Philanthropists implored to liberate educational content. Blackboard patent flunks. A precious baby.

This is a petition organised by Larry Sanger, whose baby was Wikipedia (which gained its 10 millionth article today), and who now works on its fork Citizendium – a free, publicly-written encyclopaedia with a light editorial touch.

Larry proposes that philanthropists (disapproved or or even detested by Socialists because they entrench inequalities, but there we are) commission or buy educational content and post it free on the Web. I think this is an excellent direction.

I think that closed licenses for stuff that costs nothing to reproduce (i.e. online stuff) are incredibly unjust – they’re a throwback to a bygone age. They’re anti-education. We shouldn’t be paying for any kind of text now, unless we have to pay for its medium and labour – the paper, ink, printing, distribution, &tc. Otherwise it’s wrong. It’s unethical. It shafts the world’s poor and concentrates wealth and knowledge with people who already have it. It’s a travesty*.

Attribution is another thing – people should get to take credit for their work (if they must). That doesn’t cost anybody money. And, relatedly, people should get refusal over somebody editing their stuff. That doesn’t cost anybody money either. And this kind of licensing exists already for people who want to signal that their work is freely available for reuse – it’s called Creative Commons, it’s a combination of any (‘some rights reserved’) or all (‘all rights reserved’) of 4 different licenses, and you can use it without any hassle whatsoever. Here’s an example – The Future of Reputation. Gossip, Rumour and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J Solove. If you want a bound paper copy (aka ‘book’), you pay. If you don’t, you don’t pay.

The old publishing models are normal because people haven’t quite grasped the implications of the Web yet, so there’s no point me going on. And not everybody has an e-reader like me. But there’s a big effort going on to close the Web in order that every part of it should be profitable, and this militates against taking advantage of the things the Web lets us do – namely duplicate for next to no cost. So people should get with the programme (although I’m not nearly as active as I’d like to be in campaigning for Open stuff).

Further to that, a tentative woo hoo. The US Patent and Trademarks Office has, in a ‘non-binding’ ‘preliminary’ decision, rejected all 44 of Blackboards attempts to patent Virtual Learning Environments. Moodle users are a bit safer today. Despite my cautious reception of this news I had to indulge myself with several expletives because this is extremely welcome news. I performed a frantic triumphal dance until my boss said a firm “Thank you”, which was my signal to leave his office.

Oh of course I have, though. My oldest friend had this absolutely gorgeous little scrap of a baby. When she cries she looks like her mum. I love her and I think she loves me back – here she is holding my hand. We decided to name her after her mother’s favourite tipple, the brew that was flowing the evening she was conceived: Chianti.**

Baby S

*Disclosure: I’m a Microsoft user and I pay for music too. All mouth, string trousers.

**Only joking.


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