tl:dr Publicly funded materials should be openly licensed materials
It is day 2 of the BC open Geography textbook sprint (follow along via blog, Twitter or Flickr). I’m hunkered down with some Geography faculty who are working extremely hard to create a first-year open Geography textbook in 4 days.
The book is very regional, using British Columbia specific case studies, and I’ve been working with our librarian and the faculty to source openly licensed BC specific Geography resources to use in our openly licensed textbook (it will be released with a CC-BY license). The problem is we keep finding useable materials on our own provincial government websites that are protected by copyright and not openly licensed.
Why is this a problem? Well, we can’t use it. We have made a commitment to release anything we create under a Creative Commons license to make it as reusable and shareable as possible.
Now, we could go through the hoops and hurdles and fill out forms and ask the government for permission to use the resources. And we just might get permission to use them for the context of this one book. But anyone who would want to reuse the book down the line would have to go back to the copyright holder (the provincial government), most likely fill out those same forms, wait, and then renegotiate the rights to reuse those resources. It’s not impossible, but a significant barrier to reuse.
Or, we could negotiate to use them in the book with the caveat that anyone down the road would need to remove the copyrighted content, which means that the book is not as complete as it could be. Again, doable, but a barrier for reuse that weakens the book.
We could ask the government to release the content under a Creative Commons license. They may or may not do that. But that will take time and there is no guarantee that it will happen. We need to make a decision about what resources we want to use now. 4 days.
But what bothers me the most is that here we have a project that would benefit the citizens of British Columbia by giving them access to a free learning resource and we cannot use resources that those same citizens have paid for. We have paid to create resources like the charts and graphs in this report, or this historical image from the BC Archives, or this one. And there is this map and this one – resources that would be useful for our Geography textbook. Yet these resources are virtually unusable because they were not released with an open license.
How much more bang for our buck could the taxpayers of BC get if these resources were allowed to be used in other contexts that benefited the citizens of BC?
So, what is the final result? The content is not being used. It is being passed over in favour of openly licensed content. The barriers worked, and that feels like such an unfortunate and unnecessary waste.
The opposite case: Government of Canada
For every frustration I have had with trying to use BC government resources, I have had nothing but success with the federal government. Every resource we have looked at using in the textbook has been openly licensed. We are able to use data, graphs and charts from Stats Canada, and maps from the Atlas of Canada, all openly licensed for reuse. There is a wealth of primary source information that our Geography faculty are using as the basis for the textbook. It has been hugely encouraging to see how much data and information our federal government is releasing and allowing reuse of.
Now obviously, there are important open government initiatives underway in this province, like, uh, well, you know – this little open project that I am working on and DataBC. But I hope that these open initiatives are just the start in British Columbia and that someday in the near future when we are creating more open educational resources that will benefit the citizens of BC, we’ll have the ability to freely use, reuse and redistribute content from our own provincial government.
Image: Day 1 by BCCampus released under a CC-BY-SA 2 license