16 September 2016

Creative Commons—Criticised

Ever since I ventured into the world of pedagogical technology/tech integration I have never ceased to be amazed at the way that so many tech integrators wear the Creative Commons (CC) thing like a badge of honour, it annoyed me then, and it annoys me now. A simple bit of Googling will reveal that I am not alone in my criticism, although John Dvorak's stinging criticism of Creative Commons puts into words all of my concerns better than I could or will attempt to do in this post, not to mention this post by Kent Anderson. My concerns here are as an educator who feels constantly pressured by a minority of 'techie types' to push this agenda in my practice. There are few examples better of the way tech types can lose contact with the reality of the classroom than this. So here it is, TEN reasons (in no particular order of importance) why Creative Commons drives me crazy.

Reality Check #1

Ignoring Google for image searches is inauthentic and quite frankly ridiculous. Look, I hate to break it to you, but the stunning fact is that anyone (other than members of the cult of CC) who is looking for an image to adorn any aspect of their digital practice will ... GOOGLE it. That's it, expecting anyone, but especially kids not to use Google but instead search for inferior images in obscure (to most people) corners of the Web really is ridiculous.

Reality Check #2

If IT interferes with the actual goal of teaching and learning, the actual curriculum content, forget IT (geddit?). When I send my kids on an image scavenger hunt (eg find images of 5 famous people on the internet who inspire you) I don't care about CC, I care about their grappling with the key concepts and content, so I want my students to google it, not CC it. To pursue CC practice you will effectively turn what should be a 10 minute activity, into a 40 minute trawl accompanied by tedious (not to mention ugly) attribution. The focus effectively sifts away from the content and onto the technology, the tool, this misses the point; the tech should be the medium, not the message.

Reality Check #3

It's theft? Nonsense. Can we please STOP lying to our kids? While a handful of CC activists relentlessly pursue their moral crusade, the rest of us in the real world will need to figure out how best to work within a web where 'Piracy' is rampant,  symptomatic of deeper issues that are a great deal more complex than the simplistic arguments pushed by those who should know better. Paul Tassi over at Forbes, explains this nicely:

"Piracy is not raiding and plundering Best Buys and FYEs, smashing the windows and running out with the loot. It’s like being placed in a store full of every DVD in existence. There are no employees, no security guards, and when you take a copy of movie, another one materializes in its place, so you’re not actually taking anything. If you were in such a store, you’d only have your base moral convictions to keep you from cloning every movie in sight. And anyone who knows how to get to this store isn’t going to let their conscience stop them, especially when there is no tangible “loss” to even feel bad about.
It’s not a physical product that’s being taken. There’s nothing going missing, which is generally the hallmark of any good theft. The movie and music industries’ claim that each download is a lost sale is absurd. I might take every movie in that fictional store if I was able to, but would I have spent $3 million to legally buy every single DVD? No, I’d probably have picked my two favorite movies and gone home. So yes, there are losses, but they are miniscule compared to what the companies actually claim they’re losing."

Reality Check #4

If you don't want it stolen (or used) simple‚ secure it. Now I can accept that there are 'starving artists' out there who desperately need to paid for the work they do, well ... if you want to get paid for it, you need to take some basic steps to secure your own intellectual property, just like you would do with your physical property—lets face it, it's not hard to watermark an image, or only use low res images for browsing purposes (these are just two examples from many). Look, I own a car, motorbike, and a bicycle, but when I park them I ... LOCK them, to prevent their theft, if you're going to put your content out there, without restriction, then you can expect it to get used; in fact I operate on the assumption that the images thrown up by Google fall in this category, either free to use (public domain‚ and let's face it, domains don't come much more public than Google search results), or the owner doesn't really care—like the newspaper I perused the other day that some other kind soul left on the train, the friend's book I've borrowed, the DVD I watched at a relatives abode, my public Picasa albums, this is fair use. More on that later... 

Reality Check #5

Not everyone is bothered about getting credit. In fact in the 'real world' the norm, especially amongst teachers, is to 'freely receive freely give'. When I share teaching resources with teachers, do I expect to be cited or credited? No. Why does it matter to me that a bunch of people I don't know, have never met, and likely never will meet don't know that I created it? My name, my credit, my status are not important here, I would rather my content gets used regardless of who gets credit, that's the goal, not status, not ego, but helping others with materials I had to create for myself anyway—I'd rather they got used than languish in obscurity. So my resources are out there, free to use, granted I used images I acquired freely via Google, and for that reason I'm happy for the content I 'remix' or repurpose to be used likewise, it would be rather hypocritical of me if I didn't. Let's face it if you really believe that everything you create is truly—never been seen/done before—unique, I am sorry to say it, but you are naive my friend, and you need to watch the 'Everything is a Remix' videos, and/or the TED talk ASAP.
"If I write something on my blog, for example, and decide not to cover it with the general copyright notice, I can simply say that it is in the public domain and be done with it. I do not need permission from Creative Commons, nor do I need to mention Creative Commons or anything else. It's in the public domain by my personally allowing it to be so. This is my right! I don't need a middleman—a Creative Commons Commissar—to approve my decision. And yet there is this perception that I do." (Dvorak, 1995)

Reality Check #6

Not all content is created equal. There is a big difference between the use (and reuse/repurposing) of text and use of image. When we're watching someone's amazing, riveting, bullet point riddled PowerPoint, I do not assume that any images contained therein are images they created themselves or 'own', in fact, like most people, I believe, we assume the opposite; the images they use to illustrate their work are not theirs unless they say otherwise. BUT, the same can not be said to be true for their writing... Any writing in a published piece of work is assumed to be the creation of the author unless is appropriately cited; put simply, copyright is a very different issue to plagiarism, let's not convolute this issue by confusing them. So, as far as I'm concerned I accept the reasons why it is important to cite text but don't feel the need to attribute images I found in a 'public domain'.

Reality Check #7

Attribution is not simple, and it is not age appropriate. In a primary school, just teaching 8 year old kids how to search for an image in the default search window is tricky enough without further complicating things by making them only search specific types of databases, and of course extending that practise home is even more tricky. A CC search doesn't even aggregate images, so kids could need to go to literally 10 different sources  (Europeana, Fotopedia, etc.) to search effectively for one image. CC attribution in relation to their licences and and the permutations thereof are complex (not to mention contentious). CC is understood by very few people, especially the permutations of the six types of attributable licences that may be applied. Are we really expected to get into this with school kids, and their teachers who are struggling to rename a folder? Sounds like misplaced priorities to me.

Reality Check #8

Most of us are not living in the USA. US copyright law does not have global jurisdiction. For example Singapore (where I live and work) have their own version of 'fair use' copyright law, called 'fair dealings':

Permitted Acts
12.1.11    The CA has several provisions permitting certain acts which do not constitute copyright infringements. These acts are intended to strike a fair balance between the interest of copyright owners and the public interest. They include acts (popularly known as “fair dealings”) for the purposes of research and study, criticism or review, and reporting current events.

'The effect on the potential market' being a critical element. The use by our kids of Google images, has/does and will not effect the market potential, ie I'm not charging for these, and they're not losing income by my use of them, there is no way I could have paid for any of them even if I wanted to, as actually locating the original copyright holder is very difficult, and certainly not something I would encourage primary school kids to do, "Hey kids, email <complete and utter Internet stranger> and ask if you can use their Flickr image: ... ? No way. And yet this is exactly the advice I hear CC proponents giving. No, really.

Reality Check #9

This is not a legal issue, it is a moral one. We're no longer talking about a question of blind adherence to law, we're now engaged in a moral argument instead. And that's where I get uncomfortable, I have all sorts of moral positions I keep to myself, and I feel that this is a case in point. It feels too much like someone else's moral perspective being forced upon me.

Let's face the FACT (see what I did there?) that this is a moral issue, and accept that like many moral issues there are nuances to these arguments that are perhaps best not placed in the hands of a teacher who just wants their kids to find a picture of a Pol Pot and Mother Theresa (probably not in the same image) for a project illustration.

What with T-Shirts and passionate evangelism, the proponents of CC sound a lot more like religious activists than people who are serious about engaging in the nexus of technological tools, pedagogy, and subject content (TPACK). So, like fundamentalist religious beliefs, let's keep moralising to ourselves, and please, keep it out of the classroom, the rest of us (yes I'm a 'fundamentalist'—but about what?) manage to do that, all I'm asking is that CC fundamentalists do likewise.
Fundamentalist: A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views... 

Reality Check #10

Treatment of virtual and actual property needs to be consistent. If we're going to continue down this road of virtual content as 'property' are we going to follow through? No more lending of books, DVDs to friends, no use of any music you 'own' (you don't own it) purchasing your media in multiple formats, that film on DVD, mp4 and Blue Ray—things will get very tricky very quickly.

A case in point: I'm currently reading a book given to me by a friend, of course he read it himself first, but now will I purchase that book? No. And what if he picked up the book in a used book store in Phuket (like I often do), that's two purchases the publisher (with 10% to the author) will never see, and if I pass my copy on to someone else?

The point is the book is a COPY, and ownership of a copy is a very different matter to intellectual ownership, ie at no point in this little chain of exchange did anyone assume that any of the parties was actually the author of the book; likewise with images found on the Internet. In my experience the people who shout loudest about intellectual property do so because they are oblivious of its complexity and its irrationality, and is there any chance that they have no problem with loaning copies of their books (et al) to their friends?

Creative Commons Conclusions

In the interest of keeping an open mind, I have tried to embrace CC... this post is largely the result of the frustrations of those attempts. Whenever I have attempted to restrict myself to CC images, the pickings were very poor, so I voted with my feet, and went back to Google.

The images I found in CC sources were generally, well, less than useful; I'm not looking for pretty desktop 'wallpaper', I'm looking for a powerful image to illustrate a point. Like 'problem solving' 'frustration' 'gaming' 'balance' the images in CC = useless, Google = awesome.

All of my presentations definitely fall within the legal definition of:

"for the purposes of research and study, criticism or review, and reporting current events"

Like one I worked on about Gaming - where I needed to illustrate all sorts of things, lots of game covers for starters, COD4 etc., but also images of kids gaming, broken tennis racquets, frustration, anger, joy, flow, boss fights, screen shots of recommended websites (that incorporate incidental trademarks). But I need powerful images to make my point, my Keynotes are about 90% images, 10% text. Does anyone really expect me to talk about the pros and cons of COD in a presentation and not have an image of the game covers under discussion on display? I mean check out these puppies, I got for a search on 'call of duty'. Or ironically I could get this, which is listed as 'Showing Creative Commons-licensed content' but clearly is NOT.

More to the point, most of the game covers I showed will more than likely be purchased by parents in the audience, for their children, specifically because of my recommendation. So my use of non CC images, far from conflicting with a 'potential market' is actually creating a potential market.

I actually began the laborious process of finding those images (about 80 in total so far) in good faith, using CC, Wikicommons etc, all added to my search engine list, and it was/is dire. It quickly became apparent that it was/is utterly impractical.

Would I encourage expecting this from my students when I can't cope? No way.

Fair use is most likely our best solution...

fair use
(in US copyright law) The doctrine that brief excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder

Free & Easy

It all boils down to the old adage—Do as you would be done by—or another one, from one of my favourite books, "Freely you have received, freely give". From time to time I find myself forced into creating content, only because a thorough trawl of the web yields nothing suitable, so I find what I can, create what I can't find and cobble it all together (remix) to make something fit for purpose—do I smother it in CC? No, I don't—it's out there, it's public, help yourself, sure it would be nice if you gave me credit for creating it, but do I really care that a bunch people somewhere who I don't know, that I've never met, and I most likely never will, heard or read my name? Not really.

Do I want my work to go further than myself? Absolutely. 

Do I condone anyone stealing someone else's intellectual property? Absolutely not. 

There is a world of difference between copying and repurposing content, and copying and pretending that you are the original creator/author of it. Blurring these boundaries with confusing and condescending 'creative [not so] commons' is not helping anyone, least of all the creators [and REcreators] of content themselves, and certainly the not their teachers, the vast majority of whom ignore it or are oblivious of it anyway.


  1. Good share! I notice the CC fad in the international school sphere and the CC fad reminds me of any "green" fad, highly cultural and contextualized, and always ambiguous: there are people and schools that have enough time to think about and to learn about these things; for a school or a teacher that is putting out small fires everywhere everyday, understanding or adhering to CC is a great change. So we don't see these fads in all school ecologies around the world. We do see them in highly competitive schools that benefit well from legalism and adherence to the rule of law.

    Thanks for poking holes in CC by drawing borders around the concept. The more the concept is specified, the more ridiculously it can become. Have you considered presenting this to the edtech community at a conference? Boil down the bullet points further and see how it goes? I think there is a sympathetic audience in the community for this message, but they need someone to draw them out!

    1. Thanks David, I like your comparison with the whole Green movement, I'm guessing we could add a few others like vegetarianism, violence in the media, and now the Zimmerman debacle—but the CC thing is particularly insidious with it's flag waving and iconography.

      Nice idea—the problem this is a very sensitive subject, you'll notice I've posted this under my own name, not in relation to my official professional role, one of the reasons why I felt I needed my own blog, so I could speak frankly about issues like this.

      But yes, you're right, and I would love to be able to raise this subject with an audience of my peers, the problem is my next platform is very much run by CC activists who would never let me present on this ... But I will bide my time!

  2. Some thoughts- www.jabizraisdana.com/blog/from-mine-to-ours/

    1. Jabiz remixed

      take me
      use me
      share me
      [re] mix me

      those ideas
      these words
      the painted
      scrawling blathering
      moves us from
      mine to ours.
      i can feel it in you
      just as you’re feeling
      it in me:
      nothing original
      [everything and nothing is] new
      nothing owned
      everything [and nothing] free.
      dancing derivatives
      denizens of a developing
      unattached and untethered
      blurred and modified
      copied and copied and copied.

      give and take [iterate]
      remix and build and [re]create
      and share and evolve.

      call me an idealist
      and I will call you one too.
      take me
      use me
      share me
      i’m [already] ready to be
      [re]made into you,
      as i take you into me
      and carve a we.
      no [to no]
      no [creative] control
      no [creative] commons

      this is freedom
      this is sharing
      this is free

      give credit where credit is due
      [or not—it's up to you]
      take [it, break it, remake it, retake] it
      this [re]new[ed] thing,
      [...] belongs to neither you [n]or me
      give it away and let a third voice sing it free.

      everything i think
      i feel and create
      is there for you:
      use it,
      adapt it
      share it.
      give it away once you’re done with it,
      tell people where you found it

      or don't.
      credit or take the credit.
      the choice is yours.

      created by Jabiz
      [recreated by a proteanteacher]