Friday, August 17, 2012

CC-BY and - or versus? - open access

Many in the open access movement consider CC-BY, the Creative Commons Attribution license, to be the very embodiment of the spirit of the Budapest Open Access Initiative - giving away all rights to one's work, including commercial rights, for open access. My own take on this is that while CC-BY can provide a useful tool for those fully engaged in the open access spirit, the license is problematic for open access. This is important now that funding agencies in the U.K. are beginning to require CC-BY licenses when they fund open access article processing fees. That is to say, we are now looking at a situation where organizations that do not have any commitment to (or even liking for) open access, may be required to use this license.

Some questions that I think should be raised at this point:

The CC-BY legal code, as I read it, does not mention open access, nor is there any wording to suggest that the license can only be applied to works that are open access. Here is the URL for the legal code:


1.    Am I missing something in the legal code, i.e. does it say somewhere that this license is only for open access works?

2.    Is there any reason why a publisher could not use a CC-BY license on toll-access works? (Here I am talking about an original publisher, not a licensee).

3.    Is there anything to stop a publisher that uses CC-BY from changing their license at a later point in time? (Assuming the license is the publisher's, not the author's).

4.    Is there anything to stop a toll-access publisher from purchasing an open access publisher that uses CC-BY, and subsequently selling all the formerly open access journals under a toll-access model and dropping the open access versions? The license would not permit a third party to do this, but what I am asking about is if the original licensor sells to another publisher.

To sum up, my perspective is that CC-BY, while superficially appearing to be the embodiment of BOAI, is actually a problematic license with significant loopholes and serious thought should be given to this before it is recommended as a standard for open access.

For discussion on this topic, see one or more of the following lists:  GOAL, the SPARC Open Access Forum, open-science, SCHOLCOMM, or cc-community.

See also:  Graf, Klaus and Sanford Thatcher: Point Counter Point: is CC-BY the best open access license? in Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, May 2012.