I may be entering my curmudgeon era.

On recent conversations with ed-tech friends, one in person, one by email, I recognize there are many things in our field that are likely very important, that, frankly I don’t give a damn about. These are things important to others that I find myself totally uninterested in:

  • Virtual Reality
  • Algorithmically Personalized Learning
  • Blockchain
  • Bitcoin
  • Self-Driving Cars

There’s likely more. Again, this does not mean they are unimportant, just that I am not expending my mental energy on them. I’ll leave that to others.

Given that this is apparently Open Access Week (and it seems silly to do it for a week, yes I know that’s not the intent. Still, DO THIS DAILY!), here is another one for the list:

  • Hairsplitting Open Licenses

The final scene of “Gone with the License” an animated GIF by me made from two frames from Frankly My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn – Gone with the Wind (6/6) Movie CLIP (1939) HD YouTube video by Movie Clips nothing I can cite a license for. But I still attribute. Because I can.

I have openly shared, published online, gave away the store on just about everything I have created since getting into ed-tech in the early 1990s (c.f. “old dude”). I did this before there was a Creative Commons, I embrace and advocate CC, yet I don’t find all that much interesting in debating the various license flavors.

While I understand the reasons for having so many two letter alphabet combos to string along after CC BY, frankly my dear, I think there are way too many of them. I’d rather be making stuff than dissecting licenses.

But that’s not really what gets under my fur. I already wrote most of this as Are you looking at the opposite end of Creative Commons? And to be honest, what I really meant more was “wrong” than “opposite” (and went back and forth while editing).

What I object to is the common way I see CC licenses explained to teachers and students, like “If you do not want people making money on your works, use an NC license” or “If you do not want people making derivatives, changing your work, put an ND on it”. Perhaps it is just me, but what this subtly suggests is, “this will protect your work”.

Maybe it is what is suggested by “license” which sounds like by issuing a license you are exerting control. Yes, it is legal code. So what it really means, is, if someone makes commercial use of something you have licensed CC BY-NC you are granted the ability to spend gobs of time and piles of money taking some violator to court. It gives you the right to take $$$$ legal action.

It provides no protection.

And also likely obvious, the presence of a license has zero deterrence on the kinds of people who steal and try to do those nasty men things with your stuff. As much as locks on your doors do not stop petty thieves.

To me what you are really doing with a CC license is signaling a preference for how you wish respectful, genuine people to make use of your content. And in doing so, you should understand that there are cretins out there who will not obey. And you should find a way to be okay with that.

I’m not saying theft does not happen. But my hunch is we overestimate it’s extent. We easily imagine that all of our precious stuff will be mine by greedy charlatans who will make billions from our intellectual sweat. There are more than 1.2 Billion CC licensed items. How often do profit generating thefts occur? I asked google but could not find answers.

My hunch is it’s tiny, and the amount of compliant use of licenses, that we never hear about, is dominant.

I care more about the vast, silent majority of compliant uses of licenses than the minority who don’t. The former are where I’d rather focus my energy.

Still, I can understand when someone finds out their work is being used in a way they did not intend, and not getting credit. When your neighbor’s house is robbed, that’s a shame; when it’s your house, it’s a personal violation.

This leads me (and any readers who have not closed this window to go back to clicking LIKE buttons elsewhere) to another “frankly my dear…”

It’s the way we think of value and digital content, rooted in the tangible concepts of property value being in controlling the supply. I find we do not appreciate the true difference of digital content from physical.

I came to understand this so much more clearly from the wisdom of was pro photographer turned passionate educator Jonathan Worth

I can’t find the absolute quote, but Jonathan hammers home the difference between the Photograph (the act of making a photograph, the relationship of photographer/subject) and the Digital Image, recognizing that there is no way to control the replication of the latter, which is just a digital file.

Many spend inordinate amounts of effort trying to maintain control of the digital artifact. And this is where we imbue that that is where the value of of our work lies.

In the digital thing.

I do not make money directly from my digital things (okay once I got $25 from a publisher reusing an open licensed image because they insisted), it’s my ideas, skills, services I bring. Most of us get salaries for teaching, being administrators, librarians, etc. We are not paid only for creating stuff.

And this is where I differ from most.

I don’t care one whit if someone makes money from my stuff. In fact, I might congratulate them on their ingenuity. So I am more than happy if people take my stuff and make money from it. If I never intend to make money from it, how can I consider it a loss to me if someone else does?

I will acknowledged that most of my “stuff” are photographs and typo ridden blog posts, more granular than something like a book, article, etc. There are differences in talking about the value of larger works and the kinds of theft where someone might take a work and issue it as their own.

But again, how frequent is that really? I think we imagine this scenario to easily, imagine a bogeyperson.

I’m in the camp of, if someone lifts my work, uses it without attribution, it’s getting my work more out there. It’s not taking anything away from my livelihood. I still eat and pay my mortgage.

But more than than, by voraciously open publishing it, in places that put a date stamp, I establish the case that it’s my work. Were I to care about chasing down thieves. I don’t.

And here’s another thing! (do I know where this is going? when it will end? No).

The focus, especially this week, on being an Open Educator mostly means or sounds like it means, sharing your stuff in public. With some flavor of licenses.


It’s not about the stuff.

Let me imagine I have spent a good amount of time producing, of all things, a book. If I really really do not want it freely distributed beyond my control, I keep the sucker off the internet. Heck, I put a copyright on it (well it comes with one implicitly).

Guess what? Copyrighted All Rights Reserved doe snot mean my work cannot be shared. It just means I get to decide who I share it with. You ask me for use, explain it, and I can decide to share. Copyrighted is not Cemented Closed.

But here are things I can do, as an open educator, that do not require me hoisting my precious work online with some license (that will not protect it):

  • I can blog about my process, I can narrate my work. I can write about methods, approaches, influences. In a public blog. This is valuable stuff.
  • I can offer excerpts of the larger work, as examples, without giving away the store.
  • I can engage in discussions, webinars, twitter chats about my ideas.
  • I can answer questions about my work, offer advice.
  • I can participate and contribute to open courses, even massively open ones.
  • I can read and offer comments on the works of others.

There is much more to being an Open Educator than posting our stuff online. Much more than OERs. Much, much more.

And that is what I like about Lisa Lane’s critique of OERs Again, where she shares her priorties:

But we do have a recent push to adopt OERs, and I’ve argued against it as a requirement. Not that I like textbooks (just search “textbooks” here on my blog to see how much I despise them and the whole publishing model), but if there aren’t even good open textbooks for History, there must be other areas where nothing good is available. So for me, the four priorities for using OERs are:

  1. The academic freedom of the professor in choosing what to assign
  2. The quality of the materials
  3. Whether commercial entities benefit from their use
  4.  Everything else discussed in this unit: the 5 Rs, open licenses, etc.

The licenses are at the bottom of her list, same for me.

I care more:

  • Do you make use of open content, and attribute?
  • Do you contribute ideas and engage in dialogue wither others? Do you mentor?
  • Do you share your own stuff in a way that is useful to others?
  • Do you like beets?
  • What license do you use?

Way way down at the bottom of the list, my dear.

Featured Image: Somberly converted to black and white from a single frame of Frankly My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn – Gone with the Wind (6/6) Movie CLIP (1939) HD YouTube video by Movie Clips shared with a Standard YouTube License. This of course is not cleanly openly licensed, but if I cannot use a single frame from a degraded clip of a 1939 movie to argue a point, well, strict licenses are quite uninteresting to me. That’s my point, and I attribute everything.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Hi Alan—

    I pretty much agree with you here:

    To me what you are really doing with a CC license is signaling a preference for how you wish respectful, genuine people to make use of your content. And in doing so, you should understand that there are cretins out there who will not obey. And you should find a way to be okay with that.

    Most of what I share online is released with a CC-BY-SA license to encourage others to pay it forward by sharing whatever they may do with my work. (So far all that I’m aware of anyone re-using is an audio snippet of an intellectual property law lecture* I did years ago as part of a companion CD to go along with a business English text. They were kind enough to send me a copy when it came out. It doesn’t keep me awake at night that they may have made money off my work.)

    I also use the hell out of your CC attribution helper, so thanks for that. It really is useful to me.

    I most emphatically do not like beets.

    *Fun coincidence, don’t you think?

    1. Thanks Ted, like you I generally feel BY-SA is closest to how I feel. I have a track record of swirling from CC-BY to CC BY-SA back to CC-BY and CC0. I put all my flickr photos under CC0 because it is the least restrictive, but also to push against the usual description of “public domain means you do not have to attribute” (another statement I cringe at seeing). That is the minimum condition, and when you choose not to attribute you signal to others that that’s okay. I always attribute even when I do not have to, and I get plenty of attribution got my photos when people are not required to do so.

      And no coincidence, beets are nasty, slimy, and should never be served to humans!

  2. Hi Alan,
    I remember back in 2007 finding some of the images my class of 10 year olds had made as blog headers were being hot-linked from myspace (sic) sites where they were being used as backgrounds. At the time I though this might help reinforce my nagging to attribute. I presumed that the kids would be cross someone was stealing their images. Their reaction was of course, ‘Cool!’ They loved the idea someone else though their work was worth using.
    Me I like to acknowledge and be acknowledged, remind me I exist;-)

  3. I don’t care what license people use for open content. Any of the CC licenses will work just fine for me. I personally use CC-NC because that’s my preference. You can use whatever you want.

    Where the hair-splitting comes in is when advocates of CC-by (allowing commercial use) start pronouncing that all other licenses are NOT FREE and that people shouldn’t use them. And when these people start to make policy, it’s not hair-splitting any more, it’s more like a bludgeon.

    There are two fundamentally different views of the world at work here, one where commercialization is seen as a virtue, and the other where it is not. Proponents from the Land of Commercialization need to allow that there are other things that can be virtues.

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