Commercial Publishers

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archie
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Cliff mentioned in this other thread that the Hypertextbook project "…is an open source, creative commons collaborative. We hope that many people will eventually participate and contribute."

This reminded me about the issue of "commercial services". I have been thinking that maybe we could support similar "business strategies" as there is in open source projects like Linux. I.e., open source doesn’t mean that everything is free of charge. Effectively this means that the licenses we are thinking of, could be such that there is still room for commercial publishers to be involved similar to those selling Linux distributions.

Let’s take an example. TRAKLA2 is open source. However, it’s quite a burden to install and maintain the service just for a single course. It’s much more convenient to have many courses in a single server. Thus, it would be logical that somebody is hosting it.

Even though some part of the service could still be free, there are costs that need to be covered. The server is an obvious cost, but doesn’t cost much. However, for example, in Finnish Universities we have a common single sign-on service that requires a certificate, which alone costs several hundreds of euro a year. It’s preferable to use this, as then students can use those accounts they have got from their own university (no new account is needed, and the account provider is a trusted party as it’s the university the student is currently affiliated). Thus, I believe this could be the "reason" to charge clients that use this kind of augmented service. Of course, this concerns only those that need this single sign-on. However, for example, the admin user interface in TRAKLA2 is not very user friendly. Thus, somebody could be willing to pay if somebody else would like to manage the service. This gives more options to adopt AV in use.

My bottom line is that I believe this could be a win-win situation if this kind of "business strategy" ever works. This way it would be a mutual interest to disseminate the tools and services to as many institutions as possible. Commercial businesses marketing would benefit also the teachers and developers as this marketing most probably includes similar activities as our effort to disseminate these resources in the first place.

The problem is that many University teachers and researchers seem to be "anti commercial" about academic-related things. One of the worries is that some of the test instruments that are being graded stay "hidden" behind the for-fee provider’s service. This is a separate issue, however. Even a free service might require authentication, since it might be impractical to let everything to be public for grading security reasons. For example, TRAKLA2 exercises are used for summative evaluation, thus it’s necessary to authenticate each student. This means the service is always "hidden" unless one creates a course of his own.

I think it is really important that online course materials (aside from copyrighted stuff, grades, and other specific materials that need to be hidden) should be public. But I still believe there is room for commercial publishers as well (similar to how textbook are published). This would require quite flexible licenses, however. Thus, when choosing a license (it’s important even though no commercial use is granted!), I hope it’s not too restrictive for no reason.

 

Archie

shaffer
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Re: Commercial Publishers

Archie — Thanks for raising the issue! It is important to get this right.

In the Linux and GNU software worlds,for example, I believe there is a distinction between the software and a service that makes use of the software. So people can and do sell prepared distributions and support, but one always has the opportunity to set up one’s own free copy. Our materials can be free for use and revision, but services could be layered on top. A hosting service for collecting and managing the solutions that students generate for exercises seems like an ideal example, since it is unlikely that the host for the hypertextbook materials will want to act as host for student-specific test results.

A couple of potential grey areas come to mind.

  1. If we create a good library on which one can develop new AVs, what are the restrictions on AVs so developed? Can one use the library (with appropriate attribution) in one’s code, and still protect one’s own code and product? Users of, for example, the GNU C and C++ compilers are permitted to make commercial products from these free tools, and I would be inclined to follow that model.
  2. If one uses textbook material from the hypertextbook, what can one do with it? So long as one stays within the framework of the system, and makes one’s own derivations open for reuse within the system, one is free to do so. But if you take material outside the system, I guess normal copyright restrictions apply? I need to see how Connexions handles this.

I am sure that there are many more issues!

 

boisvert
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Re: Commercial Publishers

In my examples - http://www.boisvert.me.uk/ - the visualisation software I’ve written is released under the GNU, but the examples don’t have to be. The GNU licence allows for this kind of delineation: indicating that work that use your API, for example, is not "derived work", and so does not fall under the GNU licence. This way authors are free to use your software for visualisations that they own, or that their university owns, and whether to copyleft their resources or not.

 

 

ville
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Re: Commercial Publishers

I’ve been meaning to reply to this for a long time and finally got around to actually doing so.

Since Archie posted the original question, we have decided on the license for the JSAV library for creating the interactive visualizations for the eBook. The library is dual-licensed under both GPL and MIT. MIT allows anyone (including commercial publishers) to do almost whatever they like with the library, whereas GPL makes sure it can be used together with GPL-licensed software.

The example AVs we have, however, lack a clear license. As does the example chapter on shellsort. At this point, it would be good to decide on a license for the OpenDSA book. This would make sure we don’t end up making difficult decisions after we have a lot of AVs and text material ready.

Ville Karavirta, Aalto University, http://villekaravirta.com/

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Re: Commercial Publishers

Eventually, the "textbook" itself will reside within some infrastructure such as Connexions (http://cnx.org). In which case, the license is decided. However, that is likely still to leave the AVs themselves. The current plan is to keep them as distinct entities that others can incorporate for their own uses. For example, if the textbook is at Connexions, it will use OEmbed or some similar protocol to seemlessly drop the AVs into the various pages of the book, even though those AVs actually reside elsewhere.

Any recommendations on what license to use? Should we just stick with the dual MIT/GPL licensing that we have adopted for JSAV?

FWIW, I was recently contacted by a for-profit university that wanted to incorporate some of our Java Applets from another project into their course materials. Though those applets are not currently explicitly set up to make them easy to OEmbed, in principle I do not see any reason to object to such entities linking to our materials in this manner (even if those entities are not strictly non-profit).

What do others think?