I added a new category to my blog today: Voices of Reason. I went through the archives and only two previous entries qualified, one good excerpt from John Holt and my “Free the Curriculum” entry on Lawrence Lessig, Jimbo Wales, et al.
I decided to add the new category because I needed a good place to file this piece:
Stephen Downes, at the Institute for Information Technology’s e-Learning Research Group in Moncton, New Brunswick, has become a leading voice in the areas of learning objects and metadata as well as the emerging fields of weblogs in education and content syndication. In the excerpt below, taken from his presentations at the Commonwealth of Learning conference, he explains his viewing of a legal affairs show on CBC Newsworld, with a long discussion with a representative from Access Canada on the need to extend and enforce copyright laws:
Between the tired old arguments (cribbed from the usual sources), however, was a picture of life under the new regime. We saw the representative spy on and bait photocopy shops. We saw an expose of schoolchildren basing a musical revue on a protected poem. We heard about buskers being shaken down for royalty payments. A parent unable to photocopy a picture of his own child because he could prove he owned rights to the photo.
Never mind all the rest; I have only one question: is this the sort of society we want to live in?
Downes also shares his perceptions about the conference:
The substantive issues in this conference revolved around two major themes: first, the burden that contemporary copyright legislation (in its many and sometimes bizairre incarnations) places on academic institutions, especially those in the South, burdens revolving not only around price (though tis is far from trivial) but the requirements of licensing and reporting. Nobody relly came to grips with the fact that the cost of content to educators, whether that content is online or off, is far greater than the actual value of the material in question.
But second, even more importantly, this conference was unable to come to grips with the essential changes to society being wrought by recent legislation and recent enforcement practices. Though some people tried, I saw the discussion turned back again and again to legal issues, matters of interpretation, and similar trivia. Such discussion, offered mostly by copyright lawyers seeking to profit from the endless litigation the current regime provides, failed utterly to come to grips with the deeper social changes and social costs being extracted by the recent practices.
Downes references the above-mentioned Lawrence Lessig:
In a free society, Lawrence Lessig reminds us, the future builds on the past. In a less free society, the past tries to control the future. And, observes Lessig, ours is a society that is becoming less and less free.
What is at issue here is not a question of dollars and royalties, at least, not directly. What is at issue here is a matter of power and control, a matter of freedom. And while copyright lawyers may rail at us from their comfortable offices, it remains true that our understanding of the nature of society, not their understanding of legal nuance, is what in the end must decide the matter.
So I ask again, what sort of society do we want to live in?
Here’s where he – to my way of thinking – relates it to homeschooling:
The real decision facing educators today has nothing to do with whether or not to comply with copyright. It has nothing to do with the subtlety of copyright legislation at all.
It has everything to do with whether we are willing to accept the continuing constraints on our education system. It has everything to do with whether we continue to rely on commercial publishers at all, whether we begin to reclaim our common cultural, scientific and social heritage, the basic elements of an education that is every person’s right. It has everything to do with whether we are willing to allow private, commercial, interests to own, monitor and control what is read and studied in our classrooms.
Or whether we want to be free. As in freedom.
I suggest reading his entire article and giving the concepts he presents some serious thought.
There’s more, but I’ll get to that in another post.