Amazon Inspire, Open Educational Resources, and Copywrong

3 min read

On Monday, June 27th, Amazon announced Inspire, another free lesson sharing site. What made this effort interesting is, of course, the context: Amazon knows marketplaces, and Amazon knows text distribution. This effort is also part of the Federal Department of Education's "Go Open" work, where Amazon was an early partner.

On June 29th, Amazon removed some materials due to copyright issues. The fact that this happened so early in the process (literally, screenshots distributed to media contained content encumbered by copyright) suggests a few things:

All of these potential issues are directly related to implementation, and have nothing to do with the merits of using Open Educational Resources. However, these obvious issues point to the possibility of other - more subtle, less obvious - issues with the underlying content. For example, if any EngageNY content is reused within Amazon Inspire, that would almost certainly run afoul of the Non-Commercial license used on EngageNY content.

Just so it's clear, the mistakes made within the Inspire platform are all completely avoidable. People using openly licensed content have been successfully navigating these issues for years.

But the other, more troubling development that is implied by the issues surrounding the very avoidable errors with the Inspire platform is that the platform focuses on the least interesting element of open educational resources: distribution. It would have been great to see a high-profile effort that simplified and supported authorship and remixing. The current conversations about OER remain mired in the very narrow vision of textbook replacement. The transformational potential of OER will come when we embrace the potential of both teacher and learner as creator. Open licensing makes this potential easier to realize, as it removes many of the barriers enshrined within traditional publishing and licensing schemes. 

However, when one of the most visible platforms within the latest high-profile foray remains focused on distribution, and can't even address copyright issues within a press launch, it's clear we have a ways to go. The mistakes made in the Inspire announcement are completely avoidable. These mistakes have nothing to do with open educational resources, and everything to do with the specifics of creating a marketplace. When we build tools that focus on redistribution, we create a natural opportunity to address issues of licensing. Ironically, the approach that has the potential to transform the way we view authorship and learning also has the potential to eliminate licensing issues.

Hopefully, someday, our platforms will catch up with the work.