Digital literacy 8: Repurposing content

The ability to repurpose, remix or otherwise reuse existing content is one of the key features of the social web. Continuing my series on digital literacies, today's post is about how we can reuse existing content.

Why reinvent the wheel? If content is already out there on the web, the logical choice would be to see if it can be reused, or even adapted or altered to suit your own needs. Currently there is a trend for scholars, teachers and academics to make their content available for download and many are allowing others to repurpose or alter this content. Most of my recent slide presentations are freely available on this Slideshare site, and I publish them under a Creative Commons license that allows others to download and use them either as complete slideshows, or to select individual slides that can be inserted into their own slideshows. I also allow derivatives - that is, you can take the images or texts, or even the design themes of my slides, and repurpose them for your own use - for free. Some have used my slides for their own presentations or workshops (with full acknowledgement to me of course). Probably one of the most pleasing results for me has been when people have translated my slides into other languages. The only stipulation I make in my CC licence is that others don't make any profit from my content at my expense.

Look at the licence at the foot of this post. It indicates that if you wish to use the content you should a) attribute it to me b) not make any financial gain from it (non commercial) and c) it is share alike - that is, you can only re-use my content under the same kind of licence. All six currently available CC licence types are described here. The ethos of the social web is that we share and share alike - why hoard knowledge or ideas if they can be of benefit to others? Knowledge is like love - you can give it away, but you still get to keep it. The only barrier to sharing and repurposing of content is copyright. The web is changing rapidly, but for many, copyright laws remain archaic and arcane.

Although these outmoded, unwanted and ultimately despised copyright laws apply to internet content just like they do to books or music CDs, there are also some welcome signs of change in the digital domain. Copyleft and Creative Commons are just two of the initiatives that have emerged in recent years. Go to the Creative Commons site and check out all of the possible options that will enable you to share your own content whilst protecting your own intellectual rights, and also how you can use, repurpose and remix other people's content too. The 'mashup' - using sounds, videos, images, text or any combination of these - to make entirely new creative content, appeals to many. It can be time consuming, but also very rewarding. So, the next time you find some really useful content on the web, look out for a licence agreement somewhere on the page to see if you are allowed to re-use it.

Image source

Creative Commons Licence
Repurposing content by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


MarkP said…
Interesting stuff Steve but I have to ask how we go about attributing properly through the whole evolution of resources? Using the CC licenses on your own work is of course a great start and it's good to share. However, what happens to a work which already contains the work of others, e.g. the photgraphy in your slide show you linked to?
Whilst we can lawfully use copyright material in closed classrooms with our students surely we aren't then able to make those same presentations available to the public without copyright clearance or CC type attribution for the sources we've included. It is therefore a complex and time-consuming process to transform materials we've used in a teaching context for open public consumption when we want to be helpful and share our work.
As far as my understanding goes it isn't legal under copyright law to include the works of others, e.g. photographs, by linking from another site and giving a source link. I'd love for copyright to be simpler and more forgiving but I can still see why professionals who develop content, at a cost, still want to retain the right to say 'No, you can't use that for free'. If we don't give these professionals (musicians, artists, designers, photographers, etc) the right to have their work protected then they will cease to exist and I feel we'll lose something by that. Let us share, but let us also allow those that want to have the right to not share do so. Takes all sorts,


Steve Wheeler said…
Mark. Two points. Firstly the creative commons licence at the foot of this blog post only covers the text and not the photograph. That image, although attributed to the source, is not mine and therefore I cannot cover it under creative commons. CC allows for licensing of text, images, or other media - you select which when you choose your licence.
Secondly, I'm fully in support of musicians, artists and authors receiving their just rewards for their labours. I am in fact, all three, and still a full member of both the Performing Rights Society (PRS), and the Author Licencing and Collecting Society (ALCS). My remark about the archaic and arcane copyright laws is in context of the evolving web - copyright laws need to be changed to keep pace with its development, and in my opinion, they are not.
flea said…
Erm… I've had to recently withdraw a blog post and video due to infringing copyright & am currently in the process of getting permission/ re-doing the offending parts…

As educators it's our responsibility to demonstrate good practice and give clear advice. This is especially important when dealing with copyright, a particularly complex area, with possibly expensive legal repercussions.

So, here's how to find images you can legally use in blogposts (using Google)

On Images search click on Advanced search and beside 'Usage Rights' choose the option that suits your needs.

For information and advice about copyright and IPR see JISC's

'learning through doing' :o)
Steve Wheeler said…
Flea. Thanks for your comments. Really good advice.
MarkP said…
Ah, thanks Steve. I assumed of course that the CC license only covers the text content as you've given a source for the pic. :)

What about the pic though (and I ask this generally of pics on the web)? I'm sure it does appear in the site you've indicated, (can't see it from your link), but has permission been granted to use it? Is it also licensed by CC or some other form, which should then of course be cascaded to here? Is its inclusion in the site you refer to the original publication of it, or is it the result of multiple 're-sourcing' and publication cycles? Who owns it, how do we know? I'm not trying to identify anything regarding that particular picture, just a general sense that identifying the owner/publisher of resources and any attached licenses can be an arduous task. I also think any system that allowed us to assume rights to use until challenged would be equally arduous, (but perhaps that is how YouTube operate without saying so? :)

Like you, my real concern is the arcane nature of copyright law and also trying to understand its intricacies as a ley-person (in relation to the law) and its implications in my work. I feel I should be law-abiding as a representative of my profession and the university, but would also like achieving this to be empowering in my work rather than debilitating. I think CC and similar are a good step down the road to me having a clear understanding of what I can and cannot do with resources. Perhaps we need a global clearout, time to dump stuff off the web that isn't owned or licensed? Yeah, I know, it isn't feasible, but I do think the way forward is sharing, licensing, and avoiding material we don't know the provenance of. Am I being archaic in my views here as there might be a trend toward free-for-all coming in the mash-up, user-generated, social networking driven web of today? Do you think sharing will get more and more liberal, and that eventually regulation of ownership rights will be a thing of the past?
Steve Wheeler said…
Mark, so many questions (but all good ones) I will need another blog post to try to cover them all... Short answer is that the pic used is licenced under a CC for reuse and derivatives. The link takes readers back to the source (in this case a private Flickr account) and because it is licensed that way, permission has already been given.

The same applies to my own blog content. Anyone can use and reuse it without asking for my permission as long as they acknowledge me as the author/originator and licence any subsequent works the same way. By licensing my work this way, I have already given my permission. I hope that helps.
MarkP said…
Ah, I see the links to flickr now Steve, something weird must be happening when I view your blog. Yesterday your source link took me off to another blog which looked quite random in relation to yours. Still happens from the links on DL1 and 2, hence my confusion about your image sourcing! I'll check on another browser, see if something weird is happening here with IE. :)
Nick Sharratt said…
One reason for re-inventing the wheel : if someone hadn't then we'd still be using horse and cart.

Without new content being created by someone, re-use and re-purpose just keeps the same ideas circulating round and round looking new and shiny but ultimately stagnating.

That's not to say that there isn't a place for reuse, but it should be used to liberate time to create new things and not just to replace genuine innovation.
Steve Wheeler said…
Nick. I agree with you totally - that's why I wrote a previous post on content creation here:

There is also a great potential for creativity through repurposing though - as Picasso once remarked - great artists borrow (steal?) ideas from others.

Popular Posts