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Changes11 Discussion: Why OER? Proprietary controls

OER are needed because educators and their students cannot properly function given the controls that publishers place on their content. They can technically control how, when, where, and with what specific brands of technological assistance licensees are able to access content and applications. For example some ebook publishers abridge the content and ensure that it is so difficult if not impossible to read that it is “worthless” (Richard, 2011). Moreover, they also deliberately cripple their devices to ensure that only their “approved” uses are possible. This is often problematic for disabled users. The visually impaired, for example are denied use of a text to speech function and in many cases cannot even increase the text size. Moreover, many proprietary systems still disable highlighting, annotating, hyperlinking, and even dictionary access  -- these features are important for educational uses and essential for online learning.

Different formats are nearly always problematic when mixing and mashing materials. OER can be changed and altered for use in different formats without permission. Chunking of information is fundamental to  many forms of learning. Small pieces of text or even chapters is often all that people need. This  chunking is not normally possible with vendor-controlled proprietary content (Bissel, 2011).  Even simple printouts are not possible in many cases through removing the printing capability (or by prohibitory licensing or both) (eLibra,  n.d.). Hyperlinking is a normal learning activity that is often disabled. The devices are often purposely crippled, so that content and applications cannot be ported to other devices. Permissions of all kinds also need to be re-sought for tampering with the material for re-use, re-purposing or mixing, even if fair use allows for it. This can become an impractical burden putting a real damper on ubiquity. Online learning relies on the existence of large collections of open and accessible resources.

Online learning also requires that the application provide reliable and consistent service.  But, with the use of “authentication servers” by many companies, their products cannot be used when the company servers are down (EFF, n.d.).

Even if a format becomes obsolete, users have no recourse when they cannot technically move their content to other devices and applications. Of particular concern for the disabled, proprietors also disenable the ability of audio readers to access the content. Audio readers are becoming popular especially for people with visual disabilities and even with commuters on long trips (eLibra, n.d.). Because of digital locks, even the process of legally downloading proprietary content can prove to be onerous (Tony, 2010).

Online learning becomes problematic when mixing and mashing is not permitted. Proprietors wish to control and restrict the formats, devices, geographical regions and other circumstances that users may want to use the material in. The proprietors wish to lock in and control their customers. For example the Amazon Kindle and Microsoft Reader use DRM (Digital Rights Management) restricted formats (AZW and LIT respectively). On the other hand Adobe’s  PDF format allows for free use, but many  older PDF document  cannot be re-flowed to mobile devices easily.  The open EPUB format is used by many publishers for production purposes, but then they convert it to their proprietary formats for public release. All in aid of protecting their rights at the expense of those of teachers and students.

A.N. Bissell, “OER and open licenses: the dual-pub solution,” 2011, July, available from
M.M. El-Bishouty, H. Ogata, and Y. Yano, “PERKAM: Personalized Knowledge Awareness Map for Computer Supported Ubiquitous Learning,” Educational Technology & Society2007, available from

Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Digital Rights Management,” n. d. , available from

Tony, “eBooks - The problem of actually getting them into you eReader,” 2010, July 29, available from

Elibra and Starpath, “All about ebooks,” n. d., available from


Richard the Lionhearted, “Comments on five alternatives to expensive textbooks by Ritika Puri,” Globe and Mail2011, September 5, available from


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