Getting Practical with IPR in E-Learning
X4L was motivated by the imperative to make the most of the considerable investment that has taken place in a range of electronic content in recent years which has high potential value for use in learning. To do this it was recognised at a high level that the key to sustainability and widespread adoption of electronic learning materials, is to unlock the potential of the work taking place in a number of complementary areas, not only in the JISC, but also in other UK educational initiatives – the NLN (National Learning Network), the UFI (the University for Industry), and the NGFL (National Grid for Learning).
The project work highlighted the considerable challenges inherent in trying to initiate and sustain a viable learning-object exchange network. Amongst these challenges were some significant technical issues but the most serious challenges were those concerned with social and organisational matters. In particular, the L2L project highlighted that individuals and institutions need to perceive clear benefits from developing and sharing learning-objects to convince them to incur the costs (financial and time) of repurposing and sharing. The conclusion was that although these challenges are significant they are not insurmountable and are worth pursuing.
A problem that was encountered (which was not unique to L2L) was the considerable time and effort required in attempting to obtain copyright clearance from commercial and public organisations. Particularly frustrating in this respect was the lack of communication from a number of publicly funded organisations. However, a positive output from this situation was the production of an introductory guide to IPR issues ‘Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) In Networked E-Learning - a beginners guide for content developers’. The guide was written by the L2L project officer (John Casey) and published by the JISC Legal service and can be found on their website at http://www.jisclegal.ac.uk/publications/johncasey_1.htm. The expertise developed in writing the guide and the support it provided in obtaining copyright permissions proved very valuable to the L2L project and others. One of the most important things the L2L project discovered about managing IPR in e-learning was the need to keep accurate records to document the ‘IPR Audit Trail’. This meant understanding the ‘lifecycle’ of a learning object, the ‘actors’ who may be involved with it and documenting the relevant IPR information with ‘IPR tracker forms’. The relevant parts of the L2L IPR guide covering this are reproduced below.
The LOs (Learning Objects) produced by L2L adhered to a common framework, which was reflected in a standard folder structure for each of the LOs. Although the issue of a standard folder structure may seem unimportant the L2L development team considered that this was an important part of encouraging reusability and longer-term maintenance. In addition to the actual ‘assets’ making up the L2L LOs information was included in three folders (devnotes, tutnotes, provenance) to provide contextual information in attempt to support others who may decide to use these resources. The information contained in the provenance folder contains information relating to the process of obtaining copyright clearance. There were important technical and administrative reasons for this, the state of rights metadata in learning objects was not rich enough to accommodate the detail and relations needed, and the administrative convenience of having the IPR ‘audit trail’ associated with a LO embedded within it in this way was a considerable bonus.
One of the recommendations from the L2L project was that JISC should develop a standard project agreement that includes a clause that IPR in all tangible outputs from the project rests with JISC, which is now largely in place. The L2L project experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining copyright clearance from some publicly funded agencies/projects. Out of this experience has come the TrustDR project, which is looking at the feasibility of using a standard set of off-the-shelf licences for institutions and individuals across the educational sector and not just those funded by JISC. If successful this would greatly simplify the legal aspects of sharing and reusing educational materials and drastically reduce the transaction costs involved – thereby making it a much more sustainable activity.
Finally, all the learning objects created by the L2L project were deposited in the free national UK learning object repository for the education sector called JORUM (http://www.jorum.ac.uk).
The real challenge is how the education sector can take advantage of the new digital media and technologies without having to pay a huge cost in terms of administration, legal fees and insurance? In this, the issue of trust is central. How can the education sector conduct its business within this environment in such a way that the various creators, publishers and consumers of intellectual property retain their trust? A social or economic system that has low levels of trust tends to have much higher running costs. In a low-trust system, expensive lawyers, contracts and insurance are used as a substitute for behavioural constraint. So, if trust reduces transaction costs in an economy how can we build and maintain it in the context of digital repositories? Some of the main barriers to the success of such repositories are not technical but legal and cultural.
Thus the project will be interested in looking at the cultural issues that need to be addressed in developing DRM (Digital Rights Management) systems. It will be concerned at how to arrive at an agreed legal expression of rights in the form of licences (especially those developed by the ‘Creative Commons’, http://creativecommons.org/) and user agreements from various groups of stakeholders, and whether there are any common patterns that can be identified and possibly transferred for use elsewhere. The project will also be looking at how these expressions of rights can be included in rights metadata using a Digital Rights Expression Language (DREL). The project will examine the types of protection and functionality that rights metadata may help provide, now and in the near future, and its possible utilisation in different parts of the lifecycle of a learning object. The project builds on previous JISC sponsored research and has produced a conceptual model for managing IPR in e-learning – see the next section.
The TrustDR framework for managing IPR in e-learning
The 6 layers on the left describe the components of a typical DRM system - these are briefly described below:
These first three stages all address the creation of a DRM policy.
We can see that the first 3 layers (the creation of a DRM policy) are mostly concerned with the legal and socio-cultural (values, attitudes etc.) aspects of DRM. But as we move through the layers towards the centre and on to the final 3 layers (the projection of a DRM policy) we move more towards a concern with the technical factors involved in DRM. The arrows pointing toward the top and bottom of the diagram indicate this implementation continuum in DRM that encapsulates both the legal and socio-cultural aspects and also the technical issues.
Lying at the centre of the 6 layers is an area where the legal and socio-cultural aspects and the technical issues meet and have to communicate with each other for the DRM system to work. Because of this we have called this point the ‘Legal and Technical Nexus’, and it is at this point where the use of off-the-shelf licences such as those developed by the Creative Commons and possible derivatives of those used by JORUM would exist. Because these licences are both human and machine-readable they can perform this ‘nexus’ function.
Note: A useful analogy may be drawn between this diagram and the Open Systems Interconnection model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Systems_Interconnection--Reference_Model), which is used to simplify the description of complex computer network and communications systems by breaking them into simpler logical chunks. In a similar way our 6-layer model is used as a way of simplifying the DRM process for all those involved – so those involved in each stage of the model do not have to know about the other stages. The addition of the other elements to the 6 layers completes our TrustDR framework.
Although not really in the public consciousness yet, the IMS Learning Design language is currently causing a great deal of excitement in the e-learning community, it is a free open source software language, (http://www.imsglobal.org/learningdesign/index.html). It allows learning designers to model, in a generic, formal way, who does what, when and with which content and services in order to achieve learning objectives. It enables their activities to be specified in coordinated learning flows that are analogous to groupware workflows, and it supports group and collaborative learning of many different kinds. Using the LD language, designers are able to talk in terms of pedagogy rather than technology, helping to bring learning to the forefront in e-learning. What will be very interesting is to see how individuals and institutions attach a value to these shareable learning designs and how they may choose to share them.
Again, the value (real and perceived) of the materials will play a factor in the cost – benefit -risk analysis, which may result in collections also being categorised by value – with appropriate metadata to provide necessary protection.
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