The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is considering a rule change that would make the educational resources the Department funds a lot more accessible to educators and students—not just in the U.S., but around the world. We hope to see it adopted, and that it sets the standard for similar policies at other government agencies.
The policy would require that grantees share all content that the ED funds under an open license. If the ED funds your work, you must share it under a license that allows anyone to use, edit, and redistribute it. For software, the license would also have to allow people to access and modify the source code.
This is a great move. The Executive Branch funds billions of dollars’ worth of content through various departmental grant programs. Those grants are intended to benefit the public, but too often the public never even sees the results, let alone uses them.
All federal grants are subject to a rule that allows the government itself to share grant-funded works with the public, but that rule has not been sufficient to make sure that sharing happens in practice. As the ED notes, the rule requires the public to be aware of the materials and contact the ED for access, both significant practical and informational hurdles. Open licenses allow publishers and other intermediaries to distribute materials much more widely than either the ED or grantees can alone.
The existing policy also doesn’t cover reuse. Simply being able to access a resource isn’t enough. To unlock its real value, you need to be allowed to modify it, merge it with other resources, and republish it. That’s especially true in education: when educators are empowered to customize materials for their needs and share them with other educators, everyone benefits. Sometimes open access or open education policies authorize specific types of reuse, but those carveouts end up creating doubt and confusion about how people are allowed to use the content. Open licenses are the right solution.
Update (November 30): The Department of Education has extended its deadline for comments to December 18. Please sign our petition by Wednesday, December 16.