In its May 2007 recommendation report to the U.S. Department of Education regarding student textbook prices, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance estimates that the annual cost to college students for textbooks “can easily approach $700 to $1000” (5). One solution offered in the report for alleviating this high cost of going to college is the creation of open educational resources (OER) (21-23). This term originates from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education Institutions in Developing Countries (2002) that met to discuss the implications of MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative (D’Antoni 3). As the UNESCO Forum defines it, OER is “the open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes” (UNESCO 24). Furthermore,

the participants express their satisfaction and their wish to develop together a universal educational resource available for the whole of humanity, to be referred to henceforth as Open Educational Resources. Following the example of the World Heritage of Humanity, preserved by UNESCO, they hope that this open resource for the future mobilizes the whole of the worldwide community of educators. (UNESCO 28)

One of the important mechanisms for meeting this goal of creating universal, free content for education is the use of open content licenses, specifically the six licenses available at Creative Commons that provide users the rights to reuse and redistribute content. These licenses do not replace copyright law, but rather use copyright to allow the content creator to specify ways in which the content can be used beyond fair use. For example, an educator might choose a license with the Noncommercial clause to restrict commercial use, but meanwhile allow educators and students to share copies—and even create derivative versions, depending on the other restrictions with the license.

An excellent schema for thinking about how open education resources should be licensed is the "4Rs Framework" provided by David Wiley. Wiley is a leader in the open education community responsible for originally coining the term “open content” during his individual efforts to create some of the first open content licenses back in 1998 and 1999, well prior to the formation of Creative Commons. Wiley's 4R's—Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute—are basic rights given to the user by the content creator:

  1. “Reuse - the right to reuse the content in its unaltered/verbatim form (e.g., make a backup copy of the content)”
  2. “Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)”
  3. “Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)”
  4. “Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)” (“Defining the ‘Open’ in Open Content”)

The 4Rs are well represented in the specifications of another document of the OER community, the Open Knowledge Definition (OKD). The OKD appears to be an adaptation of the Open Source Initiative’s Open Source Definition to content other than software. OKD requires that an open work meet eleven specific conditions:

  1. “Access”
  2. “Redistribution”
  3. “Reuse”
  4. “Absence of Technological Restriction”
  5. “Attribution”
  6. “Integrity”
  7. “No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups”
  8. “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor”
  9. “Distribution of License”
  10. “License Must Not Be Specific to a Package”
  11. “License Must Not Restrict the Distribution of Other Works”

When taken together, the 4Rs Framework and OKD provide a fairly clear recipe for evaluating whether or not a specific Creative Commons license can support the efforts of educators to create resources that can be used and remixed into derivations that other educators and students can use. Yet, an ideological schism exists in the OER community over two very popular licenses: the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) and the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licenses. 1 As you would see from following the links to the human readable deed2 for the unported versions3 of CC-BY-SA and CC-BY, these licenses are similar in many regards. Each provides the same language allowing for users to share and remix the work along as attribution is given “in the manner specified by the author or licensor.”

Where they differ is in the Share Alike clause included with CC-BY-SA: “If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.” Create a new syllabus and license it as Attribution alone? Anyone can use it and re-license it under any of the other Creative Commons licenses or choose not to relicense it at all. License a class assignment under Share Alike? (From here forward, the CC-BY-SA license will be referred to as “Share Alike.”4) Anyone can use the text and re-license it, but only if any copies or derivative versions of the text use the same license, Share Alike. This restriction of requiring that any copies of the original or derivative works be released under the same license as a condition of use is also known as copyleft.5

The debate over whether to use the Share Like copyleft license or the more permissive Attribution license represents two fundamental views on how best to create a large, sustainable education commons. Some of the principles behind license choice for OER mirrors that of a similar controversy in the Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) community over usage of  the Berkley Standard Distribution (BSD) license——similar to Attribution in that it requires attribution as the main restriction—and the copyleft GNU General Public License (GPL)——similar to Share Alike. Those in both communities (i.e. OER and FLOSS) who champion BSD/Attribution often cite the lack of interoperability of GPL/Share Alike style licenses with other licenses as a problem and the necessity of allowing proprietization of software/content by commercial interests without the restriction of copyleft. Those who support copyleft prioritize the importance of preventing enclosure of software/content in building and sustaining a commons.

Drawing on lessons from the open source community, rhetorical theory, and my own perspectives as an advocate of copyleft, I offer some insight into the debate over these two important and controversial Creative Commons licenses, with emphasis on how Share Alike can best help to build a sustainable education commons, particularly with open textbook publishing. Not only can this article help educators to make decisions about how to share the documents they create, but these perspectives can assist in explaining license concepts to students working with Creative Commons licensed content in the classroom. As Danielle Devoss explains, “if we ask students to compose and create, we bear the responsibility of teaching students about how they work, play, and live in the larger copyright system” (207). In order for students to participate fully as new media creators in a remix culture, they will need the ability to understand the implications of Share Alike and Attribution, much as they need to understand the rights available to them under fair use.

Next: Privileging Interoperability