Laptops for kids

Friday, December 16, 2005

Open Standards; and thoughts on copyright

CETIS-Patents, Open Standards and Open Source It seems that the European Union has came up with a definition of Open Standards in 2002. Since OLPC will be deploying Open Source at an unprecedented large scale, and will seek to use open standards where they are available, that definition might come in handy later.

One issue I have been thinking about is copyright of learning materials such as Computer-Aided Instruction learning modules (or what the IEEE standards call "learning objects"). I just sat-in on the last two days of a DepEd workshop to produce Math and Science CAI modules for the Bridge Program. It tapped the teachers and administrators who completed the Masters of IT Education (granted by PNU and UA&P), I think as part of a NEAP project.

The participants seem to have made a lot of progress, and were confident that they could have materials ready by the summer. One of the issues that they raised was about copyright, and the DepEd officials clearly stated that the copyright would belong to DepEd.However, there is still the issue of how the copyrights would be licensed out. I suggested that they look into the Creative Commons licenses. Perhaps the materials should be licensed out on a Attribution- NonCommercial- ShareAlike license (there is a draft Philippine version of this license prepared by Arellano University's e-Law Center). They could also offer an alternative license (with a small royalty) to commercial products that might want to bundle their materials, to encourage the emergence of commercial providers.

I plan to come back to this issue of copyright and licensing in a later post. Comments will encourage me to hurry up.

Basically I think DepEd should commission at least two text books for each subject area where not just the final form but even the source code (e.g. XML content and stylesheets) are licensed under different Creative Commons licenses. Then it should allocate the budget to purchase (at a locally reasonable price) related content (CAI modules, enrichment materials, reference books) in softcopy, both from self-published authors and from commercial publishing houses. Later, upgraded textbooks can be purchased from the commercial market, and DepEd may want to get out of the business of owning textbook copyrights.

Or it may want to own one or two versions of a textbook for each subject, so that it can license them for free to the poorest school districts in the country, and define a floor in terms of content and quality that every author-publisher will have to exceed if the want to sell their products to the majority of schools and school districts that have the budget to buy them.

I think the economics of publishing is changing drastically because of the radically different production economies of softcopy delivery. If we want to genuinely encourage creative intellectual output, as copyright law was intended to do, rather than just protect the rentier income of powerful commercial publishers at the expense of creative authors and the buying public, we should look to seeing the bulk of income from the price of the book going to the authors, and not the publishers. There will be a certain amount of disintermediation, but I think commercial publishing and distribution will have a continuing role. The publishers-distributors have the opportunity to earn income from support services (website advertising, with premium subscription fees optionally bundled with the softcopy materials, and call-center support).


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