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April 14, 2011

Halfway through the reading of Tuomi’s OECD report about Open Educational Resources (OER) from 2006, I’m already thinking fast over copyright law. It is an historical irony that the original 14 years from the british “Statute of Anne” are now commonly 140 (70 + 70). What makes things even more strange is the attempt to go over the board with digital versions. When one buys a book, at least the object becomes property and there are certain rights attached, like one being able to lent it. This is what makes libraries possible (and even that right was already under atack a few years ago). But digital versions, with DRM, are at the limit, no one’s property. Legally, the holder of the copyright can remove the right after some time.

An example could make things more clear: the newspaper. If you buy one, or if you subscribe to one, you get physical copies that you can archive. If you buy or subscribe electronically, nothing is yours after the subscription expires. You cannot browse the archives anymore. There is even what I think as an uncertainty over the property of any pdf versions (if available) you archive for whatever reason you can think of.

What are we, as a society, missing here? Definitely, the original idea of the copyright: a balance between the benefits everyone should get from the work done and the needs of education of the population at large. It is, in a sense, an irony that we live in an era of openness, granted to us by the internet, to keep things simple. At the same time, the legal access to thoughts and ideas from people living in the last, say it, 100 years are under a blockade. If one does not have enough money to buy the books, or does not have the special privileges granted by being in an educational institution with wide (legal) access to works, both digital and in the form of books, one is out of luck.

This sort of marginality, or exclusion, is one of the big questions in these times. Because we are talking of huge numbers of people that do not live in developed countries, and also about economical minorities living in such countries. This is, among others, a strong argument in favor of the promotion of OERs.

Tuomi, Ilkka (2006). Open Educational Resources: What they are and why do they matter (Report prepared for the OECD)

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