Supporting Openly Licensed Content

Clint Lalonde’s blog is one of the inspirations for my (re)commitment to blogging, and he regularly shares perceptive commentary about the role of openly licensed content in education. As you can tell from his blog, he also knows his way around ed-tech.

Here’s a quote from his recent post, which resonates with me as a self-proclaimed “conscious” consumer and a Creative Commons idealist:

To assume that there is no value in paying for content that you can get for free reflects this “consumption provides utility” economic perspective. To the reviewers, purchasing the app has no utility for them since they can get the content elsewhere for free. They even go a step further and question the wisdom of others who might actually pay for the app. Why do that?

They’ve missed the point.

This is not a traditional utilitarian purchase where you exchange money for a thing. You are not actually buying a thing, but instead supporting the entire organization that keeps the thing going.

Clint’s point is that many of us have have been indoctrinated with the consumer logic that correlates value and utility with economic worth. I know I’ve been guilty of the same attitude that he identifies as problematic in his post.

Openly licensed content benefits society in countless ways. But the investment to create and sustain this type of content is considerable, so organizations are tasked with finding creative ways to be sustainable.

(An aside about the use of “sustainable” in this context: I’m the first to admit that applying the vocabulary of business and economics to education is a fraught endeavour. Comparing educational organizations to businesses has created (many) problems that afflict universities and undermine academic pursuits. Just Google the “neoliberalization” of the university for a glimpse of what the future holds if we continue on this path.)

Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to meet the world where it is, not where we would like it to be. And the world we live in now requires us to support labour with remuneration. Services and content available free to users is not free to create.

The organizations and businesses that provide free and openly licensed content undertake an ethical practise that we ought to commend and support. One way is to purchase their products. Another is to donate or become a patron.

Whichever way we choose to show our support, we should heed Clint’s advice.

Keep the thing going.

Written on December 23, 2015