Open Education Community Responds to Dept. of Ed. Open Licensing Policy

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December 22, 2015
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Earlier this week, SPARC submitted comments regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a new open licensing requirement for educational materials and other copyrightable works created through direct grant programs. SPARC and a coalition of more than 100 organizations made a call this summer for the White House to adopt a policy of this kind government-wide, and we are thrilled to see the Department’s proposed policy as a first step in this direction. 

SPARC submitted our own comment, and also signed onto an OER coalition response signed by 26 allied organizations. A total of 147 public comments were submitted, most of which show overall support for the policy.

SPARC's comments focused on the following key points:

  • Maintain the strong definition of the open licensing terms outlined in the proposed rule. This definition will ensure that students, faculty, schools, and other members of the public can make full use of the materials without limitations, while also ensuring that authors and copyright holders are attributed for their work.
  • Specify a standard open license in grant contracts to maximize efficiency, usability, and reduce regulatory burden. Specifically, we recommend a Creative Commons Attribution License for non-software works, which has been used by other government grant programs (such as the Department of Labor's TAACCCT program) and private funders such as the Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation
  • Make open licensing the default for all Department-funded resources. Public access and use should be the rule not the exception, so we recommend removing regulatory limitations and exemptions, and instead establishing a process for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
  • Grantees should distribute openly licensed works to the public. We recommend a regulatory requirement to post all applicable works on the open internet, and additional technical support from the Department to support best practices to ensure these works are discoverable and usable to the public. Long-term we recommend the Department move toward collecting all applicable materials in a repository.
  • Works covered by the rule should be openly licensed upon publication, or the end of the grant period, whichever comes first. This leaves it up to the grantee to determine when a work is of high enough quality to publish, while also ensuring that the public can get the full benefits of using the work immediately once it is.
  • Engage in dialogue with the community as the comments are discussed and the policy is implemented. 

Now that the comment period is closed, the Department will begin the process of reviewing the comments, and will publish a response along with the final regulation text in the Federal Register. The final comment pool includes a full spectrum of opinions, and given the strong case made by SPARC and our allies, we are happy to head into the holidays knowing that the Department has heard strong support for the policy.

We expect more news on the rule making process in the few months, so stay tuned for more updates in the New Year!

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