A response to Leigh Blackall: The New Colonialism in OER

In many respects, OER and the Creative Commons licenses help propel US centered ideas of copyright and intellectual property, indirectly inserting such ideas on the back of moral concepts such as sharing, freedom and openness, as though sharing, freedom and openness didn’t exist before, and that the only way to protect such notions is with legal instruments that recognise copyrights in the first place!

This is a partial response that needs more thinking through. I admire Leigh taking this once more around the loop and I find his argument almost compelling. But, the extrapolation across the whole creative commons (CC) is problematic as is the denial that any part of any leopard might change its spots: CC is a big progressive step and there is a lot that is progressive in OER, too. I am not sure that the limited uptake of CC India means that CC is a bad idea everywhere. Nor is OER, even if the Capetown Declaration is flawed, as Stephen Downes has argued [ref to come]. With real struggles to be faced like the Digital Britain initiative, which is overtly colonialist and reactionary, suspecting and projecting covert neocolonialism throughout the broad OER and CC movements renders the struggle unwinnable, alienates allies and is, as Leigh implicitly acknowledges probably irrelevant in many places anyway.

While there may be some parallels with the Bill Gates foundation preserving patent law on the one hand while donating notional billions worth of patented anti-retrovirals with the other (Microsoft has a huge interest in preserving international patent law in other fields), or the Soros Foundation’s interest in civil society, I do not think similarly overt self interests drive OER or CC. Yes, CC and OER do primarily address – and in part remedy beneficially – problematics in “Western” or “Developed” countries where copyright distorts a lot of the field and needs to be radically overhauled. Yes, applying “Western” “developed” polities to “southern” or “emerging” economies is neo-colonial. Even more importantly, yes, the “west” has a lot to learn from the south. The biggest problem with OER and CC is probably that we westerners continue to focus on ourselves and fail to notice the emerging open educational movements and other new economics initiatives from the “undeveloped” world.

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