With two whole weeks left to spare in 2011 (procrastinate much?), Congress finally finished its deliberations on the FY12 budget. The nearly one trillion dollar appropriations bill is now making its way to the President for his signature. While the maximum Pell grant was maintained, it’s hard to see the continual whittling away of benefits as a victory for students (see Steve Burd’s take on the “thoughtless” approach here). There was, however, a quiet and significant victory for students in the final bill. As previously noted on the Quick and the Ed and in the National Review, a stealth attack in the appropriations process sought to undermine federal investments in Open Education Resources (OER). A look at the final language reveals that the counter attack was successful. While it may be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a new year free from worry, another danger is lurking—one that could be much more harmful to the Open Education Resources movement and the students they serve—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
At first blush, SOPA doesn’t seem to have much to do with education. It seems like a classic fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley over copyright protection and innovation. Unfortunately, OER might get caught in the crossfire. To get to the heart of the issue, we need go back to another Hollywood and Silicon Valley face-off.
In the mid and late 90s, technology made it easier to digitize — and illegally share — music. Battles raged between the music industry, concerned about copyright infringement, and the software/online industries, looking to innovate and expand their own market share. From this battle came a compromise intended to balance both sides’ concerns: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Wired calls DMCA “the law that saved the web,” in large part because of its “notice and takedown” provision, which provides protection for websites that inadvertently host materials belonging to someone else—provided the website takes it down when told about the infringement. This approach protects both the owner of the material and the site that hosts it—and has allowed sites like Google and YouTube to thrive. Unfortunately, SOPA would create a new set of enforcement provisions that would undo notice and takedown, allowing copyright holders to go directly to a judge to shut down the websites. The threat of court action could prove fatal to OER.
As students, schools, institutions, and governments grapple with quality and cost in education, OER is being looked to as a key part of a solution. MIT just announced plans to offer credentials for its OER courses and Washington State just launched 43 open community college courses. How likely are these institutions to keep investing in and hosting OER if they are constantly besieged by lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits? Here’s what Google’s director of public policy had to say about SOPA’s effect on You Tube
YouTube would just go dark immediately. It couldn’t function.
If the profit-oriented, highly-capitalized, and overly-lawyered folks at Google and YouTube think the risks of SOPA are too high, what do you think folks in Washington State will think? And do?