A Copyright Tale

My friend @robwall sent me this tweet a couple of days ago:

The image that (currently) previews in that tweet isn’t the original photo that was posted to this Ars Technica article. Originally, the article featured an image of my three children engaging in a Facetime conversation with my dad. I released this image under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA), one that requires attribution, non-commercial use, and that the license remains the same even if someone adapts the photograph. Below is a screenshot of the original photo placement in the article, and you should notice that attribution is not provided. This seemed particularly ironic as the content of the article deals with intellectual property, and the author writes prolifically on these topics.


Shortly after I received the tweet from Rob, I sent the author a tweet and posted a comment on the article. Essentially, I was fine with Ars Technica using the photograph, was happy to provide permission for non-commercial use, but urged Ars to provide proper attribution for the image. While it took several hours for a response (which I think is quite reasonable), I eventually received this tweet from the author, @joemullin.

I was pleased with the response. I don’t see this as theft. I recognize that this could easily have been an oversight. And apologizing publicly is not easy for many. So, I respect Joe for that and appreciate the transparency in his response.

Shortly after this tweet for Joe, I also received an email from the editor. I have pasted the text of this email below, and respond to it here.

Hi, I’m the creative director for Ars. First off, let me apologize for the oversight on your image credit. Our policy is always to credit and link all CC licensed photos, a quick glance at some other stories on our site should show the credit below the image. This was simply a mistake, didn’t mean for you to feel ripped off or cheated in any way.

Thanks Aurich. I’m happy with your swift response. Personally, I do not feel ripped off or cheated as I don’t feel a strong sense of ownership for the content that I create. However, the lack of attribution cheats your readership (the general public). While it may not seem like a big deal in the case of this single photograph, I feel that proper attribution is essential in providing others with the origin, adaptions, and travels of an artefact or idea. I love seeing that my work is useful for others. But, without attribution, we silence potential conversations around the matter and the context of ideas/artefacts being shared.

Let me also apologize for using an image that must resonate with you emotionally right now, definitely not our intention. I prefer that our writers not use photos of people from Flickr, even when licensed clearly for use, they’re not professional models and it can sometimes come out badly. Better to stick with licensed stock art for that kind of thing when possible.

If you missed it here’s the public apology from the author:

I appreciate that Joe has made this statement publicly.


Our policy is to just immediately pull any image if someone claims the rights to it and objects. We don’t even verify they own it, better safe than sorry. So in this case your photo was immediately pulled once your comment was seen.


The response was as timely as could be expected on a Saturday.


I also want to address the non-commercial license issue, it’s a bit of a mess as far as sorting out what it means. My understanding from lawyers (I’m certainly not one) is that CC licenses under “non commercial” are fair use for editorial purposes, even if the site in question also operates as a for-profit entity (so banner ads etc). Understandably some people might be 100% fine with that, and others might object because it doesn’t meet the spirit of what they thought they were putting up under that license.
So Joe wasn’t ignoring your license, he was just doing what he was told is fair game.


The NC licensing is clearly tricky. I’ve written about it here. The comments on the post also demonstrate how confusing NC licenses may be.


I really mention this though to say that it’s a pretty common industry practice, and if that bothers you then you might want to reconsider what CC license you use for some of your photos. I would hope that everyone would pull a photo down immediately if requested, but you still have to find out they’re using it first.


I continue to license all of my content, personal and professional, under Creative Commons licenses. My professional work typically falls under BY/SA licenses. However, I add the NC clause to my personal photos. In doing this, I find that people are more likely then to a) use my works under clearly non-commercial circumstances, b) avoid these works because of the uncertainty, or c) ask permission (as in the case of Nokia in the post I shared). This seems to provide me with a bit more control of the work in my personal domain.


If I can help with anything else please let me know, I wanted to reach out to you directly once I was made aware of the issue. We’re grateful for people who share their photos for use, we don’t have a photography staff or art department, and we’d be poorer off without that generosity. Any time there’s any kind of issue with the system I want to make sure all parties feel like we take their concerns seriously.
Thanks for your time, and sorry for the mixup.


I am very appreciative of your thorough and thoughtful response. I do believe it was just an oversight as it seemed unusual for an Ars article. I know that several educators have voiced their interest in using this story to discuss copyright and public/Internet discourse  in their own classrooms. So, I am actually quite glad this happened. Thanks.


Considering CC-NonCommercial?

About a year ago, I posted a short video on Flickr of my daughter that captured her first moments riding a bicycle without training wheels. When I post images or video to Flickr, I usually assign a Creative Commons license, specifically a Non-Commercial, Attribution, Share-Alike (NC-ATT-SA). When I share moments like this online, I do so for a number of reasons. First, there’s the obvious reason that I like making moments like this accessible to my close friends and family. Second, while I could password protect such videos to share with only a small group, I also like to share such moments with many of my trusted friends from around the world (of which there are too many to list). And third, I believe that in carefully discriminating what to post online and what to avoid, I may, in some ways, demonstrate and model responsible citizenship and personal identity management for my children. Now, not everyone feels as comfortable in posting such photographs and videos online as I do. But in the spirit of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, I ask you not to necessarily buy what I do, but if anything, buy why I do it.

So, several months after posting the video of my daughter, I received a Facebook message from a representative of Stalkr.tv regarding licensing the video clip. At first, I thought this was going to be some sort of Nigerian 419 scam, but after I performed some careful research about the individual and the company, I ended up licensing the clip to the agency for a new Nokia commercial.

Now, with all the thousands of clips and images I have shared, this is the first time I have ever been paid for something. It may never happen again nor has money ever been a consideration. But, I can think of hundreds of instances where my work, my images, or my videos have shown up elsewhere for educational purposes. For instance, Raj Boora just notified me today that one of my images showed up in this education-related post. While the attribution format could have been a bit more direct (as noted by D’Arcy Norman), I am happy to see my photos being used to help express such ideas.

I guess I should get to the point. I have heard the argument from many people over the years that they didn’t feel right just ‘giving away’ all of their ‘stuff’. For me, I am happy to give away my work, especially if it is found useful, and ideally, if others add to the work or improve it. But if that is not enough for those who refuse to consider Creative Commons licenses, perhaps they should also know that with this CC-NC licensed clip, my daughter now has a very healthy start to her College fund.

Visualizing Open/Networked Teaching: Revisited

I recently posted a developing framework for open/networked teaching. In the post, I introduced a working definition for open teaching, and two diagrams; analogies to inform the open classroom and the emerging role of the educator. This ‘revisited’ post provides revisions to these preliminary ideas, reflections on what was learned, and insight into why developing thoughts ‘in the open’ is an important process for (personal) learning.

Working Revisions:
Knowledge is both a process and product. Improvements to my framework were fostered by the conversation around the previous post.

Working Definition of Open Teaching:
First, as I have thought for some time now, and as Dave Cormier challenges, the term ‘teaching’ in ‘open teaching’ is problematic. This problem was also voiced by Sui Fai John Mak in the comments of the previous post. I have lamented that I would rather use the term ‘open education’ (to include those that do not regard themselves as ‘teachers’), but that term has already a distinct meaning. For now, the problem remains unsolved. Does anyone have suggestions for an appropriate ‘catch-all’ term for educators (teachers, professors, instructors, lecturers) who increasingly use and advocate for open and networked forms of teaching and learning in educational environments. Or, is ‘open teaching’ good enough for now? Do we need to get hung up on a term? I look forward to the day when we do not have to distinguish among educators who facilitate learning this way; when ‘open education’ is simply ‘education’.

That note, leads me right into the next big observation regarding my thoughts on the subject so far. It was observed by both Richard Schwier & Silvia Straka that my ideas on open teaching were intensely value-laden. While these comments did not seem written as distinct criticisms, it really did alert me (as I often forget) the basic assumptions regarding teaching, learning, and society that ‘openness’ encompasses. A few of the most prominent assumptions in my work include:

    * the importance of information and communications technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning;
    * the relevance of critical media and technological literacy as a way to expose and deconstruct power and influence by consumers/adopters;
    * a strong focus on social learning, collaboration, and group growth (as a means for individual growth); and,
    * the nurturing and preservation of a free and open knowledge society, where access to information and knowledge is a basic human right (where proprietary knowledge & ownership are dramatically reduced, or ousted altogether).

While this latter point may seem radical, I found that my thoughts on the subject were not nearly as radical as others would have liked. Commenters Minhaaj Rehman, Steve Foerster, and Charles Evans (collectively) argued for a position beyond Creative Commons licensing and to advocate for public domain dedication (no restrictions to users/consumers). I do not oppose public domain dedication at all, in fact, I believe it to be a pure form of gifting within the knowledge economy. However, my support for Creative Commons licensing is based on these important premises.

    * Creators are given a choice of what licenses to waive or to keep. (I feel this is important for artistic works, although my position flips when it comes to life, death, economics, poverty, education, e.g., genetic/pharmaceutical patents, some educational resources). In my work as a professor, I am able to give up rights to my work through copyleft licenses and still get paid. Those who earn their living through the sale of books, music, poetry, etc., should not be required to waive their rights to support their livelihood. Yes, many fine lines exist.
    * I believe that attribution is vital to the history and progression of ideas in society. A simple ‘attribution’ requirement is not too much to ask for most work.
    * Creative works, in at least the current political and economic economies of Canada and the US, are often produced because of existing monetary incentives. This is not to defend the capitalist system, but rather to explain that an entire reality (e.g., copyists, copyleft licenses, pirates) are reactive channels to current, restrictive conditions (e.g., intellectual ‘property’), not components of an alternative, viable economy in and of itself.

It is also important to know that a true Public Domain designation is not legally possible in many nations. The new Creative Commons Zero license (CC0) is about as close as creators can get in some jurisdictions (here are the details).

From these critiques, and others, I will continue to improve the working definition of ‘open teaching’ (or whatever it may be designated as in the future).

Thinning The Walls (Diagram):
The “Thinning the Walls” diagram was fairly well received. This diagram represents my experiences in facilitating the EC&I 831 graduate course where students went from a (somewhat) traditional learning configuration to an increasingly networked learning context. The walls of the “classroom” where slowly thinned as students developed their personal learning networks (PLNs).

Open Teaching - Thinning the Walls

The most important feedback on this diagram was that it failed to represent the continuous learning of the teacher and it failed to recognize the knowledge of the students (special tks to Kristina Hoeppner & Maryanne Burgos). These aspects were always meant to be within the overall model, but I believe it is important to make these pieces more explicit (as attempted below).

Open Teaching - Thinning the Walls - Revision #2

Network Sherpa (Diagram):
I also put forth one possible analogy for the role of a teacher, that of the ‘network sherpa. At the time of the post, I could not recall where I had heard this term. I have since remembered that it was included in Wendy Drexler’s Networked Student video (recommended viewing), although I do not believe this is the original source. While the diagram was generally well-received, critique included:

    * the idea of sherpa bearing the entire ‘load’ of learning (a critique I thought was pre-empted with each individual carrying identical baggage);
    * the difficulty of (re)presenting inquiry within the diagram (or analogy itself);
    * “that it misses the tremendous amount that teachers learn from their students” (Maryanne Burgos); and,
    * ethnic misinterpretation or discriminative interpretations by the name (a critique I take very seriously).

Open Teaching - Network Sherpa

I stand by the analogy as a potentially powerful way to view a method or view of open/networked teaching. However, for those that dislike the metaphor, I now provide you with an alternative.

Open Teaching - Network Sherpa - The End

“Publish Then Filter” & The Importance of Analogy:
A week from today, this blog will be five years old. While this space serves a number of purposes (resource sharing, announcements, advocacy), the most important activity to me is that it helps me think. Not only is it a giant storehouse of my ideas, it is a place where my thoughts are vetted, beaten around, and transformed. It is an extension of my brain and one of the entry ways into my personal learning network. It is where, as Shirky describes, I “publish then filter“.

The most popular of my posts, not surprisingly, have included visualizations, rich media, metaphors, or analogies. The latter two devices played an important part in these discussions as the diagrams provided the context to resonate, to disagree, to extend, and negotiate understandings as well as to project future visions for teaching and learning. As Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein (1999) point out “it is the inexact, imperfect nature of the analogy that allows it to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown.” So while the analogies may not be perfect, this is quite intentional, unavoidable, and (I believe) forgivable. It will take many of these imperfect models and raw conversations to create and shape the future of education. Believe in the conversation, throw out your ideas, engage with others, and teach and learn with the passion that this process breeds. This is openness at its very best.

Edtech Posse Podcast: Copyright Chat w/ Dr. Michael Geist

Members of the Edtech Posse (Dean, Rick, and I) had the great pleasure of chatting with the brilliant Dr. Michael Geist last night. Dr. Geist is a Professor at the University of Ottawa and is Canada’s leading legal expert on Copyright law. It was a terrific conversation with a lot of information regarding current copyright/copyleft law as it applies to education. While much of the conversation covered the Canadian context, I believe that there is much here that will appeal to international listeners as well.

Michael Geist

Thanks to Rob Wall who edited the audio, but unfortunately could not join us in the conversation. Heather Ross, our other Posse member, was also unable to attend.

Enjoy the podcast.

MyBytes … Bites!

Microsoft has released the new website MyBytes.com to promote copyright education. The site was announced as the company released the results of a survey testing children’s knowledge of copyright law.

I agree that there needs to be a greater emphasis in schools on copyright law and understandings of intellectual property. However, in addressing these topics, educators and educational materials MUST include copyleft approaches to addressing “ownership” of intellectual property and materials addressing open content/open source approaches. At an appropriate grade level, I would encourage deconstruction of terms such as “intellectual property” and “ownership” and discuss both practical and philosophical implications of copyleft vs. copyright (and everything in between). The terms need to be questioned and critiqued, and their history and current emphasis in our laws need to be critically explored.

MyBytes Interviews

And if you are going to use Microsoft’s materials, use them critically. For instance, watch these “interviews” and ask questions such as:

    – Are these interviews scripted?
    – Are these interviews censored?
    – Whose views are being represented here?
    – Where are the dissenting voices (seeing as M$ has identified that dissent/misunderstandings are the majority)?
    – Are alternative views of copyright/copyleft represented in these interviews?
    – Who is the sponsor of this site, and (how) would they benefit from a strict view of copyright?
    – What is at stake with illegal music downloading? Who stands to lose/benefit?
    – Are there alternative models for distributing content? Who is using them? Are they successful?
    – Who benefits from these alternative models? Who loses?
    – What is the Creative Commons? What is its role?
    – What are the issues of power and control inherent in these arguments?

Any others thoughts?

Educators, please, whatever your views on copyright/copyleft. Be critical, and present both established and alternative views on these issues.