Blog Post

Open Courseware Demands Fair Use: A Debate

I am just back from an excellent meeting of MacArthur Grantees in Chicago and will be reporting on other aspects of that program over the next few weeks, but here is one I want to hear from other HASTAC'ers about now. Many universities are pressuring faculty members to post all of their course materials on the university websites open to the public. Syllabi, lecture notes, bibliographies. Yet I learned that some of the most aggressive universities pushing open courseware (I won't name names but others might want to) are conservative about pushing academic (and humanistic) definitions of fair use. In other words, Famous Tech University says "our content should be open to all" when it comes to the intellectual property rights of faculty. But Famous Tech University says "but if you are showing movies or video clips or excerpts from books or works of art or music, you must observe all of the proprietary rules set by specific companies, even though you won't be profiting in any way from this use. Since most of what media scholars and just about everyone else in the humanities does in the classroom is based on commentary on multimedia materials of one kind of another--from texts to screen shots or music--this double-standard of "open courseware" is a lose-lose proposition for us.


HASTAC has taken a strong stand in favor of fair use. And we want to be even stronger in supporting faculty torn between these different definitions of "open" (i.e. opened by you, but closed to you!). We use Creative Commons licenses for all of our events and, at our first international conference, one of our keynotes is by James Boyle, a fair use theorist and activist. The great comic book his team developed at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Bound by Law, is a delightful and quite thorough way of understanding fair use for film. Jennifer Jenkins, Keith Aoki, and Jamie are working on a follow-up for music. You can buy it on their website or you can download it free:


I'm told that the University of Texas is taking a bold stand on fair use. Is anyone out there from Texas? Can anyone tell us more?


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