Why not choose open?

As I concluded my research and worked on formulating my ideas into a final paper, I couldn’t shake a lingering question that had emerged through my inquiry: Why not choose open? When a content creator is already choosing to give away their work for free, why not also make it open? I wondered what barriers might hold people back, and considered several possible reasons for this choice. Among these these: a misconception of open, and a fear of losing control.

Open can be hard to understand. In the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2017), the project creators recognize that open licensing struggles from ambiguity. They admit that “after a decade of passionate advocacy, the need for broader awareness of open education persists” (p. 4). However, the awareness required isn’t necessarily that open licensing exists. Many people are aware that Creative Commons and open source exists. However, I wonder if not many people actually know what these licenses mean or how they started. The Cape Town Open Education Declaration creators noted that, after 10 years, “the challenge is not in reaching enough people, but rather in articulating the meaning and value of open education in a way that resonates with mainstream audiences” (p. 4). Advocates of openness need to help people see how open licensing can have a meaningful impact on their own lives, and not just see it as something other people use.

Open can feel like a loss of control. We have been conditioned, in part by the media, to believe that copyright is a necessary good, otherwise theft of intellectual property would run rampant. However, Lessig (2004) argues that this is not the case. Copyright and patents, particularly the kind that hamper creativity, are a relatively recent development in the course of human history. Lessig argues that that Internet can promote a free and open culture, but that corporations are working hard to prevent this. “Free cultures are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon; unfree, or permission, cultures leave much less. Ours was a free culture. It is becoming much less so“ (p. 30). Open licensing doesn’t mean losing control, creators still own a work that has an open license. What it means is empowering others to learn from and build on the past.

To wrap up this blog post, I’d like to leave my readers with one parting thought experiment. If you were to create something—a book, a course, a work of art—and this thing were to take you a lot of time to create, say 500 hours, would you choose to release it with an open license? If not, what are some reasons why you wouldn’t? If so, why, and would you have made the same choice before starting this Masters?


Cape Town Open Education Declaration 10th Anniversary (2017). Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.capetowndeclaration.org/cpt10/

Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture: How big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity. New York: Penguin Press. Retrieved from http://www.free-culture.cc/

Photo by marcos mayer on Unsplash

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