If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

—George Bernard Shaw

How do we foster an ecology of creativity in a digital world?

In the knowledge and information-based economies of the 21st century, the wealth and prosperity of nations are based on the priceless resource of ideas. The ownership of ideas is in part regulated by copyright. The system of copyright evolved in an era when the expenses needed to print, distribute and sell a book were significant. In a digital world where ideas can be distributed freely and duplicated at the press of a button, we are witnessing unprecedented opportunities to widen access to high quality educational resources for all learners of the world. Nonetheless, there is still much work to be done to realise the potential of digitally available curriculum materials for our national education systems.

Today, the process for capitalizing – either financially or socially – on innovation and creativity is staggering under the strain of a digital revolution of a speed and scale never seen before. At a time when many of their most valuable assets can be shared and exchanged easily, businesses and governments [are] scrambling to redefine who owns what.

—James Kanter, New York Times, 2005[1]

This sub-section on the ownership of ideas sets the context for our global mission to return to the core business of education, which is to share knowledge freely.

Views on the ownership of ideas in a digital world



The following information is relevant to understanding the context of the video activity which follows:

  • The Brothers Grimm were German academics who published collections of folk tales and fairy tales which became popular. The works of the Brothers Grimm are in the public domain and can be accessed from Project Gutenburg. Some of the Grimms’ stories were adapted and remixed as animated feature films by Walt Disney Animation Studios, including for example, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Princess and the Frog.
  • In terms of general copyright, works automatically enter the public domain usually after the life of the author plus 50 years. The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 effectively froze the advancement date of the public domain in the United States by extending these terms to life of the author plus 70 years; and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.


Who should own ideas?

This video reflection provides a historical record from the perspective of two leading activists in the free culture:

  1. Eben Moglen, Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia University, and founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Center, speaking on ownership of ideas. (Note that this video is licensed under a CC-BY-SA license and is incorporated into these materials under the original license out of respect for Eben Moglen’s leadership and work in promoting freedom. It would not be appropriate to request removal of the copyleft provision.) [2], and
  2. Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and founder of Creative Commons, speaking on the idea of openness [3].

Before watching the video, consider the following questions:

  • Is it right to apply the word “theft” to reusing ideas to further learning?
  • Who should own ideas? The producers of knowledge? The distributors of knowledge?
  • What values should underpin our thinking regarding the ownership of ideas in education?
  • Should educators and learners be required to ask permission before building on the ideas of others?
  • How best can we foster an ecology of creativity in education?

Watch the video (15 minutes) containing extracts from our two speakers reflecting on the ownership of ideas in a digital world.

Or watch video on docs.oeru.org.

You are encouraged to share your thoughts and ideas by posting on WENotes. Pause the video, consider the questions above and tell us what you think. For example,

  • Set learning free: …. , or
  • I believe …. .

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