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Defining the "Open" in Open Content

The Open Content website -

The blog is written and maintained by David Wiley: iterating toward openness: (see blog post The Primary Challenge for the OER Movement)

What does "open" mean? The word has different meanings in different contexts. Our commonsense, every day experience teaches us that "open" is a continuous (not binary) construct. A door can be wide open, mostly open, cracked slightly open, or completely closed. So can your eyes, so can a window, etc.

The "open" in "open content" is a similarly continuous construct. In this context, "open" refers to granting of copyright permissions above and beyond those offered by standard copyright law. "Open content," then, is content that is licensed in a manner that provides users with the right to make more kinds of uses than those normally permitted under the law - at no cost to the user.

Put simply, the fewer copyright restrictions are placed on the user of a piece of content, the more open the content is. The primary permissions or usage rights open content is concerned with are expressed in the "4Rs Framework:"

  1. Reuse - the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form (e.g., make a backup copy of the content)
  2. Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  3. Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  4. Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Content is open to the extent that its license allows users to engage in the 4R activities. Content is less open to the extent that its license places restrictions (e.g., forbidding derivatives or prohibiting commercial use) or requirements (e.g., mandating that derivatives adopt a certain license or demanding attribution to the original author) on a user's ability to engage in the 4R activities.


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This text, Defining the "Open" in Open Content, by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.