As I’m beginning to prepare for my American Environmental History course next semester, I’ve started a Zotero Group containing a bibliography of some of the books that contain chapter readings and some journal articles I’m going to assign, or that are available for students working on term papers. So far, these are just books that are in BSU’s Library (I’ve given them a list of a few more I’d like them to get). This is a public list, so if other people start joining the Group and contributing titles, I’ll probably add tags that will indicate for my students which books are available locally and which they have to order via ILL, or in the case of articles where they can get hold of them. I normally attach pdfs to my own Zotero entries, but I can replace them with stable link URLs in the public lists.
I’m thinking about the additional readings I may assign in this class. Many of them are chapters in monographs, which I believe I can assign and students can go to the Library and read or scan the chapter. We have a really cool, fast scanner, so I may put the texts on course reserve. I’m curious about how other people doing OER deal with content from copyrighted (all rights reserved) sources. I’ll be talking with a Librarian later today about the Minnesota State University system’s fair use guidelines, but if anybody has experience they’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about it. My thought was there ought to be a way to replace the printed course-pack with some type of digital one, but I realize there may be objections to that because it’s easy to limit the printed course-pack to a finite set of students in a particular class during a particular semester…but even so, there’s got to be a way to update this idea for the 21st century. I guess making these types of pointers available in Zotero is a first step, for people who have access to an academic library. It’s not ideal for folks who don’t, however; but maybe that’s a battle for another day.
In addition to the Creative Commons course I’m taking this semester, I’m also involved in a project to turn my American Environmental History textbook into an OER (Open Educational Resource) prior to using it to teach a course called “People In the Environment: Environmental History” in the Spring semester. “People In the Environment” is a required course for all Bemidji State University undergrads, and it is usually taught in interdisciplinary teams. It has been ages (literally between 5 and 10 years!) since a historian has been on one of these teams, so I’m going to rectify that in the Spring. I’m going to trach a survey of American Environmental History this Spring, and then I’m putting in a request to teach a more in-depth version of it, with readings from some of the major works in the field, this summer.
As part of that process, I’m going to turn my American Environmental History textbook, which is already a very cheap alternative to the other textbooks available from academic presses, into a fully OER production. I may continue to sell copies of it on Amazon, since that seems like one of the lowest-cost ways to get a decently-printed paperback into peoples’ hands. Currently the book is $25 and the Kindle is either ten bucks or free (if you have Kindle Unlimited or if you buy the paperback you get a free Kindle copy). It will probably come down a bit from there. I’ll also probably be making audio and my course videos available online in a more permanent form. Maybe discussion prompts and quizzes and exam questions, as I put together the course material.
Hopefully turning this authoring project into an OER authoring project may give other Environmental History teachers an incentive to not only use the material but contribute to it and add their own content and perspectives. I don’t claim to have any type of unique insight into Environmental History — except maybe my feeling that it should be much more available to students and that opening this project up a bit might help make that happen!
And here’s the text, in case you want to follow along:
Copyright was first enacted in 1710 by the British Parliament in an act called the Statute of Anne, which begins:
Whereas Printers, Booksellers, and other Persons, have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing, Reprinting, and Publishing, or causing to be Printed, Reprinted, and Published Books, and other Writings, without the Consent of the Authors or Proprietors of such Books and Writings, to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families: For Preventing therefore such Practices for the future, and for the Encouragement of Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books; May it please Your Majesty, that it may be Enacted …
Queen Anne was the sister of Queen Mary, the daughter of James II who was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Mary and her husband William of Orange took the throne, and after they were both dead in 1702 she took the throne. She ruled for twelve years, and then the throne passed to her second cousin George I, the 54-year old German ruler of the duchy of Hanover. Anne had 50 closer relatives, but they were all Catholics.
The Statute of Anne specified a copyright period of 14 years and allowed copyrights to be renewed for a similar term. The statute also for the first time vested the copyright in authors rather than publishers, which was an important change.
Any creative works or performances can be covered by copyright, as soon as they are performed or recorded. The ideas in a work are not protected; there are other forms such as trademarks for commercial expression and patents for inventions that cover ideas their creators wish to protect as intellectual property. In the US and under the Berne Convention, copyright begins as soon as a person creates the work and does not need to be applied for. However, registered copyrights can be easier to protect, since the registration established a paper trail or what might be called a chain of custody.
The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is an international agreement established in 1886 and originally signed by 10 nations. Currently, 176 states are parties to the convention. Some of its minimum standards are that the term of copyright must be at least the author’s life plus 50 years, and that copyright must be automatic and formal registration is not required. The US did not sign on until 1989, partly because the convention nullified America’s requirements of copyright registration and mandatory copyright notice.
Under the Berne Convention, a person receives copyright as soon as she creates a work in a recorded form or a performance. This is unlike other forms of intellectual property like inventions, which must be protected by filing for a patent. At the end of the copyright period, the work enters the public domain and becomes available for free use, copying, and modification. Works that are made using the public domain material are then covered by copyright, but the copyright does not extend to the public domain elements incorporated in the work.
Copyright exceptions and limitations are designed to safeguard the public by allowing people to use excerpts of works for the purposes of scholarship, review, and commentary. Works that couldn’t be quoted couldn’t be reviewed or discussed in public fora. Similarly, educators are allowed to use works in classroom settings under “fair use” provisions, without permission or payment. Also, once a single copy of a work (say, a book) has been sold, it can be resold, donated, loaned, or otherwise passed on to anyone without additional permission or payment to the copyright holder. This is what allows libraries to loan out books. The advent of ebooks has muddied these waters somewhat, since technology has to be developed to prevent the loaned copies from being kept, which would be copying rather than lending and would violate copyright. Many of the digital rights management systems people have implemented to deal with these issues are controversial and have been criticized by advocates of information sharing.