UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Openness and Open Folk Culture

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Aug 2011

Open Content in Higher Education

I have been involved in promoting open access to resources for several years. Back in 2005 I presented a paper on Let’s Free IT Support Materials! at the EUNIS 2005 conference in which I suggested that:

Although interest in open access has initially focussed on research publications and datasets and teaching and learning resources, the authors feel that the education community can benefit if IT service departments take a pro-active role in making their support materials (e.g. documents, training materials, etc.) available under licensing conditions such as those available under Creative Commons.

IT service departments are well-placed to take a leading role in opening access to their support materials for several reasons:

  • The IT services community has a culture of collaboration and sharing.
  • Open access to support materials will complement interests in use of and provision of open source software.
  • From an institutional perspective, open access to IT support materials will be less contentious than open access to teaching and learning or research materials.

In addition IT service departments will benefit from the experiences gained through the provision of open access resources, including experiences of open access management tools, training needs, user acceptance, provision of a test bed, etc.

However the perceived difficulties of deploying Creative Commons licences meant that IT Service departments have failed, to the best of my knowledge, to take the leading role I suggested in opening up access to their resources.

Two years later myself, Scott Wilson (CETIS) and Randy Metcalfe (JISC OSS Watch) felt we were in a better position to appreciate the difficulties in embracing openness and presented a paper on  Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access  at the ELPub 2007 conference. In the paper we suggested that the contextual approach to use of open standards (which is illustrated) could be applied to policies and practices for providing open content.

But is such a softly-softly approach, which encourage organisations to take small steps to using Creative Commons licences, the right one to take? Might we be able to learn from other sectors which have had a long-standing tradition on openness and sharing?

Open Folk Culture

Last week I took part in the Sidmouth Folk Week as a dancer (and comic character) for the Newcastle Kingsmen Sword Dancers.  And this week I am having a few days off as a volunteer for the Bath Folk Festival, where I am providing the Bath Folk Facebook page and BathFolkFest Twitter account together with Nicola McNee and also working with Kirsty and Rich Pitkin who are taking videos of the festival which are being published on the Bath Folk Festival YouTube channel.

In our planning for use of social media at the Bath Folk Festival we were conscious of the need to respect the performers rights. During the first Bath Folk Festival Fundraiser concert (which took place on 6 July) all of the acts were recorded and we asked all of the acts if they were happy for us to publish the video on YouTube (where possible we asked in advance, but this was not always possible). All of the acts agreed to this as so we were able to publish the individual performances as well as a 3 minute feature of all of the performers.

At Sidmouth Folk Festival Taffy Thomas, the UK’s first Laureate for Storytelling, ran a number of story-telling workshops. Although I couldn’t attend any of the workshops I did see him perform briefly and was able to take a few photographs, one of which I subsequently uploaded to Flickr and added to Taffy’s Wikipedia page (with an appropriate Creative Commons licence).

I heard that Taffy explained how the story-telling tradition is based on passing on stores for retelling by others. “Take as much as you want; use as little as you need” was, I understand, his advice to other story-tellers, but you should always try to give acknowledgements to the source of your stories.

Isn’t that a wonderful way of describing a Creative Commons attribution licence which formally allows others “to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work; to Remix — to adapt the work; to make commercial use of the work subject to the following condition: Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work.

This culture of sharing in order to enrich others’ is deeply embedded in the folk culture with many performers running workshops in which they share their expertise, knowledge, skills and tips.

An example of such willingness to share was see at the Late Night Extra show at Sidmouth when the Kingsmen and Gaorsach (a female rapper team based in Aberdeen – no, the sword tradition isn’t men-only!) put together a show which featured individual dances (a long sword dance from the Kingsmen and reels and jigs from Gaorsach dancers) with a finale of a joint rapper dance featuring a 13-star lock.

Of course being open can also be risky.  Some performers may wish to be able to have a veto on video recordings if things go wrong.  But the folk tradition tends to feel that once a performance has been made it belongs to the public, warts and all.  And if you view the video is the ending, 12 minutes in, a mistake or a feature?


It might be argued that whilst hobbiests may be willing to allow others to record and publish their activities, it will be different for professionals  who will need to consider issues such as business models and sustainability.  But  performers at the Sidmouth Folk Week and the Bath Folk Festival include those who are professional or semi-professional and can see the benefits of having their work promoted by others. If this is the case for folkies, what arguments can be made for those of us working in higher education for not taking similar approaches, and being will for talks at conferences, for example, to be regarded as public property?  I’ll conclude with a mashup of the first Bath Fundraiser concert which illustrates how others (in this case Rich and Kirsty Pitkin, who recorded the concert) can bring added value to such recordings, in this case to The Grey Blues, Katherine Mann & Marick Baxter, Martin Vogwell, Northgate Rapper Sword Dancers, Jumping Rooves, Angel Ridge and the Brian Finnegan Band.


4 Responses to “Openness and Open Folk Culture”

  1. Kirsty Pitkin said

    Hi Brian

    We’ve just added another video ( which features Irish singer Mai Hernon discussing the acquisition of songs within the traditional music culture and the responsibility of the performer (and those who went before) to maintain and pass down songs as a gift. She pretty much sums up the community’s attitude to openness and sharing of material.

  2. […] Openness and Open Folk Culture « UK Web Focus Last week I took part in the Sidmouth Folk Week as a dancer (and comic character) for the Newcastle Kingsmen Sword Dancers. And this week I am having a few days off as a volunteer for the Bath Folk Festival, … Source: […]

  3. […] Openness and Open Folk Culture […]

  4. […] or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work.”Show original Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Categories […]

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