Attribution Tool is a service that has come across my desk a dozen times in the last year, referred on to me by everyone from trusted colleagues, the director of my org, and the developer himself (with whom I should note I have worked before and consider a friend). I had looked at it briefly before, but the last time someone sent me a prompt I thought it time to take a better look and write it up.

The premise is simple enough – the service provides a bookmarklet that, when clicked, creates an overlay of whatever page you were looking at. This overlay allows you to then select content on that page, for which it generates ’embed code’ to paste on your own site. Doing so will reproduce the content along with an annotated attribution link back to the original source.

There’s a few small other twists to it – the attribution link does use a microformat that describes it as an ‘attribution,’ it looks like RDF data is being created which will associate the cited data with both source and destination, and, if you create an optional account, this account becomes a central storage spot for all of your snipped content.

So the idea seems appealing. And to give credit to the developers, it is quite easy to use, and while there might have been ways to reduce the steps even further, really, it is reasonably slick. The fact that you can use it without an account is very cool. And it’s free.

But like so many things, a large part of the question of whether it will get adopted is whether the effort to use the tool (or any change to existing workflow that the tool asks you to make) is worth the payoff, makes it easier to accomplish something you were already doing, or easy to accomplish something you’re not already doing but might, if made easy enough.

The act of copying the content itself doesn’t seem to be made particularly easier, so value proposition seems to lie in providing an easier way to create attributions. Morally this seems to resonate – other than what seems like a few fringe cases, there doesn’t seem to be any real resistance in the open content/open education community that Attribution is a reasonable requirement for reuse. So we seem to be saying we want to attribute original sources, and indeed the pratice of the bloggers (and educators) I respect would also seem to support this. Indeed, Alan even coined a neologism for it:


But the word “Attribution” sounds vague.

So I tossed out a new word — Linktribution– attribution via a web link, or offering a “linktribute”.

So does make it any easier to do? Well, in my limited experience so far, not particularly. Neither the microformat nor the RDF are of any immediate benefit to me that I can see either (though I am not opposed to creating them if it’s easy enough, which this is). Having a store of ‘attributed’ content – yes, I could see that having some value.Enough to make me change my workflow? Not sure.
I *want* to like But I’m not sure. I’m going to keep trying to use it for a few more weeks, see if it rubs off. The reason I am blogging it, though, is partly so that others can have a look and give me their sense as to its usefulness, and their willingness to adapt their workflow to include something like this. What do you think? As a blogger, would you use this? As someone working on open content or open education, would you evangelize this to your users? – SWL

Making the case for “Fully Open” Content

I’ve asked twitterites a few times but haven’t got much of a reply yet, so I’m hoping readers have a reference or two to throw my way. Here’s the question – I work on a project that helps share educational resources. We currently support two licenses, a Creative Commons license and a regional consortia license called the “BC Commons” which facilitates sharing amongst the public post-secondary institutions in BC. Obviously this latter is not a “fully open” license as it does limit who can see and reuse the content. We’ve always seen it, I think, as an interim step, a way to get people into the habit of sharing their content but in a ‘safe’ way (and a way that the funders, the BC government and taxpayers, could be convinced of the immediate benefits).

Increasingly we are looking to try and increase the use of “fully open” licenses like Creative Commons, but in order to take this step we need to make the case to funders (as well, ultimately, to the content owners) as to why publishing under a fully open license is a better idea, for them, for the funders and ultimately the taxpayers.

So, I am looking for as many good references as I can find to help make the case. I wish it were enough to simply point people at David Wiley’s BCNet talk from 2007 [audio here | video here] (heck, it was given here in BC) because if you ask me, slam dunk!

Unfortunately, I need more, especially actual studies of the benefits or effects of sharing in a fully open way (and especially where a group moved from a more closed to more open model of sharing). Anything that can support or illustrate these kinds of arguments:

  • making resources fully open increases the number of accesses (and reuse) of resources, both within and outside of the original constituency
  • resources that are made fully open will have more improvements made to them, and thus end up as higher quality resources at no cost, then resources that aren’t
  • making resources fully open can provide additional returns for the organizations that do so in the form of increased brand recognition, increased student enrollments, better prepared existing students, etc.
  • making resources fully open leads to increased opportunities for partnership
  • making resources fully open does not substantially impact revenues to the content owner or institution (and indeed may increase it)

Anything is helpful, and I assume there are others trying to make this case in their own jurisdictions. Do you know of any studies that we can cite to substantiate the above propositions? Or indeed other propositions we should be staking the case on? –SWL

eLAB’s blog? Hardly, that’s mine!

So this story will be familiar to most bloggers who have been around for awhille; like a good narcissist, you check out your referrer logs and notice a new site bring people to your blog, but when you click on it you discover someone basically syndicating your feed, holus bolus, with no attribution (and no display of the original license), to all extents, as their own.

That was the case when I checked out the above site. What was worse, on the company’s home page (no google juice for you!) they link to this page as “The Official Blog.” Well, that’s, ummm, nice I guess, good to be know as ‘official’ in someone’s books.

So I wrote them this letter:

Hi, I am the owner and author of EdTechPost (

I noticed that you are syndicating my feed at While I do publish under a Creative Commons license (specifically I feel that your republishing of my feed is infringing on both the spirit and the letter of this license. Specifically, in terms of the letter of the CC license, your use of my feed honours neither the attribution clause (4c) nor the need to re-display the original license under which it was created (clause 4a). In addition, linking to your syndication page of my content under the text “The Official Blog” off of your company’s home page ( may violate the non-commercial aspect of the license, and is also misleading in terms of the attribution of the content.

I would appreciate your prompt attention in rectifying these misuses of my content. Please address these concerns by either displaying the proper attribution and license or else not syndicating my blog feed in this manner anymore. I would appreciate a reply to this email indicating what course of action you choose.

I am glad that you find EdTechPost of interest and worthy of syndication on your site for your readers, and by making these changes you may continue to do so.

Sincerely, Scott Leslie”

Part of me really hates doing this, and truly, it’s not about any great loss of commercial potential on my part. This is at least the 20th or so time I have come across someone syndicating my feed on their pages. I have only sent off one other letter before, again in a case where it felt like the person was badly mis-interpreting the freedoms provided for in the CC license I use.

But what about you? Have you had your blog feed re-syndicated in ways you weren’t happy with? Is this an appropriate reaction or just me over-reacting? Is this just par for the course when you publish an RSS feed? Strange words indeed coming from a pirate like me, I know. – SWL

Have you told your faculty about the Creative Commons?

I run a repository service in B.C. (god, why does that always feel like the start of a stereotypical A.A. confessional, “My name is Scott and I am a recovering Learning Object Repository manager…”) We currently support sharing materials under two different licenses, either the Internet-wide Creative Commons (specifically the Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada flavour) or a BC-specific consortial license called the BC Commons.

Part of my job is to take the dog and pony show around to institutions, so increasingly I am in front of faculty from across the province presenting on this. Typically, to introduce the idea of these licenses, I start with the Creative Commons, because given it’s massive adoption, clearly everyone will have heard of it, right?

WRONG!!!  In well over a dozen presentations recently, I have NEVER had more than a 35% recognition rate for the Creative Commons (and that’s including librarian conferences!) and sometimes as little as 1 in 20 will have heard about it.

I know I’ve gone off on this before on cogdog’s comment area, but this is still just staggering to me. And I don’t really mean that as a critique on the faculty themselves, though neither do I want to praise inattentivenesses. But seriously, we, and by that I mean both those of us supporting faculty in general, and also those working on “openness and sharing,” need to do a better job of communicating basic things like the very existence of the Creative Commons. It shocks me to have to write that in 2007, but that’s my reality.

How about you – what’s the awareness level of Creative Commons in your organization? Any ideas on simple (free, easy) ways of increasing this awareness? Or is “mass retirement” the solution to your information literacy woes? Love to hear your ideas or stories to the contrary. – SWL

Creative Commons Images and Watermarks

Mark at eClippings recently re-posted this image from Dion Hinchcliffe. The image itself is interesting, but what struck me was that it had the Creative Commons condition icons and the source URL embedded in the image itself at the bottom. I’m calling this a watermark but I may be using the term incorrectly.

When I saw this I was torn. On the one hand my first reaction was – hey, that’s a great idea, remove any ambiguity about the rights associated with the image regardless of where it ends up, and also clear up how it is to be attributed by including it’s original URL. If you buy into the argument that lack of clarity about rights and the hardship of clearing rights is a major inhibitor to the reuse of digital resources then it seems to make sense, right?

On the other hand, I can see arguments to the effect that such marks could be a hinderance to reuse (if done in an ugly way that mars the original image or if they take away from the re-users contribution to the remix). And if they are such a great idea, why aren’t we seeing this more often. There are already lots of scripts out there to automate watermarking of images, and it would be simple to offer these as a service that people could tie into. But is this a good idea?

I have self-interested reasons for asking this question. Within my work on SOL*R I have to advise content authors on how to display either a Creative Commons or BC Commons license in their work. My reply has always been “Hey, they’re your rights and it’s your content, so if you feel strongly about people respecting these, assert them as often as you like.” The funny thing is the issue isn’t people wanting to use license tags excessively, its people not wanting to use them at all because they haven’t included them up front on a template or the like.

So, is this practice one to encourage? Should we instead use XMP for this (and build apps that automatically just add it in without extra work from the user)? Or leave well enough alone? Feedback (through email, as my overworked butt has still not migrated this to WordPress as promised) always appreciated. – SWL

CCMixter Radio – Rockin’ the airwaves with Creative Commons music, 24 hours a day!

Kind of a non-sequitar, but I have been working away listening to streams of fully CC-licensed remixes and tracks from the awesome CCMixter site all day, and just wanted to tell someone. What brought me there was the announcement that my old favourite, Freesound, is now integrated into ccMixter via the Sample Pool API. Ahh, CreativeCommons content – think “Organic,” but for your brain 😉 – SWL

Paper – The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age

This is an important new paper by William McGeveran and William Fisher from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. It’s not exactly earth shattering content for people regularly working on the issue of sharing and reusing digital resources for education, but it is fairly comprehensive (from a US perspective at least) and done by lawyers, the type of document that can potentially have some legitimacy with politicians and other decision makers (and yes, I believe in faeries too!) The Mellon Foundation is to be commended for funding it. I loved their case studies, especially the one that has a media prof cracking DRM controls with freely available tools so as to be able to create a clips reel for his class. That would never happen 😉 – SWL

Should this need attribution?

I stumbled across this newsletter from the folks at Xplana through my referrer logs (apparently they are also a CMS company in addition to producing the Xplana blog). If you go through the section titled ‘Useful Research’ you’ll find many posts you have already read before, from many edtech blogs you read. Some of them are just repostings of the original post without anything added; while their link points back to the original post, they are otherwise unattributed.

I seem to think there was a screaming hissy fit about this about a year ago in the ed tech blog space, which I have no desire to revive. But I’m wondering if someone can tell me if by providing the RSS feed to my site I should somehow simply accept this usage of my words? Personally, I think this isn’t o.k. – if you want to redisplay my feed somewhere else, great, but do so by at the very least also displaying the site’s title and a link, even if all I post are just my little annotations to others’ resources. Otherwise, feel free to re-post any links I’ve pointed to – I can’t stop you – but describe them with your own words.

But I am interested in hearing what others think, as I am certain this is not the only place where people’s posts are simply reposted wholescale but without much other attribution. Should I just accept that by offering syndication of the site, that it’s contents will show up elsewhere? – SWL

BC Commons licence

It struck me that while there will be quite a few out there who have seen this before, I haven’t seen it make the rounds of the blogosphere and so maybe it is worthwhile…

The BCcommons Licence is a “open content” licence inspired by Creative Commons but aimed specifically at facilitating sharing of content created within the BC post-secondary system with the rest of that system. It has been developed by my employers (and my boss, Paul Stacey) at BCcampus. It’s a kind of middle ground between “closed” content and the full Creative Commons, a way for our provincial system to promote sharing between institutions but hopefully not pushing people as far out of their comfort zone as the full on Creative Commons might. The first content to be released under this licence should be coming along shortly so we will soon see if this fills the anticipated niche and has the desired effect. And a final note: in a cool twist, the BCcommons licence itself has been released under the creative commons, so if it somehow inspires you and you think it could serve as the basis for your own middle way, dig in! – SWL

Draft of Creative COmmons for Canada licence

Potentially of interest to Canadian readers, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic has released a draft of a Canadian Creative Commons (cc-ca) licence.
The biggest difference – we spell ‘Licence’ different than Americans! But seriously now, there is value to having Canadian lawyers translate this into language used in our courts, and without being a lawyer myself, it seems like the biggest differences are sections on the notion of ‘Moral Rights,’ and one concerning Canadian’s right to copy material we already own for personal use (which I seem to think provided the some dubious lynchpin to the argument that p2p filesharing from one’s own hard drive was ‘legal’ in Canada.) The licence is set to be ‘launched’ this Thursday September 30 – SWL