SEO as Enclosure – Another Real World Example

Wikipedia Device, aimed at the elderly

I know in the past people have given Stephen and others lots of grief about their stance on the Non-Commercial clause. And I admit that, while I understood the theoretical possibilities Stephen was concerned about, that commercial entities often seek to obscure or enclose free resources so that even if the original is still literally “open” it becomes effectively lost, I initially wrote that off as edge-case fear mongering.

But over the last few years I have come to see this not as an edge case at all but is actually a real practice that we see emerging over and over, whether it be in various threats to “net neutrality” or SEO practices that effectively bury the free versions of content. This post is just a brief note about yet another example that came up in conversation with a potential partner in government who wants to share openly some training resources aimed at helping immigrants to Canada have their foreign credentials accepted and become members of professional organizations in Canada.

I raised the question of “flavours” of Creative Commons license simply because the current configuration of SOL*R supports the 2.0 Attribution Share-Alike license and wanted them to realize they had a choice. This gave them some pause, and then mentioned that actually, one of the challenges faced when communicating with new immigrant populations in general is that there are certain groups (e.g. immigration lawyers and others who “facilitate” the process) who have a strong motive to short circuit official channels so that they can communicate “on behalf” of new immigrant clients (read – “charge them lots of money for things the government actually provides for free.”) Fair play to Google, the top unsponsored hits for “Immigrate to Canada” are indeed government websites, but the first one is a sponsored commercial link, and on that same first page of results are a number of commercial “immigration consulting” services pretty much masquerading as government sites.

All of which is simply to add yet another to what seems to me to be the long and ever-expanding list of examples of ways in which commercial entities, usually through legal if not totally ethical means, obscure what should be free and public resources. This is not make believe or edge case. This is in fact the modus operandi of capital. – SWL

5 thoughts on “SEO as Enclosure – Another Real World Example”

  1. Are these commercial consulting companies lifting creative commons content to salt their search juice? If they are, then this is a clear case to back up Stephen’s warning. If they aren’t, I don’t see the problem. Yes, there’s a risk that a commercial consulting company could take advantage of creative commons licensed content, but has that happened? Would they bubble above the official government sites if they did so?

  2. The point of the post was to point out an area where a client had raised a fear that, based on how existing sites/resources work in their field, seems entirely justified. “Would they bubble above the official government sites if they did so?” This is exactly the fear, justified I think when there is a commercial interest (and thus capital) to make it happen, and search results capable of being influenced, both the “organic” ones through SEO as well as simply just the ads overwhelming people potentially facing internet literacies (as well as just plain literacy) issues.

    I am capturing examples to make it clear this is not an imaginary danger. There is, however, a danger in arguing by examples, as people fix on those examples as if they were the only ones, instead of just a few of but many.

    Ultimately, I think the arguing about licenses does miss a lot of the point and use up a lot of our energy. There is a lot more amiss in the world of OERs. So apologies for stirring up this teapot-sized tempest yet again.

  3. No, the teapot needs to be stirred. I’m genuinely curious, though. Is there a non-hypothetical example of open content being used to devalue the original work? If we can find such an example, that will carry much more weight than possible hypothetical projections.

  4. Lisa: how so? All of the videos I clicked through on that site weren’t even licensed under Creative Commons. And if they were, unless they had the NC clause, then they can’t be violating the “whole idea” because this is the basis for having the NC clause in the first place!

    I wonder about the use of YouTube video in this context, though. The YouTube TOS denies the right to use YouTube video commercially unless: 1) there are no modifications to the player, 2) there are no ads placed in or on the video, and 3) “unless other material not obtained from YouTube appears on the same page and is of sufficient value to be the basis for such sales”

    #3 seems in question for many of these sites.

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