Nick Carr: Sharecropping for Coursera

InsightaaS: A May Day post on Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type blog looks at how a for-profit company - Coursera - is attempting to fatten its margins by recruiting volunteer translators who will enable the company to offer native-language content in more markets. There is a general trend towards treating content as a free resource on the Internet (witness the struggles of publishers everywhere in the digital world), but few firms are brazen enough to ask qualified professionals to supply free labour, sign away any semblance of ownership of the fruits of that labour, and then offer no meaningful compensation of any sort in exchange. Social networks (as Carr points out) do obtain free content - millions post conversations on Facebook, videos on YouTube, pictures on Flickr, profiles on LinkedIn, and comments on forums that are aligned with their personal and/or professional interests - but these contributions are the fruit of "playbor" or are intended to advance an individual's professional standing. It's ironic that as web-based properties become more vigorous about demanding some sort of value (registrations and/or payments) for access to high-quality content, Coursera is attempting to convert professionals with specialized skills into a community of volunteers. Presumably, the translators can then take Coursera courses to learn another skill, for which they might be paid...

Coursera, the fast-growing, for-profit online education company, has become, as the Wall Street Journal put it, "an investor’s pet." It has pulled in $85 million in venture funding over the last two years, attracting big-name investors like Kleiner Perkins and the World Bank’s VC arm, LearnCapital.

Those millions aren’t enough, apparently, to pay translators to help the company extend its online courses, or MOOCs, into foreign markets. Instead, Coursera is taking the digital sharecropping route. It announced this week that it is recruiting skilled translators and asking them to donate their work to the company for free. What the volunteers receive, in lieu of income, is the satisfaction of being a member of Coursera’s "community." Translation, says the company, is "much more than a means to an end. By joining the GTC [Global Translator Community], you’ll become a member of a tight-knit community of committed individuals and organizations."

You’ll also sign a contract stating that

YOU EXPRESSLY AGREE THAT ANY TRANSLATION SERVICES YOU PROVIDE WILL BE  DEEMED A "WORK FOR HIRE," UNDER SECTION 101 OF THE U.S. COPYRIGHT ACT...

Read the entire post: http://www.roughtype.com/?p=4464

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