Jorum Blog

Re-Licensing Jorum’s Learning and Teaching Resources into the Open

Posted by on 2nd August 2011

As a means of an over-view, the following post details Jorum's ongoing activities toward re-licensing all of its current resources which carry one of the more restrictive licences: Education UK and Jorum Institutional. The bulk of our materials are supported under a Creative Commons licence, and part of our new direction is to be the UK's open national repository for learning and teaching resources, which means anyone anywhere in the world will be able access, use and repurpose what they find in Jorum.

Helen Beetham expressed at the "OER Impact in Teaching and Learning" conference back in March 2011, with regard to tracking resource use, that it is often the case that “openness is the enemy of the knowable”. In his short story “The Lottery in Babylon”, the author and once-upon-a-time librarian, Jorge Luis Borges joyfully exclaims a different take, “I have known what the Greeks do not know, incertitude”. The issue of not knowing or of living in doubt seems to be something which is all pervasive to human existence, regardless of the time. Despite our movements toward greater communication and access to so much information, we still cannot understand fully what it is that we even need to know. Drew Whitworth discusses as much in the fabulously titled, Information Obesity. The more we know does not always translate into useful information. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still try to make things as openly accessible as we can. Aside from the social welfare benefit of doing it, opening up content is increasingly becoming an important practice in higher and further education: we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from the free and open access of information in a world which is increasingly globalised, for better or worse. To that end, as I wrote in a news item regarding Jorum’s move to becoming an open national repository, we have begun the process of trying to re-license the resources, from their current restrictive licences over to a Creative Commons one, to turn them into Open Educational Resources (OERs), which can be defined as "materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified, and shared by anyone" (Stephen Downes, 2011).

In a recent Twitter exchange, a question was asked quite directly, “Is changing a licence policy something that is (legally) difficult to do after items have been deposited?” to which I can honestly say after just a relatively short time of trying to do so, “yes it is” (goodnight everybody; enjoy the veal; remember to tip your waiters and waitresses). But I think it is worth it, because although a scholar will still have to be registered in order to deposit materials into Jorum, anyone-anywhere will be able to use and repurpose those resources under a Creative Commons (CC) licence, such as non-commercial, share-alike attribution licence (or … and sorry for this those who you who hate acronyms and other seemingly idiosyncratic abbreviations: CC BY-NC-SA). However, that process of trying to re-license materials which already carry a non-CC licence is more than quite a headache!

This shift will mean that materials deposited into Jorum can have a greater and longer-lasting impact in a range of potential online and face-to-face environments, as well as in other contexts related to, but not necessarily, education. Much like the examples offered with recent discussions surrounding the Learning Registry in the United States, someone from NASA could upload a resource, which could then be freely accessed and re-purposed openly by a television network, like PBS (or the Public Broadcasting Station), which then could be used and repurposed openly by a secondary school teacher anywhere in the world, and no restrictive licences would be there to put up any barriers. In the past, licences such as Education UK, meant that those resources could only be accessed by someone actually in a UK Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) institution.

The name of the game, based on what teachers and scholars have asked for, is necessarily switching from “how can we get people to use our repository?” to “how much easier can we make the task of getting to the materials for use and repurpose anywhere?” In a world where governments and corporations are increasingly stepping up their controls and restrictions, only to find that those controls have already been by-passed, Jorum and other repositories are taking advantage of the idea that many “out in the wild” have already: the Internet is free and easy to navigate and find stuff. As a repository of learning resources, Jorum wants to remove the search bar distinction between “all resources” and “open resources” because all the resources would be open.

However, all that said, in order to get to that point, we have to do something with the stuff that is already in Jorum under those more restrictive licences. In the past, I have had discussions with scholars who have found that using material in Jorum under these licences enough to discourage them from using Jorum altogether; these licences simply imposed too many barriers, making Jorum unsuitable to their projects. The concomitant issue for Jorum now is to try to re-licence those resources to a CC licence which will allow for greater access and usability; however, that means contacting the many contributors and asking them for their permission to alter the licensing agreements of some 2300 resources!

In one sense, it may seem cumbersome but ultimately straightforward, but it is anything but. In many instances, those who uploaded the resources have moved on to new institutions or left any and all affiliations with HE or FE institutions. Some have left no forwarding address; others have moved on several times, meaning that there is a trail so tangled that it becomes its own job to break the seeming Gordian knot. Others, like Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects, are “… like that, puff. They’re gone”. In other instances, where we have been able to track down the person who deposited the resources, their materials are complicated by the fact that the packages include a myriad of 3rd party stuff; these other parties, all of whom had to have been contacted prior to the deposit, must now be contacted again, and again we find that some have moved on … yada yada yada – Keyser Söze “puff”.

In the meantime, we are also working with JISC Legal and the University of Manchester’s Intellectual Property (UMIP) department to help us make sure that we show due diligence in our attempts to contact the contributors who have gone AWOL. In order to do that, we’ve already attempted three email contacts for quite a large number of people, who have deposited a considerable portion of those 2300 resources, and based on these attempts we have created what can only be considered a tome in and of itself: a spreadsheet with dates of emails being sent out, responses (if any); if the email was bounced back, we are showing what we did next, i.e., sending out another email to a new email address or contacting the institution of any contact details. And now, making phone calls. Part of the problem here is that, although some of the resources are owned by the host institution because the depositor produced them “in the course of employment”, they can only be removed or re-licensed by the person who deposited them. We are working on a migration tool to assist in this, but even then we are often at the mercy of trying to find someone who can or is willing to give permission to re-license.

In the end, we’ve been told that we are on the right track and are doing exactly what we need to be doing, and we will continue to try to contact these people in the months to come in order to make these resources openly available.

What happens next is that, those resources not re-licensed will be hidden; the individual contributors will be able to see them when they log in and click “Deposits”, but no other users will be able to access them. At some point within the next few months, if any of those individuals cannot be contacted, we will meet again with the intellectual property people to do a risk assessment and discuss which resources should be opened up (some may be out of date, which will make the decision a bit easier). Hopefully, by then, we will have contacted everyone and they will have responded one way or another, with a “yes” or a “no”. In the end, as we’ve learned from all this work, when dealing with the risks covering intellectual property, you get the same answer as the classic reply to any query in economics: “it all depends”. Law certainly is distinctly not a slippery discipline, but it is one where we need to remain almost always in the grey.

In addition to all that, we are also monitoring to see if there is any requirement from users for a more restrictive licence, such as Education UK. Right now, those resources which carry it amount to under 70 individual pieces, so we really are responding to the majority of what scholars and teachers are asking for. If an organisation knocked on our door tomorrow with a large quantity of content to share under a non-open licence, we would want to be in a position to think about how we might accommodate such content. As our Director, Dr. Jackie Carter wrote, "Jorum is changing, and [...] we are holding on to the things that are good about Jorum as well as changing in response to new requirements."

What this rationale boils down to regarding this seemingly sisyphean task is that Jorum believes in the value of the resources themselves in the repository, and we believe and are fully invested in the value of being open; the difficulty remains in making those two values work with one another in order to meet the needs and requests of its users, as well as try to anticipate future needs. As we move toward the transition day of 1 August 2011, when Jorum will be hosted by Mimas, we are continuing to work toward the goals and vision announced back in May, all the while ensuring that the intellectual property rights attached to so many useful resources are protected, if required, and, as the Open Knowledge Foundation stresses, “helping to build tools and communities to create, use and share open knowledge, content and data that everyone can use, build on and share.”

So, to conclude, as a call to action then, we'd like to hear from you about your take on going open and how we can best serve the communities of practice involved with OERs. As Amber Thomas wrote, the continued and re-newed presence of Jorum will "allow for exploration, and [we] hope that those who believe in the value of a central service will continue to use Jorum and bring your feedback and expertise to bear." We acknowledge that other institutional repositories have done much the same thing, and if there are any tips or suggestions for us, we'd like to hear from you.

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