Over the past 10 years, I’ve given away more content than I’ve protected.

Check my Flickrstream and you’ll find 117 pretty slick images that you can use in your presentations tomorrow.  Check my presentation collection and you’ll find comprehensive resource pages for 31 different workshops.  And check the Radical Archives and you’ll find over 800 posts that are bound to challenge your thinking.

With few exceptions, that content — lesson plans, professional development activities, images, and ideas — is just about as free as it can be to anyone who stumbles across it.  That’s because I believe that sharing makes everyone stronger.

When I protect my content, I can’t get your feedback on the work that drives me.  Worse yet, when I protect my content, I disrespect the impact that the thinking of others has had on who I am.  Having been shaped by peers who have freely shared with me, I see my efforts to give back as a digital responsibility.  To borrow without sharing is fundamentally selfish, right?

In a lot of ways, that attitude makes me a Creative Commons success story.  After all, cofounder James Boyle DOES argue that the Creative Commons was “designed to save the world from failed sharing.”  By making it easier for content creators to give others permission to use their original works, the Creative Commons has removed traditional barriers associated with Copyright restrictions.  To put it more simply, that means you can use the content that I share under CC licenses without having to track me down and ask me in advance.

But despite the best intentions of the Creative Commons, we’re still surrounded by examples of failed sharing.

Take this image, for example:


It’s the most popular thing that I’ve ever created.  It’s been viewed 26,000 times on Flickr alone and every time it shows up in my Twitterstream — which probably happens 3-5 times a week — it’s retweeted and favorited again and again.

It has also turned up in countless workshops and webinars.  Presenters dig the conversations that the image makes possible and are jazzed to use it to force people to rethink the role that technology should be playing in their schools and districts.  At one popular #edtech conference this year, I had a buddy tell me that the image was used in three of the eight sessions he attended.  He was actually sick of seeing it!

It even showed up in a session that I attended last year — which was a really weird experience for me!  

What made the experience even weirder was that the presenter did nothing to identify the creator of the slide.  Some friends who knew I had made the image were indignant on my behalf.  I think they wanted me to confront the guy to protect my content.  “Getting credit” was something that they believed I deserved — particularly because they knew I was in the session.

My first reaction was to look inward, though.  “Maybe if I’d put my name on the freaking image, I’d get the credit y’all think I deserve!” I said.  

And there’s truth in that reaction.  In a digital world where content can be shared and replicated quickly and easily, we have to do a better job identifying our original work IF getting credit is something that matters to us.  My mistake as a creator was failing to place any kind of identifying information on the image and then sharing it out through Twitter — a place where the originators of ideas are quickly lost in an ever-changing stream of 140 character messages.

But I’ll admit that I was more than a little miffed at the presenter.  

It’s not that I wanted to be publicly celebrated.  In fact, getting credit was the last thing on my mind.  After all, the ideas shared on my slide are nothing more than a tangible expression of the collective intelligence of dozens of influential people who have pushed my thinking around technology over the past ten years.  If anything, THEY deserve the credit for getting ME to the point where I could create that image.

What bothered me was that the presenter did nothing to indicate that HE wasn’t the creator of the slide.  He just presented it, used it to start conversation, argued passionately about how important it was that we focus on the learning opportunities that technology makes possible, and then moved on.

 That’s failed sharing — and it’s something that I think we’re ALL becoming increasingly guilty of.  

Because we live in a world where anytime/anyplace access to content is just a click away, we’ve stopped valuing the contributions of creators.  Stumbling across amazing work — whether it’s a stunning image, a remarkable lesson plan, or a terrific idea expressed eloquently in words — has almost become mundane.  Content that we would have once happily paid for is now just another message in our feeds.

Easy access to double doses of awesome has caused us to forget that the creators of the content that we are using deserve to be valued. That leaves me worried simply because failing to intentionally and openly value the people who move us will stifle the desire to create and to share and inadvertently cripple the vibrancy of the intellectual spaces that we’ve embraced.

For me, this all means that  I’m going to work to give credit every time, all the time. 

If I can clearly track an idea that I’m wrestling with back to an individual, you are going to know about it.  If an idea that I’m wrestling with has been influenced by a bunch of people, you are going to know about it.  If I have no clue who originated an idea that I’m wrestling with because I lost their name in the Twitterstream, you are going to at least know that my thinking was nudged by someone who willingly shared and that I’m thankful for their contribution to who I am as a learner.

Any of this make sense?

(PS: My buddy Michelle Baldwin was writing about this stuff not long ago.  Check her post out here.)


Related Radical Reads:

Creative Commons Resources for Classroom Teachers

What Do YOU Know About the Creative Commons?

Looking for a New Slide to Share?  Try These.



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