Monday, August 19, 2013

Creative Commons and Open Access research: some next steps

Rosie Redfield has posted results of a survey on author perspectives of CC-BY licenses on RRResearch, along with her own comments. This is a useful addition to a question that is very much in need of serious critical research and analysis, a line of research that I am in the process of developing.  In order to make informed decisions about what kinds of uses to permit, encourage, forbid or discourage, authors and others with interests in this area (such as research funders) need to know all of the implications. Redfield's research to date has shown that many authors that have agreed to CC-BY licenses did not realize some of the implications of this decision - for example, authors did not know that their CC-BY articles could be republished as book chapters by a commercial publisher for profit without their knowledge or permission.

Here is my overall perspective on what is needed in this line of research:

Analysis of what might actually be permitted (or forbidden) under CC licenses. With any legal matter, there is the question of what the writer of the law / license intended and how others might reasonably interpret the words. Specific areas that need attention include:
  • permission for re-enclosure for profit, whether accidental or purposive. CC licenses do not imply that works need to be free of charge. The licenses forbid adding DRM to a work, but they do not forbid paywalls before one gets to the work (this is probably impossible, given that most of us have to go through a paywall of some kind to access the internet per se).  From my perspective this is a signficant danger, one that could be a huge setback for the open access movement. For example, if commercial medical publishers moved to CC-BY open access then changed course and decided to release these works as toll access only (CC-BY does not preclude this), and then lobby to remove funding for PubMedCentral and other publicly owned open access archives, then it is feasible that massive amounts of works made OA via CC-BY could very quickly revert to toll access, with no recourse available to authors or their funders. This is the primary reason I argue against CC-BY as a default.
  • author moral rights are stronger under CC BY attribute than automatic copyright. What are the implications for scholarship? I argue that at minimum this is the opposite of the intention of BOAI.
  • What kinds of re-use of scholarly works would actually be desirable and useful for scholarship, and what are the conditions where this would make sense to the authors? Translation is one example - there are obvious advantages to scholarship to making this as easy as possible, but obviously dangers to authors' reputations if poor translations are attributed to the author. There is probably some middle ground. For example, automated translation services are available even for many works not CC licensed for reuse. This does not appear to be contentious, perhaps because the translation services are not portraying the results as authorized versions.
This post is part of the Creative Commons and Open Access critique series

Academically appropriate comments are welcome - by which I mean, state who you are and where you are coming from. For example if you are affiliated with an organization that has a vested interest in or commitment to a particular CC license, this affiliation should be stated in your comment.


  1. I should clarify that this survey was very narrowly focused. It did not seek to find out authors' opinions of CC-BY licensing or of open access, but only of one particular form of reuse of CC-BY papers.

    Subsequent Twitter discussion has also clarified my understanding of the legality of this specific reuse, and I'll be doing another post on this in the next day or so.

  2. Note that all CC licenses are irrevocable. That means that if you download a CC licensed article, you are free to redistribute it, for example by depositing it in an archive. This is meant to address your concern about "re-enclosure"; though as I've written, it's a real concern.

    1. Eric, this makes sense when you think about the individual CC licensed work that you have downloaded. What I am trying to point out is that if a publisher has published a CC licensed work and you didn't download it, the publisher can remove the CC licensed work. Picture Springer doing this with all of BioMedCentral and successfully lobbying to have PubMedCentral (which has made copies) taken down to understand the potential for re-enclosure. This is one of the reasons why open access archives (ideally multiple copies in multiple archives) is essential for a sustainable open access future, and why OA policy should always be for green or archives not publishing.


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