Despair in the Open Education World

Thus far, 2013 has been a tough year for open-education advocates.

As Flat World Knowledge promised at the tail-end of 2012, the publisher no longer provides a CC 3.0 NC SA version of its textbooks for students.  In response, Leslie Scott endeavored to defend the commons by crowd-sourcing an effort to harvest Flat World Knowledge’s catalog (see  “All I want for Christmas”).  Working independently, the Saylor Foundation harvested all of the FWK texts.  Over atWriting Commons, we also published a few of these works, particularly the business writing and public speaking materials.  Open-education enthuasists may take some solace in the pre-2013 harvesting of Flat World’s catalog, yet the days ahead are sobering for students and faculty who seek free textbooks.

While Flat World’s embrace of traditional publishers’ commercial practices may be somewhat dispiriting, if understandable (there are, after all, meaningful questions about the role of self-interest in open education), the suicide of Aaron Swartz is devastating.   As  Lawrence Lessig writes in his blog, “the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way.”  Given JSTOR didn’t seek criminal prosecution after Aaron returned his illegal download of JSTOR’S catalog of academic articles, you’ve got to wonder what motivated the U.S. Attorney’s office to prosecute him.  After all, Aaron Swartz’ contributions to digital culture are remarkable: he was one of the co-architects of .rss and co-founder of Reddit.

Back in the days when it was expensive to publish and disseminate scholarly works, the work of publishers and abstracting services was bounded by significant costs.  But now, nonrival goods like academic articles should be open and free.  As academics, we really need to focus on open-access publishing alternatives.  Meanwhile, Aaron’s friends and family are working with Representative Zoe Lofgren to introduce “Aaron’s Law,” which would at the very least result in a review of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

You can visit Demand Progress’ website to click on a form that will send a letter in support of Aaron’s Law:

Despair in the Open Education World” was originally posted at Academe Blog by Joe Moxley