I want to frame my remarks today with a quick sto­ry. Once upon a time, there’s a beau­ti­ful val­ley where peo­ple lived. And the val­ley’s full of flow­ers and grass, and it was beau­ti­ful. People walked most of the places they went, until one day a young man invent­ed this amaz­ing device called an auto­mo­bile. People start dri­ving these auto­mo­biles every­where, and it was incred­i­ble. They got from here to there, they went fast. But peo­ple start­ed to notice that the auto­mo­biles were kind of tear­ing up the countryside.

So the peo­ple came togeth­er and they said, what can we do? We don’t want to give up the ben­e­fits of this great new tech­nol­o­gy, but we don’t want to com­plete­ly destroyed the coun­try­side here, so let’s make a com­pro­mise. We’ll cre­ate these things called roads. And we’ll make a law that says whether you’re a truck or a car motor­cy­cle, what­ev­er you are, all the things with engines that go must stay on the road. And if we do that, we can carve out some roads, which will be a bit of a sac­ri­fice, but we can keep the rest of the val­ley look­ing very pristine.

Well, a cou­ple decades lat­er a young woman had anoth­er idea for device that she called an air­plane. She’s real­ly excit­ed about this. It was going to get us even faster, had dif­fer­ent kinds of maybe low­er impacts on the envi­ron­ment. She raised a bunch of mon­ey, and got togeth­er, and at her announce­ment the police showed up. And the police want­ed to remind her that even though they’re real­ly in favor of this great new device she had invent­ed, to remem­ber the law that says all the things with engines must go on the road. So she’s wel­come to dri­ve her air­plane any­where she want­ed to go. But fly­ing it would be illegal. 

So, what’s the point of this lit­tle tale? The point is that the Internet pro­vides us with a set of amaz­ing tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ties. Things that we could nev­er even dream of doing in the past. But long before the Internet even was a gleam in an engi­neer’s eye, there was some law that exist­ed. Copyright law. Copyright law that reg­u­lates things like copy­ing, like cre­at­ing deriv­a­tive works, like dis­trib­ut­ing copies of works.

And when you think about what the Internet is, the Internet is real­ly a giant shar­ing machine. It’s a machine for mak­ing copies, for mak­ing deriv­a­tive works, for mak­ing remix­es and mak­ing mashups. For dis­trib­ut­ing those around the world instan­ta­neous­ly. And so there’s a very pro­found ten­sion between what copy­right enables legal­ly, and what the Internet enables tech­ni­cal­ly. And in our bat­tle for equi­ty and for qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion, we’re kind of fight­ing with one hand tied behind our back as we are caught in this ten­sion between what we could be capa­ble of doing, and what we’re per­mit­ted to do. 

So the idea that I want to talk about today and that we’ll explore a lit­tle bit fur­ther on the pan­el is the idea of open edu­ca­tion­al resources. Open edu­ca­tion­al resources are essen­tial­ly open-source cur­ric­u­la mate­ri­als that are one, com­plete­ly free for any­one to use and access, and come with a set of copy­right per­mis­sions that make it legal for us to do all the things that the Internet makes tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble for us to do. Thank you.

Further Reference

David Wiley’s home page.

The Next Social Contract event home page.