IP protection and OER: the missing link for innovation in education

photo by Philippe Tarbouriech

Photo by photographer Philippe Tarbouriech

How keen are we to raise awareness about Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) among Open Education Resource (OER) communities? As long as open means ‘free to use’, one may understand that IP is not relevant. “As long as it is available on the internet, it is free to use”, or “As long as it is for educational purposes, it is OK to use” are some of the claims that are most often given. IP concern is not so much about the IP of the OER itself, rather than the IP of the content used to create the OER. And all this content is IP protected in a way or another.

I have a personal example to help illustrate the complexity of the situation; last week I was at the Kinnernet-Europe ’Unconference’  in the small city of Avallon, Burgundy in France. On Thursday night, at 1 a.m., I gave an ‘Ignite‘ speech on the ‘(Bad) reasons not to invest in education’ in front of 100 exhausted participants and friends: something close to a family gathering in a private house.

I used a slideshow that presented 10 pictures, each of them on screen for seven seconds. The next morning, a person came to me interested in the presentation, and asked me about the source of one of the photographs I used to illustrate Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment (see below). My answer was, “from Mitra’s website”.

The truth is that I didn’t pay attention to the copyright, or the photo credit, when downloading the picture for this almost private presentation in front of a few guests in the middle of the night in a small town in Burgundy. How wrong I was! The person in the room was… the author of the photograph, Philippe Tarbouriech. Philippe gave the image rights to Mitra to freely use the picture for internal and self-promotion… but nothing more. No credits were visible on Mitra’s site, but I hadn’t made any further inquiry.

In my case, as a publisher, I am very sensitive to IP issues. Even more strikingly, my company, P.A.U. Education, is in charge of communicating the work of the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights!

I apologised to Philippe but apologies don’t solve the problem. In many other cases, lawyers will be asked to intervene as OER usage grows and basic intellectual property rights are clearly – though unconsciously, most of the time – infringed: which is a clear threat to the open movement that most creators – and with them most public authorities encouraging them – are taking.

A few lessons can be learnt:

-          There is no such thing as a private resource in an open world

-          You are never IP-aware enough

-          IP owners are everywhere

-          Any content from third parties is IP protected

-          Understanding IP is central to the production of OER’s, and their delivery processes

-          IP citations are obligatory

One last piece of advice – visit Philippe’s website for inspiring pictures on education and social innovation!



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