Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Growth in CC-BY: numbers and critique.

According to a recent post by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, 543,611 articles were published by open access-only journal using CC-BY licenses between 2000 and 2014, with 141,232 of these articles published in 2014 alone.

It is wonderful to see the growth of open access publishing, and kudos to these journals publishing with what they believe is the best license for open access.


CC-BY licenses permit blanket downstream commercial use as well as derivatives. I argue that the larger the corpus of works licensed CC-BY and the easier it is to gather such works (e.g. using robots to search metadata), the greater the temptation becomes for new commercial players to make use of these downstream rights. None of the CC licenses require that works be made available free-of-charge. It is possible that we'll end up paying for access to these works that are now free-of-charge and/or paying for downstream value-added services - or do without these benefits if we cannot afford them. For example, there is nothing about CC licenses to indicate that downstream users of works created by researchers in poorer regions have a right to benefit from access to downstream derivatives. Third world medical researchers and funders could be shut out of point-of-care tools created using the works that they have given away, for example.

The emphasis on open access only journals does not appear to welcome or encourage conversion of traditional journals to open access. There are still many journals publishing in print or both print and online. The members of societies publishing such journals in some cases still want the print versions. Any journal with a history of more than about 10 years predates Creative Commons and would have to undertake a major re-licensing effort to have a journal-wide CC license. It is good to see a strong and growing open access publishing community, but it is important to recognize that members of OASPA are organizations, often commercial in nature, that have their own business interests.

Finally, not every journal with a CC license can be described as having a journal-wide CC license. If a journal has been publishing for 10 years and initiates CC licensing for future issues, this does not change the license for back issues. Even for many journals and publishers with the strongest commitment to a CC license, there can be individual works and/or third party works in the journal that are not under this license.

This post is part of the Creative Commons and Open Access Critique series.