Open content or OpenContent is a neologism coined by David Wiley in 1998 which describes a creative work that others can copy or modify. The term evokes open source software, which is a related concept in software.
When the term OpenContent was first used by Wiley, it described works licensed under the Open Content License (a non-free share-alike license, see 'Free content' below) and perhaps other works licensed under similar terms. It has since come to describe a broader class of content without conventional copyright restrictions. The openness of content can be assessed under the '4Rs Framework' based on the extent to which it can be reused, revised, remixed and redistributed by members of the public without violating copyright law. Unlike open source and free content, there is no clear threshold that a work must reach to qualify as 'open content'.
The OpenContent website once defined OpenContent as 'freely available for modification, use and redistribution under a license similar to those used by the Open Source / Free Software community'. However, such a definition would exclude the Open Content License (OPL) because that license forbade charging 'a fee for the [OpenContent] itself', a right required by free and open source software licenses.
The term since shifted in meaning, and the OpenContent website now describes openness as a 'continuous construct'. The more copyright permissions are granted to the general public, the more open the content is. The threshold for open content is simply that the work '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.'
The 4Rs are put forward on the OpenContent website as a framework for assessing the extent to which content is open:
- Reuse - the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form (e.g., make a backup copy of the content)
- Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
- 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)
- 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)
This broader definition distinguishes open content from open source software, since the latter must be available for commercial use and adaptation by the public. However, it is similar to several definitions for open educational resources, which include resources under noncommercial and verbatim licenses.
Free content and free documentation
As with the terms "open source software" and "free software", some open content materials can also be described as "free content". However, free content has preserved the requirement (present in both open source and free software) that licenses allow commercial use and adaptation. For similar reasons, the Free Software Foundation describes the Open Content License as a non-free documentation license.
"Open access" refers to toll-free or gratis access to content, consisting mainly of published peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. Some open access works are also licensed for reuse and redistribution, which would qualify them as open content.
Open Content and Education
Over the past decade, open content has been used to develop alternative routes towards higher education. Traditional universities are expensive, and their tuition rates are increasing.  Open content allows a free way of obtaining higher education that is "focused on collective knowledge and the sharing and reuse of learning and scholarly content." There are multiple projects and organizations that promote learning through open content, including OpenCourseWare Initiative, The Saylor Foundation and Khan Academy. Some universities, like MIT, Yale, and Tufts are making their courses freely available on the internet.
The textbook industry is one of the educational industries in which open content can make the biggest impact. Traditional textbooks, aside from being expensive can also be inconvenient and out of date, because of publishers' tendency to constantly print new editions. Open textbooks help to eliminate this problem, because they are online and thus easily updatable. Being openly licensed and online can be helpful to teachers, because it allows the textbook to be modified according to the teacher's unique curriculum. There are multiple organizations promoting the creation of openly licensed textbooks. Some of these organizations and projects include The Open Textbook Project, Connexions, OpenStax College, The Saylor Foundation Open Textbook Challenge and Wikibooks
For more information on open content as it relates to education and textbooks, consider visiting: Open Education Resources
According to the current definition of open content on the OpenContent website, any general, royalty-free copyright license would qualify as an open license because it 'provides users with the right to make more kinds of uses than those normally permitted under the law - at no cost to the user.'
However, the narrower definition used in the Open Definition effectively limits open content to libre content; any free content license would qualify as an open content license. According to this narrower criteria, the following still-maintained licenses qualify:
- Creative Commons licenses (only Creative Commons Attribution, Attribution-Share Alike and Zero)
- Open Publication License (the original license of the Open Content Project, the Open Content License, did not permit for-profit copying of the licensed work and therefore does not qualify)
- Against DRM license
- GNU Free Documentation License
- Open Game License (a license designed for role-playing games by Wizards of the Coast)
- Free Art License
- Digital freedom
- Free content
- Free culture movement
- Libre knowledge
- Open catalogue
- Open data
- Open source
- Grossman, Lev (1998-07-18). "New Free License to Cover Content Online". Netly News. Archived from the original on 2000-06-19. Retrieved 2010-01-12.
- Wiley, David (1998). "Open Content". OpenContent.org. Archived from the original on 1999-01-28. Retrieved 2012-04-17.
- Wiley, David. "Open Content". OpenContent.org. Retrieved 2011-11-18.
- "Lawrence Liang, "Free/Open Source Software Open Content", ''Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme: e-Primers on Free/Open Source Software'', United Nations Development Programme – Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme, 2007." (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-23.
- Atkins, Daniel E.; John Seely Brown, Allen L. Hammond (2007-02). "A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities". Menlo Park, CA: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. p. 4. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
- Geser, Guntram (2007-01). "Open Educational Practices and Resources. OLCOS Roadmap 2012". Salzburg, Austria: Salzburg Research, EduMedia Group. p. 20. Retrieved 2010-11-06.
- "Open Definition". OpenDefinition.org. Retrieved 2011-11-18.
- Free Software Foundation. "Various Licenses and Comments Upon Them". Retrieved 2011-11-18.
- Kantrowitz, Mark (2012). "Tuition Inflation". FinAid.org. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
- NMC (2012). "One Year or Less: Open Content". 2010 Horizon Report. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
- Admin (2012). "Open.edu: Top 50 University Open Courseware Collections". DIY Learning. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
- Fitzgerald, Bill (2012). "Using Open Content To Drive Educational Change". Funny Monkey. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
- Moushon, James (2012). "e-Textbooks: How do they stack up against tradition textbooks". Self Publishing Review. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
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