CTL Blog

OCW: Gratis and Libre

November 17, 2011 | 1 Minute Read

When most people hear about OCW, they react with enthusiasm, especially because it's free. When we ask users to name the best thing about OCW, many answer with a common two-word (and frequently capitalized) refrain: IT'S FREE!!

Most people who respond this way are probably talking about the fact that it doesn't cost anything to use OCW; it is published gratis. Anyone with an Internet connection can access OCW without paying a penny for the privilege. However, "free" has another meaning beyond gratis. In open educational resource and open software circles, this other sense of "free" is known as libre.

The libre sense of "free" denotes the state of being liberated, unbound from the usual restrictions. Libre is the "free" of free speech and free press. OCW is free in the libre sense because the materials we publish are open for anyone to use, share, adapt, modify, translate, add to, delete from, remix, and distribute without having to ask our permission first. (There are ongoing debates about just how free you have to be to be considered completely libre, but we'll leave those alone for now.)

Thanks to OCW's use of the Creative Commons licensing, people can use OCW materials as they see fit as long as they observe three conditions. (1) The original author must be credited. (2) The materials cannot be commercialized. (3) Derivative works must also carry the same Creative Commons licensing. That's it! No permission fees, no permission request forms, and no teams of ominous lawyers.

One OCW user is translating Fundamentals of Epidemiology into Amharic to teach grad students in Ethiopia. Another is adapting lectures from Public Health Toxicology for use in an occupational medicine course in India. We hear from many people who are creatively using and reusing what they find on OCW because the site is free as in gratis and the materials are free as in libre.