Don’t Tell Me How To CC

Don’t Tell Me How To CC

May 23, 2019 0 By JR

Seems to be conference time, and with that comes disjointed Tweets that lose a lot of context. Yes I’m aware that I’m guilty of Tweeting during conference sessions and not always including more context. What came through my feed today was this:

First, the statement of “don’t slap a CC BY license on your work if {conditions}”. I get it, there is value as a downstream user to people providing CC Licensed material provide is as a stand alone file and in a format I can use. Seeing that it’s a conference hashtag you can pretty well assume that it is educational material (textbook-y or assignment-y in nature) and that ends up meaning that you should provide the word documents to anyone viewing the material is you CC-BY license that work.

These kinds of statements are really problematic though, and you don’t have to lean on them too far to see where problems emerge. For example, if I create a video and upload it to YouTube I have the option of assigning a CC-BY license. Other YouTube users can use the material and it’s open access. But even if downstream users can access it, then am I also supposed to provide the video editing file, and also all of the assets? What if the downstream user doesn’t use the same video editing software I used. Then it’s not really editable now is it? So you’re telling me not to use the CC license and therefore leaving all copyright restrictions on the work. That doesn’t seem very helpful.

In making educational content we combine body text along with tables and figures. If I need to make all of the content editable, does that mean I need also include all of the source files? Or if I share a photograph, do I have to share the raw file and not any output? Or if I create a digital image and want to share it as CC-BY, then do I have to share the AI or PS file along with any additional assets? Sure, some downstream users might be able to edit what I’ve created, but others won’t be able to.

I’ve mentioned software a few times already, but what about the cases where just technical skill isn’t there. I’ve downloaded my fair share of web templates from GitHub. Some I can work with (usually wordpress themes), but without changing any of the code. In other cases, the templates are openly licensed and downloadable, but completely unusable for me because I don’t know the first thing about JSON. So what use are those files to me as a downstream user?

These kinds of hardened rules telling creators what they should and should not do is not in the spirit of creative commons and open education as I’ve known it.

Rant aside, I did find a bit more context for the Tweet:

I still disagree with the final imperative of “don’t CC license things that aren’t downloadable & editable”. I think there’s some room for nuance here. But the beginning qualifier of “PDFs shouldn’t be the only species” allows for us to have a conversation rather than imposing our own beliefs onto everyone without considering different viewpoints and contexts.

“Creative Commons poster” by Piotr Chuchla is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 


Well, I woke up to a lively conversation in my Twitter mentions this morning around this very topic. Rajiv was able to jump in and clarify his position that “don’t publish OER as PDF” was not an edict but a suggestion:

Basically, the argument boils down to trying to remove technical barriers to downstream adopters/adapters. Billy Meinke-Lau followed-up with the ALMS framework, which once I saw it I recalled reading years ago:

Overall, there could still be endless hair splitting over what it means to be editable. Even in the ALMS framework they’re still talking primarily about text (comparing a scan of handwriting to a text file), but that still starts to fall apart when you consider other media. Is an MP4 output alone meaningfully editable for revising and remixing? Is an Mp3? Is a PNG?

I’ve been on the receiving end of hard to view and adopt/adapt OERs numerous times (a brief look through the MERLOT repository will likely give you a similar experience). Over time, the PDF is likely to be a very stable format, and I think there is some merit to that, especially with OCR getting better all the time. And while PDFs have technical limitations, it’s still better to have one CC-BY than not, or even CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-ND, because that still gives downstream users permissions to work with the content and adapt it.

I’m not saying Rajiv’s exact statement was an imperative to never use PDFs, or that PDFs are where OER go to die (he’s clarified his point I think). But the kind of rhetoric I’ve seen around CC and OER over the last few years has really shifted from ‘sharing is caring’ to ‘if you want into the club you HAVE to do things this way’. I’d certainly find the messaging more agreeable if we didn’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t do with their creative output and shifted back to considerations for downstream users. And if after that consideration you still choose to output a PDF, then that’s fine, at least you took the time to reflect on that.