All around the world, educational institutions are recognizing the value of freely sharing educational curricula, content, learning activities and tools, as well as collaborating in their further development and extension under the umbrella of open educational resources (OER). OER is generally defined as educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and, under some licenses – to re-mix, to improve and to redistribute. This week, UNESCO is hosting the global OER congress in Paris, yet, the OER world is in a mess, with one of the key features of OER - reuse - largely being ignored by OER producers.
Having been involved in Free and Open Educational Resources strategy development in two higher education institutions, I am sharing here the recommendations regarding the choice of a license. Two particular restrictions should be avoided unless they are absolutely necessary: NonCommercial (NC) and NoDerivatives (ND).
1. Where no immediate commercial revenue is expected
The default license for content produced should be the Creative Commons Attribution (by) or Attribution-Share Alike (by-sa) licence. These are the licences that most respects freedom, by allowing copying for any purpose and production of derivative works. The second option requires that those derivative works are made available under identical terms. It is this restriction that ensures any derivative works, even if done for commercial purposes, come back to the author and the community. If you are concerned about commercial abuse, this is a far better means to prevent it than using the NonCommercial restriction.
2. Where content is expected to be published commercially
The appropriate licence is Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial or Attribution-ShareAlike-NonCommercial (by-sa-nc), which allows content to be copied and - in the second case - extended for non-commercial purposes only. It may seem counter-intuitive, but content published in this manner generally earns greater revenue from sales than content published under full copyright (perhaps give an example here). Following the elapse of a period of time after which commercial revenue is unlikely, to be gained, the licence will revert to Attribution (by) or Attribution-ShareAlike (by-sa) even for work in this category. The recommended time period is 5 years, but the authors are obviously free to alter this to a shorter or longer period depending on circumstances. This is the only legitimate use of the NonCommercial restriction, all other uses produce undesirable results.
3. Where derivative works are not appropriate, such as when the item is an opinion piece
The appropriate licence under is Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives (by-nd), which permits only verbatim copying. This is the only legitimate use of the NoDerivatives restriction that I can think of, but it has unfortunately crept into some OER materials for no obvious reason, or for reasons that are perceived but probably not true.
If OER producers cannot get the license right so that it permits reuse, then OER is largely irrelevant. Indeed, badly licensed OER is probably as bad or worse then 'all rights reserved' use of copyright.
See http://freedomdefined.org/Definition for more information.