Standards: August 2008 Archives

Overview of the Penn State Open Source License

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The Penn State Multimedia Teaching Objects are a set of objects which can be downloaded under the "Penn State Open Source License". While this license is not Creative Commons, it actually has the same terms as a liberal GNU/Creative Commons license - namely:

This MTO item can be used royalty-free under the following conditions. See the MTO Item Open Source License for complete terms.

  • The item is distributed AS IS with no implied or stated warranties.
  • The item is restricted to educational or personal use only. Commercial use is not permitted.
  • Copies may be distributed, but only for educational or personal use. This item cannot be sold for profit.
  • You have permission to modify the item, but the derivative work must remain open source and cannot be marketed for profit.
  • Copyright of the original item is held by Penn State.
  • If this item is used, attribution to Penn State is requested.

So why not just use Creative Commons? Because when this project was developed several years ago, Creative Commons was not what it is now. At the time we were investigating this, the closest Creative License version I could create was a Canadian one. If, for some reason, someone had borrowed a file and made a billion dollars, it looked like Penn State would have had to file a law suit in Canada.

Looking at the site again, I do think there might be more merit to the actual license...but I don't regret asking qualified attorneys to review the issue. That's why we consult content experts!

Update on Aug 14

I just read in this New Media & Technology Law Blog (found via a Listserv) that a Federal Circuit court says open source licenses are legally enforceable in the U.S. As I interpret it, it means that if you use an open source license, and someone violates it you can sue in court, even if there are no monetary damages per se. I would presume that this is good news for the Creative Commons effort.

Text is Cheap (and sometimes that's good).

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I'm working on posting a media-rich for the fall (images, video and text), and I really have a new appreciation for the cheapness of text. What do I mean exactly?

  • Text files are much smaller than media files
  • Software to edit text files is cheaper
  • Far more people (e.g. instructors) can edit text than edit videos/images
  • It takes much less time to edit text for the Web than videos/images
  • Less time for accessibility is needed because text is almost accessible by default (it's those pesky fonts and colors that cause problems)

A text-only document is almost always easier to deal with.

So why do I bother with video and images? Because they really CAN convey information in a way that text alone cannot. Even the thermodynamics instructor I worked with commented that she couldn't remember how she got through the old thermodynamics books without the "modern" graphs that apparently "only" the Net Gen audience find so useful.

But it's an expensive proposition. That's why crabby instructional designers sometimes ask if the budget is there for that particular graphic – each one takes a lot of time and energy, usually from a rare, skilled specialist. We want to be sure the effort is worth it, and when it is, it's magic!

P.S. 1 – One thing I like about the Digital Commons is that they are geared towards teaching everyone key video skills. But I bet people quickly find out many hours are required – I think most enjoy it though.

P.S. 2 – Borrowing Creative Commons licensed media is great too...when you can find the right file. In one course lesson, I've only been able to borrow directly 3 times, modify 4 times and the rest (25+) had to be created from scratch.