The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) recently ran a special focus on Fair Use' in Australian Law, and an argument for open academic practices.
It's unfortunate they don't publish in an open format or use hypertext, so here's a copy of my contribution.
David Day wrote for the Advocate last November, advocating for academics to take membership with Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) - an Australian agency that collects royalty fees for the use of restricted literary works and pays some of that revenue to some of the authors whose work was used.
I contacted the National Tertiary Education Union about the article in their journal, and have been offered space in this issue for 500 words. In these few words I’m going to offer an alternative to David’s advocacy for CAL and outline the opportunities and benefits of working toward an intellectual commons. I want to propose a coming together around the issues David touches on and open up more dialog in the establishment for how we might help accelerate the building of this Commons and our own intellectual relevance within it.
There appears to be a growing interest among academics, the public sector and private enterprise toward ideas of openness. Practices that include open research and data, open publishing and open education. ‘Open’ here does not mean simply free access, it includes transparency of process, and the freedom for anyone to reuse - including to copy, modify and redistribute works. These practices are gradually building an intellectual commons, and are a radical inversion of the kind of ‘knowledge economy’ imagined 30 years ago when CAL was conceived, and that are established today. You can find this Commons in many open journals, media repositories like Wikimedia Commons or Archive.org and projects like Wikipedia. The things that generally govern these practices are the use of the Creative Commons Attribution and Share Alike copyright licenses, open documentation of process, and the use of free and open standard software and formats.
In the university sector these practices offer a few noteworthy opportunities including the reduction or replacement of proprietary teaching media with free and more flexible equivalents; legally seamless collaboration in authorship; wider access and use and improved recognition of authorship.
Open academic practices have developed in spite of otherwise very restrictive copyright and intellectual property policies, and in spite of the monetary rewards that help to perpetuate those policies.
In 2010 a handful of staff at the University of Canberra proposed an intellectual property policy that would enable and strengthen open academic practices without undoing the established norms of restrictive copyright, and the agencies that facilitate user-pay fee systems. They documented a wide range of consultation and comment to the proposal, as well as key policy directions from Federal Government that relate to and inform the proposal. NTEU went so far as to call it a benchmark in IP policy. You can see that proposal here: http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Intellectual_Property_-_proposed_policy_and_procedures_for_Australian_research_and_education
If the Intellectual Commons continues to grow at the exponential rate it has done so over the last 10 years, individuals, institutions and governments will inevitably come to question the role of the likes of CAL and the usefulness of the fees they extract and distribute. Some authors believe they are already suitably compensated by the wages and grants given to them by taxpayers and fee paying students, and don’t wish to add more burden to that revenue stream. Many struggle to see the relationship their work has to the financial incentives standing around them. Most simply wish their work to be seen, appreciated and used, free of commodification.
I hope readers of Advocate and CAL will continue to consider their relationship to the Intellectual Commons and open academic practices. Perhaps the proposed intellectual property policy cited here will give new frames of reference to aid that consideration.