21 November 2010

Son of "I am Google..."

I've just read "What digital literacies?", on Steve Wheeler's Learning with 'e's.

One of the digital literacies which he identifies is “Reusing/repurposing content”, which (given the trains of thought which I have been pursuing yesterday and today) linked in my mind to my two "I am Google" posts. (But the connection is mine and mine alone.)

For anything put up on the web, traditional copyright concerns are purely theoretical. Any material on this blog, for instance, could be copied and "reused" or "repurposed" by anybody else ... I'd be unlikely to even know about it, never mind have any realistic chance of doing anything about it. I don't have any problem with that ... I try to be punctilious about crediting my own reuse of others' work, but recognise that if I post something then the reality is as it is ... if I don't like it, I shouldn't post digital material.

But (this, if you were beginning to wonder, is the point): in the long run, both copyright and copyright law are, pragmatically at least, going to have to change. Both were invented in days when reproducing (and reusing or repurposing) were much more physically difficult. Laws of this kind can only really be enforced while their breach involves crossing a hurdle of some kind ... and these days there are no real hurdles to cross in breach of copyright.

Intellectual property remains important, both morally and economically ... but how the future will deal with it, I'm b*##*r*d if I know!

This is not an original thought, of course. The music industry has been grappling with it for decades, and one of the possible solution sets there has been provided by bands which treat downloadable music as a disposable hook into other, more controllable and financially activities or assets. Still, the situation is in flux and nobody knows which models will turn out to be stable and sustainable in the long run.

"Learned journals" have a similar problem: how to make use of the technology as an economic way to disseminate and capitalise upon content without losing control of it? The solution there makes the best of a bad job. If I want a copy of Pfning's Ferret wangling as a metacultural pursuit, (don't waste time looking it up – I invented and its author) I can either persuade an institution to purchase access or I can go to the journal in which it was published and pay to download a PDF copy ... but, either way, there is nothing beyond my own sense of things (and, of course, the number of people I know who have the slightest interest in ferret wangling) to stop me then providing copies to all and sundry. They rely on the fact that, by providing access, they minimise the growth of bootleg supply. The timing of DVD release and television network rights for films is similar ... hold onto the original cinema version long enough to maximise return, release legally purchasable copies soon enough to minimise the economic viability of piracy, then drop the DVD price for the same reason when television right kick in.

Back in education, which is what Steve Wheeler had in mind, it seems fairly clear that institutions which accept the free flow of information and content beyond their own cell wall (that's a biological metaphor, not a criminal one) through communal web reuse and repurpose are likely to do better than those who try to lock it up in their own VLN*. Maintaining miserly control involves costs and absorbs energy which could be better deployed in more positive ways. Any perceived loss in traditional terms is balanced by gain from the same process as material from elsewhere is reused and repurposed inward. Allowing your material to be accessed from elsewhere gives an institution kudos and reputation which has economic value of its own. And there are cross fertilisation benefits on both sides which probably swamp all other considerations. The only real benefit of guarding content accrues to those providers (institutional or commercial) who can provide an active, service based product which the client finds it more beneficial to buy than to duplicate.

None of which solves my agonising over digitisation of Jay Appleton ... but does provide a welcome alternative path down which to wander!

* VLN: Virtual Learning Environment

No comments: