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Creative Commons:
Transforming Education Through More Accessible Resources


The Internet and digital technologies have transformed how people learn. Creative Commons provides the legal and technical infrastructure that makes it possible for educational resources to be widely accessible, adaptable, interoperable, and discoverable.

Founded in 2001, Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides free, easy-to-use online tools anyone can use to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The Creative Commons tools enable creators to easily change their copyright terms from the legal default of all rights reserved to the CC licenses some rights reserved, effectively "defining the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright and the public domain."

In this Education World interview, Creative Commons Board Chair Esther Wojcicki explains what Creative Commons does and how CC licenses can benefit both content creators and those with whom they share their work. She further discusses how educators in particular can benefit from the accessibility of CC licensed content and the increased availability of educational resources that are "widely accessible, adaptable, interoperable, and discoverable."

About Esther Wojcicki

Esther Wojcicki

Esther Wojcicki has taught journalism and English at Palo Alto (California) High School for 25 years, where she’s recognized as the driving force behind the development of the school’s award-winning journalism program. The largest high school journalism program in the United States, Palo Alto’s program involves more than 400 students in publications that include a student-run journalism website, newspaper, general feature magazine, sports magazine, literary magazine, and television network. Links to all those publications can be found at the Paley Voice, which is the school publication website.

Wojcicki has won many awards throughout the years, including the 1990 Northern California Journalism Teacher of the Year, the 2002 California State Teacher Credentialing Commission Teacher of the Year, and the 2008 National Scholastic Press Association award for inspiration and excellence in scholastic journalism advising. She also has served on the University of California Office of the President Curriculum Committee, where she helped revise the beginning and advanced journalism curriculum for the state of California.

In 2005-2006, Wojcicki served as the Google educational consultant. In that position, she helped design the Google Teacher Outreach program, which includes the Google for Educators website and Google Teacher Academy.

In addition, Wojcicki has worked as a professional journalist for multiple publications; she now blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and TeachersCount, and occasionally for CNN.

In 2009, she was named Chair of the Board of Directors of Creative Commons.

Education World: According to its website, Creative Commons provides tools that creators can use to designate how their original works can be used, shared, tweaked, and/or built upon. Isnt that what copyright laws do? How are Creative Commons licenses different from traditional copyright licenses?

Esther Wojcicki Default copyright law is "all rights reserved", which means that the author retains exclusive rights to her works. Moreover, these exclusive rights are granted at the moment of creation -- something most authors don't know. If the author wants to share her work -- only reserve some rights and not all -- she would have to explicitly state that she is giving away those rights. However, most people are not lawyers, and there are many different ways of saying the same thing.

Creative Commons makes all this easy by offering free licenses for authors to use to explicitly state which rights they are keeping and which rights they are giving away. CC licenses are different from traditional copyright licenses because they are not customized for one specific transaction. CC licenses are nonexclusive public licenses, which means they can be used with other licenses and don't discriminate by type of user.

There are six CC licenses that anyone can attach to their work to allow that work to be used by anyone else as long as they adhere to the license conditions.

CC licenses also come in three formats, which traditional copyright licenses do not. The three formats are the human-readable deed, the legal license itself, and the machine-readable code. The human-readable deed summarizes the license in easy to understand terms for the average user; the legal license is the actual license lawyers would use in a court of law; and the machine-readable code enables the licensed work to be discovered via search engines like Google and Yahoo!. Those three formats, especially the machine-readable aspect, make CC viable for the digital age.

EW:How might those who create original resources benefit from using a Creative Commons license?

Wojcicki:Creators use Creative Commons licenses for a variety of reasons, whether it's simply to share their work with the world, to build a professional reputation or network, or to collaborate on building out a resource with others. A creator may benefit by joining a commons of creators around the world who already share their work under various CC licenses, building out their professional network of peers. In addition, a CC license may help to make the creator's work more visible and discoverable on the Internet. Reproductions or derivatives based on the original work will attribute, and usually link back to, the creator. Using a CC license also enables collaboration across time zones, as many CC licensed works can be mixed together and adapted or translated to local needs. Those are only a few of the benefits of using CC licenses -- many creators, companies, and institutions have leveraged the licenses differently.

EW: What kinds of resources can be licensed at Creative Commons?

Wojcicki: All resources that can be copyrighted, except for software, can be licensed under a CC license. Content must be fixed in a tangible medium, so screenplays, music recordings, films, lesson plans, and videos can be copyrighted, but the ideas behind them cannot.

EW: I see that ccLearn is a division of Creative Commons specifically for educators. How do the rights to educational content licensed under Creative Commons differ from the rights available to educators under fair use?

Wojcicki: Actually, the ccLearn brand went away earlier this year (see CC and OER 2010). Creative Commons is still focused more than ever in the education space and has a new education page and OER portal accessible via CC in Education.

The rights to educational content licensed under Creative Commons is the same as rights to all content licensed with Creative Commons licenses. It is no different. If any creator, educator or not, has licensed his work under a CC license, then anyone may use that work under the terms of that license. The permissions and conditions are clear.

Under fair use in the United States, there is no special protection for one particular kind of use, such as educational use. Fair use relies on factors that can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, usually in a court of law. The 1976 Copyright Act gives six examples of types of uses that are likely to be permissible, and one of them is teaching. However, even if the use were to be deemed fair use in the United States, the definition of fair use is not global and may not be deemed so in other jurisdictions. CC licenses, on the other hand, are globally recognized.

EW: What is OER and why is it important?

Wojcicki: "OER" stands for Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning materials that are freely available to use, remix, and redistribute. Educational resources that are licensed under a CC license that allows derivatives are OER. For more info on OER see OER.

OER are important because the Internet and digital technologies have transformed how people learn. Educational resources are no longer static and scarce, but adaptable and widely available, allowing educational institutions, teachers, and learners to actively participate in a global exchange of knowledge via Open Educational Resources (OER). Creative Commons provides the legal and technical infrastructure essential to the long-term success of OER, making it possible for educational resources to be widely accessible, adaptable, interoperable, and discoverable. For more information, see Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources.

EW: Are Open Educational Resources available at the Creative Commons Web site? Where or how can educators find Creative Commons resources?

Wojcicki: No. Though CC hosts some resources about OER and related subjects, CC does not host OER itself. However, CC does provide a search portal to CC licensed resources on the Web at CC Search. CC has also built DiscoverEd, a search prototype specifically for OER. These tools can direct you sites that do have CC licensed resources. You also can use the advanced search function on Google, Yahoo!, Flickr, and other sites that have built in CC search queries to find CC licensed resources. For a database of educational sites see Open Database of Educational Projects and Organizations (ODEPO).

EW: How can educators help encourage the creation of Open Educational Resources?

Wojcicki: Educators can license their own resources under CC licenses, educate their peers about OER and CC licenses, and initiate collaborative projects that use CC licenses. Many educators and former educators also are involved at the policy level. For more information and to contribute to the effort, see OER.

EW: At what grade level should students begin learning about copyright laws and Creative Commons licenses? How might teachers introduce those topics to students?

Wojcicki: If a student is old enough to use and cite other people's work, then she is surely old enough to learn about the reasons why she must do so, and how she can build on content that is not legally her own. A great opportunity for teachers to introduce CC licenses into the classroom is during a class project that requires students to find and remix resources on the Web, such as a presentation, song, or video. Teaching students to search and use CC licensed material empowers them to be creative and learn about copyright law.

EW: Is there anything I didnt ask about that you think is important for educators to know about Creative Commons?

Wojcicki: Using Creative Commons is more than just making resources accessible for free on the Web. Technically, anything you can access on the Web is freely accessible. What Creative Commons does is give educators more options and freedoms than what default laws allow. Educators and learners are already part of a sharing and remix culture. Now what they do behind closed doors inside the classroom can be brought out onto the open Web because CC makes it easy and legal.

This e-interview with Esther Wojcicki is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Published 05/18/2010