It’s not easy being clear…
There has been some debate going backwards and forwards over the past few weeks about licensing, peoples expectations, and the extent to which researchers can be expected to understand, or want to understand, the details of legal terms, licensing and other technical minutiae. It is reasonable for scientific researchers not to wish to get into the details. One of the real successes of Creative Commons has been to provide a relatively small set of reasonably clear terms that enable people to express their wishes about what people can do with their work. But even here there is the potential for significant confusion as demonstrated by the work that CC is doing on the perception of what “non commercial” means.
The end result of this is two-fold. Firstly people are genuinely confused about what to do and a result they give up. In giving up there is often an unspoken assumption that “people will understand what I want/mean”. Two examples yesterday illustrated exactly how misguided this can be and showed the importance of being clear, and thinking about, what you want people to do with your content and information.
The first was pointed out by Paulo Nuin who linked to a post on The Matrix Cookbook, a blog and PDF containing much useful information on matrix transforms. The post complained that Amazon were selling a Kindle version of the PDF, apparently without asking permission or even bothering to inform the authors. So far, so big corporation. But digging a little deeper I went to the front page of the site and found this interesting “license”:
“License? No, there is no license. It is provided as a knowledge sharing project for anyone to use. But if you use it in an academic or research like context, we would love to be cited appropriately.”
Now I would intepret this as meaning that the authors had intended to place the work in the public domain. They clearly felt that while educational and research re-use was fine that commercial use was not. I would guess that someone at Amazon read the statement “there is no license” and felt that it was free to re-use. It seems odd that they wouldn’t email the authors to notify them but if it were public domain there is no requirement to. Rude, yes. Theft? Well it depends on your perspective. Going back today the authors have made a significant change to the “license”:
It is provided as a knowledge sharing project for anyone to use. But if you use it in an academic or research like context, we would love to be cited appropriately. And NO, you are not allowed to make money on it by reselling The Matrix Cookbook in any form or shape.
Had the authors made the content CC-BY-NC then their intentions would have been much clearer. My personal belief is that an NC license would be counter-productive (meaning the work couldn’t be used for teaching at a fee charging college or for research funded by a commercial sponsor for instance) but the point of the CC licenses is to give people these choices. What is important is that people make those choices and make them clear.
The second example related to identity. As part of an ongoing discussion involving online commenting genereg, a Friendfeed user, linked to their blog which included their real name. Mr Gunn, the nickname used by Dr William Gunn online wrote a blog post in which he referred to genereg’s contribution by linking to their blog from their real name [subsequently removed on request]. I probably would have done the same, wanting to ascribe the contribution clearly to the “real person” so they get credit for it. Genereg objected to this feeling that as their real name wasn’t directly in that conversational context it was inappropriate to use it.
So in my view, “Genereg” was a nickname that someone was happy to have connected with their real name, while in their view this was inappropriate. No-one is right or wrong here, we are evolving the rules of conduct more or less as we go and frankly, identity is a mess. But this wasn’t clear to me or to Mr Gunn. I am often uncomfortable with trying to tell whether a specific person who has linked two apparently separate identities is happy with that link being public, has linked the two by mistake, or just regards one as an alias. And you can’t ask in public forum can you?
What links these, and this week’s other fracas, is confusion over people’s expectations. The best way to avoid this is to be as clear as you possibly can. Don’t assume that everyone thinks the same way that you do. And definitely don’t assume that what is obvious to you is obvious to everyone else. When it comes to content, make a clear statement of your expectations and wishes, preferably using a widely recognized and understood licenses. If you’re reading this at OWW you should be seeing my nice shiny new cc0 waiver in the right hand navbar (I haven’t figured how to get it into the RSS feed yet). Most of my slidesets at Slideshare are CC-BY-SA. I’d prefer them to be CC-BY but most include images with CC-BY-SA licenses which (try to make sure) I respect. Overall I try to make the work I generate as widely re-usable as possible and aim to make that as clear as possible.
There are no such tools to make clear statements about how you wish your identity to be treated (and perhaps there should be). But a plain english statement on the appropriate profile page might be useful “I blog under a pseudonym because…and I don’t want my identity revealed”…”Bunnykins is the Friendfeed handle of Professor Serious Person”. Consider whether what you are doing is sending mixed messages or potentially confusing. Personally I like to keep things simple so I just use my real name or variants of it. But that is clearly not for everyone.
Above all, try to express clearly what you expect and wish to happen. Don’t expect others necessarily to understand where you’re coming from. It is very easy for one person’s polite and helpful to be another person’s deeply offensive. When you put something online, think about how you want people to use it, think about how you don’t want people to use it (and remember you may need to balance the allowing of one against the restricting of the other) and make those as clear as you possibly can, where possible using a statement or license that is widely recognized and has had some legal attention at some point like the CC licenses, cc0 waiver, or the PDDL. Clarity helps everyone. If we get this wrong we may end up with a web full of things we can’t use.