The EMI-Apple deal set me off thinking. It reminded of Steven Weber’s powerful statement in his classic book, The Success of Open Source: “it is easier to see precisely the destructive side of creative destruction, than it is to see the creative side”. Indeed, with the EMI-Apple deal, it’s far easier to see what is going away than what is struggling to be born.
This deal is emblematic of a major battle that’s taking place. On one side is the copyleft movement that postulates that the commercial basis for creativity is going to be enhanced by open distribution. On the other side are the traditionalists who believe that creativity needs the protection of restricted distribution (copyrights, digital rights management, etc.) to thrive.
In fact, the battlegrounds go beyond Linux, Wikipedia, and open source software in general. And even beyond music. For me the real battle is in higher education. Why this is the case is because higher education is intertwined with another fundamental shift that’s taking place. We are in the early stages of a fundamental shift in institutional architectures from push programs to pull platforms. John Hagel explains this well. He suggests that…
Our business institutions over the past centuries have focused on scaling push programs. Toyota and other pioneers of lean manufacturing “pull” systems have more recently begun to pursue limited pull approaches among a limited number of business partners. The next wave of innovation will focus on the development and deployment of pull platforms across a very large number of institutions. These pull platforms will not only transform business institutions, but other forms of institutions as well.
Traditional educational institutions represent classic examples of push programs. We project far in advance what students should learn and then develop curricula and programs to push that knowledge at the appropriate time. Just like the push programs in business, that model is now coming apart at the seams.
The best place to see the new world-order emerge in higher education is with MIT’s Open CourseWare program. This program makes virtually all of MIT’s course materials available online for free (under a creative common license, which, among other things, forbids it being used for commercial purposes, but allows it to be copied and used for other purposes). It’s a radical departure from the norm. What if students stop paying the $33+K tuition fee to attend the university? The program has been on for six years now and, if anything, it has actually served to stoke the interest of potential applicants. By this yardstick it has been successful.
The crisis in Indian higher education is about to force some significant policy changes. Will this create a habitat for the copyleft movement to take root in India? I would like to believe that this would be the case. If so, this has implications for a host of stakeholders. Someday I’ll try and understand these implications at a deeper level.