Sharing is Caring

Two dogs carrying a large stick together

My name is Ana – I am a third year mathematics student and I am just about to finish my third week working as Open Content Curator Intent in the Educational Design and Engagement department of the University  – that’s a long and capitalised way of saying I am helping to turn resources made across the university into open educational resources to be published online for anyone to use and adapt for free.

I must admit that before applying for this job I had pretty much no idea that the University even did this.  I knew we did outreach projects in the various schools having been involved in some with the School of Mathematics, but I didn’t actually realise that the university made resources available online.

What I have realised over the last few weeks working on this is that nothing happens in isolation.  Almost anything we might want to make requires outside resources: images, academic texts, diagrams, videos… the list goes on.  What allows us to make educational resources for free is the incredible wealth of resources already made and shared. 

This is where the creative commons comes in.  Creative commons licenses allow people to share their work – and importantly; to easily communicate which rights they reserve and which rights they waive for the benefit of other creators.  There are a variety of licenses, detailing whether the creator allows commercial use of their product, adaptation of their product and various combinations thereof.  But my favourite has to be CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike). Sounds cool right? Right…? Ok so it sounds boring. But I will hopefully explain why it isn’t weird to have a favourite copyright license.

I can understand the inclination to cling on to the ownership of work. Sharing is great! We all love sharing.  But when someone actually wants some of your stuff? Something that you own… well, we might not be so keen.  From photography to writing to making music, creative processes take time and effort and skill that you have decided to dedicate to something, and the idea of someone coming along and just using it for whatever purpose they might like is slightly offensive!  But think about how you made your work in the first place? How did you find inspiration? Did you struggle to find images you were allowed to use? Did you find useful articles blocked by paywalls? Collaboration is at the heart of our progress as a society and without it we would all be losing out.

Even when people do decide to license their work with a creative commons license, they often decide on a no derivatives license where people can’t change the work, or a non commercial license.  Of course these are legitimate choices but the great thing about CC BY-SA is that people can use it in whatever way they want – all they have to do is credit the author (all CC licenses require this) and they must license the work they make with it in the same way.  So if you’re worried about someone taking your work and using it to make an expensive product, while they could do this, they would also have to make it available for free and license it with a CC BY-SA license! That’s the part that makes it my favourite.  It keeps the creative cycle going! It means more work is being added to collective resources available to the world.

So in a world of intellectual property and trademarks and companies claiming ownership over colours and common words, in a small way, licensing work like this helps to make the world a little more open. 

Cover image is Hunde 2013-05-05-2807 by Slick (Wikimedia) licensed under CC BY 4.0 (modified)