To be commercial or not is the question?

There has been growing debate over whether OER should use commercial licensing.If this is an issue you feel passionate about, please check out the online debate being led by UNESCO/OER Foundation “Should OER Favour Commercial Use?” CK-12, we believe strongly that licensing should be a choice, not a mandate.We believe that the choice should represent a true spirit of openness for both the users and as well as those providers who take the time and consideration to share their expertise with all.

Here is my invited reponse in this debate:

CK-12 believes that licensing should be a choice that should include the non-commercial clause.


Openness is frame of mind – a commitment to doing things with the idea of sharing and letting others use that work for their needs. This is the easy part. The hard part is reaching consensus on the licensing.


The Open Educational Resources (OER) group has been debating this issue for some time now and is divided in spirit. The Creative Commons (CC) license is the chosen license by the group but the challenge has been in choosing from adopting the many versions of this license. Fortunately or unfortunately, CC allows for choice in licensing. It stipulates that you can operate under any kind of license – free to use; modify the content, as long as you attribute the creator, etc.


If there are choices available then why shouldn’t these choices be available to both the users and providers? The mandate to stick to one form — “commercial” — amounts to “dictatorship.” It goes completely against spirit of “openness” to insist that “this house believes in doing things one way and only one way, and you have to abide by the rule of the house.” OERs are not just one house but instead are many houses that make a village, and will thrive as a village.


We at CK-12 Foundation have invested heavily in our projects and operate under the Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike ( license. If, as an OER, we are asking people to “pay back” by a “share-alike philosophy” then this should also apply to “royalty sharing.” Most OERs do not have a sales force or any marketing budgets. Therefore, if someone is going to commercialize our product, we should have the right to share in the revenues. Many other major OER projects have invested heavily and have adopted the same license – Carnegie Mellon University, the Open Learning Initiative, MIT’s OpenCourseWare, and the Khan Academy. Non-commercial does not change in any way the usage conditions for the very people who need these materials the most and rely on our content to be provided free of charge.


What must also be given due consideration is that OERs have been struggling to be taken seriously, as for-profit organizations question our robustness, quality and sustainability. These non-profits claim that if there are no revenues, then OERs cannot produce high-quality and sustainable content. I ask you, why not allow OERs a chance to survive and ensure that we can keep on contributing? Why do people assume that because something is free it is therefore worthless or of lower quality?


OERs are confusing “feel good” and “self promoting” attitudes by saying to all “we are going to help you by letting you make money on us.” In reality this action is condescending to the people on the receiving end and turns them into “dependents.”


The most dignified way to impact social change is not to keep filling peoples’ begging bowls but rather to empower them. Commercialization should not be structured in such way as to be unfair by leaving out the people who put in the most effort in creating the content.

As many of you know, CK-12 made the decision last summer to update our content licensing type from Creative Commons By-Attribution-Share-Alike to Creative Commons By-Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike ( seeing how well the new license works for other Open Educational Resources (OER) consortia like MIT’s Open Courseware ( and Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (, we felt taking this same approach was appropriate and more beneficial to our donors and content users.These entities are still “open” and represent the sharing spirit.We can now better protect the hard work of our donors and give them the security of knowing that commercialization is not taken without our permission.This change in license has in no way affected how people enjoy and use our content.All may do so with the same freedom to share and change to their requirements as they see fit.The only difference is that we ask them to approach us before they make any decision to commercialize our content.

The online debate (which is closed invite only debate) continues through May 6th so I do hope you’ll share your viewpoints and experiences in this lively and informative dialogue by commenting on this blog and let me know what you think?