ATD LogoCopyright, Access and Digital Texts

Charles Lowe · 9 December 2003

"As consumers of text, we make selections which either support or deny the proprietary publishing model. As producers of text, we can choose how our writing is to be published and accessed by others."

Make a Choice

Most teachers may not have time to research and publish articles on the public commons or copyright reform. They may not be able to engage in active lobbying for change.

Still, many teachers can choose to share and/or use shared content themselves. As consumers of text, we make selections which either support or deny the proprietary publishing model. As producers of text, we can decide how our writing is to be published and accessed by others.

  • If we create open content, we are making materials available to all, setting an example which resides in contrast to one of control, creating an alternative metaphor to the domineering one of property, ownership.
  • If we advocate open content and open source, we will gain more supporters of open content as the "right way" of creating texts for both education and our society, building a larger political base for eventually reforming intellectual property laws.
  • If we use open content and open source in our classes, we can discuss sharing, pointing out to students how the principles of peer-to-peer are aligned with our concerns about access.

However, I am not suggesting writing teachers should begin tomorrow by refusing to publish without open content licensing; I think that a luxury only the fully tenured among the discipline may have. Many of us, to some degree, depend upon contracts with journals and university publishers for career advancement. But even choosing to do one of the suggestions listed below can make a positive stand for access over ownership.

And maybe, just maybe, if many teachers participate, in 2040 a society that has learned to share will point to The Right to Read, compare it to George Orwell's 1984 and laugh.

Why not choose to do one of the following:

  • Some rights reserved. Creative Commons. Use Creative Commons Licenses when sharing texts on the web, and then place a Creative Commons button on your website. Add a license to handouts that you share with other teachers. Licenses let everyone know how they may use your work. Send out a clear statement: "I am for increased access to texts."
  • Make some of your scholarship more accessible by occasionally publishing to online journals such as Academic.Writing, Kairos, and The Writing Instructor. Ask these journals if they will publish your work with a Creative Commons License. And if your article has been accepted for print publication, ask the print publisher, too. Lobby for open access. If enough scholars ask, publishers will start to see access as important to writing teachers.
  • Interested in writing a textbook? Why not write a grant to publish it as open source and work with Commontext? Help to make more course materials online. Imagine the reduced cost to students if writing texts for the classroom were available in the public commons.
  • Contribute to electronic books such as those available in the WAC Clearinghouse. If you are writing a textbook for print publication, help insure the continuation of the public domain. Ask your publisher to make it available through the Founder's Copyright program at Creative Commons.
  • Begin using open source software such as Mozilla and OpenOffice. Install open source applications within your networked classrooms and advocate their use institution wide. Let students know that they can download OpenOffice for free, rather than buying a copy of Microsoft Word. Realize that the less proprietary software we use, the less money we put into the hands of those who lobby in Washington.
  • Discuss the developing intellectual property crisis within your classrooms. Because of file trading, students already believe in sharing and will be receptive to open source, open content and open access concepts. Teach them that we cannot merely pirate content, but that we must build a public commons of shared resources.

»» Afterword