community is the one that largely looks past existing economic research on the detrimental effects of their policies on socio-economic development.