CFP: The Future Is Open Access, but How Do We Get There?

Front door of METRO Library Council

Please save the date and/or submit a proposal to speak at the upcoming METRO symposium on open access (and how we want to achieve it). Proposals due August 1!

The Future Is Open Access, but How Do We Get There?: A Symposium
Thursday, September 12, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT
METRO Library Council
599 11th Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Each year, more and more scholarly works are made openly available. Indeed, with European research agencies now coordinating to require immediate open access to publications based on research they fund, predictions about the inevitability of open access may soon come true.

As open access becomes the norm, what decisions will scholars, libraries, and institutions make? Will we reproduce existing power structures, guaranteeing the continued dominance of high-profit publishers and flawed impact metrics? Or will we build something different — community-led publishing on community-owned infrastructure, with legal terms that protect the rights and privacy of authors and readers?

We will explore these questions in a symposium hosted by METRO Library Council on Thursday, September 12. (Full info on Eventbrite.) This event is planned in collaboration with colleagues from the City University of New York.

We are now accepting proposals for presentations, panels, activities, and facilitated discussions relevant to these questions. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Scholarly start-ups, business models, and acquisitions
  • Library publishing services
  • Tensions between readership data and privacy
  • Investing in open publishing and/or open infrastructure
  • Use and misuse of metrics in faculty evaluation
  • Open advocacy inside and outside the library

To submit a proposal, please complete this form by Thursday, August 1. We look forward to hearing from you!

Whose to Use? And Use As They Choose?

Authors of traditional textbooks and articles published in traditional scholarly journals generally have to sign over their copyright to the publisher. Not so for authors who publish with open access publishers — they retain the right to copy, distribute, and re-use their works. (Unimpressed by those seemingly basic rights? Remember that when authors transfer their copyright to publishers, they sometimes lose all rights to their work. After the transfer, they sometimes have no more rights to their work than you or I do.)

Of course, if all rights to a work were held only by the author, others could not copy, share, or reuse the work. In other words, by definition, it couldn’t be truly open access. So, we want authors to retain their rights, but we also need them to grant some rights to others. And not just specific other people or companies — to everyone, to all potential users.

And that’s why the open access community loves Creative Commons (CC) licenses: They leave copyright with the creator but also grant some rights to others. Creative Commons licenses are not the only way to grant rights to a work, but they make it easy for creators to communicate which rights they do and don’t give to others, and they’ve emerged as the standard licensing tool for open access materials.

Spectrum between traditional copyright and public domainThere are six Creative Commons licenses on the spectrum between traditional copyright and the public domain. They differ in their requirements regarding commercial uses and derivative works, and there are fascinating things to say about all of them. But I’m going to limit this post to two similar licenses that differ in one important respect: CC BY (Attribution) and CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike):

  • The CC BY license says that people can do whatever they want with the work — copy it, print it, distribute it, expand it, remix it, post it on commercial websites, even sell it — provided that the creator is properly attributed.
  • The CC BY-SA license is very similar but differs in one key way: It says that people can do whatever they want with the work provided that (1) the creator is properly attributed and (2) any resulting works are released with the same license. Because CC BY-SA requires that derivative works are also CC BY-SA, it is a “viral” license.

Which is better, CC BY or CC BY-SA? Major players in the open access arena have strong and opposing opinions.

Wikipedia uses CC BY-SA, explaining that [bold is mine]:

To grow the commons of free knowledge and free culture, all users contributing to the Projects are required to grant broad permissions to the general public to re-distribute and re-use their contributions freely, so long as that use is properly attributed and the same freedom to re-use and re-distribute is granted to any derivative works. In keeping with our goal of providing free information to the widest possible audience, we require that when necessary all submitted content be licensed so that it is freely reusable by anyone who cares to access it.

The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), on the other hand, endorses CC BY, going so far as to disallow CC BY-SA among its members [bold mine]:

To fully realise that potential of open access to research literature, barriers to reuse need to be removed. . . .

The most liberal Creative Commons license is CC-BY, which allows for unrestricted reuse of content, subject only to the requirement that the source work is appropriately attributed. Other Creative Commons licenses allow for three possible restrictions to be imposed. . . . But the emerging consensus on the adoption of CC-BY reflects the fact that any of these restrictions needlessly limits the possible reuse of published research.

. . . while [Share-Alike] licenses can be extremely helpful in building up a collection of content, they also have downsides in terms of the limitations they place on reuse. For example, material distributed within a Share-Alike article could only be combined and redistributed with other share-alike content. In contrast, CC-BY content can be combined with any content, and redistributed according to the terms of that other content, as long as CC-BY’s own attribution requirement is respected. This makes CC-BY something like a Universal Donor blood-type in that it has maximal compatibility.

. . . OASPA includes, and will currently still admit, members who use the NC restriction (but not the SA or ND restrictions).

Let’s take a closer look at the question of which license is better:

  • Which is better for readers? For those who just read/consume a work (and those who download, print, and share it), there’s no difference between the two licenses.
  • Which is better for those who want to reuse/remix a work? It depends. CC BY is less restrictive, making reuse easier. But CC BY-SA ensures the openness and reusability of derivative works, and that stipulation arguably leads to reuses/remixes that are inherently better than if they weren’t open.
  • Which is better for authors? It depends on the author’s priorities. CC BY facilitates reuse and broad impact, but some creators of open works want works derived from their works to be open as well.
  • Which is better for openness? As we saw in the arguments from Wikipedia and OASPA, It depends on how you look at it. CC BY makes a given work more open, more reusable. But CC BY-SA fosters openness and builds the universe of open access materials. However, the share-alike stipulation might deter some potential reusers and prevent some reuses from ever happening. How should we think about a license that promotes openness in derivative works but likely prevents some derivative works from ever being made? It’s hard to say!
  • Which do I personally think is better? Philosophically, I’m with Wikipedia and CC BY-SA. I love the idea of a snowball effect of openness. But in practice, I think OASPA has it right: For open access works to have the most impact and do the most good, we need to minimize barriers to reuse. And, when it comes down to it, I’m a practical person. So I (with somewhat conflicted feelings) side with CC BY.
  • But you certainly don’t have to take my word for it! My smart and thoughtful colleague Alycia Sellie is somewhat more drawn to CC BY-SA. See her grapple with CC BY vs. CC BY-SA in a post from last summer.

One last note: Yes, I prefer some CC licenses to others. But I embrace all of them as improvements on traditional copyright for scholarly communication and educational publishing!

(This post was derived from a presentation I gave at WikiConference USA on May 31: Whose to Use? And Use As They Choose? Creative Commons Licenses in Wikipedia and Scholarly Publishing. A slightly different version of this post also appeared on the Open Educational Resources @ CUNY blog.)

What Does a License Do? Opening up to CC-BY and Ruminating over Share-Alike

Earlier this summer, Jill brought up a question about one component of this blog to the admins of this site: she was wondering about the Creative Commons license we use to share (and provide guidelines for the use of) our work that gets posted here. If you’re reading this on our site, you’ll see over on the lower right that the license in question is the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) license. Jill was wondering if we wanted to migrate to what she sees as a less restrictive license, Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY), which she feels is becoming the industry standard for open access coalitions and advocates.

Both the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) and the Wellcome Trust prefer CC-BY as the least restrictive license for publishing openly (while still requiring attribution, which would not be necessary under the most open license such as CC-0, or the public domain).

With those recommendations to consider, we went back and forth via email, talking about what would this change would mean. How could/would we implement a license change? (i.e. we have a license for this whole site, not individual posts. If the license ia altered, how does that affect each blog post–even the ones written before we decided on CC-BY?) What does a change in license mean for the ways that our work could be used? Do we have any idea of how people have been using our content, and what the real ramifications would be upon use and users?

I remember arguing for CC-BY-SA at the time we started this blog, probably due to conversations I’d been thinking about surrounding the impact of Noncommercial Creative Commons licenses. I agree with the OASPA that Noncommercial (NC) licenses are intensely restrictive and confusing:

Why is CC-BY preferable to CC-BY-NC?

There are two key problems with a no commercial use restriction. The first is that the definition of what constitutes commercial use is necessarily fuzzy, and so any license which restricts commercial use creates a haze of doubt around various uses that may or may not be at risk of being considered commercial, and in doing so acts as a general discouragement to reuse (http://www.samuelabram.com/noncommercial). 

See also: NC considered harmful; Why Full Open Access Matters.

But even ignoring the Noncommercial aspects, given the choice between CC-BY and CC-BY-SA, there hasn’t been a clear way to decide how we should license this site. Even as three OA-activist librarians who have a tremendous amount of interest in scholarly communication issues, we’ve struggled over the full implication of what it means to use a Share-Alike license.

I personally cling to the SA portions of CC licenses because of conversations about software and copyleft issues, and thinking about the GNU Public License (GPL) as the penultimate license. And yet even the staunchest free software techies have inconsistencies when it comes to licensing works beyond software.

I have been thinking a lot lately about scholarly and creative works and their relationship to licensing; and how a license speaks to the relationships that we imagine others might have with our work after we publish it, or after we decide it’s complete in some sense. (And this also assumes, regardless of the law, that we should even begin to think that we could have any control over our work after it leaves our hands…)

On this blog, as OA supporters, we want our work to be read and used and remixed and adapted and we would like to have very little say in any limitations of what other people would do with the work after we’ve shared it.

At the same time I know that once we’re talking about licenses, we’ve entered a legal landscape that isn’t really a realm that we (as non-lawyers) live within or know how to navigate; i.e. we’re not ultimately interested in following up on every use and re-use of our work and making sure that folks stick to the parameters of whatever license we choose. Thus, if we’re not willing to use the license in litigation (i.e. I doubt that we would sue anyone over a violation of our license–and perhaps particularly just the SA portion), then what does a license really do? Is it a legal aid after the fact that could be wielded in a lawsuit, or a set of guidelines that hopefully makes our preferences known before anyone shares, uses or adapts the work?

Jill had been thinking about this issue because she wanted to write a post advocating for the use of CC-BY and wondered how that might look on a blog that uses CC-BY-SA. What do you all think? How do you choose a license for your work? How does licensing affect ongoing projects such as this blog, which might change over time? And can we advocate for one license while employing another? Or should we change the whole blog to better suit what we see coming up ahead?