NEASIST Copyright Program: Hal Abelson’s Lecture

Hal Abelson
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Freedom vs. Control: Rights Management in the Digital Age
Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The video of Global Challenges introduces MIT’s OpenCourseWare, an effort to put course material online to make it accessible to the rest of the world. Abelson calls it the positive perspective.

In April 2001, a number of faculty members decided to start the project. They planned to have 50 courses on the ‘net by September 2002 and another 450 available by September 2003. Now, there are more than 900 courses.

Statistics show China and India top the list of visitors by country. Harvard is number three on hits by institution. Abelson kidded about the purpose of the site being for the underprivileged, so it’s fitting traffic comes from Harvard. The majority of their users are self-learners and students. About 13% are other educators.

Institutions around the world are emulating this project.

Giving coures materials away can defuse ideas of ownership and copyright law that can distract universities from their mission to teach.

DSpace gives scholars a place to store and share their work. Content includes scholarly papers, teaching materials, images, video and sound files, data sets, and lots more.

These projects strengthen the information commons.

According to MIT’s mission statement, part of their purpose is to disseminate and preserver knowledge. These projects move toward those goals.

Abelson shared some efforts other universities are making to educate their faculty about copyright and intellectual property concerns. One memo detailed how students violate professors’ rights by taking notes of their material in class and suggested professors offer licenses to students for them to use the content in their classes. [Abelson presented this in a way that it was humorous. But it’s easy to see that it could turn into a serious matter.]

He considered some ideas about why scholarly publishing as it is today threatens the intellectual property rights of professors and universities. The cost of subscriptions often means universities do not own the works publishing articles by their professors. Authors give their work for free to companies that are going to make money off that person’s work. The university has no rights to the work and the authors may only have limited rights. Using a quote from a journal editor, Abelson shows that the thinking on limiting author’s rights is that people wouldn’t be able to protect their own work.

Hal talked a bit about Creative Commons, licensing, spin off services, and related international efforts.

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