DISTANCE EDUCATION AND THE CIVIL CODE
The global crisis has proved right of the lifelong learning enthusiasts: in the information society neither one nor two university diplomas will satisfy the changing demand for specialists. In a world where knowledge is completely renewed every five years, relations with the labor market can only be harmonized by the formula “education never ends. But where to find educators and audiences for billions of adults? How can they find the time to sit at their desks, and where can they get the best educational content? Only distance learning exceeds the traditional classroom-lesson system by many times in terms of productivity: instead of a forty-seat classroom, a famous professor gets half a million listeners in different parts of the world at once. But there is a problem here, and we are trying to find a solution together with Professor Efim MALITIKOV, President of the International Knowledge Association.
– Efim Mikhailovich, can a worthy popularizer of science bring his knowledge into every home today?
– Theoretically, yes. A resident of Texas can learn physics from the lectures of a professor from St. Petersburg in his native village, and a resident of Yakutia can acquire the profession of economist from the lectures of a professor from Chicago without leaving his home. Alas, we find obstacles to this form of education both in the mentality of the educators themselves and in the information law. Relying on Article 1255 “Copyright” (Chapter 70 “Copyright” Part 4 of the Civil Code) the popularizers of knowledge insist on paying for each broadcasting of their video course in the same way as musicians receive a fee for each performance of their phonogram on the air or a writer concludes a new contract with a publisher for the next reprint of the book. But if you pay for every video lecture, education for many people will become a luxury.
– Meanwhile, distance education is “by definition” an inexpensive product.
– Naturally. Space technology exponentially reduces, as the number of users grows, the cost of education. Yes, for one person a space teleport is unthinkably expensive. For a hundred people, it is very expensive. But the price for one out of millions of users is asymptotically close to the publicly available minimum. In addition, the cost of training is tied to average earnings, for example, in Moscow it is about $ 1000 a year, and in Kyrgyzstan – $ 300. However, systematic fees for authors of educational content will lead to a sharp increase in these modest sums. We have encountered this in the creation of the World University of Distance Education (WUDE).
– Can you say a few words about the WUDE?
– The main technical center of the WUDE is located near Moscow on the basis of the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center. It was supposed to become a “knowledge exchange” where the content of the best universities and professors of the planet would flock for subsequent export and re-export around the world. Unfortunately, the selfish, mercantile reaction of both Russian and foreign educators was not long in coming. Therefore, for the time being, we teach only space-related specialties at WUDE.
– Do you think that professors should not claim payment for the courses they create at all?
– Educators-educators protect their courses with copyrights: “my knowledge,” “my lecture,” “my content. However, educational content is fundamentally different from a song, a movie, or a novel. After all, lectures very rarely claim to have original content. A brilliant professor gives his content an attractive, “digestible” form. A skillful popularizer is able to clothe the dry language of scientific knowledge in a bright wrapper of metaphors explaining their hard to comprehend essence. Nose intellectual product is created usually by predecessors: Euclidean geometry, Pythagoras theorem, Newton’s laws, Lobachevsky space, Mendeleev table, Nusselt criterion, Stark effect, Einstein theory, Cherenkov-Vavilov radiation… Well is it possible to sell, say, retelling of bases of quantum mechanics, laid in the beginning of XX century? As a rule, all these “my courses” are compilations.
– This is unlikely to appeal to professors…
– Yes, some educators are unwilling to agree that their lectures are based on the achievements of scientists from different countries and eras. Meanwhile, the mentioned article 1255 of the Civil Code says: “Intellectual rights for works of science, literature and art are copyrights. Is a lecture filmed with a video camera a work of science, literature or art? Apparently, it is neither. A scientific report in which the author introduces his or her own theories, inventions or discoveries to the audience is another matter. Extrapolate the situation to the surgeon who deftly removed the inflamed appendix. Does this mean that the doctor has sacred knowledge of how to treat appendicitis? No.
The surgeon is adept with the scalpel, but he did not accumulate this knowledge by himself, not alone. Should the surgeon’s fee include a separate line for the exclusivity of his knowledge? Definitely not. He acquired it in medical school and learned it in residency from his senior colleagues. This is a universal patrimony.
In the same way, other educational content exists for the entire humanity that thirsts for knowledge. And let’s not forget that these same contents often fall under the definition of Article 1295 of the Civil Code, “Official Work” because it was created “within the context of an employee’s (the author’s) employment obligations. The most surprising thing is that our thick code does not define the terms “lecture” and “lecturer” at all. They are absent there (just as the Russian laws “On Education” and “On Higher and Postgraduate Professional Education” mention “teachers” and “instructors” only in passing).
– In other words, educational content has fallen outside the scope of legal regulation, so what should we do now?
– In order to honorably get out of the described legal collision, it is necessary to act in two main directions.
Firstly, it is logical and, consequently, advisable to supplement several articles of Part 4 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation. The above-mentioned Chapter 70 “Copyright” should finally include the definition of “lecture” and clearly define the cases in which the author (lector) may claim the multiple remuneration for each “reproduction” of the lecture by electronic means.
Probably, these are the cases when the lecture is about the development, experiment, discovery, methodology of the lecturer himself. For example, a professor gives a lecture on a device which he himself designed. In other cases, a lecture must be considered to be what it is: a compilation.
– By the way, the Latin compilatio means “robbery”!
– Well, let us say that the real robbery is plagiarism, an impudent appropriation of the work of others. Still, a compilation has to be worked on, to bring together borrowings from different sources. Therefore, the use of a compilation as educational content should, of course, also be rewarded financially, but it should be a one-time payment. The lecture then becomes the property of humanity as a whole and can be used without restriction thereafter. Probably this novelty should refer to Chapter 71 “Rights related to copyright”.
– Is there another way of “demolishing” the problem?
– The information society needs a certain “re-education” of educators in order to overcome their mental ego. In the language of financial experts, billions of uneducated or semi-educated “analog” people are a global “red balance” – a heavy burden on the shoulders of the world economy. But with access to education, they will “digitize” and become a “positive balance sheet. The authors of these or other educational courses, our esteemed educators, should keep this in mind and look to examples of selfless service to progress.
– For example …
– Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web (www), many Internet standards and the first website, comes to mind at once. Or Ray Tomlinson, who invented e-mail and the @ symbol. These eminent scientists gave up the rights to the named inventions, so they are used by the whole world. Well, to “strengthen” the effect, one-time material reinforcement should be supplemented with moral reinforcement.
For example, the Ministry of Education and Science could annually publish an “Honorary Book of Popularizers of the Russian Federation” – a list of the authors of video courses that have been submitted to the “exchange of knowledge. I think other countries would adopt this experience. In the end, UNESCO will publish an “Honorary Book of the World’s Popularizers.
Of course, there may be other variants of moral remuneration.